Qamar al-Zaman and the Princess Boudour
This article looks at two stories within the 1001 nights that set up scenes of apparent homoeroticism due to gender disguise. In two romances—that of Qamar and Budur, and that of Ali Shar and Zumurrud—the woman disguises herself as a man during a period when the lovers are separated, and then when they are reunited and the disguised woman is in a position of greater social power, she teases her lover (who has not recognized her or even realized she is a woman) by demanding that he submit to her sexually (believing he is submitting to a man).
This article looks at how beauty and attractiveness and desirability are framed within the early manuscripts of the 1001 Nights as involving similarity rather than gender difference. While later editions, and especially translations and adaptations into western languages, tended to insert a more binary-gendered aesthetic into the descriptions of characters in the thousand and one nights, this is a conceptual shift from the early versions.
Amer begins by tackling the Whorfian-tinged assertion that the lack of a specific terminology for lesbianism in medieval Europe contributed to a lack of modern scholarship about same-sex desire between women in that era, by noting that the existence of a diverse and specific vocabulary for the topic in medieval Arabic (sahq, sihaqa, musahaqat, al-nisa’, sahiqa) hasn’t resulted in a vibrant field of study. This is particularly disappointing given the significant surviving literature on the topic.
Epps considers themes in stories from The Thousand and One Nights that compare and contrast gender, particularly in terms of evaluating gendered ideas of beauty, and cultural framings of gendered responses to another’s beauty. The initial discusion covers a debate between two jinn (one male, one female) regarding whether boys or girls are more beautiful. On test that is suggested is which gender is least able to control themselves sexually on seeing the other. I.e., that greater beauty will more easily overcome self-control in the other.
This chapter compares similarities and differences in a related group of stories from both French and Arabic sources that use cross-gender disguise as a bridge to the possibility of same-sex relations. The French tales and their Arabic counterpart share enough themes and tropes to suggest a common inspiration, but the attitudes of the characters and the resolutions reflect their respective cultural differences.