Open Sesame (phrase)
"Open Sesame" (Arabic: افتح يا سمسم iftaḥ yā simsim, French: Sésame, ouvre-toi) is a magical phrase in the story of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" in One Thousand and One Nights. It opens the mouth of a cave in which forty thieves have hidden a treasure.
The phrase first appears in writing in Antoine Galland's Les Mille et une nuits (1704–1717) as Sésame, ouvre-toi (English, "Sesame, open!"). No earlier oral or written version of the story is known.
Use in the story
In the story, Ali Baba overhears the thieves saying "open sesame". His brother later cannot remember the phrase, and confuses it with the names of other grains (becoming trapped in the magic cave).
There are many theories about the origin of the phrase. Indeed, it is not certain that the word "sesame" actually refers to the sesame plant or seed.
Some older, rejected, theories include:
- Sesame is a reduplication of the Hebrew šem 'name' i.e. God or a kabbalistic word representing the Talmudic šem-šamáįm ("shem-shamayim"), 'name of heaven'.
- Sesame is connected to Babylonian magic practices which used sesame oil.
In popular literature
In Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves, Popeye does not understand the phrase "open sesame": "I wonder what that word was he used when he opened this door? Open sissy! Open sayso!" Later, he opens his can of spinach saying "Open, says me!"
In Ali Baba Bunny, after seeing Bugs Bunny's gopher trail pass under the door, the guardian of the cave cannot remember the magic phrase. Like Ali Baba's brother, Hassan makes several failed attempts at using sibilant alliterations, including "sarsaparilla", "Saskatchewan", "septuagenarian", and "saddle soap". At the end of the episode, Bugs himself uses the contrapositive term "Oh brother, close sesame"
In "Aladdin and the King of Thieves", the King of Thieves known as "Cassim" (Aladdin's long lost father) shouts out the password, loud enough to open up the hidden gateway and open up a path in the sea to their secret hideout on an island off the coastline. Later on Cassim's ruthless, disloyal, and corrupt second-in-command, "Sa'luk," reveals the location and password to the captain of the guard, Razoul, who at first misstates it as "Open Caraway!" The entrance doesn't open until his guards point out that it's "Open Sesame". Most of the thieves are captured and arrested, leaving fewer left along with Sa'luk to return and finally take over and overthrow Cassim.
- "Les mille et une nuits : contes arabes / traduits par Galland, ornés de gravures". Gallica.bnf.fr. 2009-05-25. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
- "The Novelist's Magazine - Google Boeken". Books.google.com. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
- S. Thompson, Motif-index of folk-literature : a classification of narrative elements in folktales, ballads, myths, fables, mediaeval romances, exempla, fabliaux, jest-books, and local legends", 1955-1958.  cf. Aarne–Thompson classification system
- Peiser, as reported in Haupt
- Nöldeke, as reported in Haupt
- Memorable quotes for Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves at IMDB 
- Memorable quotes for Ali Baba Bunny at IMDB