One Thousand and One Nights
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One Thousand and One Nights (Arabic: كِتَاب أَلْف لَيْلَة وَلَيْلَة kitāb ʾalf layla wa-layla) is a collection of Middle Easternand 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, 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 workHazār 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 (fromPersian: 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.
Some of the stories very 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 and other European translators.
- 2History: versions and translations
- 3Literary themes and techniques
- 3.1Frame story
- 3.2Embedded narrative
- 3.3Dramatic visualization
- 3.4Fate and destiny
- 3.7Sexual humour
- 3.8Unreliable narrator
- 3.9Crime fiction elements
- 3.10Horror fiction elements
- 3.11Fantasy and science fiction elements
- 3.12The Arabic poetry in One Thousand and One Nights
- 4In world culture
- 6See also
- 9Further reading
- 10External links
The main frame story concerns Shahryar, whom the narrator calls a “Sasanian king” ruling in “India and China”. He is shocked to discover that his brother’s wife is unfaithful; discovering his own wife’s infidelity has been even more flagrant, he has her executed: but in his bitterness and grief decides that all women are the same. Shahryar begins to marry a succession of virgins only to execute each one the next morning, before she has a chance to dishonour him. Eventually the vizier, whose duty it is to provide them, cannot find any more virgins. Scheherazade, the vizier’s daughter, offers herself as the next bride and her father reluctantly agrees. On the night of their marriage, Scheherazade begins to tell the king a tale, but does not end it. The king, curious about how the story ends, is thus forced to postpone her execution in order to hear the conclusion. The next night, as soon as she finishes the tale, she begins (and only begins) a new one, and the king, eager to hear the conclusion, postpones her execution once again. So it goes on for 1,001 nights.
The tales vary widely: they include historical tales, love stories, tragedies, comedies, poems, burlesques and various forms of erotica. Numerous stories depict jinns,ghouls, apes, sorcerers, magicians, and legendary places, which are often intermingled with real people and geography, not always rationally; common protagonistsinclude the historical AbbasidcaliphHarun al-Rashid, his Grand Vizier, Jafar al-Barmaki, and the famous poet Abu Nuwas, despite the fact that these figures lived some 200 years after the fall of the Sassanid Empire in which the frame tale of Scheherazade is set. Sometimes a character in Scheherazade’s tale will begin telling other characters a story of his own, and that story may have another one told within it, resulting in a richly layered narrative texture.
The different versions have different individually detailed endings (in some Scheherazade asks for a pardon, in some the king sees their children and decides not to execute his wife, in some other things happen that make the king distracted) but they all end with the king giving his wife a pardon and sparing her life.
The narrator’s standards for what constitutes a cliffhanger seem broader than in modern literature. While in many cases a story is cut off with the hero in danger of losing his life or another kind of deep trouble, in some parts of the full text Scheherazade stops her narration in the middle of an exposition of abstract philosophical principles or complex points of Islamic philosophy, and in one case during a detailed description of human anatomy according to Galen—and in all these cases turns out to be justified in her belief that the king’s curiosity about the sequel would buy her another day of life.
History: versions and translations
The history of the Nights is extremely complex and modern scholars have made many attempts to untangle the story of how the collection as it currently exists came about. Robert Irwin summarises their findings: “In the 1880s and 1890s a lot of work was done on the Nights by [the scholar] Zotenberg and others, in the course of which a consensus view of the history of the text emerged. Most scholars agreed that the Nights was a composite work and that the earliest tales in it came from India and Persia. At some time, probably in the early 8th century, these tales were translated into Arabic under the title Alf Layla, or ‘The Thousand Nights’. This collection then formed the basis of The Thousand and One Nights. The original core of stories was quite small. Then, in Iraq in the 9th or 10th century, this original core had Arab stories added to it – among them some tales about the CaliphHarun al-Rashid. Also, perhaps from the 10th century onwards, previously independent sagas and story cycles were added to the compilation […] Then, from the 13th century onwards, a further layer of stories was added in Syria and Egypt, many of these showing a preoccupation with sex, magic or low life. In the early modern period yet more stories were added to the Egyptian collections so as to swell the bulk of the text sufficiently to bring its length up to the full 1,001 nights of storytelling promised by the book’s title.”
Possible Indian origins
Devices found in Sanskrit literature such as frame stories and animal fables are seen by some scholars as lying at the root of the conception of the Nights. Indian folklore is represented in the Nights by certain animal stories, which reflect influence from ancient Sanskrit fables. The influence of the Panchatantra and Baital Pachisiis 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.
It is possible that the influence of the Panchatantra is via a Sanskrit adaptation called the Tantropakhyana. Only fragments of the original Sanskrit form of this work exist, but translations or adaptations exist in Tamil, Lao, Thai and Old Javanese. The frame story is particularly interesting, as it follows the broad outline of a concubine telling stories in order to maintain the interest and favour of a king — although the basis of the collection of stories is from the Panchatantra — with its original Indian setting.
Persian prototype: Hazār Afsān
The earliest mentions of the Nights refer to it as an Arabic translation from a Persian book, Hazār Afsān (or Afsaneh or Afsana), meaning “The Thousand Stories”. In the 10th century Ibn al-Nadim compiled a catalogue of books (the “Fihrist”) in Baghdad. He noted that the Sassanid kings of Iran enjoyed “evening tales and fables”. Al-Nadim then writes about the Persian Hazār Afsān, explaining the frame story it employs: a bloodthirsty king kills off a succession of wives after their wedding night; finally one concubine had the intelligence to save herself by telling him a story every evening, leaving each tale unfinished until the next night so that the king would delay her execution. In the same century Al-Masudi also refers to the Hazār Afsān, saying the Arabic translation is called Alf Khurafa (“A Thousand Entertaining Tales”) but is generally known as Alf Layla (“A Thousand Nights”). He mentions the characters Shirazd (Scheherazade) and Dinazad. No physical evidence of the Hazār Afsān has survived so its exact relationship with the existing later Arabic versions remains a mystery. Apart from the Scheherazade frame story, several other tales have Persian origins, although it is unclear how they entered the collection. These stories include the cycle of “King Jali’ad and his Wazir Shimas” and “The Ten Wazirs or the History of King Azadbakht and his Son” (derived from the 7th-century Persian Bakhtiyarnama).
In the 1950s, the Iraqi scholar Safa Khulusi suggested (on internal rather than historical evidence) that the Persian writer Ibn al-Muqaffa’ may have been responsible for the first Arabic translation of the frame story and some of Persian stories later incorporated into the Nights. This would place genesis of the collection in the 8th century.
In the mid-20th century, the scholar Nabia Abbott found a document with a few lines of an Arabic work with the title The Book of the Tale of a Thousand Nights, dating from the 9th century. This is the earliest known surviving fragment of the Nights. The first reference to the Arabic version under its full title The One Thousand and One Nights appears in Cairo in the 12th century. Professor Dwight Reynolds describes the subsequent transformations of the Arabic version:
Some of the earlier Persian tales may have survived within the Arabic tradition altered such that Arabic Muslim names and new locations were substituted for pre-Islamic Persian ones, but it is also clear that whole cycles of Arabic tales were eventually added to the collection and apparently replaced most of the Persian materials. One such cycle of Arabic tales centres around a small group of historical figures from 9th-century Baghdad, including the caliph Harun al-Rashid (died 809), his vizier Jafar al-Barmaki (d.803) and the licentious poet Abu Nuwas (d. c. 813). Another cluster is a body of stories from late medieval Cairo in which are mentioned persons and places that date to as late as the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
Two main Arabic manuscript traditions of the Nights are known: the Syrian and the Egyptian. The Syrian tradition includes the oldest manuscripts; these versions are also much shorter and include fewer tales. It is represented in print by the so-calledCalcutta I (1814–1818) and most notably by the Leiden edition (1984), which is based above all on the Galland manuscript. It is believed to be the purest expression of the style of the mediaeval Arabian Nights.
Texts of the Egyptian tradition emerge later and contain many more tales of much more varied content; a much larger number of originally independent tales have been incorporated into the collection over the centuries, most of them after the Galland manuscript was written, and were being included as late as in the 18th and 19th centuries, perhaps in order to attain the eponymous number of 1001 nights. The final product of this tradition, the so-called Zotenberg Egyptian Recension, does contain 1001 nights and is reflected in print, with slight variations, by the editions known as the Bulaq (1835) and the Macnaghten or Calcutta II (1839–1842).
All extant substantial versions of both recensions share a small common core of tales, namely:
- 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 Story of Nur al-Din and Shams al-Din
- 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.
The texts of the Syrian recension do not contain much beside that core. It is debated which of the Arabic recensions is more “authentic” and closer to the original: the Egyptian ones have been modified more extensively and more recently, and scholars such as Muhsin Mahdi have suspected that this may have been caused in part by European demand for a “complete version”; but it appears that this type of modification has been common throughout the history of the collection, and independent tales have always been added to it.
The first European version (1704–1717) was translated into French by Antoine Galland from an Arabic text of the Syrian recension and other sources. This 12-volume work, 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” (as well as several other, lesser known tales) appeared first in Galland’s translation and cannot be found in any of the original manuscripts. He wrote that he heard them from a SyrianChristian 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.
As scholars were looking for the presumed “complete” and “original” form of the Nights, they naturally turned to the more voluminous texts of the Egyptian recension, which soon came to be viewed as the “standard version”. The first translations of this kind, such as that of Edward Lane (1840, 1859), were bowdlerized. Unabridged and unexpurgated translations were made, first by John Payne, under the title The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night (1882, nine volumes), and then by Sir Richard Francis Burton, entitled The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night (1885, ten volumes) – the latter was, according to some assessments, partially based on the former, leading to charges of plagiarism. In view of the sexual imagery in the source texts (which Burton even emphasized further, especially by adding extensive footnotes and appendices on Oriental sexual mores) and the strict Victorian laws on obscene material, both of these translations were printed as private editions for subscribers only, rather than published in the usual manner. Burton’s 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. It has, however, been criticized for its “archaic language and extravagant idiom” and “obsessive focus on sexuality” (and has even been called an “eccentric ego-trip” and a “highly personal reworking of the text”).
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. Like Payne’s and Burton’s texts, it is based on the Egyptian recension and retains the erotic material, indeed expanding on it, but it has been criticized for inaccuracy.
A notable recent version, which reverts to the Syrian recension, is a critical edition based on the 14th or 15th-century Syrian manuscript in the Bibliothèque Nationale, originally used by Galland. This version, known as the Leiden text, was compiled in Arabic by Muhsin Mahdi (1984) and rendered into English by Husain Haddawy (1990). Mahdi argued that this version is the earliest extant one (a view that is largely accepted today) and that it reflects most closely a “definitive” coherent text ancestral to all others that he believed to have existed during the Mamluk period (a view that remains contentious). Still, even scholars who deny this version the exclusive status of “the only real Arabian Nights” recognize it as being the best source on the original style and linguistic form of the mediaeval work and praise the Haddawy translation as “very readable” and “strongly recommended for anyone who wishes to taste the authentic flavour of those tales”. An additional second volume of Arabian nights translated by Haddawy, composed of popular tales not present in the Leiden edition, was published in 1995.
In 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 Macnaghten or Calcutta II edition (Egyptian recension) since Burton’s. 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. As the translator himself notes in his preface to the three volumes, “[N]o attempt has been made to superimpose on the translation changes that would be needed to ‘rectify’ … accretions, … repetitions, non sequiturs and confusions that mark the present text,” and the work is a “representation of what is primarily oral literature, appealing to the ear rather than the eye”. The Lyons translation includes all the poetry (in plain prose paraphrase) but does not attempt to reproduce in English the internal rhyming of some prose sections of the original Arabic. Moreover, it streamlines somewhat and has cuts. In this sense it is not, as claimed, a complete translation.
- 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-IslamicSassanian 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”), inMuruj Al-Dhahab (The Meadows of Gold) by Al-Masudi.
- 11th century: Mention of The Nights by Qatran Tabrizi in the following couplet in Persian:
- هزار ره صفت هفت خوان و رويين دژ
- فرو شنيدم و خواندم من از هزار افسان
- 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 which he claims is faithful to the oldest Arabic versions surviving (primarily based on the Syrian manuscript in theBibliothèque Nationale in combination with other early manuscripts of the Syrian branch).
- 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
Literary themes and techniques
The One Thousand and One Nights and various tales within it make use of many innovative literary techniques, which the storytellers of the tales rely on for increased drama, suspense, or other emotions. Some of these date back to earlier Persian,Indian and Arabic literature, while others were original to the One Thousand and One Nights.
An early example of the frame story, or framing device, is employed in the One Thousand and One Nights, in which the character Scheherazade narrates a set of tales (most often fairy tales) to the Sultan Shahriyar over many nights. Many of Scheherazade’s tales are also frame stories, such as the Tale of Sindbad the Seaman and Sindbad the Landsman being a collection of adventures related by Sindbad the Seaman to Sindbad the Landsman. The concept of the frame story dates back to ancient Sanskrit literature, and was introduced into Persian and Arabic literature through the Panchatantra.
An early example of the “story within a story” technique can be found in the One Thousand and One Nights, which can be traced back to earlier Persian and Indian storytelling traditions, most notably the Panchatantra of ancient Sanskrit literature. The Nights, however, improved on the Panchatantra in several ways, particularly in the way a story is introduced. In the Panchatantra, stories are introduced as didactic analogies, with the frame story referring to these stories with variants of the phrase “If you’re not careful, that which happened to the louse and the flea will happen to you.” In the Nights, this didactic framework is the least common way of introducing the story, but instead a story is most commonly introduced through subtle means, particularly as an answer to questions raised in a previous tale.
The general story is narrated by an unknown narrator, and in this narration the stories are told by Scheherazade. In most of Scheherazade’s narrations there are also stories narrated, and even in some of these, there are some other stories. This is particularly the case for the “Sinbad the Sailor” story narrated by Scheherazade in the One Thousand and One Nights. Within the “Sinbad the Sailor” story itself, the protagonist Sinbad the Sailor narrates the stories of his seven voyages to Sinbad the Porter. The device is also used to great effect in stories such as “The Three Apples” and “The Seven Viziers“. In yet another tale Scheherazade narrates, “The Fisherman and the Jinni“, the “Tale of the Wazir and the Sage Duban” is narrated within it, and within that there are three more tales narrated.
Dramatic visualization is “the representing of an object or character with an abundance of descriptive detail, or the mimetic rendering of gestures and dialogue in such a way as to make a given scene ‘visual’ or imaginatively present to an audience”. This technique dates back to the One Thousand and One Nights. An example of this is the tale of “The Three Apples” (see Crime fiction elements below).
Fate and destiny
every tale in The Thousand and One Nights begins with an ‘appearance of destiny’ which manifests itself through an anomaly, and one anomaly always generates another. So a chain of anomalies is set up. And the more logical, tightly knit, essential this chain is, the more beautiful the tale. By ‘beautiful’ I mean vital, absorbing and exhilarating. The chain of anomalies always tends to lead back to normality. The end of every tale in The One Thousand and One Nights consists of a ‘disappearance’ of destiny, which sinks back to the somnolence of daily life … The protagonist of the stories is in fact destiny itself.
Though invisible, fate may be considered a leading character in the One Thousand and One Nights. The plot devices often used to present this theme arecoincidence,reverse causation and the self-fulfilling prophecy (see Foreshadowing below).
Early examples of the foreshadowing technique of repetitive designation, now known as “Chekhov’s gun“, occur in the One Thousand and One Nights, which contains “repeated references to some character or object which appears insignificant when first mentioned but which reappears later to intrude suddenly in the narrative”. A notable example is in the tale of “The Three Apples” (see Crime fiction elements below).
Another early foreshadowing technique is formal patterning, “the organization of the events, actions and gestures which constitute a narrative and give shape to a story; when done well, formal patterning allows the audience the pleasure of discerning and anticipating the structure of the plot as it unfolds”. This technique also dates back to the One Thousand and One Nights.
Another form of foreshadowing is the self-fulfilling prophecy, which dates back to the story of Krishna in ancient Sanskrit literature. A variation of this device is the self-fulfilling dream, which dates back to medieval Arabic literature. Several tales in theOne Thousand and One Nights use this device to foreshadow what is going to happen, as a special form of literary prolepsis. A notable example is “The Ruined Man who Became Rich Again through a Dream”, in which a man is told in his dream to leave his native city of Baghdad and travel to Cairo, where he will discover the whereabouts of some hidden treasure. The man travels there and experiences misfortune, ending up in jail, where he tells his dream to a police officer. The officer mocks the idea of foreboding dreams and tells the protagonist that he himself had a dream about a house with a courtyard and fountain in Baghdad where treasure is buried under the fountain. The man recognizes the place as his own house and, after he is released from jail, he returns home and digs up the treasure. In other words, the foreboding dream not only predicted the future, but the dream was the cause of its prediction coming true. A variant of this story later appears in English folklore as the “Pedlar of Swaffham” and Paulo Coelho‘s “The Alchemist“; Jorge Luis Borges‘ collection of short stories A Universal History of Infamyfeatured his translation of this particular story into Spanish, as “The Story Of The Two Dreamers.”
Another variation of the self-fulfilling prophecy can be seen in “The Tale of Attaf”, where Harun al-Rashid consults his library (the House of Wisdom), reads a random book, “falls to laughing and weeping and dismisses the faithful vizier” Ja’far ibn Yahya from sight. Ja’afar, “disturbed and upset flees Baghdad and plunges into a series of adventures in Damascus, involving Attaf and the woman whom Attaf eventually marries.” After returning to Baghdad, Ja’afar reads the same book that caused Harun to laugh and weep, and discovers that it describes his own adventures with Attaf. In other words, it was Harun’s reading of the book that provoked the adventures described in the book to take place. This is an early example of reverse causation. Near the end of the tale, Attaf is given a death sentence for a crime he didn’t commit but Harun, knowing the truth from what he has read in the book, prevents this and has Attaf released from prison. In the 12th century, this tale was translated into Latin by Petrus Alphonsi and included in his Disciplina Clericalis, alongside the “Sinbad the Sailor” story cycle. In the 14th century, a version of “The Tale of Attaf” also appears in the Gesta Romanorum and Giovanni Boccaccio‘s The Decameron.
Leitwortstil is ‘the purposeful repetition of words’ in a given literary piece that “usually expresses a motif or theme important to the given story”. This device occurs in the One Thousand and One Nights, which binds several tales in a story cycle. The storytellers of the tales relied on this technique “to shape the constituent members of their story cycles into a coherent whole.”
Thematic patterning is “the distribution of recurrent thematic concepts and moralistic motifs among the various incidents and frames of a story. In a skillfully crafted tale, thematic patterning may be arranged so as to emphasize the unifying argument or salient idea which disparate events and disparate frames have in common”. This technique also dates back to the One Thousand and One Nights (and earlier).
Several different variants of the “Cinderella” story, which has its origins in the Egyptian story of Rhodopis, appear in the One Thousand and One Nights, including “The Second Shaykh’s Story”, “The Eldest Lady’s Tale” and “Abdallah ibn Fadil and His Brothers”, all dealing with the theme of a younger sibling harassed by two jealous elders. In some of these, the siblings are female, while in others they are male. One of the tales, “Judar and His Brethren”, departs from the happy endings of previous variants and reworks the plot to give it a tragic ending instead, with the younger brother being poisoned by his elder brothers.
The literary device of the unreliable narrator was used in several fictional medieval Arabic tales of the One Thousand and One Nights. In one tale, “The Seven Viziers” (also known as “Craft and Malice of Women or The Tale of the King, His Son, His Concubine and the Seven Wazirs”), a courtesan accuses a king’s son of having assaulted her, when in reality she had failed to seduce him (inspired by the Qur’anic/Biblical story of Yusuf/Joseph). Seven viziers attempt to save his life by narrating seven stories to prove the unreliability of women, and the courtesan responds back by narrating a story to prove the unreliability of viziers. The unreliable narrator device is also used to generate suspense in “The Three Apples” and humor in “The Hunchback’s Tale” (see Crime fiction elements below).
Crime fiction elements
An example of the murder mystery and suspense thriller genres in the collection, with multiple plot twists and detective fiction elements was “The Three Apples“, also known as Hikayat al-sabiyya ‘l-muqtula (“The Tale of the Murdered Young Woman”), one of the tales narrated by Scheherazade in the One Thousand and One Nights. In this tale, Harun al-Rashidcomes to possess a chest, which, when opened, contains the body of a young woman. Harun gives his vizier, Ja’far, three days to find the culprit or be executed. At the end of three days, when Ja’far is about to be executed for his failure, two men come forward, both claiming to be the murderer. As they tell their story it transpires that, although the younger of them, the woman’s husband, was responsible for her death, some of the blame attaches to a slave, who had taken one of the apples mentioned in the title and caused the woman’s murder. Harun then gives Ja’far three more days to find the guilty slave. When he yet again fails to find the culprit, and bids his family goodbye before his execution, he discovers by chance his daughter has the apple, which she obtained from Ja’far’s own slave, Rayhan. Thus the mystery is solved.
Another Nights tale with crime fiction elements was “The Hunchback’s Tale” story cycle which, unlike “The Three Apples”, was more of a suspensefulcomedy and courtroom drama rather than a murder mystery or detective fiction. The story is set in a fictional China and begins with a hunchback, the emperor’s favourite comedian, being invited to dinner by a tailor couple. The hunchback accidentally chokes on his food from laughing too hard and the couple, fearful that the emperor will be furious, take his body to a Jewish doctor‘s clinic and leave him there. This leads to the next tale in the cycle, the “Tale of the Jewish Doctor”, where the doctor accidentally trips over the hunchback’s body, falls down the stairs with him, and finds him dead, leading him to believe that the fall had killed him. The doctor then dumps his body down a chimney, and this leads to yet another tale in the cycle, which continues with twelve tales in total, leading to all the people involved in this incident finding themselves in a courtroom, all making different claims over how the hunchback had died. Crime fiction elements are also present near the end of “The Tale of Attaf” (see Foreshadowing above).
Horror fiction elements
Haunting is used as a plot device in gothic fiction and horror fiction, as well as modern paranormal fiction. Legends about haunted houses have long appeared in literature. In particular, the Arabian Nights tale of “Ali the Cairene and the Haunted House in Baghdad” revolves around a house haunted by jinns. The Nights is almost certainly the earliest surviving literature that mentions ghouls, and many of the stories in that collection involve or reference ghouls. A prime example is the storyThe History of Gherib and His Brother Agib (from Nights vol. 6), in which Gherib, an outcast prince, fights off a family of ravenous Ghouls and then enslaves them and converts them to Islam.
The horrific nature of Scheherazade‘s situation is magnified in Stephen King‘s Misery, in which the protagonist is forced to write a novel to keep his captor from torturing and killing him. The influence of the Nights on modern horror fiction is certainly discernible in the work of H. P. Lovecraft. As a child, he was fascinated by the adventures recounted in the book, and he attributes some of his creations to his love of the 1001 Nights.
Fantasy and science fiction elements
Several stories within the One Thousand and One Nights feature early science fiction elements. One example is “The Adventures of Bulukiya”, where the protagonistBulukiya’s quest for the herb of immortality leads him to explore the seas, journey to Paradise and to Hell, and travel across the cosmos to different worlds much larger than his own world, anticipating elements of galactic science fiction; along the way, he encounters societies of djinns,mermaids, talking serpents, talking trees, and other forms of life. In “Abu al-Husn and His Slave-Girl Tawaddud”, the heroine Tawaddud gives an impromptu lecture on the mansions of the Moon, and the benevolent and sinister aspects of the planets.
In another 1001 Nights tale, “Abdullah the Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman”, the protagonist Abdullah the Fisherman gains the ability to breathe underwater and discovers an underwater society that is portrayed as an inverted reflection of society on land, in that the underwater society follows a form of primitive communismwhere concepts like money and clothing do not exist. Other Arabian Nights tales also depict Amazon societies dominated by women, lost ancient technologies, advanced ancient civilizations that went astray, and catastrophes which overwhelmed them. “The City of Brass” features a group of travellers on an archaeologicalexpedition across the Sahara to find an ancient lost city and attempt to recover a brass vessel that Solomon once used to trap a jinn, and, along the way, encounter a mummified queen, petrified inhabitants, lifelike humanoid robots and automata, seductive marionettes dancing without strings, and a brass horsemanrobot who directs the party towards the ancient city, which has now become a ghost town. “The Ebony Horse” features a flying mechanical horse controlled using keys that could fly into outer space and towards the Sun. Some modern interpretations see this horse as a robot. The titular ebony horse can fly the distance of one year in a single day, and is used as a vehicle by the Prince of Persia, Qamar al-Aqmar, in his adventures across Persia, Arabia and Byzantium. This story appears to have influenced later European tales such as Adenes Le Roi‘s Cleomades and “The Squire’s Prologue and Tale” told in Geoffrey Chaucer‘s The Canterbury Tales.“The City of Brass” and “The Ebony Horse” can be considered early examples of proto-science fiction. The “Third Qalandar’s Tale” also features a robot in the form of an uncanny boatman.
The Arabic poetry in One Thousand and One Nights
There is an abundance of poetry in One Thousand and One Nights. Characters occasionally provide poetry in certain settings, covering many uses. However, pleading, beseeching and praising the powerful is the most significant.
The uses would include but are not limited to:
- 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.
In a typical example, expressing feelings of happiness to oneself from Night 203, Prince Qamar Al-Zaman, standing outside the castle, wants to inform Queen Bodour of his arrival. He wraps his ring in a paper and hands it to the servant who delivers it to the Queen. When she opens it and sees the ring, joy conquers her, and out of happiness she chants this poem (Arabic):
وَلَقـدْ نَدِمْـتُ عَلى تَفَرُّقِ شَمْــلِنا :: دَهْـرَاً وّفاضَ الدَّمْـعُ مِنْ أَجْفـاني
وَنَـذَرْتُ إِنْ عـادَ الزَّمـانُ يَلُمـُّـنا :: لا عُــدْتُ أَذْكُــرُ فُرْقًــةً بِلِســاني
هَجَــمَ السُّــرورُ عَلَــيَّ حَتَّـى أَنَّهُ :: مِـنْ فَــرَطِ مـا سَــرَّني أَبْكــــاني
يا عَيْـنُ صـارَ الدَّمْـعُ مِنْكِ سِجْيَةً :: تَبْكيــنَ مِـنْ فَـــرَحٍ وَأَحْزانـــــي
Wa-laqad nadimtu ‘alá tafarruqi shamlinā :: Dahran wa-fāḍa ad-dam‘u min ajfānī
Wa-nadhartu in ‘āda az-zamānu yalumanā :: la ‘udtu adhkuru furqatan bilisānī
Hajama as-sarūru ‘alayya ḥattá annahu :: min faraṭi mā sarranī abkānī
Yā ‘aynu ṣāra ad-dam‘u minki sijyatan :: tabkīna min faraḥin wa-’aḥzānī
And I have regretted the separation of our companionship :: An eon, and tears flooded my eyes
And I’ve sworn if time brought us back together :: I’ll never utter any separation with my tongue
Joy conquered me to the point of :: which it made me happy that I cried
Oh eye, the tears out of you became a principle :: You cry out of joy and out of sadness
Burton’s verse translation:
Long, long have I bewailed the sev’rance of our loves, With tears that from my lids streamed down like burning rain
And vowed that, if the days deign reunite us two, My lips should never speak of severance again:
Joy hath o’erwhelmed me so that, for the very stress Of that which gladdens me to weeping I am fain.
Tears are become to you a habit, O my eyes, So that ye weep as well for gladness as for pain.
In world culture
The influence of the versions of The Nights on world literature is immense. Writers as diverse as Henry Fielding to Naguib Mahfouz have alluded to the collection by name in their own works. Other writers who have been influenced by the Nights include John Barth, Jorge Luis Borges, Salman Rushdie, Orhan Pamuk, Goethe, Walter Scott, Thackeray, Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, Nodier, Flaubert, Marcel Schwob, Stendhal, Dumas, Gérard de Nerval, Gobineau, Pushkin, Tolstoy, Hofmannsthal,Conan Doyle, W. B. Yeats, H. G. Wells, Cavafy, Calvino, Georges Perec, H. P. Lovecraft, Marcel Proust, A. S. Byatt and Angela Carter.
Various characters from this epic have themselves become cultural icons in Western culture, such as Aladdin, Sinbad and Ali Baba. Part of its popularity may have sprung from improved standards of historical and geographical knowledge. The marvelous beings and events typical of fairy tales seem less incredible if they are set further “long ago” or farther “far away”; this process culminates in the fantasy world having little connection, if any, to actual times and places. Several elements fromArabian mythology and Persian mythology are now common in modern fantasy, such as genies, bahamuts, magic carpets, magic lamps, etc. When L. Frank Baumproposed writing a modern fairy tale that banished stereotypical elements, he included the genie as well as the dwarf and the fairy as stereotypes to go.
In 1982, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) began naming features on Saturn‘s moon Enceladus after characters and places in Burton‘s translation because “its surface is so strange and mysterious that it was given the Arabian Nights as a name bank, linking fantasy landscape with a literary fantasy”.
In Arabic culture
There is little evidence that the Nights was particularly treasured in the Arab world. It is rarely mentioned in lists of popular literature and few pre-18th century manuscripts of the collection exist. Fiction had a low cultural status among Medieval Arabs compared with poetry, and the tales were dismissed as khurafa(improbable fantasies fit only for entertaining women and children). According to Robert Irwin, “Even today, with the exception of certain writers and academics, theNights is regarded with disdain in the Arabic world. Its stories are regularly denounced as vulgar, improbable, childish and, above all, badly written.” The Nights have proved an inspiration to some modern Egyptian writers, such as Tawfiq al-Hakim (author of the Symbolist play Shahrazad, 1934), Taha Hussein (Scheherazade’s Dreams, 1943)  and Naguib Mahfouz (Arabian Nights and Days, 1981).
Possible early influence on European literature
Although the first known translation into a European language only appeared in 1704, it is possible that the Nights began exerting its influence on Western culture much earlier. Christian writers in Medieval Spain translated many works from Arabic, mainly philosophy and mathematics, but also Arab fiction, as is evidenced by Juan Manuel‘s story collection El Conde Lucanor and Ramón Llull‘s The Book of Beasts. Knowledge of the work, direct or indirect, apparently spread beyond Spain. Themes and motifs with parallels in the Nights are found in Chaucer‘s The Canterbury Tales (in The Squire’s Tale the hero travels on a flying brass horse) andBoccaccio‘s Decameron. Echoes in Giovanni Sercambi‘s Novelle and Ariosto‘s Orlando furioso suggest that the story of Shahriyar and Shahzaman was also known. Evidence also appears to show that the stories had spread to the Balkans and a translation of the Nights into Romanian existed by the 17th century, itself based on a Greek version of the collection.
Western literature from the 18th century onwards
The modern fame of the Nights derives from the first known European translation by Antoine Galland, which appeared in 1704. According to Robert Irwin, Galland “played so large a part in discovering the tales, in popularizing them in Europe and in shaping what would come to be regarded as the canonical collection that, at some risk of hyperbole and paradox, he has been called the real author of the Nights.” The immediate success of Galland’s version with the French public may have been because it coincided with the vogue for contes de fées(“fairy stories”). This fashion began with the publication of Madame d’Aulnoy‘s Histoire d’Hypolite in 1690. D’Aulnoy’s book has a remarkably similar structure to the Nights, with the tales told by a female narrator. The success of the Nights spread across Europe and by the end of the century there were translations of Galland into English, German, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Russian, Flemish and Yiddish. Galland’s version provoked a spate of pseudo-Oriental imitations. At the same time, some French writers began to parody the style and concoct far-fetched stories in superficially Oriental settings. These tongue-in-cheek pastiches includeAnthony Hamilton‘s Les quatre Facardins (1730), Crébillon‘s Le sopha (1742) and Diderot‘s Les bijoux indiscrets (1748). They often contained veiled allusions to contemporary French society. The most famous example is Voltaire‘s Zadig (1748), an attack on religious bigotry set against a vague pre-Islamic Middle Eastern background. The English versions of the “Oriental Tale” generally contained a heavy moralising element, with the notable exception of William Beckford‘s fantasy Vathek (1786), which had a decisive influence on the development of the Gothic novel. The Polish nobleman Jan Potocki‘s novel Saragossa Manuscript (begun 1797) owes a deep debt to the Nights with its Oriental flavour and labyrinthine series of embedded tales.
The Nights was a favourite book of many British authors of the Romantic and Victorian eras. According to A. S. Byatt, “In British Romantic poetry the Arabian Nights stood for the wonderful against the mundane, the imaginative against the prosaically and reductively rational.”  In their autobiographical writings, both Coleridge and de Quincey refer to nightmares the book had caused them when young. Wordsworth and Tennyson also wrote about their childhood reading of the tales in their poetry.Charles Dickens was another enthusiast and the atmosphere of the Nights pervades the opening of his last novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870).
Several writers have attempted to add a thousand and second tale, including Théophile Gautier (La mille deuxième nuit, 1842) and Joseph Roth (Die Geschichte von der 1002. Nacht, 1939).Edgar Allan Poe wrote “The Thousand and Second Tale of Scheherazade” (1845). It depicts the eighth and final voyage of Sinbad the Sailor, along with the various mysteries Sinbad and his crew encounter; the anomalies are then described as footnotes to the story. While the king is uncertain—except in the case of the elephants carrying the world on the back of the turtle—that these mysteries are real, they are actual modern events that occurred in various places during, or before, Poe’s lifetime. The story ends with the king in such disgust at the tale Scheherazade has just woven, that he has her executed the very next day.
Stories from the One Thousand and One Nights have been popular subjects for films, beginning with Georges Méliès‘s Le Palais des Mille et une nuits in 1905.
The critic Robert Irwin singles out the two versions of The Thief of Baghdad (1924 version directed by Raoul Walsh; 1940 version produced by Alexander Korda) andPier Paolo Pasolini‘s Il fiore delle Mille e una notte, 1974) as ranking “high among the masterpieces of world cinema.” Michael James Lundell calls Il fiore “the most faithful adaptation, in its emphasis on sexuality, of The 1001 Nights in its oldest form.”
UPA, an American animation studio, produced an animated feature version of 1001 Arabian Nights featuring the cartoon character Mr. Magoo. A 1969 One Thousand and One Arabian Nights animated feature film was produced in Japan. Directed by Osamu Tezuka and Eichii Yamamoto, the 1969 film featured psychedelicimagery and sounds and erotic material intended for adults.
Alif Laila (The Arabian Nights) was a 1997–2002 Indian TV series based on the stories from One Thousand and One Nights. It was produced by Sagar Entertainment Ltd. The series starts with Scheherazade telling her stories to Shahryar, and contains both the well-known and the lesser-known stories from One Thousand and One Nights.
A two-part Television mini series was adopted in 2000 for BBC and ABC studios. Arabian Nights starred Mili Avital, Dougray Scott, John Leguizamo, based on the translation by Sir Richard Francis Burton and directed by Steve Barron.
In 2012, Vancouver-based Big Bad Boo Studios produced a 1001 Nights animated television series for children, which was created by Shabnam Rezaei and Aly Jetha. The show launched on Teletoon and airs in 80 countries around the world, including Discovery Kids Asia.
The Nights has inspired many pieces of music :
- François-Adrien Boieldieu: Le calife de Bagdad (1800)
- Carl Maria von Weber: Abu Hassan (1811)
- Luigi Cherubini: Ali Baba (1833)
- Peter Cornelius: Der Barbier von Bagdad (1858)
- Ernest Reyer: La statue (1861)
- C. F. E. Horneman (1840–1906), Aladdin (overture), 1864
- Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov : Scheherazade Op. 35 (1888) 
- Dikran Tchouhadjian (1837–1898), Zemire (1891)
- Henri Rabaud: Mârouf, savetier du Caire (1914)
- Carl Nielsen, Aladdin Suite (1918–1919)
- Renaissance: Scheherazade and Other Stories (1975)
- Fikret Amirov: Arabian Nights (Ballet, 1979)
- Icehouse: No Promises (From the album ‘Measure for Measure’ 1986)
- Ezequiel Viñao, La Noche de las Noches (1990)
- Carl Davis, Aladdin
- Kamelot, Nights of Arabia (1999)
- Sarah Brightman, Harem and Arabian Nights (2003)
- Ch!pz, “1001 Arabian Nights” (2004)
- Nightwish, Sahara (2007)
- Abney Park (band), Scheherazade (2013)
Popular modern video games with an Arabian Nights theme include Nadirim, a game placed in a fantasy world inspired by the tales of the 1001 Nights,Prince of Persia and Sonic and the Secret Rings.
Many artists have illustrated the Arabian nights, including: Pierre-Clément Marillier for Le Cabinet des Fées (1785–1789), Gustave Doré, Léon Carré (Granville, 1878 – Alger, 1942), Roger Blachon, Françoise Boudignon, André Dahan, Amato Soro, Albert Robida, Alcide Théophile Robaudi and Marcelino Truong; Vittorio Zecchin (Murano, 1878 – Murano, 1947) and Emanuele Luzzati; The German Morgan; Mohammed Racim (Algiers, 1896 – Algiers 1975), Sani ol-Molk (1849–1856), Anton Pieck and Emre Orhun.
Famous illustrators for British editions include: Arthur Boyd Houghton, John Tenniel, John Everett Millais and George John Pinwell for Dalziel’s Illustrated Arabian Nights Entertainments, published in 1865; Walter Crane for Aladdin’s Picture Book (1876); Albert Letchford for the 1897 edition of Burton’s translation; Edmund Dulac for Stories from the Arabian Nights (1907), Princess Badoura (1913) and Sindbad the Sailor & Other Tales from the Arabian Nights (1914). Others artists include John D. Batten, (Fairy Tales From The Arabian Nights, 1893), Kay Nielsen, Eric Fraser, Errol le Cain, Maxfield Parrish, W. Heath Robinson and Arthur Szyk (1954).