Stories for Sleepless Kings

Borges, in his lecture on the Thousand and One Nights, refers to a “curious note” by the Orientalist Baron von Hammer-Purgstall about confabulatores nocturni – an ancient tradition of professional storytellers. The idea is that Alexander the Great was the first to avail himself of such nocturnal tellers of tales, to assuage his insomnia during the Asian campaign. And that the tales they told him were the embryo of the Thousand and One Nights. Balderdash, likely, but a beautiful notion. Let me add to it the following: To the extent that anything can be agreed upon regarding these stories, philologians believe a nucleus of them originated in India, and that over the centuries Persian, Arab, and even European material subsequently built up around those. So, what if Alexander’s ‘nocturnal storytellers’ were the womb of the Nights? Furthermore, what if his army’s anabasis from the Hyphasis River to Babylon was the transmission vector of stories birthed in India to their Persian crèche?

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