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Arabian Nights

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Arabian Nights

Postby Helikwps » Mon Apr 07, 2014 6:43 pm

I ran across this passage from Sir Richard Burton's translation of the Arabian Nights (The Second Kalandar's Tale):

"Know, O my lady, that I was not born one-eyed and mine is a strange story; an it were graven with needle-graver on the eye-corners, it were a warner to whoso would be warned. I am a King, son of a King, and was brought up like a Prince."

Burton's use of "an" here is so like ἂν in placement and meaning that I wondered, Could It Be? Yes of course he's translating from Arabic and the sentence itself reads like a deliberate archaism -- but if it's in fact an example of some older English locution, does it come from the Greek?
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Re: Arabian Nights

Postby Paul Derouda » Mon Apr 07, 2014 7:03 pm

I absolutely don't know the answer to your question, but I suppose you could expect anything from Captain Sir Richard Burton! Except an accurate translation, if we believe the introduction to Husain Haddawy's Arabian Nights (the only one in English, I believe, to be truly faithful to the original). I think Burton was the master of false archaisms, neologisms and other highly artificial constructions.
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Re: Arabian Nights

Postby Qimmik » Mon Apr 07, 2014 7:31 pm

"An" occurs often in Shakespeare as an alternative to "if," or sometimes in combination with it, and was apparently so used in early modern English. I don't think it has any connection to Greek ἂν, since it used is in the protasis, not the apodosis, of a conditional sentence. In Burton, it's a conscious archaism.

A few examples from All's Well That Ends Well:

Do all they deny her? An they were sons of mine,
I'd have them whipped; or I would send them to the
Turk, to make eunuchs of.

Well, thou hast a son shall take this disgrace off
me; scurvy, old, filthy, scurvy lord! Well, I must
be patient; there is no fettering of authority.
I'll beat him, by my life, if I can meet him with
any convenience, an he were double and double a
lord. I'll have no more pity of his age than I
would of—I'll beat him, an if I could but meet him again.

Good captain, will you give me a copy of the sonnet
you writ to Diana in behalf of the Count Rousillon?
an I were not a very coward, I'ld compel it of you:
but fare you well.
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Re: Arabian Nights

Postby ailuros » Mon Apr 07, 2014 8:17 pm

Qimmik,

I just wanted to say thanks so much for your many thoughtful contributions to this site. You are a veritable treasury of knowledge, and I can't remember reading a post by you where I didn't learn something new. Thanks for being so willing to sharing your knowledge of these languages (and everything else). Dan
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Re: Arabian Nights

Postby Qimmik » Tue Apr 08, 2014 2:51 am

Thank you for your kind words, Ailuros. Contributing to this site has helped me sharpen my own knowledge of Latin and Greek.

I don't have an advanced degree in this area, but I try to be careful to get my comments right and to avoid spreading misinformation on the internet, if I can help it (because there's already enough misinformation there already).

I like to give a citation to Smyth or LSJ (or Allen & Greenough or Lewis & Short on the Latin side), so that readers can see for themselves and perhaps pick up some additional information, too. Usually Smyth explains grammatical points better than I can, and gives some examples to back them up.
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Re: Arabian Nights

Postby jeidsath » Tue Apr 08, 2014 2:55 am

Burton's Arabian Night's are wonderful. I read them as a young child, and discovered his footnotes as an adult. The footnotes are an education in themselves.

The normal English word "an" comes from the Old English word for "one." But this use of "an" comes from the Middle English word for "and." It means "if" or "so long as" and is (always?) used with the subjective in this form.

Here is the construction in Chaucer as "and:"

Allas, why werestow so wyd a cope?
God yeve me sorwe, but, and I were a pope,
Nat oonly thou, but every myghty man,
Though he were shorn ful hye upon his pan,
Sholde have a wyf; for al the world is lorn!
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Re: Arabian Nights

Postby Paul Derouda » Tue Apr 08, 2014 9:04 am

Burton's Arabian Nights has its own appeal, but as far as I understand, it's not much of a translation, and neither are the other older English translations. Burton's main interest is everything that's foreign or taboo in his own Victorian Britain, especially sex, and that shows very clearly in his translation and his commentary. There's also the problem that the older translations didn't work with a proper Arabic edition of the text and they generally took great liberties with the story. So in general I would say that Burton's translation tells more about his own colonial British Empire of the Victorian era than about the Arabic world.

There's a recent translation based on a critical edition of the Arabian Nights by Husain Haddawy. He is very critical (perhaps too critical, because I think Burton has his own merit) of older translations. You can actually read (and it's well worth reading, if you are interested in Burton) the beginning of his critique of Burton in Amazon's "Look inside" ("Past translations, p. xix-xxii).

http://www.amazon.com/Arabian-Nights-Ne ... in+haddawy

I certainly recommend Haddawy's translation, if you want the "real" story. I have both Haddawy and Burton myself.
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Re: Arabian Nights

Postby Helikwps » Wed Apr 09, 2014 4:05 pm

Thank you all so much for your replies to this and here here to ailuros's praise of Qimmik, who has helped me out of a bind countless times. I learned some old english here as well! All best, Tim
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