We talk to scholar Elias Muhanna about translating a magical, delightful eighteenth-century travelogue. In 1707 Hanna Diyab journeyed from his native Aleppo as translator to a rapacious and sometimes ridiculous Frenchman. He survived a shipwreck and a pirate attack, met King Louis XIV, and gave The Thousand and One Nights translator Antoine Galland a dozen new stories. Cheated out of a promised job in Paris, he eventually returned to Syria, where he wrote it all up in his old age.
You can download a free Arabic PDF of the Book of Travels on the Library of Arabic Literature website.
You can read more about Diyab (and speculation about whether he was the “real Aladdin”) in Paolo Lemos Horta’s Marvellous Thieves: Secret Authors of the Arabian Nights.
You can read Yasmine Seale’s stand-alone translation of Aladdin, introduced by Lemos Horta, or get her new Annotated Arabian Nights, edited and introduced by Lemos Horta, out this month from WW Norton.