I'm OP and I have to confess I dropped the Arabian Nights a couple of days after I started, getting just a little beyond Shahrazad'a frame story.
Instead I've been reading something quite different and I dare say quite rare indeed. In fact I don't think there's a translation of this in English at all, certainly not in its entirety and even in its native language this text is known by very few and read by even fewer.
I'm talking about Chronicle of king Peter I by Fernão Lopes, written around the 1430s. It's a very interesting text about two kings Peter, the Portuguese one and the Castilian one. Funny how the people chronicled here reminded me of the characters on the Arabian Nights. These kings are cruel and prone to violence. The Castilian Peter is perticularly perverse. The whole book is a long collection of people being terribly punished, hung, beheaded, shot, drowned, stabbed, clubbed, burnt and worse.
Yet there's a charm here, not only in the content but how Lopes tells us about those things. He uses a very personal, casual style and informs us about it in a very unceremoniously manner. I just was not expecting that from an official document from the 1400s.
Some of the events he tells us are quite memorable. There's this particular episode when the Castilian Peter uses caravels to transport his army in order to besiege a particular city. The siege doesn't go as planned and he orders every single man, including the sailors, to go ashore and help. Then at the evening a particularly strong wind pushes most of his caravels against the rocks and since no one was manning the fleet he loses most of it. Some he has to actually burn it down because he's afraid his enemy is going to be able to use them once he retreats. Lopes then casually informs us that some of those boats were from Genova and the Genovese sailors had to go back to their home on foot 'and they were very upset about it'. I imagine they were.
Also interesting is his sense of justice being nothing but the will to punish. He tells us several episodes where the Portuguese Peter goes out punishing adulterers, thieves and murderers. This guy liked to go around his kingdom, asking if there were any criminals to be punished that particular day and if there were he was quick carry out the punishment himself. Peter would have a cudgel on him at all times just in case the place he was visiting at the time had a criminal in need of a good beating. He also liked to wPost too long. Click here to view the full text.