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Oriental Department


Exposition “Travelling Tales: One Thousand and One Nights between the Orient and Europe”

Exposition “Travelling Tales: One Thousand and One Nights between the Orient and Europe”

Scheherezade enchants the Staatsbibliothek

The One Thousand and One Nights ranks among the most influential works of world literature. A multimedia exposition with 200 exhibits in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin illustrates the manifold oral and written traditions and the manifestations of the collection of tales.

More than 300 tales are associated with One Thousand and One Nights, which never were a finished literary work. It is an open collection of tales, fables, and fairy tales, its composition was influenced by oral narrative traditions of the Orient as well as later European translations and literary adaptations.
Coming from India and via Iran, there was a first Arabian version of the collection of tales in the 8th century. In the course of time, many more tales were incorporated into the collection, for example, legendary events involving the Baghdad Caliph Harun al-Rashid (died 809) or fantastic tales from Egypt. The French edition by Antoine Galland is the oldest known written testimony of some of the tales most popular in Europe, such as those of Aladdin or Ali Baba. As a result of Galland‘s French literary adaptation the tales of One Thousand and One Nights became extremely popular in 18th-century Europe. Like no other work, the tales at that time shaped the Occidental perception of the Orient and inspired the fanciful interpretations of countless authors and book artists. The frame story, in which Sheherazade, through her storytelling, dissuades King Shahriyar from his cruel intention to kill, has not only become a symbol of a strong and inventive woman but also an allegory for the power of storytelling.

Beginning with the Indian and Persian origins of the fairy tales, the exhibition illustrates oral narrative traditions of the Arab World and literate culture in the Orient as well as the multifaceted European literary reception in translations, literary works and book art as well. Old Arabian manuscripts, rare historical prints, splendid illustrated volumes, advertising art and elaborately designed children’s books are examples that there existed during many centuries a relationship between the Orient and Europe, which was both tension-filled and fruitful.

In the foyer of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin visitors are greeted with impressive video and audio installations of the film artist Thomas Ladenburger, and they will find themselves drawn into the fantastic world of jugglers and storytellers in Marrakesh.

In cooperation with the Universitätsbibliothek der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the Kunstbibliothek – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

Zur Ausstellung erscheint ein Begleitband im Insel-Verlag: 184 Seiten, 78 farbige Abbildungen, Preis: 18 € (Insel-Bücherei 2038), ISBN 978-3-458-20038-3.