Antoine Galland  

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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.

Antoine Galland (April 4, 1646February 17, 1715) was a French orientalist and archaeologist, most famous as the first European translator of The Thousand and One Nights. (also known as The Arabian Nights in English). His version of the tales appeared in twelve volumes between 1704 and 1717 and exerted a huge influence on subsequent European literature and attitudes to the Islamic world. Many of the stories in The Nights were quite possibly made up from very thin or non-existent sources as no earlier Arabic manuscripts of Aladdin and Ali Baba are known to exist — by Antoine Galland from 1704 to 1717.

Translation of the The Thousand and One Nights

Antoine Galland's translation of One Thousand and One Nights

Galland had come across a manuscript of The Tale of Sindbad the Sailor in the 1690s and in 1701 he published his translation of it into French. Its success encouraged him to embark on a translation of a 14th-century Syrian manuscript of tales from The Thousand and One Nights. The first two volumes of this work, under the title Les mille et une nuits, appeared in 1704. The twelfth and final volume was published posthumously in 1717. Galland translated the first part of his work solely from the Syrian manuscript, but in 1709 he was introduced to a Christian Maronite monk from Aleppo, Hanna Diab, who recounted fourteen more stories to Galland from memory. Galland chose to include seven of these tales in his version of the Nights.

Mystery still surrounds the origins of some of the most famous tales. For instance, there are no Arabic manuscripts of Aladdin and Ali Baba which pre-date Galland's translation, leading some scholars to conclude that Galland invented them himself and the Arabic versions are merely later renderings of his original French.

Galland also adapted his translation to the taste of the time. The immediate success the tales enjoyed was partly due to the vogue for fairy stories which had been started in France in the 1690s by Galland's friend Charles Perrault. Galland was also eager to conform to the literary canons of the era. He cut many of the erotic passages as well as all of the poetry. This caused Sir Richard Burton to refer to "Galland's delightful abbreviation and adaptation" which "in no wise represent(s) the eastern original." His translation was greeted with immense enthusiasm and had soon been translated into many other European languages: English (a "Grub Street" version appeared in 1706); German (1712); Italian (1722); Dutch (1732); and Russian (1763). They produced a wave of imitations and the widespread 18th century fashion for oriental tales. As 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.

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