Arabian Nights

by Cherry Kahn

The Arabian Nights, also known as The Thousand And One Nights, is a celebrated collection of tales, long current in the East, and supposed to have been derived by the Arabians from India, through the medium of Persia.

The work as we have it was collected over many centuries by various authors, translators and scholars across the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa. The tales themselves trace their roots back to ancient and medieval Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Indian, Egyptian and Mesopotamian folklore and literature.

They were first introduced into Europe in the beginning of the eighteenth century by means of the translation of Antoine Galland, a distinguished French orientalist, which was hailed with universal delight, and soon became one of the most popular works in Europe.

The story which connects the tales of the Thousand and One Nights is as follows:

The Sultan Shahriyar, exasperated by the faithlessness of his bride, made a law that every one of his future wives should be put to death the morning after marriage.

At length one of them, Shahrazad, the generous daughter of the grandvizier, succeeded in abolishing the cruel custom.

By the charm of her stories the fair narrator induced the sultan to defer her execution every day till the dawn of another, by breaking off in the middle of an interesting tale which she had begun to relate.

The delight felt by Shahriyar has been felt by thousands more of his own faith, and the universal popularity of the Arabian Nights is unequivocally evinced by the numberous translations in different European languages which have appeared since the time of Galland.

In general they aim merely to delight the fancy, but frequently display much practical wisdom, with a profound knowledge of human nature. They are doubly interesting to the European reader, because they place before him, in a far more striking light than travellers can do, all the peculiarieties of the eastern nation.

The Arabian Nights does not rank as one fo the classical works of Arabic literature, as they belong to a comparatively late period, though the exact date of their composition is not known.

Mr. Lane, who resided for years at Cairo, now the chief Arab city, and who published an excellent (abridged) translation of these tales, with numberous notes, was of opinion that they took their present form some time between 1475 and 1525.

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 Antoine Galland and other European translators.

A complete translation of great value by Sir R. F. Burton has been published.