Aladdin  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Aladdin is one of the tales of medieval Arabian origin in the The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights), and one of the most famous, although it was actually added to the collection by Antoine Galland (see sources and setting).

Sources and setting

No medieval Arabic source has been traced for the tale, which was incorporated into The Book of One Thousand and One Nights by its French translator, Antoine Galland, who heard it from an Arab Syrian storyteller from Aleppo. Galland's diary (March 25, 1709) records that he met the Maronite scholar, by name Youhenna Diab ("Hanna"), who had been brought from Aleppo to Paris by Paul Lucas, a celebrated French traveller. Galland's diary also tells that his translation of "Aladdin" was made in the winter of 1709–10. It was included in his volumes ix and x of the Nights, published in 1710.

John Payne, Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp and Other Stories, (London 1901) gives details of Galland's encounter with the man he referred to as "Hanna" and the discovery in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris of two Arabic manuscripts containing Aladdin (with two more of the "interpolated" tales). One is a jumbled late 18th century Syrian version. The more interesting one, in a manuscript that belonged to the scholar M. Caussin de Perceval, is a copy of a manuscript made in Baghdad in 1703. It was purchased by the Bibliothèque Nationale at the end of the nineteenth century.

Note that although it is a Middle-Eastern tale, the characters in the story are neither Arabs nor Persians, but rather are from "China". The country in the story is however an Islamic country, where most people are Muslims. There is a Jewish merchant who buys Aladdin's wares (and incidentally cheats him), but there is no mention of Buddhists or Confucians. Everybody in this country bears an Arabic name and its monarch seems much more like a Persian ruler than a Chinese emperor. The country of the tale is a fabled place in a distant land, definitely eastwards - but of course has little or no relationship to a "real" or historic China. This sort of thing is common enough in fairy tales - whether due to an unsophisticated narrator's ignorance, or as a deliberate device.

For a narrator unaware of the existence of America, Aladdin's "China" would represent "the Utter East" while the sorcerer's homeland of Morocco represented "the Utter West". In the beginning of the tale, the sorcerer's taking the effort to make such a long journey, the longest conceivable in the narrator's (and his listeners') perception of the world, underlines the sorcerer's determination to gain the lamp and hence the lamp's great value. In the later episodes, the instantaneous transition from the east to the west and back, performed effortlessly by the Djinn, make their power all the more marvelous.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Aladdin" 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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