One Thousand and One Nights (Arabic: كتاب ألف ليلة وليلة Kitāb ‘alf layla wa-layla; Persian: هزار و یک شب Hezār-o yek šab) is a collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian stories and folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age. It is often known in English as the Arabian Nights, from the first English language edition (1706), which rendered the title as The Arabian Nights’ Entertainment.
The original concept is most likely derived from an ancient Sassanid Persian prototype that relied partly on Indian elements,but the work as we have it was collected over many centuries by various authors, translators and scholars across the Middle East and North Africa. The tales themselves trace their roots back to ancient and medieval Arabic, Persian, Indian, Egyptian and Mesopotamian folklore and literature. In particular, many tales were originally folk stories from the Caliphate era, while others, especially the frame story, are most probably drawn from the Pahlavi Persian work Hazār Afsān (Persian: هزار افسان, lit. Thousand Tales). Though the oldest Arabic manuscript dates from the 14th century, scholarship generally dates the collection’s genesis to around the 9th century.
What is common throughout all the editions of the Nights is the initial frame story of the ruler Shahryar (from Persian meaning “king” or “sovereign”) and his wife Scheherazade (from Persian: شهرزاده, meaning “townswoman”) and the framing device incorporated throughout the tales themselves. The stories proceed from this original tale; some are framed within other tales, while others begin and end of their own accord. Some editions contain only a few hundred nights, while others include 1,001 or more.
Some of the best-known stories of The Nights, particularly “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp”, “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” and “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor”, while almost certainly genuine Middle-Eastern folk tales, were not part of The Nights in Arabic versions, but were interpolated into the collection by its early European translators.
A page from Kelileh va Demneh dated 1429, from Herat, a Persian translation of the Panchatantra — depicts the manipulative jackal-vizier, Dimna, trying to lead his lion-king into war.
The tales in the collection can be traced to the ancient and medieval Arabic, Egyptian, Persian and Indian storytelling traditions. Many stories from Indian and Persian folklore parallel the tales as well as Jewish sources. These tales were probably in circulation before they were collected and codified into a single collection. This work was further shaped by scribes, storytellers, and scholars and evolved into a collection of three distinct layers of storytelling by the 15th century:
1. Persian tales influenced by Indian folklore and adapted into Arabic by the 10th century.
2. Stories recorded in Baghdad during the 10th century.
3. Medieval Egyptian folklore.
Indian folklore is represented by certain animal stories, which reflect influence from ancient Sanskrit fables. The influence of the Panchatantra and Baital Pachisi are particularly notable. The Jataka Tales are a collection of 547 Buddhist stories, which are for the most part moral stories with an ethical purpose. The Tale of the Bull and the Ass and the linked Tale of the Merchant and his Wife are found in the frame stories of both the Jataka and the Nights.
The influence of the folklore of Baghdad is represented by the tales of the Abbasid caliphs; the Cairene influence is made evident by Maruf the cobbler. Tales such as Iram of the columns are based upon the pre-Islamic legends of the Arabian Peninsula; motifs are employed from the ancient Mesopotamian tale, the Epic of Gilgamesh. Possible Greek influences have also been noted.
The first European version (1704-1717) was translated into French by Antoine Galland from an Arabic text and other sources. This 12-volume book, Les Mille et une nuits, contes arabes traduits en français (“Thousand and one nights, Arab stories translated into French”), included stories that were not in the original Arabic manuscript. “Aladdin’s Lamp” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” appeared first in Galland’s translation and cannot be found in any of the original manuscripts. He wrote that he heard them from a Syrian Christian storyteller from Aleppo, a Maronite scholar whom he called “Hanna Diab.” Galland’s version of the Nights was immensely popular throughout Europe, and later versions were issued by Galland’s publisher using Galland’s name without his consent.
Poster for a Russian production of 1001 nights.
A well-known English translation is that by Sir Richard Francis Burton, entitled The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night (1885). Unlike previous editions, his ten-volume translation, published by Leonard Smithers, was not bowdlerized. Though printed in the Victorian era, it contained all the erotic nuances of the source material, replete with sexual imagery and pederastic allusions added as appendices to the main stories by Burton. Burton’s publisher circumvented strict Victorian laws on obscene material by printing a private edition for subscribers only rather than publishing the book in the usual manner. His original 10 volumes were followed by a further six entitled The Supplemental Nights to the Thousand Nights and a Night, which were printed between 1886 and 1888.
Later versions of the Nights include that of the French doctor J. C. Mardrus, issued from 1898 to 1904. It was translated into English by Powys Mathers, and issued in 1923. A more recent version, notably, is a critical edition based on the 14th century Syrian manuscript in the Bibliothèque Nationale, compiled in Arabic by Muhsin Mahdi and rendered into English by Husain Haddawy.
In November 2008 a new English translation was published by Penguin Classics in three volumes. It is translated by Malcolm C. Lyons and Ursula Lyons with introduction and annotations by Robert Irwin. This is the first complete translation of the Arabic text known as the Macnaghten edition or Calcutta II since Sir Richard Burton. It contains, in addition to the standard text of 1001 Nights, the so-called “orphan stories” of Aladdin and Ali Baba as well as an alternative ending to The seventh journey of Sindbad from Antoine Galland’s original French.
In 2005, Brazilian scholar Mamede Mustafa Jarouche started publishing a thorough Portuguese translation of the work, based on the comparative analysis of a series of different Arabic manuscripts. The first three volumes of a planned five- or six-volume set have already been released, comprising the complete Syrian branch of the book (volumes 1 and 2) and part of the later Egyptian branch (volume 3 and onwards).
Arabic Manuscript of The Thousand and One Nights dating back to the 1300s
Scholars have assembled a timeline concerning the publication history of The Nights:
* Oldest Arabic manuscript fragment (a few handwritten pages) from Syria dating to the early 800s discovered by scholar Nabia Abbott in 1948.
* 900s AD — Mention of The Nights in Ibn Al-Nadim’s “Fihrist” (Catalogue of books) in Baghdad. He mentions the book’s history and its Persian origins.
* 900s — Second oldest reference to The Nights in Muruj Al-Dhahab (The Meadows of Gold) by Al-Masudi.
* 1000s AD — Mention of the original Arabic name of the One Thousand and One Nights by Qatran Tabrizi in the following couplet in Persian:
A thousand times, accounts of Rouyin Dezh and Haft Khān
I heard and read from Hezār Afsān (literally Thousand Fables)
* 1300s — Existing Syrian manuscript in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris (contains about 300 tales).
* 1704 — Antoine Galland’s French translation is the first European version of The Nights. Later volumes were introduced using Galland’s name though the stories were written by unknown persons at the behest of the publisher wanting to capitalize on the popularity of the collection.
* 1706 — An anonymously translated version in English appears in Europe dubbed the “Grub Street” version.
* 1714 — The Thousand and One Days: Persian Tales by Ambrose Philips. The earliest English translation with an attributed author.
* 1775 — Egyptian version of The Nights called “ZER” (Hermann Zotenberg’s Egyptian Recension) with 200 tales (no surviving edition exists).
* 1814 — Calcutta I, the earliest existing Arabic printed version, is published by the British East India Company. A second volume was released in 1818. Both had 100 tales each.
* 1825-1838 — The Breslau/Habicht edition is published in Arabic in 8 volumes. Christian Maxmilian Habicht (born in Breslau, Germany, 1775) collaborated with the Tunisian Murad Al-Najjar and created this edition containing 1001 stories. Using versions of The Nights, tales from Al-Najjar, and other stories from unknown origins Habicht published his version in Arabic and German.
* 1842-1843 — Four additional volumes by Habicht.
* 1835 Bulaq version — These two volumes, printed by the Egyptian government, are the oldest printed (by a publishing house) version of The Nights in Arabic by a non-European. It is primarily a reprinting of the ZER text.
* 1839-1842 — Calcutta II (4 volumes) is published. It claims to be based on an older Egyptian manuscript (which was never found). This version contains many elements and stories from the Habicht edition.
* 1838 — Torrens version in English.
* 1838-1840 — Edward William Lane publishes an English translation. Notable for its exclusion of content Lane found “immoral” and for its anthropological notes on Arab customs by Lane.
* 1882-1884 — John Payne publishes an English version translated entirely from Calcutta II, adding some tales from Calcutta I and Breslau.
* 1885-1888 — Sir Richard Francis Burton publishes an English translation from several sources. His version accentuated the sexuality of the stories vis-à-vis Lane’s bowdlerized translation.
* 1889-1904 — J. C. Mardrus publishes a French version using Bulaq and Calcutta II editions.
* 1984 — Muhsin Mahdi publishes an Arabic translation he says is faithful to the oldest Arabic versions surviving.
* 1990s — Husain Haddawy publishes an English translation of Mahdi.