Enchanted flying carpets and genies may still be up for debate, but we have reason to believe that “Aladdin” could actually be based on a real person.
Reports suggest that it all comes from a Syrian man, Hanna Diyab, who told the tale to the French translator Antoine Galland. The world believed Galland was the creator, but cultural historian Arafat Razzaque said that isn’t true.
The story of Aladdin appeared for the first time in Galland’s translated version. It was of “One Thousand and One Nights,” also known as “Arabian Nights,” he made clear that he got the story from Diyab.
“You may wonder whether Diyab actually existed”, Razzaque said. Recent evidence indicates yes. The proof was obtained in the form of hand wriiten manuscript.
“A lot of new research being done about the man behind Aladdin,” says Arafat A. Razzaque, researcher at Cambridge University’s Centre of Islamic Studies.
“The twist in recent years is that in the 1990s, 1993, a volume, a manuscript came to light that’s at the Vatican library and it turns out it is a memoir or autobiography and a travel log written by this mysterious man, Hanna Diyab, who we had been speculating about for over a century,” Razzaque said.
The two men spoke over the course of numerous one-on-one meetings — with Diyab divulging vivifarous stories he heard throughout his travels, including other popular tales such as well as “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.”
“Aladdin might be the young Arab Maronite from Aleppo, marveling at the jewels and riches of Versailles,” Horta says. “Diyab himself came from a modest background, and hungered for the class ascension that occurred in story of Aladdin. He wanted to have a market stall, and in the Aladdin story, the magician, masquerading as Aladdin’s uncle, promises to set him up as a cloth merchant with a shop of his own so he might live as a gentleman.”
“That’s a mind-blowing revision of our understanding of where the story came from — the recognition that Aladdin is not just the fantasy of a 60-year-old French scholar and translator, but that it was born through the narrative skills and distinctive experience of a 20-year-old traveler from Aleppo,” Horta tells Time. “Diyab was ideally placed to embody the overlapping world of East and West, blending the storytelling traditions of his homeland with his youthful observations of the wonder of 18th-century France.”
In one session of the log, Diyab described evidently how Galland’s buddy, Paul Lucas, had presented him to the court of Louis XIV in Versailles.
“Lucas insisted that Diyab dress in stereotypically Oriental Fashion,” says Horta.
“A long tunic, baggy pantaloons, a headscarf of Damascene fabric, a precious belt, a silver dagger and a fur cap from Cairo,” the outfit was sad to have included.
“There is little in the writings of Galland that would suggest that he was capable of developing a character like Aladdin with sympathy, but Diyab’s memoir reveals a narrator adept at capturing the distinctive psychology of a young protagonist, as well as recognizing the kinds of injustices and opportunities that can transform the path of any youthful adventurer,” Horta explains.
“The day Diyab told the story of Aladdin to Galland, there were riots due to food shortages during the winter and spring of 1708 to 1709, and Diyab was sensitive to those people in a way that Galland is not. When you read this diary, you see this solidarity among the Arabs who were in Paris at the time.”