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One Thousand and One Nights


One Thousand and One Nights (Arabic: كِتَاب أَلْف لَيْلَة وَلَيْلَة‎‎ kitāb ʾalf layla wa-layla) 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 work was collected over many centuries by various authors, translators, and scholars across West, Central, and South Asia and North Africa. The tales themselves trace their roots back to ancient and medieval Arabic, Persian, Mesopotamian, Indian, Jewish and Egyptian 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. A Thousand Tales) which in turn relied partly on Indian elements.

What is common throughout all the editions of the Nights is the initial frame story of the ruler Shahryār (from Persian: شهريار‎‎, meaning "king" or "sovereign") and his wife Scheherazade, (from Persian: شهرزاد‎‎, possibly meaning "of noble lineage"), 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. The bulk of the text is in prose, although verse is occasionally used for songs and riddles and to express heightened emotion. Most of the poems are single couplets or quatrains, although some are longer.



هزار ره صفت هفت خوان و رويين دژ
فرو شنيدم و خواندم من از هزار افسان
هزار ره صفت هفت خوان و رويين دژ
فرو شنيدم و خواندم من از هزار افسان
A thousand times, accounts of Rouyin Dezh and Haft Khān
I heard and read from Hazār Afsān (literally Thousand Fables)
A thousand times, accounts of Rouyin Dezh and Haft Khān
I heard and read from Hazār Afsān (literally Thousand Fables)
  • The Merchant and the Demon.
  • The Fisherman and the Jinni.
  • The Story of the Porter and the Three Ladies.
  • The Hunchback cycle.
  • The Story of the Three Apples, enframing the
  • The Story of Nur al-Din Ali and Anis al-Jalis
  • The Story of Ali Ibn Baqqar and Shams al-Nahar, and
  • The Story of Qamar al-Zaman.
  • One of the oldest Arabic manuscript fragments from Syria (a few handwritten pages) dating to the early 9th century. Discovered by scholar Nabia Abbott in 1948, it bears the title Kitab Hadith Alf Layla ("The Book of the Tale of the Thousand Nights") and the first few lines of the book in which Dinazad asks Shirazad (Scheherazade) to tell her stories.
  • 10th century: Mention of Hazār Afsān in Ibn al-Nadim's "Fihrist" (Catalogue of books) in Baghdad. He attributes a pre-Islamic Sassanian Persian origin to the collection and refers to the frame story of Scheherazade telling stories over a thousand nights to save her life. However, according to al-Nadim, the book contains only 200 stories. Curiously, al-Nadim also writes disparagingly of the collection's literary quality, observing that "it is truly a coarse book, without warmth in the telling".
  • 10th century: Reference to The Thousand Nights, an Arabic translation of the Persian Hazār Afsān ("Thousand Stories"), in Muruj Al-Dhahab (The Meadows of Gold) by Al-Masudi.
  • 11th century: Mention of The Nights by Qatran Tabrizi in the following couplet in Persian:
  • 12th century: A document from Cairo refers to a Jewish bookseller lending a copy of The Thousand and One Nights (this is the first appearance of the final form of the title).
  • 14th century: Existing Syrian manuscript in the Bibliothèque 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. This is entitled The Arabian Nights' Entertainment — the first known use of the common English title of the work.
  • 1768: first Polish translation, 12 volumes. Based, as many European on the French translation.
  • 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.
  • Early 19th century: Modern Persian translations of the text are made, variously under the title Alf leile va leile, Hazār-o yek šab (هزار و یک شب), or, in distorted Arabic, Alf al-leil. One early extant version is that illustrated by Sani al-Molk (1814–1866) for Mohammad Shah Qajar.
  • 1825–1838: The Breslau/Habicht edition is published in Arabic in 8 volumes. Christian Maxmilian Habicht (born in Breslau, Kingdom of Prussia, 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 (largely the same as Payne). 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.
  • 1973: First Polish translation based on the original language edition, but compressed 12 volumes to 9, by PIW.
  • 1984: Muhsin Mahdi publishes an Arabic edition based on the oldest Arabic manuscript surviving (based on the oldest surviving Syrian manuscript currently held in the Bibliotechque Nationale).
  • 1986–1987: French translation by Arabist René R. Khawam
  • 1990: Husain Haddawy publishes an English translation of Mahdi.
  • 2008: New Penguin Classics translation (in three volumes) by Malcolm C. Lyons and Ursula Lyons of the Calcutta II edition
  • Giving advice, warning, and solutions.
  • Praising God, royalties and those in power.
  • Pleading for mercy and forgiveness.
  • Lamenting wrong decisions or bad luck.
  • Providing riddles, laying questions, challenges.
  • Criticizing elements of life, wondering.
  • Expressing feelings to others or one’s self: happiness, sadness, anxiety, surprise, anger.
  • Robert Irwin The Arabian Nights: A Companion (Tauris Parke, 2005)
  • David Pinault Story-Telling Techniques in the Arabian Nights (Brill Publishers, 1992)
  • Ulrich Marzolph, Richard van Leeuwen, Hassan Wassouf,The Arabian Nights Encyclopedia (2004)
  • Ulrich Marzolph (ed.) The Arabian Nights Reader (Wayne State University Press, 2006)
  • Dwight Reynolds, "A Thousand and One Nights: a history of the text and its reception" in The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature Vol 6. (CUP 2006)
  • Eva Sallis Scheherazade Through the Looking-Glass: The Metamorphosis of the Thousand and One Nights (Routledge, 1999),
  • Yamanaka, Yuriko and Nishio, Tetsuo (ed.) The Arabian Nights and Orientalism – Perspectives from East and West (I.B.Tauris, 2006)
  • Ch. Pellat, "Alf Layla Wa Layla" in Encyclopædia Iranica. Online Access June 2011 at [3]
  • In Arabian Nights: A search of Morocco through its stories and storytellers by Tahir Shah, Doubleday, 2008.
  • The Islamic Context of The Thousand and One Nights by Muhsin J. al-Musawi, Columbia University Press, 2009.
  • Nurse, Paul McMichael. Eastern Dreams: How the Arabian Nights Came to the World Viking Canada: 2010. General popular history of the 1001 Nights from its earliest days to the present.
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