Francesca Bellino

Embassies and exchanges of letters and gifts in the Seven Travels of Sindbād the Seafaring Merchant: interferences between Adab and Arabian Nights

In 1922, Paul Casanova published an article in which he attempted a textual analysis of the Seven Travels of Sindbād in view of the information arising from the manuscripts preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris. He reviewed a number of episodes, examining sources and any references in Arabic literature, with particular attention on the embassy of Sindbād the Seafaring Merchant to the king of the island of Serendīb and the exchange of letters and gifts with the caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd. Casanova had identified the precursors of this episode described between the sixth and seventh travel in some passages of al-Mas‘ūdī’s Murūǧ al-ḏahab. Before him, already De Goeje (1889) and Chauvin (1904) had focused on this episode, which only appears in the oldest, independent, drafting of the Seven Travels of Sindbād, arguing that it would characterize the so-called “A-redaction” (i.e. a redaction of the story not incorporated into the frame of the Arabian Nights and therefore not divided into nights). 

This paper attempts to analyze the episode of the embassy of Sindbād to the king of Serendīb on the basis of new textual evidence. On the one hand, it considers the episode of the embassy with the exchange of letters and gifts in the context of adab literature. Indeed, some other authors such as al-Ǧāḥiẓ and Ibn ‘Abd al-Rabbih convey this same episode but referring to different figures. On the other side, recently discovered manuscripts of the Seven Travels of Sindbād allow to reconsider this episode in the context of the textual history of the story itself.