The Voyages of Sinbad

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Few literary works have gained the worldwide popularity achieved by the Thousand and One Nights. Many of the narratives this anthology contains gained their appeal independently of their home collection, which is especially true of the adventures of “Sinbad the Sailor” and his seven voyages. An old manuscript indicates that the appearance of this narrative on the Arab-Islamic culture scene probably took place shortly before the advent of the ninth or even the eighth centuries.

The stories of Sinbad’s travails, which were a relatively late addition to Thousand and One Nights, were based on the experiences of merchants from Basra (Iraq) trading under great risk with the East Indies and China, probably in the early Abbāsid period (750–c. 850).

A. The First Voyage Of Sinbad the Sailor

After dissipating the wealth left to him by his father, Sinbad goes to sea to repair his fortune. He sets ashore on what appears to be an island, but this island proves to be a gigantic sleeping whale on which trees have taken root.

B. The Second Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor

Sinbad tells how he grew restless of his life of leisure and set out to sea again, “possessed with the thought of traveling about the world of men and seeing their cities and islands”.

C. The Third Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor

Restless for travel and adventure, Sinbad sets sail again from Basra.

D. The Fourth Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor

Impelled by restlessness Sinbad takes to the seas again.

E. The Fifth Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor

“When I had been a while on shore after my fourth voyage; and when, in my comfort and pleasures and merry-makings and in my rejoicing over my large gains and profits, I had forgotten all I had endured of perils and sufferings, the carnal man was again seized with the longing to travel and to see foreign countries and islands.”

F. The Sixth Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor

“My soul yearned for travel and traffic”.

G. The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor

The ever-restless Sinbad sets sail once more.

In Baghdad, the heart of the Muslim Empire under Abbasid rule, unprecedented amounts of wealth were accumulated by average members of society. At the same time, a new social class, schooled mostly in religious writings, emerged. Its members were in search of literary excitement. They received with great enthusiasm the new adventurous accounts attributed to the imaginary character of Scheherazade the raconteuse.

Luxurious consumer goods were acquired from faraway places. The Silk Road, stretching from China to cities in the heart of Muslim lands, provided one of the major commercial arteries for meeting the demands for sumptuous living among inhabitants of these cities. Another route, a part of the seafaring traditions of the Gulf regions of Arabia and Mesopotamia, was the naval route to the Orient, notably “China”, the Malay Archipelago and the fictitious “Waq el-Waq” (probably Japan). These regions constituted the inspiration for Sinbad’s adventures. Sinbad’s seven seafaring experiences began from the famed seaport of Basra at the tip of the Gulf leading to the Indian Ocean.

For the rest of this article (Asian Geographic Issue 4/2014 No. 106) and other stories, check out our past issues here or download digital copy here.

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