Could the tale of an insignificant street-dwelling young man who rises to become an occupant of a royal palace after marrying its princess, with the help of a blue genie that came out of a lamp, be a real story? Was Aladdin a real person?
Scholars now believe that the classic tale was based on the true story of a Maronite from Aleppo, Syria, according to Time.
While the life story of the Syrian voyager and interpreter Hanna Diyab does not involve a blue genie that does standup comedy, it does very much satisfy the general theme of Aladdin and many of its aspects and descriptions.
Aladdin is about a penniless and homeless young man whose greatest ambition is to ascend the social ladder to the very top. He sets his eyes on his city’s royal palace and the princess who resides in it.
Voyager Hanna Diyab would accompany and interpret for Paul Lucas; a French tomb raider who traveled between France and the Middle East in the 18th century to collect jewels and luxuries for King Louis XIV.
One day in 1709, Lucas was meeting a friend of his, Antoine Galland, a scholar and diplomat, who had been collecting Arabic stories for his translation of the famed One Thousand and One Nights (The Arabian Nights).
Diyab was there when Lucas met with Galland, and he was introduced to the scholar. When Galland, who was at that point short on stories for his work, knew that Diyab was Syrian, he asked him if he knew any Arabian Nights stories.
Diyab proceeded to narrate the story of Aladdin, as well as the famous story of Ali Baba & The Forty Thieves, over multiple meetups with the French scholar. Galland published the two stories in one of his volumes of story collections in 1717.
Scholars studying the origin of Aladdin have concluded that this was the first point in history that the story appeared, which means it was Diyab’s creation.
While there’s yet to be consensus on the matter, most scholars believe the story is about Hanna Diyab himself.
This was concluded after Diyab’s travelogue was found in 1993. In the diary, Diyab mentions the time he told Galland the story.
What’s interesting about this memoir is that it contains descriptions of his rough upbringing as an impoverished adolescent in Aleppo who dreamt of owning a market stall.
What it also describes is how awestricken he was when he saw Versailles for the first time as a 20-year-old, after he had escaped his unforgiving life in Aleppo.
In his diary, Diyab portrays how he was first presented at the court of Louis XIV and how he stood out with his traditional Arabic clothing.
Scholars have found that Diyab’s perspective on Versailles matches the description of Aladdin’s city in the story.
“Aladdin might be the young Arab Maronite from Aleppo, marveling at the jewels and riches of Versailles,” said Paulo Lemos Horta, who edited a translation of Galland’s Aladdin in 2018.
Scholars of this marvelous story believe that Aladdin is the personal account of Diyab’s experiences as a child in Aleppo who grew up to see a different version of society during his travels to France.
In that society, the young dreamer saw a path towards a better life enriched with promising, alluring – almost fantastic – opportunities.