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I'm wondering what the "symbolic etymology", so to speak, is for the Lamp in the story of Aladdin and its relation to the Genie. Why would a genie be bound to an object and be made a servant to its finder? Can one assume the genie did something bad once and was punished to subjugation to the lamp, or is it somehow in their nature? Also, why would it seem reasonable for the genie to be bound to a lamp, of all the things it could be bound to?

Please don't misunderstand: I'm not asking what had happened in the mythological past that caused this particular genie to be bound to this particular lamp, but about what aspects of ancient Arabic culture might give rise to a myth about a genie bound to a lamp; or what the cultural connotations of an oil lamp might be, which would make the thought of someone or something (whichever category a genie would belong to) being bound to it emerge from the Arabic memeplex.

Lastly, I realize that History.SE isn't for mythological questions, but I thought that this question may be okay in that I'm not asking about things within the mythology, but for the historical cultural circumstances that gave rise to it. I'm reasoning that questions about ancient cultural symbols isn't very far removed from questions about ancient languages, which the FAQ explicitly lists as on-topic, or otherwise about historical cultural evolution. If my reasoning is wrong, feel free to close the question, I guess; in that case, perhaps I can at least serve to set a precedent.

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    This is quite an interesting question, however Aladdin was only added to the thousand and one nights collection in the 18th century, by a Frenchman, and there are no known prior Arabic sources for the story. – yannis Mar 26 '14 at 9:45
  • @YannisRizos: Wikipedia does state that the Frenchman in question did hear the story from a Syrian story-teller. – Dolda2000 Mar 26 '14 at 9:46
  • Sure, but still there are no Arabic sources documenting the myth (or variations of) before Galland did. If Aladdin was an Arabic myth, it certainly wasn't popular enough. – yannis Mar 26 '14 at 9:48
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    "The Fisherman and the Jinni" has a genie/jinn bound in a jar. When the jar is opened the genie comes out in a plume of smoke. This is not that different from the tale of the lamp, so I think the concept of a genie bound to a household container has a basis in Arabic myth. – called2voyage Mar 26 '14 at 13:56
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    @RazieMah: The story of Aladdin aside, I think it's quite uncontroversial that the story of the Fisherman and the Jinni and the myth of Solomon's Ring, as discussed in the answer, are Arabian in origin. – Dolda2000 Mar 26 '14 at 21:23
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The basis for binding genies or jinn to household objects comes from medieval Islamic lore surrounding King Solomon of Israel.

King Solomon used a magic ring to control djinn and protect him from them. The ring was set with a gem, probably a diamond, that had a living force of its own. With the ring, Solomon branded the necks of the djinn as his slaves.

One story tells that a jealous djinn (sometimes identified as Asmodeus) stole the ring while Solomon bathed in the river Jordan. The djinn seated himself on Solomon's throne at his palace and reigned over his kingdom, forcing Solomon to become a wanderer. God compelled the djinn to throw the ring into the sea. Solomon retrieved it and punished the djinn by imprisoning him in a bottle.

-- Guiley, Rosemary. The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology

The idea that sitting around somewhere on a forgotten shelf was an old, dusty bottle, containing a powerful magical being who was bound to serve human wishes, was an attractive catch for storytellers, as evidenced by the fact that this old legend has been respun several times in tales both ancient and modern.


As far as the lamp itself is concerned, it was yet another household container that one might find anywhere. The connection between lamps and spirits was fairly common in Jewish culture (see Revelation 4:5 for one example), so it is possible the signficance of this imagery played a factor in a lamp being chosen for the tale of Aladdin rather than a bottle or a jar.

  • That is very interesting. Might I ask if you can back up the claim that King Solomon's Ring has pre-Islamic roots, however? Wikipedia seems to claim that it is a strictly Islamic tradition. Not that that being the case makes it a less good answer; I'm just curious. – Dolda2000 Mar 26 '14 at 16:27
  • @Dolda2000 That was from my source, though the source does seem a little ambiguous as to whether that tale itself was pre-Islamic or jinn in general. I'll see if I can find another source. – called2voyage Mar 26 '14 at 16:28
  • "The Fisherman and the Jinn" is very interesting indeed in this context. I can very much see it being a link between the story of King Solomon's Ring and the story of Aladdin. – Dolda2000 Mar 26 '14 at 16:30
  • @Dolda2000 You are correct it seems to come from medieval Islamic lore. – called2voyage Mar 26 '14 at 16:34
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    Ok, I'm going have to end the conversation because its simply not constructive. As I remarked before, there is no consensus answer to this question. – Razie Mah Mar 27 '14 at 19:08
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Genies (also called jinn or genii) are spirits in cultures of the Middle East and Africa. The term genie comes from the Arabic word jinni, which referred to an evil spirit that could take the shape of an animal or person. It could be found in every kind of nonliving thing, even air and fire.

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