The Thousand and One Nights

The Thousand and One Nights, also called The Arabian Nights, Arabic Alf laylah wa Laylah is a collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian stories and folk tales, compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age. This period lasted from the eighth century to the thirteenth century, when much of the Arabic-speaking world experienced a scientific, economic, and cultural flourishing – One Thousand and One Nights epitomising the rich and multifaceted literary output.

The original core of stories was probably quite small, with Arabic stories added to it in the 9th and 10th centuries. Previously independent sagas and story cycles may have been added later, as the tales moved through Syria and Egypt.

The title Arabian Nights came from the first English language edition (1706), which rendered the title as The Arabian Nights’ Entertainment. The work itself was collected over many centuries by various authors, translators, and scholars across West, Central, South Asia and North Africa. The tales are many and varied, but common throughout all the narratives is the initial frame story of the ruler Shahryār, and his wife Scheherazade.

Some of the stories widely associated with The Nights, in particular ‘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 its original Arabic versions, but were added to the collection by Antoine Galland (1646 – 1715) and other European translators.

By the 20th century, Western scholars had agreed that the Nights is a composite work consisting of popular stories coming from India and Persia originally transmitted orally and developed during several centuries, with material added at different periods and places.

The first European version (1704 – 1717) was translated into French by Antoine Galland, from an Arabic text of the Syrian recension. This twelve-volume work, Les Mille et une nuits, contes arabes traduits en français (‘Thousand and one Nights, Arab stories translated into French’), included many stories that were not in the original Arabic manuscript.

In 1949 Arabist Francesco Gabrieli, who headed the team of anonymous translators, produced the four-volume Italian translation, based on first Bulaq edition.

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