the flying carpet

Gillian Ayres, Room of Crivelli I, 1967


The carpet, which in flight became an actor of The one thousand and one nights, is one of the great inventions and heritage of humanity

we owe to The one thousand and one nights intimacy with the flying carpet, or magic carpet, one of Aladdin's talismans, the one with the Lamp and the Genie. It fulfills our fantasy of flying autonomously, common in children and in the dreams of adults.

The carpet occupies a place of honor in a civilization where, unlike the West, it triggers projections. In addition to adorning palaces, it covers tents in the desert, where it is the only floor on top of the sand. Hanging to form curtains and partitions, it replaces walls. With its multicolored plot, in which reduced copies of fountains and branches and little animals can be seen (belying the notion that Islam prohibits images), it operates an internalization of the oasis or the garden. Symbolically transferring them into the home, it mitigates the harsh harshness of the surrounding charred landscape.

Typical of shepherd peoples, who thus took advantage of the wool of their flocks of sheep, its development and apogee takes place in Persia, today Iran. So much so that, whatever its origin, whether it comes from China, Egypt or Turkey, three major suppliers of rugs, it has become known as the “Persian rug”.

Who can help us better understand the flying carpet is Gaston Bachelard, the French philosopher who wrote the beautiful series of books in which he analyzes the literary figures of what he called the “imagination of the four elements” – earth, water, fire and air.

Bachelard defines the “oneiric flight” (in The air and the dreams) and the “ascending reverie” in defiance of the forces of gravity (in The earth and the daydreams of rest), this being a fatality that human ingenuity would come to contradict. The desire to fly precedes the invention of the airplane by several millennia, with the right to artistic representation. Think of the angels of Christian iconography: the seraphim have three pairs of wings, as seen in so much Medieval and Renaissance painting. Or the winged bulls with human heads of the Assyrians. Among the supreme Egyptian gods, Isis is usually represented with two wings outstretched, which she uses to fan Osiris and resuscitate him. God of the firmament, Horus, the couple's son, has wings and a falcon's head. Among the Greeks, Hermes (Mercury for the Romans), the messenger of the gods, sported a pair of wings on each heel, ensuring mobility through the air.

But the gods also had a messenger, Iris-with-the-Golden Wings, who, when moving between Earth and Olympus, streaked across the sky, creating rainbows in her wake. Famous and frequent in the plastic arts is Pegasus, the winged horse, as well as the griffin and the birdlike mermaid. Leonardo Da Vinci created several flying machines, which he did not get to test, but they are on display in museums and even came to Brazil, in an exhibition at Oca do Ibirapuera. And Gaston Bachelard records from documented cases of people who tried to fly with gadgets or false wings and crashed, to something that goes back to mythology like the legend of Icarus.

As is known, this Greek took to the skies with wings of feathers, but got distracted by tracing arabesques in the ether and got too close to the Sun, in an allegory of excess. The wax that held the wings melted, Icarus fell and died.

who appreciated The one thousand and one nights it was Jorge Luis Borges. In addition to quoting her often, he also wrote a scholarly essay on her translators. To them we can add Mamede Jarouche, a professor at USP, who produced a Brazilian version. In the essay, Borges unfolds his knowledge.

A follower of countercurrent reasoning, Borges, in his twisted and heterodox way, initially compares the two most famous translations: the first, Galland's into French, purged of the erotic episodes, and Burton's into English, which tries to restore what censorship had mutilated. Pasolini's beautiful (and libertine) film is based on the latter. Borges exalts the aesthetic quality of the first, which maintains the wonderful and magical atmosphere of the work, to the detriment of its reticence. He also examines other translations and controversies, for example praising Mardrus' infidelities in more rococo extrapolations than the original, excusing him for the creative collaboration.

The carpet, which in flight became an actor of The one thousand and one nights, is one of the great inventions and heritage of humanity: as you can see, it deserves respect.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of Reading and rereading (Sesc\Ouro over Blue).

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