The Arabian Nights

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The Arabian Nights

Richard Burton

The Arabian Nights, also known as The Thousand and One Nights and known in Arabic as Alf Layla wa Layla, is a collection of fables, fairy tales, romances, and historical anecdotes of varying ethnic sources, including Indian, Persian, and Arabic oral traditions. While their specific origins are unknown, it is certain that the stories were circulating orally for centuries before they were written down in the fourteenth century in a Syrian manuscript, housed at the Bibliotèque Nationale in Paris as of 2004.

The first printed edition of the tales, which was based on the Syrian version, was published by Fort Williams College in Calcutta and edited by Shaikh Ahmad ibn-Mahmud Shirawani, an instructor of Arabic at the college. The first European translation was by the French statesman Antoine Galland, whose editions appeared in twelve small volumes between 1703 and 1713.

The public response to Galland's work was positive and immediate: translations and versions of the tales spread throughout Europe. The first English translation was made by Edward Lane in 1841, followed by John Payne in 1881 and, most famously, by Sir Richard Burton in 1885. Burton, who relied heavily on Payne's earlier work (and is even said to have plagiarized much of it), published his version in ten volumes as a private edition of one thousand under his imprint of Kama Shastra Society. He later added an additional six volumes of supplemental material, which he called SupplementalNights. Burton's edition quickly sold out, providing him with his first profit ever as a writer, and he was in the early 2000s credited as the popularizer of the tales among English-language readers.

Historically considered by Arabic scholars as a form of "low brow" literature and rarely regarded for its literary merits, The Arabian Nights, in its many incarnations, was in the twenty-first century considered nonetheless a classic of Western literature and continued to be one of its most influential works.

The Plot Summary, Characters, Themes, and Style sections below discuss the stories from Book 1 of the The Arabian Nights.

Author Biography

Sir Richard F. Burton (1821–1890) was considered one of the most famous nineteenth-century Western adventurers and travel writers. His accounts of his journeys to India, Arabia, Africa, and North America gave him widespread fame in his lifetime, and his sixteen translations, including that of The Arabian Nights in 1885, brought him continued fame long after his death in Trieste, Italy.

Burton was born in Torquay, Devonshire to Joseph Netterville Burton, a British army officer, and Martha Baker. As a youth, Burton was exposed to many cultures, and upon entering Trinity College at Oxford at the age of nineteen, he had already mastered several languages and dialects.

After his expulsion from Oxford in 1842 for going to horse races, Burton took a commission in the army of the East India Company and moved to India; by the time he left India in 1849, he had already mastered several of the region's languages. A study he was commissioned to undertake on the homosexual brothels of Karachi got Burton into some trouble with his authorities which, together with his having been ill with cholera, severely hindered his army career upon his return to England. He was, however, quickly able to turn his travels into his first published book: Goa, and the Blue Mountains; or, Six Months of Sick Leave, an account of the native population of Goa, of the Malabar Hindus, and of the mountain-dwelling Todas, who practiced polyandry.

In 1852 Burton became the first Westerner to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina—an act that was forbidden to non-Muslims under penalty of death and therefore required Burton to assume an elaborate disguise. News of his travels enhanced Burton's reputation in England, and the resulting book of that adventure, Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah, enjoyed considerable success and was considered in the early 2000s to be one of his finest works.

In 1861 Burton married Isabel Arundell, a woman of some means and a devout Catholic. After his marriage he continued his cultural studies, receiving appointments in such locales as West Africa, Brazil, and Damascus. He eventually settled in Trieste, where he completed his best-known works: the ten-volume A Plain and Literal Translation of the Arabian Nights' Entertainments, an additional six volumes called Supplemental Nights, and the translation of the Eastern erotic masterpiece, The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana, which he was forced to publish anonymously because of obscenity laws.

Although Burton, who was committed to the exploration of other cultures, found many cultural practices in his travels that he considered superior to Great Britain's, he nevertheless remained a staunch imperialist throughout his life, believing ultimately that the African and Middle Eastern races were inferior to white Europeans.

Burton was knighted in 1886. Upon his death four years later, Isabel, who was alarmed at her husband's interest in erotica, burned several of his manuscripts. Nevertheless, several cartons of Burton's writings survived: posthumously published works included The Jew, the Gypsy, and El Islam and Wanderings in Three Continents.

Plot Summary

The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad

Three wealthy and beautiful sisters invite, over the course of an evening, a porter, three one-eyed Kalandars, and three merchants—who turn out to be the Caliph and his companions in disguise—into their home for shelter, food, and drink. Upon entering each guest must take the following oath: "Whoso speaketh of what concerneth him not shall hear what pleaseth him not!"

The eldest lady interrupts the festivities to attend to her duty. Two black bitches (female dogs) are brought out to her; she proceeds to beat them with a whip; then, tearfully kissing them both, she sends them away.

The cateress then sings a sad song, causing the portress to penitently rend her garments, revealing to the guests the marks of a terrible beating.

The men, unable to contain their curiosity, break their oaths and demand an explanation of the women. The eldest lady grows angry at their presumption and commands her slaves to bind them. The lady demands each of their stories in exchange for their lives.

The First Kalandar's Tale

The first Kalandar reveals that he is actually a Prince. His adventure begins with a visit to his cousin, who is also a Prince of another kingdom: sworn to an oath of secrecy, he agrees to conceal his cousin in an underground dwelling with his cousin's lover. He then returns to his father's kingdom, where he discovers that the King's Wazir has slain his father and taken over the kingdom. The Wazir puts out the Prince's left eye and condemns him to execution in the wilderness, but he manages to escape and immediately makes his way back to his uncle's kingdom, where his uncle is grieving over the disappearance of his son. The Prince breaks his oath and shows his uncle the entrance to the secret dwelling, which they enter only to find the burnt bodies of the cousin and his lover. The uncle spits upon the face of his son and then explains that the lady is the cousin's own sister whom he was forbidden from seeing. They return to the palace to find it taken over by the same evil Wazir. The uncle is killed and the Prince, disguised as a Kalandar, heads to Baghdad to seek the aid of the Caliph.

The Second Kalandar's Tale

The Second Kalandar also reveals that he is a Prince. Attacked by a band of robbers while journeying to Hind, he flees to a foreign city where he is taken in by a friendly tailor, who aids him in his finding work as a woodcutter.

While in the forest, he discovers an underground dwelling, where he finds a beautiful Princess who is held prisoner by an Ifrit. After spending the night with her, he foolishly summons the Ifrit, who appears and captures him; he kills the Princess for her infidelity and punishes the Prince by transforming him into an ape.

After a time of wandering, the Prince, still in the form of an ape, comes upon another kingdom where he manages to use his intelligence to impress the King.

The King's daughter Sitt al-Husn, who has magical abilities, realizes that the ape is really an enchanted Prince; she defeats the Ifrit in a terrible battle in order to set the Prince free, only to be killed herself. The Prince is returned to his former shape, but he has lost his left eye during the battle. He takes on the garb of a Kalandar and makes his way to Baghdad.

The Third Kalandar's Tale

The third Kalandar, Ajib son of Khazib, is also a Prince. He is marooned on the island of the Magnet Mountain after his ship sinks. Guided by a voice, he kills the island's horseman, after which a man appears on a skiff to rescue him; however, before arriving at dry land the skiff overturns, and Ajib ends up on another deserted island.

Ajib meets a boy hidden in an underground dwelling. It has been prophesied that the boy would be killed by the killer of the horseman of the Magnet Mountain, and so his father has hidden him there to avert death. In fulfillment of the prophesy Ajib accidentally falls with a knife on the boy and kills him.

The tide recedes enough for Ajib to wade to the mainland, where he meets ten men, each with a missing eye; they take him in under the condition that he asks no questions. Every night the men perform a penance by covering themselves with ash; Ajib's curiosity finally overcomes him, and he asks their story.

The men then have a bird carry Ajib to a palace of beautiful women, where he remains in luxury for a year. One day the women leave him alone in the palace, and he opens a forbidden door behind which he finds a black stallion. He mounts the horse, which then flies away and, upon landing, knocks Ajib's eye out with his tail. Ajib penitently takes on the garb of a Kalandar and eventually makes his way to Baghdad.

Amazed by the men's stories, the eldest lady lets them go free. The next morning, the Caliph summons the ladies to reveal their tales.

The Eldest Lady's Tale

The two black female dogs are the enchanted elder sisters of the mistress of the house, also known as the eldest lady, who are under her care after having been left destitute by their husbands. One day the lady and her sisters, while on a sailing trip, end up in a mysterious city where everyone has been turned to stone. The lady meets a handsome youth reciting verses from the Koran. He is the Prince of that city, preserved from being turned to stone because he was the city's only worshipper of Allah.

The lady and the Prince return to the ship with plans to marry. The sisters, envious of their sister's happiness, throw the lady and the Prince into the sea. The Prince drowns, but the lady floats to shore and survives. On her way back to Baghdad, she comes upon a serpent being chased by a dragon, which the lady slays. The serpent turns out to be a Jinniyah, who, in gratitude to the lady for saving her life, turns her two envious sisters into black dogs. The Jinniyah warns the lady that if she does not whip the black bitches three hundred times a night, she will be imprisoned under the earth forever.

Tale of the Portress

An old woman, under false pretense, leads the portress to the home of her master, who is secretly in love with the portress and wishes to marry her. Seeing that he is handsome, the portress falls in love with him, and they are married immediately; however, he makes her take an oath to never look at another man. They live happily together for a month.

On a trip to the market with the old woman, the portress makes a purchase from a young man who asks for a kiss as payment. Pressured by the old woman, the portress reluctantly allows the young man to kiss her on the cheek. He bites her instead. When her husband sees her wound, he discovers her unfaithfulness and intends to kill her. He is deterred by the old woman, however, and instead beats her and sends her away. She returns to the home of her eldest sister, where she mourns her misdeed and the banishment from her beloved's home.

The Caliph, having heard the entire story, puts everything back to order: he orders the Jinniyah to change the two dogs back to human form; he then marries the three oldest sisters to the three Kalandars. He returns the Portress to her husband and takes the cateress as a wife.



See The Third Kalandar

The Black Bitches

These two dogs appear to belong to eldest lady, the mistress of the house, who for mysterious reasons beats them severely every night. The eldest lady's story reveals that the bitches are the enchanted sisters of the eldest lady, who were transformed into dogs as a punishment for their envy by the Jinniyah and are then ordered by the Jinniyah to receive three hundred lashes every night.

Caliph Harun al-Rashid

The Caliph represents compassionate justice. Having entered the home of the three ladies under the disguise of a merchant, he witnesses the women's strange rituals and hears the fantastic tales of the three Kalandars. The next day he orders the eldest lady and the portress to come before him and relate their stories. Having heard everyone's fantastic tales, he orders that all be put right: he has the two dogs changed back into their human form, and he reunites the portress with her husband; he then gives the three older ladies in marriage to the three Kalandars and takes for his own wife the cateress. Order is restored in that the women are no longer alone, and the men are able to stop their wandering.

The Cateress

The cateress, also called the procuratrix, lives with her two sisters, the eldest lady and the portress, in a mansion. She assists the portress in her penance by singing the song of penitence while the portress mourns and rends her garments in sorrow. The Caliph takes the cateress as his wife at the end of the story.

The Eldest Lady

The eldest lady is the mistress of the mansion and the eldest sister of the cateress and the portress. While sailing with her older sisters she comes upon a city of stone and falls in love with the Prince. Her older sisters, out of jealousy, throw her and her lover, the Prince, off the ship. She survives and, while making her way back home, saves a serpent from a dragon. The serpent, which turns out to be a magical Jinniyah, shows her thanks by changing the envious sisters into two black dogs. The Jinniyah orders the lady to beat them both every night or be imprisoned under the earth forever. The eldest lady is very wealthy and, therefore, independent. Her wealth has been amassed from the treasures of her Prince as well as her inheritance. However, the lady previously worked as a weaver and sold her goods, which indicates that she was independent. That she is married off to one of the Kalandars at the end of the story—at which point the Caliph compassionately reestablishes order and justice—implies that it is unfortunate for a woman, even a woman of independent means, to be without a male guardian.

The First Kalandar

One of three one-eyed Kalandars who arrive on the ladies' doorstep looking for shelter, the First Kalandar reveals that he is actually a Prince in disguise. He has come to Baghdad in search of the Caliph, in flight from an evil Wazir who slew his uncle and father and took over their kingdoms.

(A Kalandar, more commonly known as a dervish, is an ascetic Muslim monk, known for an austere lifestyle.)

Media Adaptations

  • The Arabian Nights has been the inspiration of several film productions: the 1940s produced a handful of Nights-inspired films including: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944), starring Arthur Lubin and Maria Montez and released by Universal Studios; Sinbad the Sailor (1947), starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and released by RKO Pictures; and Arabian Nights (1942), directed by John Rawlins, which is only loosely based on the story of Scheherazade. The Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini released his Il Fiore delle mille e una notte (The Tales of One Thousand and One Nights) in 1974, which was met with much controversy due to its explicitly erotic nature. All are available in VHS.
  • The following film adaptations appeared later: Disney's animated feature, Aladdin, released in 1992 and starring Robin Williams (VHS); Dreamworks Entertainment's animated feature Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, released in 2003 and starring Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones (VHS and DVD); and the TV miniseries Arabian Nights, which aired September 18, 2001, and was subsequently available on DVD and VHS.
  • An audio recording of Burton's Arabian Nights is available from Blackstone Audiobooks as an eight-hundred-minute set of audiocassettes. It is narrated by Johanna Ward.

The First Kalandar's Cousin

The First Kalandar's cousin is also a Prince and the Kalandar's best friend. He exhorts the Kalandar to help him escape into a secret underground dwelling with his lover, who is actually his sister with whom he is forbidden to have a sexual relationship. He and his lover are burned to death in their underground dwelling by a fire, which his father attributes to Heaven as a punishment for their sin of incest.

The First Kalandar's Uncle

The brother of the First Kalandar's father, he is also the father of the First Kalandar's cousin. He finds his son's body, together with that of his sister and lover, burned to death in their secret dwelling. Displaying righteous anger, he spits upon his son's face and condemns him for committing the sin of incest. The uncle is later slain by the evil Wazir, who takes over both his kingdom and his brother's kingdom.

The Ifrit

The Ifrit (afreet in English) is a type of powerful demon that figures in many of the Arabian Nights. The Ifrit of the Second Kalandar's story, whose name is Jirjis bin Rajmus, holds the Princess of Abnus in a secret underground dwelling and does not allow her to see any other human beings. When he discovers that she has been unfaithful to him with the Second Kalandar, he executes her and turns the Second Kalandar into an ape. He is later slain by the sorceress-like Princess Sitt al-Husn, who kills him to transform the Second Kalandar back into a human.

The Ifritah

See The Jinniyah


Ja'far is the Wazir to the Caliph of Baghdad. He accompanies the Caliph on his nighttime strolls around Baghdad in the guise of a merchant, serving as the Caliph's protector and mouthpiece.

The Jinniyah

In the form of a serpent when the eldest lady comes upon her outside of Baghdad, the Jinniyah is being overtaken by a dragon. The eldest lady slays the dragon, and in return, the Jinniyah exacts revenge upon her sisters who had betrayed her and her lover, the Prince, by turning them into the black bitches.

Jirjis bin Rajmus

See The Ifrit

The King

This King in the Second Kalandar's tale meets the Kalandar when he is still in the form of an ape. However, he is impressed by the Kalandar's knowledge and talents and makes him his new minister. Out of his sense of justice, he asks his daughter Sitt al-Husn, a woman with sorceress-like powers, to rid the Kalandar of his enchantment, only to lose her in her battle with the Ifrit. Realizing the Kalandar is bad luck he sends him back to his wanderings.


In the eldest lady's tale, the Magians are the people of the city where the lady's ship docks. The Magians are fire worshippers who do not believe in Allah despite warnings of judgment. On judgment day, they are all turned to stone.

The Old Lady

The old lady is characterized as conniving and untrustworthy. She is sent to the home of the portress by her master to trick her into coming to his home, which results in their happy union. However, she later undoes their happiness by goading the portress into breaking her oath and taking a kiss from a stranger. Although it seems that she is setting up the portress for death at the hands of her husband, the old lady begs for her life at the last minute, invoking Allah, and convinces the husband to scourge and banish her in lieu of execution.

The Porter

The porter is an unmarried man who hires himself out to transport goods from the market. The cateress hires him to assist her in her shopping and accompany her back to her mansion. The porter is smitten by the beauty of the three ladies and, impressing them with his improvisational skills, is invited to stay in their company. The ladies, who are all unmarried, are quite free with him, and the porter feels as if he has been transported to Paradise. His ecstasy in the fine and luxurious company of the ladies, however, is quickly overturned when the ladies proceed to horrify him, and the other guests, with their nightly penitence.

The Portress

The Portress is the second lady of the story. She evokes the curiosity and concern of her guests when, during a love song performed by her sister, the cateress, she rends her garments and faints, exposing scars of a beating on her body. She later, at the order of the Caliph, reveals the story behind her beating. Upon her marriage, her husband made her take an oath never to look at another man. However, one day at the market while she is shopping with the old lady, they stop at a stand. The shopkeeper asks for a kiss; she refuses, but being goaded by the old lady she finally relents and allows the man to kiss her cheek. He, however, bites her and leaves a wound, which she cannot hide from her husband. He beats her for her infidelity and turns her out of the house, for which she laments every night by listening to her sister's song and rending her clothes. She is reunited with her husband by the Caliph.

The Prince

The Prince in the eldest lady's story is the son of the King of the Magians. He was raised to worship Allah by a devout Muslim woman and is therefore spared when the city people are turned to black stone. He is drowned when the jealous sisters of the eldest lady throw him overboard.

The Princess of Abnus

The Princess of Abnus was kidnapped by the Ifrit Jirus bin Rajmus and hidden in an underground hall. She had not seen another human being in twenty-five years until the Second Kalandar chanced upon her hideaway. She and the Second Kalandar fall in love, only to be discovered by the Ifrit. The Princess withstands the Ifrit's tortures to protect the Second Kalandar and is eventually murdered.

The Procuratrix

See The Cateress

The Second Kalandar

The Second Kalandar is a Prince and a renowned scholar whose story explores the powerlessness of the individual against chance and fate: on his way to visit the King of Hind, he is attacked by a band of robbers and flees to a foreign city, where he is taken in by a tailor. While working as a woodcutter, the Prince comes upon the Princess of Abnus. She is the prisoner of the Ifrit Jirjis bin Rajmus, who turns him into an ape as a punishment for having a sexual relationship with the Princess.

While still under the guise of an ape, the Prince manages to become an advisor to a King and is freed of his curse when the daughter of the King summons and kills the Ifrit. He loses his left eye during the battle between the Ifrit and the Princess. After being banished from the King's court, he takes on the guise of a Kalandar and makes his way to Baghdad. His story, however, ends with fate treating him kindly: the Caliph of Baghdad marries him to one of the three older sisters.

Sitt al-Husn

A sorceress-like Princess, Sitt al-Husn recognizes that the ape in her father's court is really an enchanted Prince: the Second Kalandar. At her father's request, she summons the Ifrit Jirjis bin Rajmus and, in a powerful battle, slays him, freeing the Second Kalandar from his enchanted ape form. She, however, is also killed in the battle.

The Tailor

The tailor takes in the Second Kalandar after he arrives in his city, having escaped from a band of robbers. The tailor takes care of the Second Kalandar, puts him up and keeps him under disguise for his safety. He aids the Second Kalandar by purchasing for him a woodcutter's tools. He is kind and hospitable.

The Third Kalandar

The Third Kalandar, whose name is Ajib (son of Khazib), is the son of a King who, while sailing one day, is stranded on the island of the Magnet Mountain. A voice in a dream instructs him to slay the mounted horseman on Magnet Mountain, which he does. Meanwhile, astrologers have prophesized that the son of a man of great wealth will die at Ajib's hands fifty days after the horseman has been slain. Ajib makes his way to an island where the young man is living, and he befriends him, but on the forty-ninth night, he accidentally kills the young man when his knife falls from its sheath, thus fulfilling the prophecy of the astrologers. He leaves the island, only to meet the ten men with missing eyes. After a series of further adventures, Ajib ends up losing his eye, and in great sadness he becomes a Kalandar.

The Wazir

The term wazir, another form of the English word vizier, is the title held by the King's advisor in medieval Islamic states. The Wazir of the First Kalandar's story slays both his father and his uncle and takes over their kingdoms. He holds a grudge against the First Kalandar, who as a child accidentally put out his left eye while throwing a stone. In retribution, he puts out the First Kalandar's left eye with his own finger and condemns him to execution in the wasteland.


Infinity and Immortality

The passing on of stories is a universal means of preservation. It is a way to circumvent mortality. That The Arabian Nights is a story about storytelling conveys this idea of immortality: Scheherazade's telling stories is literally a means by which she preserves her own life, and the structure of her stories—stories within stories whose endings inter-weave with the next story's beginning, night after night—seem never-ending and, therefore, are a symbol of infinity.

Topics for Further Study

  • In his preface to his translation, Burton promotes the study of the Arabian Nights among the British as a means of understanding the cultures and customs of the Muslim world, which made up a large part of the British Empire at the time. The popularity of Burton's Arabian Nights translation was due in part to British interest in their "Oriental" colonies. Compare the British attitudes towards the Middle East in the nineteenth century with the policies of the United States and Britain towards that region today. Do you see any similarities? Differences?
  • A. S. Byatt writes, "Collections of tales talk to each other and borrow from each other, motifs glide from culture to culture, century to century." The Arabian Nights, itself a compilation, bears much resemblance to stories and folktales found in cultures around the world. It is also cited as one of the most influential works in English literature. Bearing both these points in mind, can you think of any authors, works of literature, or other folktales that bear a resemblance to The Arabian Nights ? Describe these similarities.
  • As a nineteenth-century British explorer and anthropologist, Burton showed in his work, life, and philosophies that he was very much a part of the British imperialist system. Much in his writings reveals that he shared the imperial attitude of racial and cultural superiority particularly over non-white and non-Christian races and cultures. Discuss how the British ideology of superiority and progressive empire-building contributed to different forms of racism throughout the world and history.
  • The violent treatment of women in The Arabian Nights is a major theme. The killing of women for acts of infidelity is treated as common and seems to be accepted widely. Yet, many female characters in the tales hold positions of authority and rule over the men around them. Research the role of women in fourteenth-century Iraq and Persia. Limit your research, if possible to a particular country. What were some of the positions of authority that women held? Were there women political leaders? Was the violent treatment of women widespread, or was it relegated to particular economic classes?
  • In The Arabian Nights social classes of all kinds interact with one another. Prostitutes and thieves socialize with Princes and Kings, and porters party with ladies-in-waiting. Historically, how were Persian economic and social classes structured? Did classes come into contact with one another, or was there greater class separation than the tales indicate? How is Iranian society structured today? Is there a great class distinction, or are classes more democratically structured?


The original Arabian Nights are full of sexuality, which the nineteenth-century translations previous to Burton's, in keeping with the stringent Victorian sexual mores of the time, largely left out. However, Burton's translation, in his effort to present a more complete version of the tales, preserves the sexual references, allusions, scenes, and themes. Moreover, his long annotations include extensive notes on Arabic sexual practices and the meanings of allusions, a feature that causes his translation to be much more sexualized than even the original tales.


The mistreatment, beating, and outright killing of women is regarded as lawful and just, especially as punishment for a woman's infidelity to her husband. This value recurs in the outermost frame, in which the King kills one maiden after another in retribution for his first wife's infidelity. In the story of the portress in "The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad," the portress breaks her oath to her husband by allowing another man to kiss her, for which her husband severely beats her. The portress must then perform nightly penance for wronging her husband. The Jinniyah herself, who represents a form of justice in this tale, excuses the husband's action as just and even would excuse him for killing her: "He is not to be blamed for beating her, for he laid a condition on her and swore her by a solemn oath … she was false to her vow and he was minded to put her to death … but contented himself with scourging her." At the end of the story, the Caliph puts the portress's situation aright not by punishing her husband for his violence against her but by reuniting them.

Chance and Fate

Chance and fate are inescapable forces in the tales; many of the tales begin with a character setting out on a journey to a specific place, only to be waylaid by circumstances beyond his control. In the story of the Third Kalandar in "The Porter and the Three Ladies," for example, the Kalandar never reaches his intended destination and instead is stranded on two separate islands, kept in a castle for over a year, and has his eye knocked out by a horse. He decides to become a Kalandar and ends up in Baghdad. However, he ends up happily marrying one of the beautiful sisters of the story, which seems to suggest that in the end he meets the happy fate he is intended to have. In this way the stories seems to illustrate the reality of human powerlessness over outcomes: The Second Kalandar sums it up thus: "I resigned my soul to the tyranny of Time and Circumstance, well weeting that Fortune is fair and constant to no man."


Fidelity is one of the most important aspects of the relationships between the characters: this factor includes faithfulness of a wife to her husband and obedience of any person to his or her oath. Just as the breaking of a marriage oath results, on numerous occasions throughout the tales, in the injury or death of the woman, so too does the breaking of an oath lead to punishment for other characters. For example, in the "Tale of the Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad," the men break their oaths of silence to the women, only to be threatened with death. The Third Kalandar breaks his oath of silence to the ten one-eyed mendicants, only to meet with their same fate and eventually lose one of his own eyes.



The Arabian Nights is a collection of stories within stories, also known as "frames." One narrator's story contains or frames another narrator's story. The outer or first frame is the story of the King who, in revenge for the infidelity of his first wife, marries a new maiden every night, takes her virginity, and slays her in the morning. This frame contains the second frame of Scheherazade's story. In order to preserve her life, Scheherazade tells a seemingly endless story, and in her story, characters begin to tell their stories (additional frames). The convention of having a narrator tell the story of other narrators telling stories is seen in such works as Dante's Divine Comedy, Boccaccio's Decameron, and Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.

Medieval or Archaic Language

Burton's translation is especially characterized by an ornate, archaic language style that he developed in order to imitate the medieval Arabic in which the original stories were written. Burton looked to earlier sources of English literature for his inspiration, such as Chaucer's works and Elizabethan poetry and drama. Burton's intentional use of archaic terms such as "blee" and "wight" contribute to the medievalization, as do the cadence and structure of his sentences. While Burton's attempt at inventing a medieval English style was sharply criticized for its convoluted structure and weightiness, his work was admired for its Shakespearean-like wordplay.

Internal Rhyme

Burton's prose translation features alliteration and internal rhyming in imitation of the Arabic style known as "seja," a convention earlier translators rejected as being foreign to British ears. A description of a lady in the story "The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad" offers an example:

Thereupon sat a lady bright of blee, with brow beaming brilliancy, the dream of philosophy, whose eyes were fraught with Babel's gramarye and her eyebrows were arched as for archery.


Poetry is used by many characters as a mode of communication, including arguing, praising, entertaining, and grieving. Couplets, quatrains, and extended verses are scattered throughout the text and give the tales a sense of literary playfulness.

Magical Realism

Most of the tales in The Arabian Nights contain an element of magic or the fantastic: jinns, ifrits, flying horses, and talking fish figure as characters; people are turned into dogs and apes; ships are regularly tossed upon magical islands. That the reader is asked to suspend disbelief and accept the magical components of the story constitutes both a distraction from reality and entertainment for the imagination.

Historical Context

Translation of The Arabian Nights

Sir Richard Burton's The Arabian Nights was an immediate hit upon its publication in 1885. Based on the 1881 translation by John Payne, Burton's work not only fed the growing demand of English readers for tales and images from the Oriental reaches of their empire, but its comparatively frank sexual references, its bawdiness, and its wild adventures also spoke to, as much as it shocked, the repressed prurient interests of its Victorian readership.

While Burton's translation of the actual tales was nothing more than a slightly revised version of Payne's, his ten-volume collection included copious notes on the histories of the stories, etymologies of Arabic phrases, and explanations of various Arabic customs and conventions. Of particular interest to his readers were his extensive notes on sexual allusions and references, a subject in which Burton had acquired a great deal of interest and expertise from his years of travel and study in the region.

Sexual practices had long been a part of Burton's cultural and anthropological studies. While he was on military commission in India for the East India Company before his career as an explorer or writer began, he undertook a study, on the request of his superior Sir Charles Napier, of the homosexual brothels in Karachi. Burton's clinical and graphic work fell into unsympathetic hands after Napier's retirement, and as a result Burton's military career was permanently damaged. Nevertheless, the experience set the tone for nearly all of Burton's future expeditions and writings. Sexual practices continued to be the focal point of much of his career, so much so that upon his death, his wife burned several of his translation manuscripts because of their explicit erotic content.

Burton was well aware of the impact the sexual content of his work would have, and out of fear of prosecution under British obscenity laws, he published The Arabian Nights anonymously under his private imprint, the Kama Shastra Society, which he founded with F. F. Arbuthnot in order to produce joint, but anonymous, translations of several Indian sexual manuals, including the famous Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana.

In his preface to that work, Burton wrote, in anticipation of the furor that would arise surrounding the sexual explicitness, that his mission was to publish a "full, complete, unvarnished, uncastrated copy of the great original." The success of Burton's endeavors only proved the hypocrisy of Victorian society. While the society exuded an air of prudish indifference, nineteenth-century readers had in truth a keen interest in the subject, a point certainly proven by the first printing's immediately selling out and making Burton his first profit as a writer.

The popularity of Burton's tales can also be attributed to Britain's growing interest in Islamic and Middle Eastern culture. At the time of Burton's publication, Great Britain ruled the entire Indian subcontinent, including Afghanistan, and held sovereignty over Egypt and much of northern Africa—all areas containing large Muslim populations.

The Arabian Nights, like many of Burton's travelogues, effectively became a window to the Islamic and Arabic culture, providing understanding of which the British, as an imperial presence, were otherwise seriously lacking. Burton stressed the need for British education in the Oriental culture in his introduction: "England … is at present the greatest Mohammedan empire in the world.… her crass ignorance concerning the Oriental people which should most interest her, exposes her to the contempt of Europe as well as of the Eastern world." His concern, however, with teaching the English the ways of the Orient was strictly for the success of British imperialism. He continues: "He who would deal with [Muslims] successfully must be … favourably inclined to their manners and customs if not to their law and religion." This statement reveals that Burton, although committed to the examination of other cultures, was at heart, like most of his countrymen, an imperialist, believing that, although there was worth in other cultures, British rule and conquest was completely justified by British cultural and racial superiority.

Compare & Contrast

  • Middle Ages: As portrayed in The Arabian Nights, women are regarded largely as property: a woman who is unfaithful to her husband can lawfully be executed. Single women who exercise sexual freedom are designated to a separate, lower class from married women.

    Today: In many parts of the world, the inequality and mistreatment of women is still a major problem. However, due to women's rights movements working from the late nineteenth century onward, in Western society in the early 2000s women have the same legal rights as men and can exercise both economic and sexual freedom and independence.

  • Late Nineteenth Century: Burton's translation of The Arabian Nights includes copious anthropological notes that, in many cases, reveal an attitude of cultural and racial superiority, reflecting an institutionalized racism that is an inherent part of the British Empire.

    Today: Prejudice between races is still a problem; however, by and large the governments of Western society have removed institutionalized racism from their laws and have created domestic policies such as affirmative action in an attempt to reverse the damages of racist policy.

  • Late Nineteenth Century: Victorian society is scandalized by the frank sexual content of Burton's translation and annotations of The Arabian Nights.

    Today: Looser sexual mores allow for frank discussion of sexuality to figure as a significant theme of twenty-first-century modes of entertainment, including television shows, movies, popular music, and books.

  • Late Nineteenth Century: Although Oriental studies programs have become a part of most major European universities, there is widespread general ignorance of Arabic literature and culture. Aside from the few major works, most Arabic writing is untranslated and therefore not known to the Western world, and little is known about other Arabic art forms.

    Today: Although cultural ignorance of the Arabic world is still a problem in the West, many major Arabic works are translated, and many contemporary Arabic writers are also translated and published in the West. Additionally, Middle Eastern films are distributed widely and help spread Arabic culture into the west.

However, while modern scholarship criticized the many inaccuracies and cultural and racial prejudices in Burton's studies and beliefs, it must be remembered that his work was groundbreaking for its time, both for its treatment of sexual content and for its anthropological and linguistic notations. While his Arabian Nights was not the first European or even the first English translation of the tales, it was without a doubt the translation that put the collection on the literary map in the west and opened European doors to the vast influences of Arabic culture.

Arabic History

Most of the tales of The Arabian Nights are obviously fictional; however, several historical figures appear throughout, which may indicate a historical basis for some of the tales. For example, the name Abbaside khalif Haroun er Reshid, also known as "Aaron the Orthodox," appears frequently in the text, leading some scholars to believe that the tales may have originated in his courts.

Arabic Social Classes

The characters of the Arabian Nights are defined by their social classes and include slaves, prostitutes, mendicants, merchants, the upper class, Princes, Kings. The clear definition and delineation of the characters' classes is indicative of the social structure of the medieval Arabic society in which the tales originated.

Critical Overview

The Arabian Nights, known as Alf Layla wa Layla in Arabic, although one of the most famous and influential works in English literature, was never regarded by Arabic scholars as a work of literary worth. The tenth-century historian Ali Aboulhusn el Mesoudi, as cited by Joseph Campbell in his introduction to The Portable Arabian Nights, condemned the stories, saying "I have seen the complete work more than once, and it is indeed a vulgar, insipid book." The tales were regarded as lowbrow literature both for their frank and comedic dealings with sexuality and for their form; they were not intricately composed works of literary craftsmanship, but stories passed down orally through the generations; in other words, they were folktales. They were considered vulgar especially in comparison to what was considered high literature in medieval Arabic culture: the adab and the maqama, both of which were highly stylized forms of composition.

Despite their disfavor in the eyes of the Arabian literary establishment, when the Arabian Nights was first introduced to Europe in the early 1700s in a French translation by Antoine Galland, the stories were met with instant enthusiasm, not only for their highly entertaining subject matter but for their use as a window into the otherwise mysterious Islamic world.

The tales were cited by many writers over the centuries as having a profound influence: A. S. Byatt, in her introduction to the Modern Library edition of Burton's translation, states that for the Romantic poets of the late eighteenth century, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, "the Arabian Nights stood for the wonderful against the mundane, the imaginative against the prosaically and reductively rational." Edgar Allan Poe went so far as to try to write the story that might follow the one-thousand-and-one tales, and the tales influenced the works of twentieth-century writers such as Salman Rushdie and Jorge Luis Borges.

The English translations of the stories that predated Burton's censored the more sexually graphic parts that exist in the original Arabian Nights, either by glossing them or leaving them out altogether. Burton's translation, however, left none of the sexual content out; it even included copious notes annotating the sexual practices of the Arabic culture. This extreme focus on sexuality shocked the Victorian establishment; in fact, there was an immediate call for censoring the work.

The clamor for censorship, however, engendered spirited defense of the work and discussion of Victorian hypocrisy. Byatt's "Introduction" includes the following quotation from John Addington Symonds: "When we invite our youth to read an unexpurgated Bible … an unexpurgated collection of Elizabethan dramatists, including Shakespeare … it is surely inconsistent to exclude the unexpurgated Arabian Nights, … from the studies of a nation who rule India and administer Egypt."

Criticism of Burton's translation was not limited to the explicit content, however. Many critics took issue with his ornate style and use of archaic language, with which he attempted to imitate the cadence of the original medieval Arabic.

Symonds offered this criticism in his same defense: "Commanding a vast and miscellaneous vocabulary, [Burton] takes such pleasure in the use of it that sometimes he transgresses the unwritten laws of artistic harmony." Byatt included an excerpt from an 1890 review in The Nation that also sharply criticized Burton's overwrought style, calling it "unreadable for its own sake," declaring his annotations "a perpetual menace" and his archaisms and phrasings "barbarisms," and concluding that "the book was a flat failure." However, Burton's translation received a great reception from the general reading public; the first printing of one thousand sold out, turning Burton his very first profit as a writer.


Mark White

White is the publisher at the Seattle-based press Scala House Press. In this essay, White argues that Burton's reputation as a preeminent translator of The Arabian Nights is not deserved.

In 1885, Richard Burton assured himself of a longstanding place in the literary world with the publication of his ten-volume translation of Alf Layla wa Layla, variously known in English translation as A Thousand and One Nights, or The Arabian Nights. Burton's work, which he originally titled A Plain and Literal Translation of the Arabian Nights' Entertainments, sold out quickly of its initial print run and gave the British-born explorer, Orientalist, and writer recognition as the tales' preeminent translator—a reputation that would last well into the twentieth-century. Burton, however, was never deserving of that reputation. His version was essentially plagiarized, with some modifications, from an existing translation by John Payne. While some of his revisions improved Payne's work, many of them gave the text an archaic and formal feel that bears little relationship to the original. The real "value" that Burton gave to the work was to be found in his salesmanship, and for that he relied on his potential readership's age-old desire, despite the veneer of Victorian prudishness, for sex. Burton knew, long before the advent of Madison Avenue marketing campaigns, that sex, particularly exotic sex, sells, and he made certain that his version of The Arabian Nights had plenty of it.

That Burton's translation was, at a minimum, a revision of the existing work by John Payne was widely accepted as fact as of 2004. Writing in her book-length study of The Arabian Nights, The Art of Story-Telling, Mia I. Gerhardt states emphatically: "There is no other way of putting it: Burton plagiarized Payne." Echoing Gerhardt, Joseph Campbell, writing in the "Introduction" to The Portable Arabian Nights, is slightly more diplomatic, but no less emphatic, when he states that "Payne's superb translation … was appropriated straightaway by his colourful friend, Captain Richard F. Burton, who immediately reissued it, slightly modified and garnished with a plethora of 'anthropological' notes, under his own name."

In the "Preface" to the first volume of his translation, Burton describes how after years engaging himself in "a labour of love" (referring, of course, to the translation), sometime in 1881or 1882 he came across a notice in literary journals that a "Mr. John Payne, well known to scholars for his prowess of English verse," was also working on a translation of the tales. (According to Gerhardt, who cites several sources, Burton had not yet translated a single word of the tales when he first met Payne). Payne's work, which took him six years to complete, appeared between 1882 and 1884 in a private subscription. Although he had a subscriber base of two thousand, for inexplicable reasons he limited his original edition to only five hundred copies.

Payne's distinction is that his work was the first, unexpurgated English translation of the tales. Although a previous English translation had been published by Edward Lane, Lane had translated fewer than a third of the original stories, omitting ones that he considered "comparatively uninteresting or on any account objectionable." In other words, in addition to general stylistic editing, Lane took it upon himself to censor his translation of explicit sexual subject matter, a point that Burton goes at length to point out in his own notes and supplemental material.

One might question why Burton would undertake the arduous task of translating the more than two hundred tales so closely on the heels of Payne's publication. To begin with, he knew that Payne had fifteen hundred subscribers who had yet to receive their copies of Payne's translation, a potential business that was not insignificant to Burton. Furthermore, as he writes in the "Preface" to his edition, "These volumes … afford me a long-sought opportunity of noticing practices and customs which interest all mankind and which 'Society' will not hear mentioned." Essentially, a new translation would give Burton the opportunity to address his Victorian counterparts on matters of a sexual nature—matters that Lane omitted entirely and Payne did not emphasize.

But Burton does not mention that Payne had already done the bulk of the work. Gerhardt, who backs her argument with textual comparisons and citations from Payne's translation and from Burton's biographers, writes:

Burton set to work on his translation in April 1884 and finished it in April 1886. He was always a fast worker, and his notes were mostly ready for use. But this extraordinary speed … finds its real explanation in the fact that Burton borrowed extensively from Payne. Whole sentences and paragraphs are copied almost word for word, whole pages (especially in the later volumes) taken over with only the slightest of modifications. Burton's translation really is Payne's, with a certain amount of stylistic changes, and the poetry translated anew.

What Do I Read Next?

  • Husain Haddawy's translation of The Arabian Nights is based directly on the fourteenth-century Syrian manuscript and is considered, as of 2004, the best English translation of the tales. A version of this translation was issued by W. W. Norton in 1995.
  • The City of the Saints: Among the Mormons and across the Rocky Mountains to California, originally published in 1861, is Burton's account of his travels in western North America, including his encounter with Brigham Young, the founder of the Mormon religion.
  • Burton's first published work, Goa, and the Blue Mountains: Or, Six Months of Sick Leave, was released in 1851 shortly after his stint as part of the East India Company. The work is a study of the indigenous peoples of the Goa region of India.
  • Burton's Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al Madinah and Mecca (1855–1866), which first appeared in three volumes, is Burton's first-hand account of his dangerous visit to the sacred cities of Medina and Mecca. Burton, who as a non-Muslim disguised himself as an East Indian to preserve his life, was the first non-Muslim Westerner ever to visit these cities.
  • The Lake Regions of Central Africa is Burton's account of his three-year expedition to find the source of the Nile River. It was first published in 1860.
  • In Wanderings in West Africa: From Liverpool to Fernando Po (1863), Burton describes his travels across the northern half of Africa. His account includes descriptions and analysis of the cultures he encounters which, to the modern reader, can be shocking in their racist nature.

While it is widely acknowledged that Burton's revisions of the more than ten thousand lines of verse contained in The Arabian Nights generally improved upon Payne's translation, other revisions made by Burton to the text had the opposite effect. One issue that is most obvious to the eye and ear of the English reader unfamiliar with Arabic is the ornamentation in Burton's translation that gives it a more formal and archaic tone than Payne's already had. In addition to obsolete verb forms—replacing "quoth" for "said," for instance—Burton adds more "thou's" and "thee's" and "-eths" that take the translation further away from the original. In the story, "The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad," for example, what Payne translates as, "He who speaks of what concerns him not, shall hear what will not please him," is rendered by Burton as "WHOSO SPEAKETH OF WHAT CONCERNETH HIM NOT SHALL HEAR WHAT PLEASETH HIM NOT!" While such a difference is only a matter of degree, its effect on the reading experience over the course of four hundred pages should not be understated.

A major characteristic of Alf Layla wa Layla, what Campbell calls its most "salient characteristic," is, in Campbell's words, its "extreme simplicity." In their original forms, the diction of the stories is straightforward and simple, and the tales themselves, over one thousand years after they were originally conceived, can still be understood by modern readers of Arabic. Burton's versions, not much more than a century old, are virtually unreadable to the early 2000s' reader due to the archaic phrasings added to the text. His ornamentations created an elevated diction, awkward even to the Victorian reader, which bears no relationship to the original. Burton clearly had the ability to write in a less formal, archaic tone; one need only compare the prose Burton chose for his translation with the prose of his "Preface" and "Terminal Essay" to see the difference. C. Knipp, writing in "The Arabian Nights in England: Galland's Translation and Its Successors," an article published in the Journal of Arabic Literature, goes so far as to say that as a result of these and other related issues with the translation, that "Burton's only real distinctions are that his version of John Payne's version of the Nights is the lengthiest and most unreadable."

If Burton's "version of John Payne's version" differed only in degrees to Payne's, then why did it so quickly and irreversibly supplant Payne's as the standard English translation of The Arabian Nights ? The answer is, simply, sex.

Aside from his extensive experiences as a translator, explorer, linguist and scholar, Burton was a noted sexologist. He not only firmly believed that the study of sexual practices in a region could provide invaluable insights into the psychology of the people, he was also, at heart, a rebel, and there were few practices more contrary to Victorian society than engaging in explicit studies and discussions of sexuality.

There can be no denying that Burton set out to translate The Arabian Nights largely as a result of the tales' erotically charged content. In the preface to his translation he writes that it was his mission to publish a "full, complete, unvarnished, uncastrated copy of the great original" [emphasis added]. Additionally, Burton's first edition of the translation was published by the Kama Shastra Society, an imprint that he and a partner had set up for the explicit purpose of publishing joint, but anonymous translations of several Indian sexual manuals.

The Arabian Nights is replete with descriptions of sexual activity and behavior, including orgies, homosexuality, sadomasochistic practices, and incest. However, not only did Burton effectively take Payne's work several steps further than Payne was even comfortable with, he took them several steps beyond which the tales themselves warranted. A combination of Burton's vast knowledge of Arabic customs, his personal obsession with sexuality, and his profound belief in the hypocrisy of Victorian society when it came to matters of sex combined to create a formula that led to his translation's tremendous success.

"If Burton's 'version of John Payne's version' differed only in degrees to Payne's, then why did it so quickly and irreversibly supplant Payne's as the standard English translation of The Arabian Nights? The answer is, simply, sex."

Burton effectively emphasized and exaggerated the sexual themes of The Arabian Nights in two ways: first, by enhancing Payne's with some creative rewording, and second, through his supplemental notes and "Terminal Essay."

With respect to the first, Knipp describes how Burton sexually charged Payne's work through some judicious editing. In Burton's hand, for instance, Payne's "rascal" became "pimp," "impudent woman" became "strumpet," and "vile woman" became "whore." Gerhardt also shows that on occasion Burton tampered with the text to allow him additional opportunities for sexual annotation. In a passage from the story, "The Moslem Hero and the Christian Maid," Burton adds a reference to the maid being "circumcised" after converting to Islam, despite there being no reference to circumcision in either Payne's version or the original. The revision, however, allowed Burton to provide an extensive annotation on that particular practice.

Although notable, these matters are of minor importance compared to the issues with respect to his notes and, especially, his "Terminal Essay," a piece of writing that Knipp calls "an interesting piece of Victorian pornography."

While most of the notes related to sexuality that Burton includes in his work are relevant, even if exaggerated, on occasion Burton goes far beyond what the original calls for. By example, Gerhardt points to a note in the story of "Ali Zaibak" in which Burton, in reference to a trick that Ali does with lamb's gut, offers an entirely irrelevant note on contraceptives. But most remarkable of all is Burton's "Terminal Essay," a 220-page essay of which over fifty pages are devoted to pederasty and sodomy. While there are stories that contain male homosexual acts, there are certainly not nearly enough to warrant a fifty-page explanation. Ironically, toward the conclusion of this section of his essay, Burton defends The Arabian Nights against its moral critics by saying as much. "Those who have read through these ten volumes will agree with me," he writes, "that the proportion of offensive matter bears a very small ratio to the mass of the work."

The late Palestinian post-colonial theorist Edward Said, writing in Orientalism, points out that for nineteenth-century Europe, sex "entailed a web of legal, moral, even political and economic obligations of a detailed and certainly encumbering sort." In other words, according to Said, there was no such thing as "free" sex for Europeans. But with Europe's imperial expansion in the Orient, the Orient became "a place where one could look for sexual experience unobtainable in Europe." Over time, as more and more writers ventured into the area, and as they each returned with tales of their own sexual "quests," as they invariably did, according to Said, Europeans could have "Oriental sex" without ever having to leave their homes. By the time Burton's edition hit the market, Oriental sex had effectively been commodified. With the publication of his "version of John Payne's version" of these magnificent tales, Richard Burton instantly became the greatest salesman of Oriental sex that the English world had yet seen. It is unfortunate the same could not be said of his translation abilities.


Mark White, Critical Essay on The Arabian Nights, in Short Stories for Students, Thomson Gale, 2005.

C. Knipp

In the following essay, Knipp examines various translations of The Arabian Nights, including that of Antoine Galland, whom he calls "the discoverer and source of" the work.

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"To begin with, we need to be told (or reminded) that any acquaintance with the Arabian Nights, whether limited or extensive, is due to Galland."

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C. Knipp, "The Arabian Nights in England: Galland's Translation and Its Successors," in Journal of Arabic Literature, Vol. V, 1974, pp. 44–54.


Burton, Richard F., "Preface," in The Arabian Nights, Tales from A Thousand and One Nights, translated by Richard F. Burton, Modern Library, 2001.

——, "Terminal Essay," in A Plain and Literal Translation of the Arabian Nights' Entertainments, translated by Richard F. Burton, Vol. 10, Burton Club "Baghdad Edition," 1885–1886, pp. 63–302.

Burton, Richard F., trans., The Arabian Nights, Tales from A Thousand and One Nights, Modern Library, 2001.

Byatt, A. S., "Introduction," in The Arabian Nights, Tales from A Thousand and One Nights, translated by Richard F. Burton, Modern Library, 2001, pp. xiii–xx.

Campbell, Joseph, "Editor's Introduction," in The Portable Arabian Nights, translated by John Payne, edited by Joseph Campbell, Viking Press, 1952, pp. 1–35.

Gerhardt, Mia J., The Art of Story-Telling, E. J. Brill, 1963.

Knipp, C, "The Arabian Nights in England: Galland's Translation and Its Successors," in Journal of Arabic Literature, Vol. 5, 1974, pp. 44–54.

"On Translating the Arabian Nights," in the Nation, 1890, quoted in "Introduction," by A. S. Byatt, in The ArabianNights, Tales from A Thousand and One Nights, translated by Richard F. Burton, Modern Library, 2001, pp. 868–69.

Said, Edward, Orientalism, Vintage, 1979.

Symonds, John Addington, The Academy, 1855, quoted in "Introduction," by A. S. Byatt, in The Arabian Nights, Tales from A Thousand and One Nights, translated by Richard F. Burton, Modern Library, 2001, pp. 867–68.

Further Reading

Irwin, Robert, "The Arabian Nights": A Companion, I. B. Tauris, 2004.

Irwin, an authority on Middle Eastern history and culture, provides an academic history of the origins of the Arabian Nights, including examination of its origins and translations, as well as the sociological insights the tales give to Islamic culture and history.

Lovell, Mary S., A Rage to Live: A Biography of Richard and Isabel Burton, Norton, 2000.

Lowell's biography of Richard and Isabel Burton is especially noteworthy for the fresh look it takes at Isabel. Lowell argues that Isabel did not, as is commonly held, destroy Burton's manuscripts out of prudery, but out of concern for the quality of her husband's writing and to protect not his moral reputation but his scholarly reputation.

Rice, Edward, Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton: A Biography, DeCapo Press, 2001.

Rice, a renowned biographer, provides an account of Burton's travels and adventures around the world. This reprint was originally published as Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton: The Secret Agent Who Made the Pilgrimage to Mecca, Discovered the "KamaSutra," and Brought the "Arabian Nights" to the West, Scribner, 1990.

Zipes, Jack, When Dreams Came True: Classical Fairy Tales and Their Tradition, Routledge, 1999.

Through a discussion of many of the great, familiar fairy tales, including The Arabian Nights, Zipes provides an examination of the fairy tale genre and the roles it plays on a literary and sociological level.

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