Shahrazad’s pharmacy: women’s bodies of knowledge in “The Tale of the Porter and the Three Ladies”

Anny Gaul
  • Middle Eastern Literatures, May 2016, Taylor & Francis
  • DOI: 10.1080/1475262x.2016.1211407

Medicinal flowers shape stories in 1001 Nights

What is it about?

A story cycle in the famous 1001 Nights opens with a shopping trip in a Baghdad market. This article argues that the flowers purchased by a character in the market are not just decoration, but change the way we read the story and its outcome. By referencing these flowers' significance in the medical literature of the time, we can understand them as embodiments of women's knowledge.

Why is it important?

The 1001 Nights tends to be read within a conventional feminist framework, and within the context of popular Arabic literature. By reading across genres and using materia medica and pharmacological manuals from the time to reread these tales, we can revisit what the stories say about patriarchy while situating the Nights in their broader cultural context.


Anny Gaul (Author)
Georgetown University

Writing this article helped me clarify my approach to working across disciplines and bodies of literature often not in conversation. I hope it provides a model for reading outside of boundaries imposed by disciplines and institutions, and helps others to reexamine categories like science, medicine, food, and literature.

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