sea travel and Sinbad the Sailor

SinbadtheSailorBuyenlargeGetty1925.jpg - Buyenlarge / Getty Images
Sinbad the Sailor on his seventh voyage, 1925 illustration.  Buyenlarge / Getty Images
Sinbad the Sailor is one of the most famous heroes of Middle Eastern literature.  In the tales of his seven voyages, Sinbad battles incredible monsters, visits amazing lands, and meets with supernatural forces as he sails the Indian Ocean's fabled trade routes.

  In western translations, Sinbad's stories are included among those that Scheherazade
 Image result for Scheherazade
Scheherazade /ʃəˌhɛrəˈzɑːdᵊ/, or "Shahrazad", is a legendary Arabic queen and the storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights. Wikipedia

One Thousand and One Nights - Wikipedia, the free ...
 told during the One Thousand and One Nights, which is set in Baghdad during the reign of the Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid (r.
786-809 CE).  In Arabic translations of the Arabian nights, however, Sinbad is absent.

During the reign of the Harun al-Rashid, the city of Baghdad began to flourish as a center of knowledge, culture and trade.
  1. Harun al-Rashid
    Caliph of Baghdad
  2. Harun al-Rashid was the fifth Abbasid Caliph. His birth date is debated, with various sources giving dates from 763 to 766. Wikipedia

  3. Born: March 17, 763 AD, Ray, Iran
  4. Died: March 24, 809 AD, Tous, Iran
The interesting question for historians, then, is this: Was Sinbad the Sailor based upon a single historical figure, or is he a composite character derived from various bold seafarers who plied the monsoon winds?  If he once existed, who was he?

The name Sinbad seems to come from the Persian Sindbad, meaning "Lord of the Sindh River."  Sindhu is the Persian variant of the Indus River, indicating that he was a sailor from the coast of what was then India.  This linguistic analysis also points to the stories being Persian in origin, even though existing versions are all in Arabic.

 Image result for Soleiman Siraf, persian sailor

On the other hand, there are many striking parallels between many of Sinbad's adventures and those of Odysseus in Homer's great classic, The Odyssey, and other stories from classical Greek literature.

  For example, the cannibalistic monster in the Third Voyage of Sinbad is very similar to Polyphemus Image result for Polyphemusfrom the Odyssey, and he meets the same fate - being blinded with the hot iron spits he was using to eat the ship's crew.

  During his Fourth Voyage, Sinbad is buried alive, but follows an animal to escape the underground cavern, much like the story of Aristomenes 

The Story of Aristomenes - The Baldwin Project
The Story of Aristomenes from Three Greek Children
 the Messenian.  These and other similarities point to Sinbad being a figure of folklore, rather than an actual person.

It is possible, however, that Sinbad was a real historical figure with an insatiable urge to travel and a gift for telling tall tales.  It may be that after his death, other traditional travel tales were grafted on to his adventures to produce the Seven Voyages we now remember.

Sinbad may be based in part on a Persian adventurer and trader named Suleiman Siraf, who traveled from Persia all the way to southern China around the year 775 CE. Generally, throughout the centuries that the Indian Ocean trade network existed, merchants and sailors traveled just one of the three great monsoonal circuits, meeting up and trading with one another at the nodes where those circuits met.

  Siraf is credited with being the first person from western Asia to complete the entire voyage himself.  Siraf likely gained great renown in his own time, particularly if he made it home with a hold full of silk, spices, jewels, and porcelain.  Perhaps he was the factual foundation upon which the Sinbad stories were built.

In Oman, many people believe that Sinbad is based on a sailor from the city of Sohar,
      • Image result for city of Sohar,
    1. Map of sohar oman
  1. Sohar
    City in Oman
  2. Sohar is the capital and largest city of the Al Batinah North Governorate in the Sultanate of Oman. An ancient capital of the country that once served as an important Islamic port town, Sohar has also ... Wikipedia

who sailed out of the port of Basra in what is now Iraq.
How he came to have a Persianized Indian name is not clear.

In 1980, a joint Irish-Omani team sailed a replica 
 of a ninth-century dhow
The Jewel of Muscat at the Maritime Experiential Museum & Aquarium in Singapore
 Oman - Traditional dhow (sailing vessel) building - YouTube
Feb 26, 2015 - Uploaded by Jan van Bekkum
For centuries Dhows, traditional wooden sailing vessels, have ploughed the seas around the Arabic ...
from Oman to southern China, using period navigational instruments only, in order to prove that such a voyage was possible.
  They successfully reached southern China, proving that sailors even many centuries ago could have done so, but that brings us no closer to proving who Sinbad was, or which western port he sailed from.
In all likelihood, bold and footloose adventurers much like Sinbad set out from any number of port cities around the rim of the Indian Ocean in search of novelty and treasure.  We will probably never know if any particular one of them inspired the Tales of Sinbad the Sailor - but it is fun to imagine Sinbad himself, leaning back in his chair in Basra or Sohar or Karachi, spinning another fabulous story to his spellbound audience of land-lubbers.

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