Physiognomy and the Nights

The opening prologue of the oldest version of the Nights declares that the stories it records were recorded for a
reason — namely, they are intended to serve as “instruction of those who peruse it,” and its stories, “teach the
reader to detect deception and to protect himself from it.” As noted in class, the phrase “teach the reader to
detect deception” actually reads somewhat differently in the original Arabic. More literally, it says that the
stories “teach the reader al-firāsah (الفراسة“.(
But what is al-firāsah? The idea of al-firāsah is, more specifically, the art of physiognomancy – the ability to
discern a person’s internal characteristics from their external appearances, their physiognomy.
Physiognomancy was a respected art in both the Greek- and Arabic-speaking worlds, even if less known today,
but being cognizant of its importance to the storytellers of the nights help us understand certain literary motifs
encountered within its pages.
For this assignment, choose two prominent characters – one good and one wicked – from any of stories that
we read together from the Nights (e.g., Badr al-Dīn Ḥasan, one of the Ladies of Baghdad, the Hunchback, and
so on) whose appearance is richly described and read closely how they are described in terms of their external
appearance. In what way does the behavior of the character you chose correspond with, or go against, their
external appearance?

Sample Solution