Thousand and One Nights

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Thousand and One Nights or Arabian Nights, series of anonymous stories in Arabic, considered as an entity to be among the classics of world literature. The cohesive plot device concerns the efforts of Scheherezade, or Sheherazade, to keep her husband, King Shahryar (or Schriyar), from killing her by entertaining him with a tale a night for 1,001 nights. The best known of these stories are those of Ali Baba, Sinbad the Sailor, and Aladdin.

Although many of the stories are set in India, their origins are unknown and have been the subject of intensive scholarly investigation. The corpus began to be collected about the year 1000. At first the title was merely indicative of a large number of stories; later editors dutifully provided editions with the requisite 1,001 tales. The present form of Thousand and One Nights is thought to be native to Persia or one of the Arabic-speaking countries, but includes stories from a number of different countries and no doubt reflects diverse source material.

The first European edition was a free translation by Abbé Antoine Galland into French (1704–17). Most subsequent French, German, and English versions lean heavily upon Galland. Among the English translations include the expurgated edition of E. W. Lane (1840), with excellent and copious notes; the unexpurgated edition by Sir Richard Burton in 16 volumes (1885–88); that of John Payne in 9 volumes (1882–84); Powys Mathers's translation from the French text of J. C. Mardrus (rev. ed., 4 vol., 1937); and that of Husain Haddawy (2 vol., 1990, 1995).

See J. Campbell, ed., The Portable Arabian Nights (1952); A. J. Arberry, Scheherezade (1955); M. Warner, Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights (2012).

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Thousand and One Nights

Thousand and One Nights, also called The Arabian Nights' Entertainment or simply The Arabian Nights, is a sprawling, centuries-old collection of tales. In the English-speaking world, it is the best-known work of Arabic stories.

The framework of the collection is that a king named Shahriyar, distrustful of women, had the habit of taking a new wife every night and killing her the next day. A resourceful young woman named Shahrazad had a plan to end the deadly tradition. After marrying the king, she told him a story on their wedding night with the promise to finish it the next day. He let her live, and she repeated the trick. So captivating were her stories that Shahriyar spared her life again and again in order to hear the rest of the narrative.

The origins of Thousand and One Nights are unknown. The oldest bit of Arabic text dates from the 800s; the first lengthy text was written in the 1400s. None of the early Arabic-language texts contains exactly the same stories. Scholars have identified Persian, Baghdadian, and Egyptian elements in the work, which seems to have developed over the years as an ever-changing collection of fairy tales, romances, fables, poems, legends about heroes, and humorous stories. The stories that are best known in the English-speaking worldthose of Sinbad the Sailor, Aladdin and his Magic Lamp, and Ali Baba and the Forty Thievesdo not appear in all editions of Thousand and One Nights.

See also Aladdin; Sinbad The Sailor.