One Thousand and One Nights  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Book of One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of stories compiled over thousands of years by various authors, translators and scholars which trace their roots back to the Middle East. Though an original manuscript has never been found several versions date the collection's genesis to somewhere between AD 800-900. The book has been banned various times, primarily in Muslim countries for promoting non-muslim faith. It also caused a minor scandal when an 1885-1888 unexpurgated translation by Richard Francis Burton was privately published in Victorian England.

Well known stories from The Nights include "Aladdin," "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves," and "The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor."

The story has been filmed by Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1974.



Shahryar (or Schriyar) (meaning king in Persian), king of an unnamed island "between India and China" (in modern editions based on Arab transcripts he is king of India and China), is so shocked by his wife's infidelity that he kills her and, believing all women to be likewise unfaithful, gives his vizier (meaning minister in Persian) an order to get him a new wife every night (in some versions, every third night). After spending one night with his bride, the king has her executed at dawn. This practice continues for some time, until the vizier's clever daughter Scheherazade (meaning City-born in Persian) forms a plan and volunteers to become Shahryar's next wife. Every night after their marriage, she spends hours telling him stories, each time stopping at dawn with a cliffhanger, so the king will commute the execution out of a desire to hear the rest of the tale. In the end, she has given birth to three sons, and the king has been convinced of her faithfulness.


The first European version of the Book of the Thousand and One Nights was translated into French by Antoine Galland from an Arabic text and other sources. This 12-volume book, 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" appeared first in Galland's translation and cannot be found in any of the original manuscripts. He wrote that he heard them from a Syrian Christian storyteller from Aleppo, a Maronite scholar whom he called "Hanna."

Galland's version of the Nights were immensely popular throughout Europe, and later versions of the Nights were written by Galland's publisher using Galland's name without his consent.

A well-known English translation is that by Sir Richard Francis Burton, entitled The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night (1885). Unlike previous editions his ten-volume translation was not bowdlerized. Though printed in the Victorian era it contained all the erotic nuances of the source material replete with sexual imagery and pederastic allusions added as appendices to the main stories by Burton. Burton circumvented strict Victorian laws on obscene material by printing a private edition for subscribers only rather than publicly publishing the book. His original ten 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.

Comparing Galland and Burton's translations, Jorge Luis Borges wrote:

"Another fact is undeniable. The most famous and eloquent encomiums of The Thousand and One Nights - by Coleridge, Thomas de Quincey, Stendhal, Tennyson, Edgar Allan Poe, Newman - are from readers of Galland's translation. Two hundred years and ten better translations have passed, but the man in Europe or the Americas who thinks of the Thousand and One Nights thinks, invariably of this first translation. The Spanish adjective milyunanochesco [thousand-and-one-nights-esque] ... has nothing to do with the erudite obscenities of Burton or Mardrus, and everything to do with Antoine Galland's bijoux and sorceries. "

Psychpopathological aspects

King Shahryar discovers his wife's infidelity and has her executed, without conscience or recognizing any defect in his own psyche, declaring all women to be unfaithful. He marries a succession of virgins only to have Scheherazade's father, the vizier, execute each one the next morning until finally he comes to Scheherazade herself, after three years of ordering the death of his brides after each wedding night. Scheherazade survives because she tells the king a story on each of the 1001 nights, which end in a cliffhanger at dawn. Shahryar's brother had earlier discovered his own first wife in bed with a cook and he butchers them both and then continued a pattern of marriage and murder like Shahryar.

The stories in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights likely began in the oral tradition before the fifth century AD. Though Shahrya was not then a stock psychopathic character the Book and its many characters, has had wide influence on writers, not only in the sex and serial murder genre. Edgar Allan Poe, for example wrote "A Thousand and Second Night", where in the story of Sinbad, Poe's king kills Scheherazade in disgust at the story she tells him.


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 work by name in their own literature.

Examples of this influence include:

  • Edgar Allan Poe wrote a "Thousand and Second Night" as a separate tale, called "The Thousand and Second Tale of Scheherazade." It depicts the 8th 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.
  • The Book of One Thousand and One Nights has an estranged cousin: The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, by Jan Potocki. A Polish noble of the late 18th century, he traveled the Orient looking for an original edition of The Nights, but never found it. Upon returning to Europe, he wrote his masterpiece, a multi-leveled frame tale.
  • It also greatly influence famed horror and science fiction writer H. P. Lovecraft in his early years as a child in which he would imagine himself living the adventures of the heroes in the book. It also inspired him to come up with his famed Necronomicon.

Film and television

There have been many adaptations of The Nights for both television and cinema.

The atmosphere of The Nights influenced such films as Fritz Lang's 1921 Der müde Tod, the 1924 Hollywood film The Thief of Bagdad starring Douglas Fairbanks, and its 1940 British remake. Several stories served as source material for The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), the first surviving feature-length animated film.

One of Hollywood's first feature films to be based on The Nights was in 1942, with the movie called Arabian Nights. It starred Maria Montez as Scheherazade, Sabu Dastagir as Ali Ben Ali and Jon Hall as Harun al-Rashid. The storyline bears virtually no resemblance to the traditional version of the book. In the film, Scheherazade is a dancer who attempts to overthrow Caliph Harun al-Rashid and marry his brother. After Scheherazade’s initial coup attempt fails and she is sold into slavery, many adventures then ensue. Maria Montez and Jon Hall also starred in the 1944 film Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

In 1959 UPA released an animated feature about Mr. Magoo, based on 1001 Arabian Nights.

Osamu Tezuka worked on two (very loose) feature film adaptations, the children's film Sinbad no Bōken in 1962 and then Senya Ichiya Monogatari in 1969, an adult-oriented animated feature film.

The most commercially successful movie based on The Nights was Aladdin, the 1992 animated movie by the Walt Disney Company, which starred the voices of Scott Weinger and Robin Williams. The film led to several sequels and a television series of the same name.

"The Voyages of Sinbad" has been adapted for television and film several times, most recently in the 2003 animated feature Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, featuring the voices of Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Perhaps the most famous Sinbad film was the 1958 movie The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, produced by the stop-motion animation pioneer Ray Harryhausen.

A recent well-received television adaptation was the Emmy award-winning miniseries Arabian Nights, directed by Steve Barron and starring Mili Avital as Scheherazade and Dougray Scott as Shahryar. It was originally shown over two nights on April 30, and May 1, 2000 on ABC in the United States and BBC One in the United Kingdom.

Other notable versions of The Nights include the famous 1974 Italian movie Il fiore delle mille e una notte by Pier Paolo Pasolini and the 1990 French movie Les 1001 nuits, in which Catherine Zeta-Jones made her debut playing Scheherazade. There are also numerous Bollywood movies inspired by the book, including Aladdin and Sinbad. In this version the two heroes meet and share in each other's adventures; the djinn of the lamp is female, and Aladdin marries her rather than the princess.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "One Thousand and One Nights" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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