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The Arabian Nights

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This volume reproduces the 1932 Modern Library edition, for which Bennett A. Cerf chose the most famous and representative stories from Sir Richard F. Burton's multivolume translation, and includes Burton's extensive and acclaimed explanatory notes.

The tales of told by Shahrazad over a thousand and one nights to delay her execution by the vengeful King Shahriyar have become among the most popular in both Eastern and Western literature, as recounted by Sir Francis Burton. From the epic adventures of "Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp" to the farcical "Young Woman and her Five Lovers" and the social criticism of "The Tale of the Hunchback", the stories depict a fabulous world of all-powerful sorcerers, jinns imprisoned in bottles and enchanting princesses. But despite their imaginative extravagance, the Tales are anchored to everyday life by their realism, providing a full and intimate record of medieval Islam.'

1049 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 800

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Books can be attributed to "Anonymous" for several reasons:

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,745 reviews
Profile Image for Petra left her heart in Miami.
2,405 reviews34k followers
June 24, 2021
When I was a little girl my grandmother gave me a big, blue, cloth bound edition of this book. It had the most exquisite coloured plates protected by tissue paper interleaved with the printed sheets. It was the perfect storybook for a bookish, fanciful child living in an abusive home. I spent a year reading this book. Every night I would read it and disappear from all the fear and unpleasantness around me into this realm of people in exotic clothes who could do magic. I cherished the book. I took it everywhere. It was never on display but always kept in the airing cupboard where it would be warm and dry.

One year I rented my London flat to a thieving pig. He looked very nice, tall, handsome, very well-spoken and lived with his girlfriend and their baby. Her father would phone me from time to time as he was worried that the man was not a good person for his daughter. He was right, but she was his match, just as dishonest and also lazy. He would write cheques with the sixes and nines reversed (in his favour), ones he'd 'forgotten' to sign.

I phoned his father. He was all shock/horror on the phone. But when he came round he threatened me. If I took it further he and his sons would make me very sorry. I phoned her father, he came round in his taxi (he was a taxi driver), paid me the owed rent. I gave the man notice. He had the cheek to ask me for a reference so he could get another place. When I refused and eventually got possession of the place, he superglued the bedroom doors locks, ripped the panelling off the bathtub, and threw black paint on the mattresses. And stole all my rare books. One was an amazing underground banned book on Turkey, a sort of guide book to what they don't want you to see, went missing and another one was this one.

I kind of wish I had a book like this again. One with the capability of taking me far away into another realm where the troubles of the day just don't intrude. But I'm grown up now and books no longer have that amazing, all-encompassing, lost for hours effect.

Rewritten June 2021
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews55.9k followers
August 25, 2021
(Book 996 From 1001 Books) - Hezār Afsān = The Thousand and One Nights = The Arabian Nights, Anonymous

The work was collected over many centuries by various authors, translators, and scholars across West, Central, and South Asia and North Africa.

The tales themselves trace their roots back to ancient and medieval Arabic, Greek, Indian, Jewish, Persian and Turkish folklore and literature.

In particular, many tales were originally folk stories from the Abbasid era, while others, especially the frame story, are most probably drawn from the Pahlavi Persian work Hezār Afsān (A Thousand Tales), which in turn relied partly on Indian elements.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: سال 1981میلادی و سپس بارها نسخه های دیگر را نیز خوانده ام

هزار و یک شب؛ همیشه ماندنی، همیشه یادگار قصه ها و غصه های روزهای دور، همیشه دوست دوست

در باره ی اصل و نسب «هزار و یک شب»؛ که از شناخته ­ترین کتاب­های جهان است، و به همگی زبان­های زنده ی این دنیا برگردان شده، سخنان بسیار گفته­ اند، و از معتبرترین نوشتار­ها در این باب، یکی مطلبی است که روانشاد «مسعودی (متوفی به­ سال 346هجری قمری)» در «مروج­ الذهب» آورده، و دیگری قول روانشاد «ابن­ ندیم (متوفی به­ سال 385هجری قمری)» در کتاب «الفهرست» است؛ از سخنان این دو چنین برمی­آید، که کتاب ایرانی «هزار افسانه»، بی تردید مرجع اصلی «الف لیلة ولیله»، بوده است؛ اما ممکن است، و گمان میرود، که خود هزار افسانه ی «پهلوی» و یا چارچوبه ی «داستان شهرزاد و شهریار»، و برخی از داستان­های آن، از منابع «هندی» برگرفته شده، و از روی سرمشق و الگویی «هندی» در «ایران» پدید آمده باشد، و «الف لیل» میراث «هند» و «فرس» شاید باشد؛ چون علاوه بر مشابهت­ های دقیقی، که میان برخی داستانهای کهن «هزارویک شب»، و داستانهای «هندی» کهن میتوان یافت؛ که در تقدم تاریخی کتابهای «هندی» بر «هزار افسان» پارسی، حرفی و سخنی نیست، شیوه ی نقل و روایت داستانهای پیاپی و تودرتو، و درج قصه در قصه، برای مانع شدن از انجام یافتن کاری شتاب­زده، و نسنجیده، و به­ دست­ کردن مهلت، نظیر کتاب «طوطی­نامه» نیز، شگرد ویژه ی «هندیان» بوده است، و در ادبیات دیگر ملل جهان بی­مانند است، و یا کمتر همانند دارد؛ به­ هر حال چه «هزارافسانه» از کتاب «هندی» اقتباس شده باشد، و چه زاده ی طبع «ایرانیان» باشد، تردیدی نیست که همین هزار افسانه ی «پهلوی»، در دوران «خلفای عباسی»، به «عربی» ترجمه شده، و «الف لیلة ولیله» یا همان «هزارویک شب» نام گرفته است؛ البته «هزار افسانه»ی اصلی نیز بخش کوتاهی از «هزارویک شب» کنونی را، که پر حجم است، تشکیل میداده، و میدهد، چون «هزارویک شب» امروزین، به مرور فراهم آمده، و بدین حجم رسیده است، و در روزگاران دیرین، داستانهای گوناکون، از منابع «ایرانی»، «هندی»، «یونانی»، «یهود»، «عربی»، و «اسلامی» بر آن افزوده­ اند؛ بنابراین کتاب، همچون مجموعه­ ای، که پیوسته آن را تکمیل کرده­ اند، به دست امروزیان رسیده است، اما این جمله در مدت زمانی دراز، رنگ ­و بوی اسلامی نیز، یافته است، یعنی راویان و ناقلان گوناگون، قصه­ های غیراسلامی را، تا آنجا که توانسته­ اند، به رنگ­ و نگار اسلام درآورده­ اند، و بدین برهان در حال کنونی کتاب، که قسمت عمده ی آن، رنگ «اسلامی» و «عربی» دارد، گنجینه و جـُنگی از ادبیات عامیانه ی مشرق زمین، در سده های میانه است، و نقش و تصویری از کلیت تمدن، و فرهنگ دنیای اسلام را، در سده های میانی میلادی عرضه میدارد

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 04/08/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 02/06/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.5k followers
January 16, 2015
Ah, if only I could write like the late Sir Richard Burton! Normally I dislike translations, but to refuse to read The Arabian Nights on those grounds would be like refusing to read the Bible. I love parodying people's styles, and I have tried my utmost to parody Burton convincingly, but I can't do it. He's too clever. He has taken this unique book, a miraculous survival from the most ancient antiquity, and he has created a unique language to make it accessible to us: the backbone is a kind of Spenserian English, but he has modified it in subtle ways, adding some French roots here, some Nordic ones there, pinches of more obscure ingredients when he feels he needs them, creating alliterations and internal rhymes and odd sentence structures to echo the rhythms of the original, inserting endless footnotes to tell us poor people what we're missing through not knowing Arabic.

Burton is always present in the text, leading us by the hand through his favorite passages, flooring us with a jaw-droppingly inappropriate comment one moment (it isn't sexist or racist: it transcends sexism and racism) and then turning round a second later to hit us with a marvellous piece of poetry or romance or heroism, crowing over his rivals' mistakes, inserting irrelevant anecdotes or obscure pieces of etymology that he just couldn't resist, showing off his knowledge of the seventeen languages he speaks fluently and the others that he just has a passing acquaintance with. And all the time, often without us even realizing what he's doing, telling us about Islam, the religion so many of us Westerners fear without understanding it, showing us what it's like from the inside, from the perspective of an eighth century cobbler or Caliph or slave-girl, how, whatever else it may be, it is a great religion, one that hundreds of millions of people have gladly lived and died in, without ever questioning the will of Allah or his prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him.

I have never read anything like it.
Profile Image for Anne.
3,861 reviews69.2k followers
April 23, 2022
What the hell did I just read?!


These were some crazy stories that don't really resemble the shiny cleaned-up versions of the tales we hear today.
Loved it!
That's the best part of reading stuff like this - finding out how batshit things were back in the day.
So while the stories weren't particularly good, there were moments of pure hilarity that made it all worthwhile.
For example, Sinbad.


Really boring for an adventure story. Just sort of nonsensical that he keeps getting on a boat. Dude, really? How many times do you have to almost get eaten by a sea monster or a cannibal before you pack it in?
There's this moment that stuck with me and still makes me giggle when I think about it.
So, let me set the scene a bit.
Sinbad has been on one of his wacky adventures and ends up in a faraway land, married to a chick that he likes quite a bit. Right up till she dies...and he finds out that his adopted people entomb the living spouses with the dead ones.
They just drop the dead person down in this cave and send the living one down right behind them -with a few provisions to stave off their own death for a couple of days.
So, there sits Sinbad. Alone with a pile of dead bodies and a crust of bread or whatever.
Then all of a sudden a beautiful woman gets plopped down the hole with him.
What luck! <--I think.
I'll bet those two fall in love and escape together! <--I think.


Turns out I was a little off in my prediction.
What actually happens is Sinbad kills her and takes her shit.
Did not see that one coming.
To be honest, when he bludgeoned the pretty widow to death I laughed so hard that I honked.
You just don't get heroes like this anymore in stories.
Anyway. He continues to kill all the living spouses that get shoved down into the death cave, taking their goodies until he finally finds a back door out of that place.
Unexpectedly awesome problem-solving skills there, sir.


There were quite a few hilariously brutal twists like that, and they turned what might otherwise have been a dull bucket list read into a so-bad-it's-good book.
I'm recommending you read this for those hidden gems alone. Unless of course, that sort of thing bothers you. <--trigger warning?


Now, there are a lot of different translations and collections of these stories, and I definitely listened to one of the shorter ones.
Mine is was the abridged version from Naxos Audiobooks that clocked in at 3 hrs and 43 minutes & was read by Philip Madoc.


I say that because there were only a few stories in this one.
And while I don't feel the need to track down every story, I'll probably have to find a longer version if I want to feel like I've done my due diligence with this collection.
This one had (of course) the story of the Khalifa who found his ho-wife banging a black dude and lost his damn mind. Once he starts lopping off the heads of his brides after one night (of what I'm assuming is rather awkward passion) it leads to good old Sherezade stepping up to the plate and telling the stories of Sinbad the Sailor, Ali Baba & the Forty Thieves, and The Barber of Baghdad.
WHERE WAS ALADDIN, ANNE?! <--I'm assuming you asked.
Not in this one, that's for damn sure.


I said that to say this:
Pick your version wisely, Random Goodreader.
Profile Image for JG (Introverted Reader).
1,112 reviews484 followers
April 21, 2008
For those 2 people who don't know, The Arabian Nights is sort of a collection of short stories told in the Arabian world, as I'm told it should be called, (which seems to include India and parts of China) waaaaaay back in the day. The framework of the story is about a sultan who caught his wife cheating on him. After he has her killed, he decides to take out his revenge on the entire sex, so he marries a different wife every day and has her killed the next morning. Scheherazade is the Grand Vizier's beautiful, intelligent daughter. She realizes that this can't go on, so she comes up with a plan. She asks to be the next wife of the sultan, and she starts telling him a story on their wedding night. But buried within that story is another story. The sultan is so intrigued by the story that he decides to let her live so he can find out how the story ends. She keeps stringing him along like this, theoretically for 1000 nights, until he relents and gives her a full pardon and takes her for his real wife. But that's only a very small part of the book. The biggest part of the book is the stories Scheherazade tells the sultan. Included are Aladdin, Ali Baba, Sinbad, and others that we've probably all heard in one form or another.

I just picked this up because I wanted to see what it was all about. This version was very readable. It was interesting to see a slice of Arabian life. I would catch myself thinking, "They treat women so badly over there" and then I would remember that when these stories were first told, women were treated badly pretty much everywhere. But then there would be some stories where the women had surprising freedom and I would catch myself wondering where things started going bad. I can't say that I know enough about the culture to comment on what's changed and what hasn't, but these stories do give you a little idea of what life is/was like in the Middle East and where they're coming from. And in these times, a little understanding can only be a good thing.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,476 followers
November 17, 2019
Arabian Nights is one of the great literary works of all time but precautions need to be made if you want to read it to your kids. First off, there is a LOT of violence in the stories and a TON of sex. Don't be an idiot like me and start reading an unabridged copy to your kids or you will have to be explaining very early on why so and so killed his wife and imprisoned another...
That being said, there are few works with as much imagination and wonder in them and taken in lighter doses, it is a beautiful way of expanding your children's imaginations.
For adults, one has to take a lot of this in its historical context and try hard to put aside the misogyny which is rampant in the text. Perhaps easier said than done. But there are so many eternal stories here - Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, Sinbad the Sailor, Aladdin and the Magic Lamp - that they must be read at least once to get the non-Disney-died versions (like the Anderson and Grimm fairy tales that were similarly contorted to fit mass consumption and commercialisation by Walt&Co).
Profile Image for Claudia.
947 reviews524 followers
July 12, 2019
A review is pointless for this book. It’s a classic and everyone should read it. Those who are complaining about how women are treated in the stories should read it more carefully and should pay attention also when it was first written.

Reading this edition, two things amazed me: how well I remember all the stories, taking into consideration that last time I read them was more than 20 years ago and second, how accurate the Romanian translation I read is compared to this one.

As for this edition, it is simply superb. Starting with the translation, the beautiful artworks inside its pages, the cover, the paper… It is a feast for eyes, senses and soul.

Loved it.


I read 1001 Nights several times in my childhood and adolescence and loved them to pieces. I still have it in Romanian translation, 4 volumes, edition from 1959 from my grandparents. But I couldn’t resist not to buy this exquisite edition – it is absolutely gorgeous!

For many months, from now on, it will be on my nightstand to savor now and then a story from it, the beautiful artwork of the pages and the stunning illustrations.

Have a look:

Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,395 reviews3,272 followers
September 20, 2016
When I first read One Thousand and One Nights I was literally put under the book’s spell – charmed, enchanted and bewitched. It isn’t just magic of fairytales. It is first of all magic of the oriental world. And of course I was at once mesmerized with the incredible frame tale of Shahryar and Scheherazade.
Nowhere is so much magic as in Arabian Nights: magical word opening the cave door: “‘Open, Sesame!’ And forthwith appeared a wide doorway in the face of the rock. The robbers went in, and last of all their chief, and then the portal shut of itself,” powerful Jinni sealed in the magical lamp: “This is not he, O my mother. This who appeared before thee is the Slave of the Lamp!” and many, many others.
And of course my favourite tales are Voyages of Sindbad the Seaman… Stunning adventures in the distant lands full of fantastic beasts, evil creatures, monsters, wonders and miracles. And most of all I was stupefied and simultaneously disgusted with Old Man of the Sea:
“I told them all that had betided me, whereat they marveled with exceeding marvel and said: ‘He who rode on thy shoulder is called the Sheikh-al-Bahr or Old Man of the Sea, and none ever felt his legs on neck and came off alive but thou, and those who die under him he eateth. So praised be Allah for thy safety!’”
Even nowadays I gratefully remember this miraculous book, which practically was for me a door into the absolutely new world.
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,535 reviews1,789 followers
May 22, 2018
As a child I had a small selection of tales from the Arabian nights in a hardback volume with a few gorgeous full colour plates. From this a couple of stories stayed with me, a Sultan travelling in disguise meets a man who having learnt of the Sultan's weakness for baby cucumbers was intent on trying to fool him out of a fortune in exchange for them, the man although greedy is also garrulous, tells the Sultan in disguise his wicked plans enabling the Sultan to turn the tables on him and trick him and eat the cucumbers , then a story about the keys of Destiny - , and a story about a Sultan of Egypt who had a beautiful wife, excellent children, but none less had depression, then one day a mysterious old man who had spent so many years on mountain tops growing wise than he no longer needed to wear clothes ( ie his beard and hair had grown so long that it was wound about him to form a dense coat) wandered in to his palace and forced the Sultan to have an extremely unpleasant visionary experience which cures him of his depression .

So anyhow spotting a new translation in the Everyman series I determined to buy it - inevitably those stories were not in it. Apparently in the dim and distant past there were two story collections - the Arabian Nights and the 1000 and one nights which at one stage merged like a dream of Italo Calvino - indeed very much so as the stories became very popular in Europe through French translations, the translator spotting this, commissioned additional stories, or maybe just made up new ones to best match the taste of eighteenth century French readers.

This collection purports to get round this by drawing on medieval manuscripts, the translation preserves the frequent divisions into nights some of which are less than a page long. This breaks up the flow of the stories, but provides the reader with the sense of frustration which was meant to be experienced in the framing story.

As this version is truer to the manuscript tradition, some of the more familiar tales are missing however those given here have a certain power from their rhythm and the sense of the inevitable, that element and the attitude towards sexual adventure reminded me very strongly of Boccaccio's Decameron.

Another attraction is the sense of falling through from one story to next, as in the middle of one story a character will begin to tell a story to another character which the narrative then takes up. It is rather like If on a Winter's Night a Traveller and the effect is both disconcerting and exciting. A constant moving between narratives and framing stories all insanely nested within each other only missing an internal narrator to begin telling the story of Scheherazade to achieve a Möbius-strip narrative and for the reader to disappear without trace.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.5k followers
January 16, 2015
As I say in my review, I wanted to write a parody of this wonderful book but was forced to admit defeat. Burton is too damn clever for a good parody to be possible. During my preliminary negotiations, I had however received a remarkable offer from Alfonso. A Burton parody without political incorrectness is unthinkable, and Alfonso bravely put himself forward to play the role of an evil blackamoor of hideous appearance.

It seems wrong that Alfonso's selfless devotion to literature should go unrewarded. I am therefore proud to present:

A Fragment of the Tale of Rashid al-Bhattan and al-Fonso the Maghrabi

Now there dwelt not far from the Caliph's court another foreigner, a Darwaysh from the Maghrib named al-Fonso, a powerful magician and geomancer; from his earliest age upwards he had been addicted to witchcraft and had studied and practiced every manner of occult science, for which unholy lore the city of Africa is notorious. And the Maghrabi possessed a seal ring, a signet that once had graced the hand of Solomon Davids-son; yet so woven about with secret spells and enchantments was it, that the Maghrabi could not avail himself of its familiar, for all his arts. But by his gramarye, the Maghrabi learned how it stood with Rashid, and he thought himself a scheme whereby he might bend the ring to his will. And one day, as Rashid left the Caliph's court, the Maghribi thrust himself in Rashid's way; and addressing him, he asked if he would learn the infallible method to win the favour of any woman, even the highest and most beautiful.

The Maghrabi was a hideous blackamoor, ill-favoured and foul with grease and grime, and Rashid laughed to hear his words, believing that he spoke in jest. But the Maghrabi spoke kindly to Rashid and flattered him and used all his charms to put him at his ease; and presently he took forth the ring and instructed him in its use, telling him that he had but to rub it to gain aught that he might want, but that only one of the Isles of the Setting Sun might thus constrain the Spirit of the Ring; and Rashid still doubting, the Maghrabi put the ring on Rashid's finger and told him to rub it. Rashid did as the Maghrabi bade; and instantly before him appeared a Marid. He trembled at the terrible sight; but, hearing the Slave of the Ring say, "Ask whatso thou wantest, verily, I am thy thrall, seeing that the signet of my lord be upon thy finger", he took courage. "Command the Marid," said the Maghrabi, "that he transport us to the Caliph's Harim." Rashid did as the Maghrabi said; "Hearing and obeying," replied the Marid, and smote the earth, so that it clave in two; and taking the Maghrabi under one arm and Rashid under the other, he bore them to the innermost sanctum of the Harim.

"Hide thyself in this closet," said the Maghrabi to Rashid, when they were arrived. "As soon as thou dost espy one of the Caliph's concubines, command the Marid to make me in all ways pleasing to her; then shalt thou see the true power of the Ring." Rashid did as the Maghrabi said; and no sooner had he concealed himself, than entered a girl high-bosomed and pleasing of face, slender-waisted and heavy of hip, of whom one might soothly say as the poet¹
Eyes like two stars and hair as black as night
Lips ruby red caught in a winsome pucker
So fair a maid I ween ne'er crossed my sight
To look on her is aye to wish to embrace her.
She glanced with displeasure on the Maghrabi; but Rashid, heeding the magician's rede, rubbed the ring and commanded the Marid. The Maghrabi spake some words to the girl; and instantly her aspect changed, and she did with goodly gree suffer the Maghrabi, for all his hideousness, to kiss her and toy with her, and presently to disrobe her of her gold-purfled dress and even of her petticoat-trousers and know her carnally², whereby she joyed with great joyance. "Now command the Marid to take us hence," said the Maghrabi without even making the Ghusl-ablution, for he was a Kafir; and again Rashid commanded the Marid, and they made good their escape, leaving the Caliph's concubine swooned on the ground.


¹ I use Lane's somewhat anaemic translation.

² The Breslau Edition adds some details concerning the excessive size of the Maghrabi's manhood; the wording leaves it unclear whether or not this can be ascribed to the influence of the Ring.
Profile Image for W.
1,185 reviews4 followers
December 17, 2020
In Urdu,this is called Alif Laila.These are familiar stories which enthralled me in my childhood.Also adapted as countless TV episodes and movies.

Fondly recall Pakistan television's series Alif Laila from the 1980s,which though made on a shoestring budget was great fun.

King Sheharyar takes a new wife each day and executes her the next day.The beautiful Sheherzade agrees to be his wife to stop him.

She tells him a story,and then another and still another.The king is so engrossed that he does not kill her.

Who can forget Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,Aladin's Magic Lamp and Sindbad the Sailor.

Cruelty and violence is certainly a theme,but the entertainment value is very much there.
Profile Image for nastya .
408 reviews231 followers
December 16, 2021
- Hey, do you like The Arabian nights?
- Sure! Loved this book as a kid. My favourite story is Aladdin!
- Um, it’s not in the original text and was written by a Frenchman Antoine Galland and then it was translated into Arabic and attempted to pass as an original text.
- Hmm. Well, then Ali Baba and the forty thieves. Love it!
- Um, same thing as with Aladdin…
- Damn! Ok, I love Sinbad’s adventures! Ha!
- You see, it was a cycle of independent stories from 17-18th centuries. They are not in the original oldest Syrian manuscript we have now in the Bibliothèque Nationale.
- The hell?? What are these stories then??
- Glad you asked!
This is the world of jealous murderous husbands, horny duplicitous wives, demons and sex. the surprising amount of sex... The colorful world of magic. The world of uncountable kings. You thought romance genre’s England has too many Dukes? Ha!
I really loved the first half of the book but by the end stories became too samey. Still it’s a recommend and this book makes a very fun reading experience.

This version is by Muhsin Mahdi based on the fourteenth- or fifteenth-century Syrian manuscript that is currently in the Bibliothèque Nationale. Mahdi argued that this version is the earliest extant one (a view that is largely accepted today) and that it reflects most closely a "definitive" coherent text ancestral to all others that he believed to have existed during the Mamluk period (a view that remains contentious).

A few months later...
This book is quite extraordinary. While reading it, I am enjoying it, but I can never remember any further than the last two stories. And the spell is broken every time I close the book. They just refuse to stay in my head. I vaguely remember that there must be a prince, a sea voyage, betrayal/misfortune, some island in the middle of the sea with strange things happening on it, sometimes there's castle with virgins, and then return to Baghdad and becoming wealthy. And that's almost every story.
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
March 13, 2011
Oh, the wonders of literature! While reading this book I could not help but sing the songs or hum the tunes associated with the tales:
♪♫♪ A whole new world
A new fantastic point of view
No one to tell us no
Or where to go
Or say we're only dreaming ♪♫♪
I grew up with mostly Filipino komiks around me. Only my father loved reading books and we had very few (compared to what I have now) classics and contemporary books at home. My parents did not read to me when I was young. Those are the reasons why I missed all those children's books. So, reading these Tales from 1001 Nights a.k.a., The Arabian Nights was like going back to the komiks time in the province. You see, the story of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp, although I read it just now, is so popular that we must all have seen it in movies, read in local adaptations as individual children's books or comics or even seen in TV ads. However, if you compare the original story to the Disney-produced movie, the carpet in the book does not fly. Rather, it just covers the distance between the entrance of the King's palace and Alladin's pavilion so that the princess, Lady Badar Al-Budur (maybe the equivalent of Princess Jasmine) will not walk on mud. The story is fantastic. I admire how the magician thinks: cunning and devious. I hate Alladin before he got rich particularly on his laziness and how he treats his old mother.
♪♫♪ A-li-ba-ba... A-li-ba-ba... ♪♫♪
I still remember the theme and my sister used to mimic it. Low key. She marches like a soldier and with eyes wide and scary. The other tale that I liked was Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves. Who would not remember ourselves shouting: Open Se-sa-me! when we saw a closed door when we were kids? Then expecting our mom or playmate to open it for us? Who says that this book treats women badly? In this tale, the maid Morgiana is so smart that she saves his master's (Ali Baba) life several times.
♪♫♪ Sinbad the Sailor
Sailing through the seas... ♪♫♪
I tried looking this up for lyrics but I think that there is a popular Hindi rock song with the same title. I remember the tune and I thought that it is similar to "Popeye the Sailor Man" or maybe as catchy as that. Well, the tale of Sinbad the Sailor is a short one and it talks about is mistake of killing his falcon. It is one of those tales inside another tale.

All of these 70+ (whew!) tales are framed into a story that Scheherazade is telling King Shahryar so that she will not be killed. The king and his brother have philandering wives who they have killed so the King does not want to have a wife anymore so he orders his vizier (assistant) to bring young pretty girls from the village and after one night of sex, the king orders his soldiers to kill the girl. To survive, the wise Scheherazade tells the 1001 tales, part-by-part. The king, so eager to know what comes next, decides not to kill her until all the tales are told.

I will not tell you if she gets eventually killed in the end.

Profile Image for Destiny Dawn Long.
496 reviews31 followers
October 24, 2007
This edition is a translation of the first 271 nights from the "1001 Nights" cycle.

One of my favorite aspects of this work is the role of Shahrazad. While many people discuss that she is telling the stories to save her own life, what people fail to recognize many times is that, really, she volunteers to be placed in the position in order to save her kingdom. She's a great literary heroine--saving the world through storytelling.

It also provides a great lens into a world that today is depicted in US media as a wartorn hotbed for terrorist activity. For me it was a reminder that Bagdhad used to be a beautiful, opulent city and cultural center.

Anyone with an interest in storytelling, folklore, or the culture of Persia and the Arabian world should check out this work. Although I have no other translations for comparison, I think that this one is excellent. I found it readable, but with important words and names left untranslated. Also, Haddawy isn't afraid to describe sexual situations plainly, without overly poetic euphamisms.
Profile Image for Sidharth Vardhan.
Author 23 books681 followers
November 5, 2016
A Story to Save a Live

The beauty of the stories and the poetry of the thought that most destructive demons can be tamed back with a few stories was fascinating to me even when I first saw the serialized version on tv. What I didn’t realized was that the stories Scheherazade, that great goddess of story tellers and inventor of cliff-hangings, told the king weren’t as random but had an order in themselves.

This book has made Scherzade my favorite superhero – superhero was the word we use for one who risk one’s life for others, don’t we? I mean we like Doctor Who for he won’t use weapons – and yet the enemies he fought weren’t in any way real. What Scherzade had to fight was real, and after centuries of her single victory continues unfortunately to remain real – lack of trust among sexes.

Sheriyar is misogyny humanized. There is another famous collection of stories called ‘Tota Maine ke kise’ from same regions (Iraq, Iran, India etc) which comprise of a parrot and she-parrot who are in love. The frame story is simple. The parrot would say mynah is sure to cheat him and would back that prediction with a story where a woman cheated on her lover. Mynah, in her turn, would say it is parrot who is sure to cheat her and will back that up with a story of how some man cheated on his lover. Then parrot would come back with another story – and this exchange of accusations will go on and on. A similar conversation takes place between Shylock’s daughter and her lover towards the end of ‘Merchant of Venice’.

Sheriyar is the result of this mistrust among sexes. In a short time, he comes across three cases of adulatory committed by three women, including one by his own wife, and generalizes to the whole of the fair sex. Remember how Hamlet concluded ‘Frailty thy…’ after seeing frailty of a single woman (his mother). A person who is suffering because he thinks he is cheated can be quite suggestible (Othello) . And a generalization can be temting.

The parrot and she-parrot were afraid of how vulnerable they are making themselves to other’s injuries. Sheriyar has developed this fear after being cheated his wife. His Black Widower’s wish, to kill his spouse the morning after marriage, is height of this mistrust.

And Sherzade is the beauty who tamed this beast. She did this – she fought away her death - the literal sword of her own father a few hours away from being forced to cut her head; with armor of a pleasant smile on her lips and the weapon of story on her tongue. And she does that. Repeatedly. For a thousand and one nights.

In the play I’ll teach the King

Not the play but through the stories (repetitive Shakespearean references are coincidental). A tyrant can’t be reasoned with directly. Same goes for a prejudiced person - prejudice is by very definition refusal to reconsider the already reached false conclusions. Now imagine prejudiced tyrants. Scherzade knew this well enough. Instead, she used her stories to make king see the truth. The change of heart, which the king admitted to on the thousand and the first night, wasn’t born all of sudden but came out of efforts of last thousand nights – over which she gradually changed the opinion of the king.

And it is the way she changed king’s opinion that I love so much. As good as the stories are in themselves, they carry a trend. One of the very first story, Scherzade told the king – was about a wicked woman, but a woman made wicked by jealousy against his husband’s new wife. May be the king understood her jealousy, maybe he didn’t.

Then you come across the story of a king, suffering from misfortune caused by an adulterous wife – a king not unlike Scheriyar, may be Scheherazade is simply saying what king would love to hear … but look carefully, and you will notice that the villain wife suddenly gets a voice. Even though she was beheaded, the wife in the story did get a say – love of an adultress woman is love still. You see what Scherzade did.

Move a little ahead and roles are reversed. Now we meet a woman who has to suffer on account of meaningless jealousy of her husband – a husband who doesn’t want her to show his face in public. Her husband is made to repent in the end. (There is a similar story towards the end, except there it is husband suffering of his wife’s jealousy.)

So now you see the trend. There is soon a story in which a king Haroon is at fault – making people suffer with his tyrannies … but he is quick to repent upon realizing the mistake – and even makes up for the loss of these people. Did you get you lesson, Sheriyar?

And so it goes on. One story actually involved a prince who has formed a bad opinion regarding all women kind from all the mischief caused by them that he read about in his books. His mother, the queen asked him to think about all the tyrant kings that the world has and what they have done to the women over centuries (I can imagine Scheherazade having her tongue in her cheek when she must have narrated the scene)

Later on, Scheherazade diverts to stories about how married women have fun at the expense of their wanna-be-lovers.

The last story is that of a woman – Ulysses and Penlope combined into one woman, who goes out on a difficult journey while maintaining her loyality to her husband against all the suitors.

Gradually, the stories change to afford a better position for women and while also reminding the king that even King can make mistakes – and how much more troublesome are their mistakes than that of an ordinary person. There are a few stories (e.g. Sindbad) where the issue of friction between sexes is not raised but the general trend is too good to miss. In fact, very first few pages you find a remark by a woman (other than Scherzade) about futility of keeping women under lock. In Aladin’s story, it is the princess who kills the bad guy (and her name is not Jasmine – Sherzade got that wrong, Disney knew better.) In Ali Baba’s story, it is a woman, avery, very clever woman who kills all the forty thieves.

While we are talking about fighting prejudice – a good reason for people to read it to observe how lightly the veil is used by women. Women, who wear vile while being out, are shown at liberty and often chose to show their face to whoever they wish to. (They often do it for the guy, even if he is a stranger, they found handsome who in turn is almost always ‘pierced’ by their beauty.) Not only that, there are a lot of night parties and extra-marital kissing. Yes, there are strict and overprotective fathers but I mean that goes everywhere. Then in at least one place, there is a remark on regarding how the judges are too strict regarding how women should behave. (It is surprising these same judges had nothing to say about drinking wine or when their king had more than four wives.) Moreover, there seems to be no way men can cheat their wives - men are permitted marry multiple times and can have sex with slaves under Islam (like other religions) but women are not - this means men can not cheat on their wives.

Celebrating the art of Storytelliing

There are a number of techniques used by the Scheherazade – cliff hangings, repetitive characters (king Haroon and his wife, Zobeida) story-within-story (at times story-within-story-within-story-within-story) etc. One time Scheherazade forgets a part of narrative and have to retreat to cover that part.

Cliff-hangings though were never that important and never that close to being figurative. Here they are saving lives – the stakes on which Scherzade bargains to get another day of life.

Regarding the story-within-story thing, you may claim that too many of the stories are told by characters trying to save lives. But look at Scheherazade, the original story teller. Isn’t she doing the same? Won’t her psychology affect her stories? And it is the most excellent part – that story-teller and the listener are both part of the story; you get most out of it when you think about how their minds are involved in and are affected by the stories. Just imagine the thoughts that Sheriyar would carry in his mind at the end of each story.

There is a criticism that some of stories are too similar – but you see it is because of the central theme. And I mean how much diversity you can wish for? There are love stories –both comedies and tragedies, stories of adventures, stories of genies, humorous stories (especially the one about tailor), criminal stories, stories of suddenly found treasures. There is one short story about the three brothers who can reason backwards – a little like Sherlock Holmes. Given its time, the stories show remarkable diversity.

In one weird story, a woman disguised as her own husband marries another woman. Latter this second woman marries husband of first. Weird enough? Wait till the two women find a crush for each other’s sons.

Antisemitism, Racism and Body Shaming

From beautiful to ugly ... There is a lot of (much more than you can imagine) antisemitism, racism and body shaming specially in first 200 or so pages, especially for a book trying to fight prejudice. All wicked wizards are African, Jew, Worshiper of fire or Hindu. All cheating merchants are Jews. It probably speaks as much about powerful men’s sexual jealousies as about slavery, that a lot of slaves were eunuchs. The filthy tradition of eunuchs was not limited to Arabia though.

Some female slaves do seem to gain independence and are lawfully married - but that is a fairy tale sort of thing. The terrible treatment of a hunch-back in particular made me stop reading it for a month.

I don’t believe in cultural, temporal or spatial relativism; so I won't defend the book. I just took away six stars from my rating. It was already twenty-nine stars.

Some advice if you chose to live in medieval Persia

Profile Image for Erik.
338 reviews261 followers
February 1, 2016
I really need a 2.5 stars option, though I would end up using it on three-fourths of everything. As a generic, I can neither recommend nor disavow this book.

Okay so the beloved Arabian Nights, tales from a thousand and one nights. I should start with what this is NOT. This is not a linear story about a princess telling stories to a king. This is not a children's read involving genies, magic, and cyclopi (I refuse to spell this any other way, no matter the red line beneath it). This IS a collection of stories, probably oral traditions, dating back from ancient times.

Taken on their own, many of the stories are quite fascinating. Unfortunately, as a straight through read, I quickly became bored. The stories are, with some notable exceptions, more or less the same.

"There's a beautiful girl whose eyes were like moonbeams, her lips were the color of coral, and as fresh, and she astounded with amazing astoundness all who beheld her. But she had no interest in being married, and her father the king, though he doted on her, could not accept this and so he locked her up. But on the other side of the world, there's a handsome gent whose eyes burned like saucers of the sun, his lips were sweeter than the nectar that camels walked thousands of miles to obtain and carry back, and his hair floated like all the Towers of Babylon. He, also, had no interest in being married, truly he said to HIS father the other king, "I have no interest in being married," and though his father was wroth and consulted his Wazir extensively, no plan was made. Then deus-ex-machina style, there are two omnipotent Djinnis that decide to compare the two and yadda yadda yadda. They get married." But, says the meta-princess, who is meta-telling the meta-king these stories so she doesn't get mega-decapitated, this story is not more fascinating than the other girl and guy who get screwed over, but fall in love anyway, and so on.

Congrats, you have had the Arabian Nights experience!

In short, this book, quaint translation included (he joyed with exceeding joyness!), is something that you'd have to keep by your bedside for several years. Reading one story a week, lest you get tired of it. Unfortunately it's not good enough to keep by your bedside for several years, so where does that leave it? 2.5 stars, baby.

Get from library. Read a few so you can be edumacated. Write a witty review. Have ten times more fun watching Aladdin.

Oh and I found this particular footnote moderately hilarious: "Four wives are allowed by Moslem law and for this reason. If you marry one wife she holds herself your equal, answers you and "gives herself airs"; two are always quarreling and making a hell of the house; three are "no company" and two of them always combine against the nicest to make her hours bitter. Four are company; they can quarrel and "make it up" amongst themselves, and the husband enjoys comparative peace."
Profile Image for Shawna Finnigan.
454 reviews300 followers
October 28, 2022

A few years back, I signed up for a course that was going to study this book. I was really looking forward to the course, but I ended up having to drop it right before the term started because of my health issues. I hung onto The Arabian Nights all this time because I thought maybe it’d be interesting. I really regret hanging onto it for this long...

The Arabian Nights is about a king who decides that women aren’t trustworthy, so to cope with this, he sleeps with a different woman each night and then kills them in the morning. A girl decides to outsmart the king. Her plan is to tell the king a series of interesting stories that end on cliffhangers so that he will want to know what comes next and will choose not to kill her.

I appreciated the history behind this book and why The Arabian Nights is important to a lot of people, but I just couldn’t look past the problematic things in this book, especially the misogyny. This book is filled with nonstop misogyny. The whole premise of this story wouldn’t take place without misogyny and almost every individual tale in this story not only hates on women but also kills them and injures them in the most gruesome ways. The misogyny isn’t even dealt with in respectful ways. The men who harm the women and hate on the women are often viewed as the heroes of the story. It’s awful. I understand that times were different when these stories first started being told, but these stories really do not hold up well with the modern times.

Besides the misogyny, I also struggled will how boring and repetitive this book was. The stories weren’t very fast paced or interesting and I often found myself struggling to stay awake while I was reading them. The whole format of this book also involved a few lines of text being repeated every "night." My edition had only 271 nights, so I only had to read these repeating lines 271 times, but I can’t even begin to imagine how annoyed I’d get with reading the same lines of text 1,001 times.

One of the few praises that I can give this book is that it’s fairly understandable for a classic. This probably has a lot to do with the translator of my edition. I’m sure other editions might be a little more confusing. The only parts of this text that I found confusing were the poems, which was no surprise that I found them confusing since I don’t really get along well with poems.

I don’t really recommend reading this book unless you enjoy reading slow paced classics. I feel like learning about the history of this story is enough. There’s really no need to read over 500 pages of nonstop misogyny.

I have one final thought on this book but it’s one that mentions sexual content, so proceed at your own risk.

I hate how this book deals with the topic of virginity. This happens in our current times, too, but it’s a nonstop theme throughout this book. Men are having sex nonstop, but women are expected to remain a virgin until marriage and men view it as a treat when women save their virginity for them. It’s gross and I hated to constantly have to read about this in The Arabian Nights.
Profile Image for Alex.
1,418 reviews4,321 followers
January 13, 2015
What you thought was the Arabian Nights was more likely Richard Burton's bastardized, inflated 19th-century adaptation, which was as much about Richard Burton (and his weird ideas about sex) as it was about Arabia.

Which is sortof neither here nor there; there is no canonical version of Arabian Nights anyway. It's just an umbrella term for, basically, all of the Middle East's favorite stories. And if the version that heavily influenced guys like Borges was Burton's, isn't Burton's version the one that's a cornerstone of Western fiction? Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves is not in the original, is what I'm saying, and this is a text where the quest for an official version is in some ways doomed and pointless.

But that doesn't stop me from being all twitchy about it, because I'm an obsessive dork; I wanted to get as close as I could to the original, canonical Arabian Nights. And here it is: Husain Haddawy has gone back to the oldest surviving version, from 14th-century Syria. It is filthy.

Lots of fucking, is what these stories have. It's all very Decameron. And they're great! Extremely convoluted: frequently Shahrazad will tell a story in which someone else tells a story about a third guy telling a story, so you're all wrapped up in multiple layers of story, which isn't really as confusing as it sounds. Well, sometimes it's a little confusing. But it's always, always entertaining. There are no misses in this book at all.

Haddawy's translation is good, except for his poetry, of which there's quite a bit; for all I know the original poetry was itself terrible, but it seems more likely that it's Haddawy's fault. I ended up skimming or outright skipping all the verse; it's usually not plot-related and it's never any good.

This is one of the most important books ever written, despite its not really being a book and also not exactly having been written, and it's incredibly fun stuff. Get psyched: this is the shit.
Profile Image for Madeline.
771 reviews47k followers
August 26, 2009
I am planning to read through this whole book someday, I swear. But it's going to be a slow process. Here, in list form, are the reasons I may or may not finish The Arabian Nights.

Reasons I May Finish This Ridiculously Long Book:
-Scheherazade (or whichever of the twenty ways to spell her name you prefer) is kind of a badass genius. Since her father is the king's vizier, she gets exempted from said batshit crazy king's plan to marry and then kill every single available virgin in the city. But she volunteers for the job anyway, based purely on her plan to keep telling the king stories until he decides she's much too interesting to kill.
-Her method of telling the stories is really complicated and interesting. She starts a story in which a man with some unsolvable problem attempts to solve it. He meets three other men. They then meet a djin. The men all tell stories to the djin. The djin tells stories. They tell a story in which a person meets another person, and tells them stories. The whole book is like some kind of reverse Jenga game: she keeps piling stories on top of stories and we can't help but be baffled that she even manages to keep them all straight in her head, much less prevent them from collapsing around her.
-It's pretty dirty. There's lots of orgies and naked slave girls running around, and since Scheherazade's sister sleeps in her bedroom and is there when the king visits her every night, I got the sense that there were some kinky three-ways going on before Story Time started.

Reasons I May Not Finish This Ridiculously Long Book:
-It's racist and misongynist to a level I have never experienced before (and I've read Stephenie Meyer and Ian Fleming, so I know misongyny when I see it). Here's an example: so, the king finds out that his wife has been cheating on him, and with a black slave, no less. Not only that, most of the cheating women (and it is always the women who sleep around) in the book are found ravenously sexing up black men. It's at this point that we break for a lovely footnote by the translator that explains how black men, owing to their insanely massive genitalia, are the paramour of choice for cheating wives. He adds that several men he knows will not allow their wives to visit Africa with them, since the danger of their being seduced by a well-hung Negro is just too high. I am not making any of this up.
-The book is ridiculously long. Did I mention that already?
Profile Image for Huda Aweys.
Author 5 books1,319 followers
Currently reading
August 14, 2015
و قبل أن تدلف إلى هذا العالم الساحر و الشائق .. عالم
(ألف ليلة و ليلة) ..
من فضلك ..
لا تنسى وضع عقلك خارجا على بوابته ! ،
أرح عقلك قليلا ، و الا فلن تشعر بالمتعة أبدا
:) !
حكاية جوه حكاية من ورا حكاية
ايه دا بجد :) !! ؟
كأنك واقع في محيط .. بتسحبك فيه و برغم ارادتك .. دوامة لذيذة
بتسحبك من حكاية للتانية .. من عالم للتاني ... بتسحبك لتاريخ .. لحضارات .. لجزر و قصور .. لحضرة ملوك الجان وسلاطين الإنس ! ... بتسحبك .. بتسحبك .. بنعومة .. و انت مستسلم .. مستسلم .. لغاية ماتغرّق وعيك و تحتل حواسك
شئ كده زي السحر ! :)
ثم ..ماكل هذه الأنباء و الحكم و الأشعار و الآداب الرائعة التي حوتها تلك الألف ليلة و ليلة !؟
على (ويكي مصدر ) كاملة على أربع اجزاء فرغت للآن من الجزء الثاني ،
اكتشفت ان معظم القصص اللي قرأتها للآن سبق لي قرائتها منفردة زمان ، و انا طفلة ،
معدة كقصص للأطفال
نصيب الأسد فيها كان لـ (كامل كيلاني) و من اعداده طبعا
و عموما مازلت مستمتعه بقراءتها كأول مرة
الجزء الأول :
الجزء الثاني :
الجزء الثالث :
الجزء الرابع :
Profile Image for August Reads.
108 reviews52 followers
August 20, 2022
Este es de esos libros que marcaron mi adolescencia, y en un buen sentido, es de aquellas historias que me hicieron amar los libros y disfrutar de la lectura.

La trama es archi-conocida, el rey Schariar tras sufrir el engaño de su esposa decide en venganza conseguir una joven virgen para casarse cada día para a la mañana siguiente ordenar matarla. Hasta que Scherezade, la hija del Visir, planea una manera con la cual detener este sinsentido, el qué consiste en contarle a Schariar una historia cada noche dejándola en su punto álgido para que de esta manera el sultán por interés a no quedarse sin el final vaya aplazando la ejecución qué termina por extenderse por más de mil noches...

Lo que nos lleva directo a un montón de cuentos, historias, poemas, leyendas, parodias, etc. Que nos hacen saltar la imaginación y nos transportan a mundos fantásticos de diversa índole. Todo, por supuesto, impregnado de la diferente e interesante cultura medieval de oriente medio. Acá, por supuesto, encontramos historias mundialmente famosas como Aladdin, Sinbad o Alí babá, entre otras menos conocidas, pero igual de imaginativas que me hacen imposible elegir una como favorita, cito algunas menos conocidas como cuando un par de personajes descienden a un mundo subterráneo reinado por mujeres con cola de serpiente, o la princesa que se disfraza de su amado y termina casándose con otra mujer, o el ilusionista que compraba carne con monedas supuestamente nuevas y relucientes, o el jorobado que supuestamente muere atragantado por una espina de pescado, pero al final nunca estuvo muerto, o el hombre que llega a un palacio de mil habitaciones dónde le entregan todo sin nada a cambio con la única condición de jámas entrar en una habitación en particular, o el par de viajeros que son forzados a volverse reyes de un pueblo de monos, o el hombre que se casó con una mujer que por las noches se escapaba al cementerio a comer carne de muerto... entre tantas otras que te hacen volar la imaginación como pocas historias pueden.

Cabe destacar que existen varias versiones de Las mil y una noches, algunas de ellas con historias recortadas, adaptadas o modificadas con la idea de evitar material que pudiese resultar ofensivo a lectores actuales, lo que a mí juicio es un error. Por lo personal tuve la suerte de leer la versión Integra ilustrada de tres tomos y la verdad es que no hay desperdicio. Varias de las historias dejan algún tipo de enseñanza o alguna parábola aunque también es verdad que hay historias bastante machistas, dado la cultura de oriente medio, o historias que entran en lo erótico con escenas lésbicas y hasta zoofilicas en parte. Más, cómo se advierte en el prólogo hay que comprender que eran otros tiempos, otra época, otra cultura... que a través de sus historias nos ayudan a entender cómo veían el mundo esta gente y cómo podemos aprender de ellos, que lecciones sacamos. "El que rehuye de su pasado está condenado a repetirlo" dicen y creo que saber apreciar este tipo de historias, algo arcaicas en algunos aspectos, desde una perspectiva moderna nos ayuda a mirar al pasado y entender cuánto hemos cambiado y avanzado como sociedad. Y que nos queda aún por mejorar.

¡De lo mejor que leído en toda mi vida! ¡Muy recomendado!
Profile Image for Clay Davis.
Author 3 books113 followers
June 28, 2019
This book has stories with an amazing sense of wonder.
Profile Image for Shovelmonkey1.
353 reviews869 followers
November 30, 2011
Having just re-read this book i'm reminded how the flowery wording and a hint of "eastern promise" manages to white wash over the actual issues of the story. Sheharezade is actually technically being kept hostage with a death penalty hanging over her head, forced to spin yarns to save not only her skin but that of all the other virgins in the vicinty. Her tales touch on marital rape, mass murder, theft, deception, fratricide, regicide, racism and necromancy. And you all thought American Psycho was bad?? It's amazing what you can get past the critics when you flower it up a little and add a little middle eastern frou frou. Anyway, i digress...overall an epic book and easy to see why Burtons translation scandalised the purse-lipped puritans of 19th century England.

If anyone wants to read more about or by Burton then try his Narrative of pilgrimage to Mecca and Al-Medina (vols 1 and 2)or for a different perspective try the Wilder Shores of Love by Lesley Blanche which includes a short biography of Burtons wife, Isabel (man trap) Burton. Alternatively watch Rupert Everetts genius TV biography of Burton which was produced for the BBC. It's worth it just for the bit with nuns!
Profile Image for saïd.
5,856 reviews538 followers
March 12, 2023
When it comes to finding the “best” translation of 1001 Nights (ألف ليلة وليلة), the situation is... tricky. Despite the staggering amount of retellings, adaptations, selected stories, and other derivative works of the “original,” few reputable English translations have been completed. There’s an excellent translation into French, Les Mille et une Nuits (by André Miquel), as well as a similarly excellent translation into German, Tausendundeine Nacht (by Claudia Ott). There are also accredited translations into Spanish, Italian, Russian, and plenty of others, to say nothing of modern collections published in Arabic or Farsi. But compiling an accurate translation into any language is complicated by the fact that there are two primary manuscripts, and both are quite different from the other.

The 14th century Syrian manuscript was translated into multiple volumes by Antoine Galland in the 1710s, which has had a lasting influence on subsequent European compilations and translations. Galland played fast and loose with accuracy to the original text (as much as anything can be called the “original” text in this situation), most notably incorporating the stories of Sinbad the Sailor, Ali Baba, Aladdin, and several others into the compilation; Sinbad was originally from an entirely different text, and the others were collected via oral tradition courtesy of a visiting Syrian Maronite Christian named Hanna Diyab, and subsequent Arabic texts of these particular stories later discovered actually turned out to have been adapted from Galland’s French translation, rather than the other way around.

The second manuscript is known as Zotenberg’s Egyptian Recension, and is named for the French scholar who first identified it in the late 1880s. The ZER manuscript is the most “complete” version, as it contains 1001 actual nights of storytelling, and was at first believed to be the “complete” original from whence Galland’s “incomplete” translation had been extracted, but in reality the stories were compiled in Egypt largely as a result of Western demand for more comprehensive stories, notably ones that were more “Oriental” (so to speak). There are two primary editions deriving from the ZER manuscript: the 1835 Bulaq edition (printed in Cairo) and the 1839-1842 Macnaghten edition (printed in Calcutta... by the British East India Company). The Calcutta edition is more robust, but also displays far more editorial interference (although not by Macnaghten himself, since he died in 1841 during the British retreat from Kabul).

The reality is unfortunately that there is no “complete” or “original” version of the stories. Mediaeval Arab writers who mention the stories in collection claim it was originally translated into Arabic from Farsi (the original Persian version would have predated the Arab conquest of Persia, and some scholars have argued that certain of the stories display a pre-Islamic view), and there’s (controversial) evidence that the Persians adapted the framing story from a now-lost Sanskrit version, but none of those texts exist, or even enough information about them to substantiate any solid claims as to their connection to the more modern manuscripts. All that’s really known is that a collection of stories bearing a name similar to ��One Thousand and One Nights” in the Scheherazade format has existed since at least the 9th century CE, although the earliest recorded manuscript is the 14th century one.

Husain Haddawy translated the Galland version in 1990, based on Muhsin Mahdi’s critical edition; I’ve personally found Haddawy’s to be an excellent translation, and a refreshing reprieve from the host of European scholars mucking about in the text. Ursula and Malcolm Lyons produced this very edition in 2008, working off the Macnaghten version (the Calcutta II manuscript); the Lyons’ version is the first complete English translation from the Macnaghten/Calcutta II manuscript since Richard Burton, and we all know how much I hate Burton’s terrible interpretation of the original text. (Fun fact: Burton included a section called “The Reviewers Review’d” in a later volume of his “translation,” in which he viciously attacked various of his critics, including a charming review which proclaimed, “Galland for the nursery; Lane for the library; Payne for the study; and Burton for the gutter.”) And so, in summation, Haddawy’s and the Lyons’ translations together give as complete a picture as is probably possible in English of the “full” stories.

For a much fuller and exhaustive history of the stories and the collection thereof, I suggest reading the Wikipedia page (as loath as I am to link to Wikipedia, the sources are well-cited, and it’s a pretty solid introduction... and besides, this is hardly an academic review!).
Profile Image for Terry.
40 reviews77 followers
November 8, 2008
“Shahrazad turned to King Shahrayar and said, ‘May I have your permission to tell a story?’ He replied, ‘Yes,’ and Shahrazad was very happy and said, “Listen”:

Of all of the world’s story collections, surely The Arabian Nights has the best framing device—the best fictional pretext by which to justify the telling of the other stories. I mean the story of Shahrazad (as this text transliterates her name), the daughter of the vizier to King Shahrayar. Bitter over his first wife’s betrayal, Shahrayar decides that he will avenge himself on womankind by marrying a different woman every night and having her killed in the morning. As the tally of victims rises, the vizier, who has been charged with procuring these wives from among the daughters of the kingdom’s princes, becomes more and more desperate until one day Shahrazad herself volunteers to marry the king and stubbornly refuses to be dissuaded by her father. On the night of her nuptials, Shahrazad begins to tell Shahrayar a story to while away the hours until dawn when she will be killed. When the sun rises before she can complete the tale, the king decides to spare her until the next night so that he can find out whether a demon kills the merchant against whom he has raised his sword. And so begins the endless series of narrative delays and nesting of tales by which the storyteller manages to make herself indispensable to the tyrannical king—and so too begins the tyrannical king’s education in empathy as he listens to tales of justice and injustice, of fidelity and betrayal, of statecraft and misrule. Some of the tales have more artistry than others.

Some are sentimental. Some seem intended merely to titillate. To my mind, no single tale lives up to the best of Chaucer, whose Canterbury Tales are roughly contemporary to these. Still, the power of the Nights is cumulative in the way of good refrains. Again and again, we are told, “But morning overcame Shahrazad, and she lapsed into silence”—only to have the tale taken up again the next night. These lapses and interruptions invest even the silliest tales with gravity, reminding us that all art is an appeal against our common death sentence, a plucky assertion of the meaningfulness of human experience against the overwhelming evidence that we are powerless and disposable. What could possibly have motivated Shahrazad, the safest of all the kingdom’s virgins, to put her body in the tyrant’s bed? One can only call it love, terrifying as it is to invoke that word: love for the victims that led her to love their killer and to gamble her life on the humanity of his heart.

Though a translator’s note informs us that “tradition has it” Shahrazad bears Shahrayar three children and somewhere along the way earns enough trust to have her death sentence lifted, the tales where never finished by their original author—whoever that may have been. Later editors have felt free to add material, including many of the tales we most commonly associate with the Nights: Sinbad the Sailor, Aladdin and the Magic Lamp, Ali Babba and the Forty Thieves. Husain Haddawy leaves these out of his translation, following the editorial choices of Muhsin Mahdi, whose fourteenth-century Syrian manuscript is the earliest one we have. The fascinating history of the text and of its translation into Western languages is thoroughly documented in Haddawy’s introduction—convincingly enough to persuade me that I’m in the hands of a good translator as I read.
Profile Image for Melanti.
1,256 reviews116 followers
May 6, 2017
These stories were so much funnier and bawdier than I was expecting! I was expecting more adventurous stories - more akin to what I know of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" - yet a large number of these stories featured rather licentious women! It wasn't something I was expecting out of a set of stories being told by a woman to a man who was obsessed with the idea of unfaithful wives!

This particular edition is based off the core set of tales compiled by Muhsin Mahdi which reflect only the stories that are contained in all known versions of the manuscript. Incidentally, that means it does NOT contain some of the more famous stories that people think of when they think of 1,001 Arabian Nights. Haddawy has published a second volume of stories that contain these other tales that I do want to read someday!

I really enjoyed this particular translation - and translation matters a great deal! Burton - the most common translation used - seems to have elaborated a great deal. Below I've transcribed a couple of passages in several translations. None of the passages are truly spoilers; I just used the tags to make it a bit tidier.

Passage 1:





Lyons: (another recent translation)

And here's a second, bawdier passage. I've got to say - in the Burton translation especially - fifteen "assaults" or "courses" in one night? What a stud! All the poems were cut out from the passages just due to length.



Lane: This particular set of stories seems to be missing.


Lyons (Modern translation):
Profile Image for Ellinor.
495 reviews243 followers
December 16, 2019
I listened to this on audio and it took me 8-9 months to complete it. I was surprised of quite a few things:

1. Here you have the first cliffhanger in history (well, I knew that before, but it was still surprising how early in history this method had been invented). At the same time the method of a story within a story (and often within another stroy) is used, also probably for the first time ever.

2. We think we know many of the tales mentioned but in fact we hardly do: The stories we best know (or think we know) from the Arabian Nights are Aladin, Ali Baba And Sindbad. The first two were invented by European writers and never existed in the original book. Sindbad is an Arabian tale but was never part of the Arabian Nights.

3. This book is absolutely not for children. It is not a fairy tale book like the ones by Grimm or Andersen. There are so many rape and sex scenes children wouldn't understand or which just aren't suitable for their age.

4. Allah plays a big role in the stories. He's praised in every second sentence. Religion also is important in people's life. But at the same time people drink lots of alcohol (actually forbidden in Islam) and celebrate orgies quite often. This gives very interesting insights into the Arabian Culture.

All in all a very interesting book. Even if you don't read it all you should at least read some of the stories which all have very varying topics.
Profile Image for Diba.
42 reviews2 followers
August 6, 2016
Although I simply have problem with the title, since it should be One thousand and one night, the translation of Burton is worthy to read and also should be praised to introduce such a masterpiece to Western literature. Not only do these stories depict cultural and social codes of Middle East and centra Asia, but also they convey how morality and wisdom were respected in these societies. As we are living in an era that most people are biased about their originality and are focused on the small world of their own society, these incredible stories make us believe that there is a universality, no matter where we come from and in what era we live, that works out and overcomes violence beyond any power and that is the power of imagination and narrative.
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