Arabian Nights

Thousand nights and one night

ALF LAYLA wa-LAYLA, "Thousand nights and one night" is the title of the most famous Arabian collection of fairy-tales and other stories. One often reads or hears nowadays "like a fairy-tale from the thousand-and-one nights", and, indeed, the fairy-tales are the most striking part of the collection. Like all Orientals the Arabs from the earliest times enjoyed imaginative stories; but since the intellectual horizon of the true Arabs in ancient times before the rise of Islam was rather narrow the material for these entertainments was borrowed mainly from elsewhere, from Persia and from India, as we gather from the accounts of the Prophet's competitor, the merchant al-Nadr. In later times when Arab civilization had grown richer and more comprehensive the literary influence from other countries was, of course, much stronger. An attentive reader of the "Nights" will soon be astonished by the manifold variety of their contents: they resemble in a way an Oriental meadow with many different beautiful flowers intermingled with a few weeds. On the other hand, the reader will notice that these stories comprise a very wide field: there are stories of King Solomon, of the kings of ancient Persia, of Alexander the Great, of the caliphs and the sultans on one side, and stories in which guns, coffee and tobacco are mentioned on the other side.

Its appearance in Europe.

The entire work is enclosed in a "frame-story", and this was known in Italy in the Middle Ages. Traces of it are to be found in a novel by Giovanni Sercambi (1347-1424) and in the story of Astolfo and Giocondo which is told in the 28th canto of Orlando Furioso by Ariosto (beginning of the 16th century); travellers who had been in the East may have brought this knowledge to IItaly. But the whole Alf Layla wa-Layla came to Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. The French scholar and traveller Jean Antoine Galland (1646-1715) published it for the first time. Travelling in the Near East at first as a secretary of the French ambassador, then as a collector of objects for museums commissioned by amateurs, he had known the world of the Orient, and his attention was directed to the great number of stories and fables told there. After his return to France he began in 1704 to publish his volumes Les mille et une Nuits contes arabes traduits en Fran±ais. By 1706 seven vols. had appeared: vol. viii appeared in 1709, vols. ix and x in 1712, vols. xi and xii in 1717, two years after Galland's death. This delay in the appearance of the later vols. is significant for Galland's difficulties as to material and also for his indifference to this side of his work as a scholar. He was a born story-teller; he had a flair for a good story and a knack of re-telling it well. Thus he adapted his translation to the taste of his European readers, changing sometimes the wording of the Arabic text and paraphrasing things that were foreign to Europeans. Hence the great success of his "Nights". But he was also fortunate in the material which fell into his hands. He began by translating Sindbad the Sailor from an unidentified MS; then he learned that this was part of a great collection of stories called "The Thousand and One Nights"; then he had the luck to have sent to him from Syria four vols. of a MS of that work which is, except for a small fragment found by Nabia Abbott, the oldest known and contains the best surviving text. The first three of his vols. are still in the Bibliotheque Nationale, but the fourth is lost. In the first seven vols. of his translation he exhausted his three vols. of Arabic text which we still have and added Sindbad and Camalzaman (Kamar al-Zaman) from unidentified MSS. Then for lack of material he stopped for three years until his publisher forced his hand by issuing, without authority, vol. viii containing Ganem (Ghanim), translated by Galland from an unidentified MS, and two stories, Zeyn Alasnam (Zayn al-Asnam) and Codadad (Khudadad), translated by Petis de la Croix and intended for his Mille et un jours. Again Galland was completely out of material and stopped; he was also tired and disgusted with the whole matter. But in 1709 he met a certain Maronite from Aleppo, Hanna, brought to Paris by the traveller Paul Lucas, and at once recognized that he had got an oral source of the story material. Hanna told him stories in Arabic, and Galland inserted in his Journal abstracts of some of these. But Hanna also gave him transcripts of some. In this way the last four vols. of Galland's translation were filled out; his Journal gives full details. Hanna's transcripts have vanished, but two Arabic MSS of Aladdin have since come to light and one of Ali Baba. This, then, is the origin of the book which made the "Nights" known to Europe and which in the French text and in very many translations from the French became the "Arabian Nights" for the great multitude of readers. For details see H. Zotenberg, Histoire d'`Ala' aldin ... avec Notice sur quelques manuscrits des Mille et une nuits et la traduction de Galland, Paris 1888. This contains the Arabic text of Aladdin (`Ala al-Din) and a study of certain MSS of the Nights and of the entries in Galland's Journal. See also V. Chauvin, Bibliographie arabe, iv, Liege 1900, and D. B. Macdonald, A Bibliographical and literary study of the first appearance of the Arabian Nights in Europe, The Library Quarterly, vol. ii, no. 4, Oct. 1932, 387-420.

For more than a century Galland's French version meant the Nights for Europe, and two of his stories whose original Arabic texts were not known were even translated into Oriental languages. But meanwhile other MSS, more or less connected with the Nights, were brought to light and, from these, various supplements to Galland were translated and published. Just as the MSS of the Nights themselves varied enormously as to the stories which they contained, so these translators were prepared to attach to the Nights any story that existed in Arabic. The following supplements, partly separate and partly attached to editions of Galland, are of importance in themselves and as signs of the interests of their times. For further details on all of them see Chauvin's Bibliographie, iv, 82-120.

In 1788 there appeared as a supplement to the Cabinet des Fees, vols 38-41, a series of tales translated from the Arabic by Denis Chavis. It is significant for the interest at the time in the whole subject of the Nights that there appeared, 1792-1794, three separate English translations of this supplement. In 1795 William Beloe published in the third vol. of his Miscellanies some Arabic stories which had been translated for him orally by Patrick Russell, the author of The Natural History of Aleppo (1794). In 1800 Jonathan Scott translated in his Tales, Anecdotes and Letters certain stories from the MS of the Nights brought from India by James Anderson, and in 1811 to his edition of an English version of Galland he added a vol. of new stories from another MS, the Wortley Montague MS now in Oxford. In 1806 Caussin de Perceval had already added two vols. of supplement to his edition of Galland. But Edouard Gauttier in his professed edition of Galland (1822-1825) went much farther: besides two vols. of new tales drawn from all manner of sources he freely inserted others in the course of Galland's Nights. Von Hammer in his Die noch nicht übersetzten Erzaehlungen der Tausend und einen Nacht, Stuttgart 1823, had a much firmer foundation and used a real recension of the Nights. He had acquired in Egypt a MS of the recension now known as Zotenberg's Egyptian Recension, which through numerous editions has become the Vulgate text of the Nights; see the editions, below. Von Hammer's French translation of a number of stories not in Galland is lost, but Zinserling (1823) translated it into German, and this version was rendered in English by Lamb (1826) and in French by Trebutien (1828). In 1825 M. Habicht began to publish 15 volumes professing to be a new translation but consisting really of Galland with some supplements from Caussin, Gauttier and Scott and an ending from a so-called Tunisian MS. He began also to publish an Arabic text. From this text, later on also from Galland, from Gotha MSS and from a text printed in Egypt, Weil published hhis translation within the years 1837-1867.

Editions and translations.

The main editions of the Arabic Alf Layla wa-Layla are the following.

1. The first Calcutta Edition:

The Arabian Nights Entertainments; In the Original Arabic, published under the Patronage of the College of Fort William; By Shuekh Uhmud bin Moohummud Shirwanee ul Yumunee, Calcutta, vol. i 1814; vol. ii 1818. It contains only the first two hundred Nights and the story of Sindbad the Sailor.

2. The first Bulak Edition,

a complete Arabic edition, printed in 1251/1835 (from MSS found in Egypt) in the State Printing Office at Bulak near Cairo founded by Muhammad `Ali.

3. The Second Calcutta Edition:

The Alif Laila or the Book of the Thousand Nights and one Night, Commonly known as "The Arabian Nights Entertainments", now, for the first time, published complete in the original Arabic, from an Egyptian manuscript brought to India by the late Major Turner, editor of the Shah-Nameh. Edited by W. H. Macnaghten, Esq. In four volumes, Calcutta 1839-42.

4. The Breslau Edition:

Tausend und Eine Nacht Arabisch. Nach einer Handschrift aus Tunis herausgegeben von Dr. Maximilian Habicht, Professor an der KKniglichen Universitaet zu Breslau (etc.), nach seinem Tode fortgesetzt von M. Heinrich Leberecht Fleischer, ordentlichem Prof. der morgenlaendischen Sprachen an der Universitaet Leipzig, Breslau 1825-43. D. B. Macdonald, in his article on Habicht's Recension in JRAS, 1909, 685-704, and in his article A Preliminary Classification of some MSS of the Arabian Nights, in the E.G.Browne Volume, Cambridge 1922, 304, discussed the value of this edition. His expert opinion is that Habicht wilfully created a literary myth and enormously confused the history of the Nights because a Tunisian recension of the Nights never existed, and out of many stories which had come to him from many sources he constructed a new recension of the Nights much in the same way that he had constructed his translation described above. However, Macdonald acknowledged that Habicht's texts are given verbatim without any attempt at correction, and are, therefore, "vulgar" in the exact sense whereas all other texts have been grammatically and lexicographically "improved" by learned shaykhs.

5. Later Bulak and Cairo Editions.

In the latter half of the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th century the complete text of the first Bulak edition, in the main the same as the second Calcutta edition, was several times reprinted. They are representatives of Zotenberg's "Egyptian Recension", which is the result of a compilation made by a certain shaykh in the 18th century, according to a notice in U. J. Seetzen, Reisen durch Syrien, Palaestina, PhKnicien, die Transjordan-Laender, Arabia Petraea und Unter-Aegypten, Berlin 1854-5, iii, 188; the name of the shaykh is not known, but this notice confirms Zotenberg's hypothesis. The Jesuit Press at Bayrut has published an independent but expurgated edition from another MS of the same recension (1888-90).

From the Egyptian Recension have been made all the modern western translations. Lane's translation, incomplete but with a very valuable and full commentary, began to appear in parts in 1839 and was finished in 1841. It was made from the first Bulak edition. Payne's translation from the Macnaghten edition, complete and privately printed, appeared in 9 vols. 1882-84. Three additional vols. contained tales in the Breslau and 1st Calcutta editions (1884), and a 13th vol.K(1889) contained Aladdin and Zayn al-Asnam. Since Payne's death in 1916 there have been a number of complete reprints. The translation by Sir Richard Burton, also from the Macnaghten edition, is very largely dependent upon that of Payne and often reproduces Payne verbatim (10 vols., 1885; 6 supplementary vols., 1886-8). Besides the Smithers edition (12 vols., 1894) and Lady Burton's edition (6 vols., 1886-8) it has been completely reprinted several times. On the strange relation between the versions of Payne and of Burton see Thomas Wright, Life of Sir Richard Burton (2 vols., London 1906) and Life of John Payne (London 1919), and for an attempt at a comparative estimate of the above English translations see Macdonald's On translating the Arabian Nights, The Nation, New York, Aug. 30 and Sept. 6, 1900, In Reclam's Universal-Bibliothek (1895-97) Max Henning published a German translation, 24 small vols.; it is somewhat expurgated and rather prosaic and gives only half the verses. The first 7 vols. give the Nights from the Bulak edition and vols. 18-24 various supplements, largely translated from Burton. In 1899 J. C. Mardrus began a French translation of the Nights professedly from the Bulak edition of 1835. His translation is not very trustworthy, and it incorporates tales from all manner of other collections than the Nights. Moreover there are translations of the Nights in Spanish, English, Polish, German, Danish, Russian, Italian. The Spanish translation is by Vicente Blasco Ibanez; the English by E. Powys Mathers; the Polish translation is incomplete. The German translation by E. Littmann appeared in Leipzig, 6 vols., 1921-8; first re-edition Wiesbaden 1953, second re-edition ibid. 1954. It contains the complete translation of the second Calcutta edition and the following stories: `Ala" al-Din and the Magic Lamp, from the Paris MS edited by Zotenberg (cf. above); `Ali Baba and the Forty Robbers, from the Oxford MS edited by Macdonald (JRAS, 1910, 221 ff., 1913, 41 ff.); Prince Ahmad and Pari Banu, from Burton, i.e. an English rendering of a Hindustani version derived from Galland; Abu'l-Hasan or the Sleeper Awakened, from the Breslau edition; The Craft of Women, from the first Calcutta edition; the end of Sindbad's sixth journey and his seventh journey, from the first Calcutta edition; supplement in the Story of the Brass City; the end of the Story of Sindbad and the Seven Viziers; The Story of al-Malik al-Zahir Rukn al-Din Baybars al-Bundukdari and the Sixteen Guardians, from the Breslau edition; The Jealous Sisters, from Burton-Galland; Zayn al-Asnam, from a Paris MS edited by F. Groff; The Nocturnal Adventure of the Caliph, Khudadad and his Brothers, `Ali Khawadja and the Merchant of Baghdad, from Burton-Galland.-The Danish translation by J. Oestrup was published at Copenhagen in 1927. The Russian translation by I. Kra´kovsky appeared in 1934, the Italian translation by F. Gabrieli in 1949.

Problems of origin and evolution.

When the Arabian Nights first became known in Europe they served only for the entertainment of European readers; but at the beginning of the 19th century western scholars began to take an interest in the question of their origin. Silvestre de Sacy, the founder of modern Arabian philology, discussed this question in several dissertations: Journal des savants, 1817, 678; Recherches sur l'origine du recueil des contes intitules les Mille et une nuits, Paris 1829; in the Memoires de l'Academie des Inscriptions & Belles-Lettres, x, 1833, 30. He denied, correctly, the possible authorship of one single writer and believedKthat the book was written at a very late period without Persian and Indian elements; therefore, he regarded as spurious a passage in Murudj al-dhahab of al-Mas`udi (written in 336/947 and re-edited in 346/957) referring to these elements. This passage, published by Barbier de Meynard in Arabic and French (Les prairies d'or, iv, 89), reads in English: "The case with them (viz. some legendary stories) is similar to that of the books that have come to us from the Persian, Indian (one MS has here: Pahlawi) and the Greek and have been translated for us, and that originated in the way that we have described, such as for example the book Hazar Afsana, which in Arabic means "thousand tales", for "tale" is in Persian afsana. The people call this book "Thousand Nights" (two MSS have here: Thousand Nights and One Night). This is the story of the king and the vizier and his daughter and her servant-girl; these two are called Shirazad and Dinazad (in other MSS: and her nurse; in again other MSS: and his two daughters)".

In al-Fihrist by Muhammad b. Ishak b. Abi Ya`kub al-Nadim (written in 377/987), ed. Flügel, i, 304, the Hazar Afsan are mentioned and a resume of the frame-work story is given. The Fihrist adds that Abu `Abd Allah b. `Abdus al-djahshiyari (d. 331/942), the author of the Book of the Viziers, began to write a book in which he selected a thousand stories from the stories of the Arabs, the Persians, the Greek and other peoples. He collected four hundred and eighty stories, but he died before he had attained his purpose, i.e. to complete a thousand stories.

Contrary to de Sacy, Joseph von Hammer (Wiener Jahrbücher, 1819, 236; JA, 1e serie, x; 3e serie, viii; Preface to his Die noch nicht übersetzten Erzaehlungen (see above) maintained the genuineness of the passage in al-Mas`udi with all its consequences. William Lane tried to prove that the whole book was the work of one single author and had been written in the period 1475-1525 (Preface to The Arabian Nights Entertainments, London 1839-41).

The discussion was resumed by de Goeje (De Arabische Nachtvertellingen, De Gids, 1886, iii, 385, and The Thousand and One Nights in the Encycl. Britann., xxiii, 316). He collated the passage in the Fihrist (see above), in which the Hazar Afsan are said to have been written for Humay (var.: Humani), the daughter of King Bahman, with a passage in al-Tabari (9th century), i, 688, where Esther is called the mother of Bahman and the name Shahrazad is assigned to Humay; and consequently tried to show that the frame-work story of the Nights was connected with the Book of Esther. August Müller seems to have been the pioneer towards a freer attitude in his Sendschreiben on the subject to de Goeje (Bezzenbergers Beitraege, xiii, 222) and in his article in Die deutsche Rundschau, xiii, July 10, 1887, 77-96. He distinguished various layers in the work, one of which he supposed to have been written in Baghdad, whereas to another and larger one he assigned an Egyptian origin. The ideal of various layers was worked out with greater accuracy by Th. Noldeke (Zu den aegyptischen Maerchen, ZDMG, 1888, 68) who gave an approximate definition of the texts, by which each could be recognized.

The contents of the Nights were described and considered by Noldeke several times. In this respect Oestrup's Studier over 1001 Nat, Copenhagen 1891, are of special importance; they were translated into Russian by Krymski (Izsliedowanie o 1001 no´i, Moscow 1905, with a long introduction) and into German by Rescher, "Oestrups Studien über 1001 Nacht" aus dem Daenischen (nebst einigen Zusaetzen), Stuttgart 1925, and a French resume with notes was published by Galtier, Cairo 1912. Other ingenious discussions of the subject were given by Horovitz, mainly in his article Die Entstehung von Tausendundeine Nacht, The Review of Nations, no. 4, April 1927; idem, in IC, 1927. See also Littmann, Tausendundeine Nacht in der arabischen Literatur, Tübingen 1923, and Die Entstehung und Geschichte von Tausendundeiner Nacht in the Anhang to Littmann's translation (mentioned above).

The earliest testimony to the existence of the book of the Thousand Nights was discovered by Nabia Abbott, A Ninth-Century Fragment of the "Thousand Nights". New Light on the Early History of the Arabian Nights, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 1949. After that the work is mentioned by al-Mas`udi and in the Fihrist (see above). In the 12th century a collection of tales called "The Thousand Nights and one Night" was known in Egypt as we learn from a certain al-Kurti who wrote a history of Egypt under the last Fatimid caliph (1160-71), and al-Ghuzuli, who died in 815/1412, transmitted in his anthology a tale of the Nights, as Torrey recognized (J A O S, 1894, 42 f.). A MS discovered by H. Ritter in Istanbul which is of the 13th or 14th century contains four stories that are in the Egyptian recension. These stories are not stated to be a part of the Nights; they will be published and translated by H. Wehr on the basis of preliminary studies by A. von Bulmerincq. Then follow Galland's MS and a number of other MSS of the Nights which cover the period from the 15th to the 18th centuries.

We know that in the common form of the Nights there are a Baghdad and an Egyptian part. Oestrup grouped the separate tales into three layers of which the first one was to comprehend the fairy-tales from the Persian Hazar Afsana with the frame-work of the book, the second those which had come from Baghdad, and the third the stories which had been added to the body of the work; certain tales, as for example the extensive chivalric romance of `Umar b. al-Nu`man, were inserted when the number 1001 was taken in its literal sense. But the Story of Sul and Shumul in a Tübingen MS, which is professedly a part of the Nights and which was edited as such by Seybold, certainly never was an integral part of them, because in it a Muslim is converted to Christianity; in the true Nights Christians, Zoroastrians and pagans often adopt Islam, but a Muslim never adopts another religion.

The following forms of the Nights were established by Macdonald (The earlier history of the Arabian Nights, JRAS, 1924, 353 ff.)-meaning by that any collection of stories fitted into the frame-work which we know: i. The original Persian Hazar Afsana, "Thousand Stories". ii. An Arabic version of the Hazar Afsana. iii. The frame-work story of Hazar Afsana, followed by stories of Arabic origin. iv. The Nights of the late Fatimid period; to its popularity al-Kurti testifies. v. The recension of the Galland MS. From notes in it that MS was in Syrian Tripoli in 943/1536 and at Aleppo in 1001/1592; it may, of course, be older. But it was written in Egypt. There remains the at prsesent still unsolved problem of the relations between it and the other old and independent MSS; there are according to Macdonald at least six such MSS which must be considered.

Nabia Abbott (see above) stated the following six forms. i. An eighth-century translation of the Hazar Afsana. According to her belief this was most probably a complete and literal translation, perhaps entitled Alf Khurafa. ii. An eighth-century Islamized version of the Hazar Afsana entitled Alf Layla. This could have been either partial or complete. iii. A ninth-century composite Alf Layla containing both Persian and Arabic materials. While most of the former came undoubtedly from the Hazar Afsana, other current story-books, especially the Book of Sindbad and the Book of Shimas, are not improbable sources. The Arabic materials, as Littmann had already pointed out, were not so slight or insignificant as Macdonald believed them to be. iv. The tenth-century Alf Samar of Ibn `Abdus. Whether this was meant to include, among other materials, all the current Alf Layla and to supersede it, is not clear. v. A twelfth-century collection augmented by materials from iv and by Asiatic and Egyptian tales of local Egyptian composition. The change of title of Alf Layla wa-Layla belongs, in all probability, to this period. vi. The final stages of the growing collection extending to the early sixteenth century. Heroic tales of the Islamic countercrusades are among the most prominent additions. Persia and `Irak may have contributed some of the later predominantly Far Eastern tales in the wake of the thirteenth-century Mongol conquest of those lands. The final conquest of Mamluk Syria and Egypt by the Ottoman Salim I (1512-20) closed the first chapter of the history of the Arabian Nights in its oriental homeland.

The title "Thousand Stories" may have been changed to "Thousand Nights" when, with the Arabs, the frame-work story and other stories were combined; that cannot have been done later than the 9th century. Originally "1000 stories" meant only a very large number of stories; in the same way it is said of Shahrazad that she had collected "a thousand books". For the simple mind even 100 is a high number, and "before 100 years" means-even for Oriental historians-the same as "a long time ago"; therefore the number 100 must not be taken in its exact sense. But 1000 is almost the same as "innumerable". And the Book of the Thousand Nights which was known at Baghdad scarcely contained a thousand separate nights. But why was 1000 changed to 1001? This change may partly owe its origin to the superstitious aversion to round numbers common among the Arabs as among other peoples. But it is very likely that it was also influenced by the Turkish idiomatic use of bin bir "thousand and one" for a large number: in Anatolia there is a ruin called Bin-bir-kilise "1001 Churches", but there are, of course, not nearly so many there. In Istanbul there is a place called Bin-bir-direk "1001 columns"; but there are only a few dozens of them there. The Turkish alliteration bin bir points to the origin of the Persian idiom hazar yak "1001" and of the title alf layla wa-layla. Since the 11th century Persia, Mesopotamia and Syria and the other countries of Eastern Islam were under the influence of the Turks. Thus the little "1001 Nights" at the beginning meant only a large number of nights, but later on the number was taken in its literal meaning, and it became necessary to add a great many stories in order to complete the number 1001.

The various component elements.

If then India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt and in some way the Turks were partners in the origin of the Nights we must assume that materials derived from all these countries and peoples are to be foundKin them. The first outer tests might be the proper names. There are Indian names like Sindbad, Turkish names like `Ali Baba and Khatun; the names Shahrazad, Dinazad, Shahzaman are Persian and occur, as de Goeje has shown, in Persian legends; so also Bahram, Rustam, Ardashir, Shapur and many others are Persian. However, by far the majority of names are Arabic, i.e. old Arabic names used among the Arabian bedouin and later Islamic names. Greek and European names occur in a few cases in stories treating of the relations between Muslims and Byzantines and Franks. Egyptian names refer to places and to months in their Coptic forms. Of Hebrew names chiefly Solomon and David occur; both play an important role in Islamic tradition. Besides them $saf, Barakhiya, Bulukiya and others are named. But since in very many cases stories are transferred to other persons and frequently persons without names act in them the question of the names must not be stressed.

However, the frame-work system, which is very common in India but very rare in other countries, is a test of the Indian origin of certain parts of the Arabian Nights. In the Indian popular books it usually runs like this: "You may not do such and such a thing or else you will go the same way as so and so".-"How was that?" asks the other, and then the admonisher begins his story.

The foreign elements in the Nights have been carefully studied by Oestrup. One of the interesting statements he made was that in the Iranian fairy-tales the demons or supernatural powers act on their own account and independently, whereas in the more recent tales, especially in those from Egypt, they are always subject to some talisman or magic object; hence its owner decides the development of the action, not the djinns and `Ifrits themselves. Only a short summary of the foreign elements in the Nights can be given here.

The frame-story is of Indian origin. That it consists of three different parts which originally were independent stories was shown by Emmanuel Cosquin in Etudes folkloriques, Paris 1922, 265. These parties are: 1. The story of a man who was grieved by a disloyal wife but whose grief was allayed when he saw that a high personality had the same misfortune. 2. The story of a demon or a giant whom his wife or his captive betrayed with many other men in the most audacious manner. This is the same as the tale told by the seventh vizier in the Story of Sindbad the Wise. 3. The story of a clever girl who by her skilful telling of stories averts an evil threatening her or her father or both of them. Of these three parts only the third one seems to have belonged to the original frame-work story, as indicated by al-Mas`udi and by the Fihrist; in it, then, only the cruel king, the clever daughter of the vizier and her true old nurse were known. It is probable that the story of the clever daughter of the vizier came at an early date from India to Persia, where it was "nationalized" and combined with the other two parts of the frame-story. A number of tales in the Nights are of Indian origin: such are the stories of pious men that remind us of Buddhist and Jainist saints, the fables of animals, the story-cycles of Sindbad [q.v.] the Wise, and of djali`ad and Shimas. Indian motifs are to be found in different passages of the Nights: such are, e.g., the Story of the Magic Horse; the poisoning by means of the leaves of a book (by the physician Duban), a practice which points to Indian customs (cf. Gildemeister, Scriptorum Arabum De Rebus Indicis loci et opuscula, BonnK1838, 89). All this passed through Persian before it reached the Arabs.

Quite a number of tales are of Persian origin, especially those fairy-tales in which the ghosts and the fairies act independently; see above. The tales which Oestrup enumerates as being of Indian-Persian origin are the following: 1) The Story of the Magic Horse; 2) The Story of Hasan of Basra; 3) The Story of Sayf al-Muluk; 4) The Story of Kamar al-Zaman and of Princess Budur; 5) The Story of Prince Badr and of Princess djawhar of Samandal; 6) The Story of Ardashir and Hayat al-Nufus. And according to him the relation between the Story of `Ali Shar and the Persian original, the former containing many details which recur in the probably later narrative of Nur al-Din `Ali and the Girdle-girl, also to be found in the Nights, is uncertain. The Story of the Jealous Sisters and the Story of Ahmad and Pari Banu that are found only in Galland give a strong impression of being originally Persian, but Persian prototypes of them have not become known as yet.

Baghdad is situated in the region of ancient Babylonia: it is, therefore, probable that ancient Babylonia ideas should survived there until Islamic times and might be reflected in the Nights. Even a whole story, the Story of Haykar the Wise, which in some MSS appears as a part of the Nights, is of Old Mesopotamian origin; it probably dates back to the 7th century B.C., and it found its way through the Jewish and Christian literatures into Arabic literature. Khidr the Ever-Youthful, has a Babylonian prototype; the journeys of Bulukiya and the water of life fetched by Prince Ahmad may reflect motifs of the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh. But Khidr and the water of life were probably transmitted to the Arabs by the Romance of Alexander, and the journeys of Bulukiya became known to them through Jewish literature. Above all, the frequent anecdotes about the `Abbasid caliphs and their court and also some anecdotes about their subjects belong to the Baghdad recension of the Nights. The Story of Sindbad [q.v.] the Sailor found its definite shape probably in Baghdad, the romance of `Umar b. al-Nu`man [q.v.] contains Persian, Mesopotamian and Syrian materials; the romance of `Adjib and Gharib points to Mesopotamia and to Persia; the story of the clever slave-girl Tawaddud [q.v.] originated in Baghdad and was in some respects reshaped in Egypt. The Stories of Bulukiya, of Sindbad [q.v.] the Wise, and of djali`ad and Wird Khan were certainly known in Baghdad. But there is no certain proof that all these tales were parts of the Baghdad recension. The same is to be said of the four stories of the Istanbul MS found by H. Ritter (see above); it contains four of our Nights stories but does not refer to Alf Layla wa-Layla. These stories are: 1) The Story of the Six Men, i.e. of the six brothers of the barber of Baghdad; 2) The Story of djullanar the Sea-girl; 3) The Story of Budur and `Umayr b. djubayr; 4) The Story of Abu Muhammad the Slothful.

Egyptian origin is to be postulated of the stories in which the tricks of clever theives and rogues are related, of the tales in which the ghosts and demons appear as servants of talismans and of magic objects, and of stories that might be called "bourgeois novels", some of which resemble modern romances of adultery. All these stories date, of course, in their present form from the time of the Mamluk sultans and of Turkish rule in Egypt. But some of the motifs go back to Ancient Egypt. The clever rogue `Ali al-Zaybak and his companion Ahmad al-Danaf have their prototype in the bold condottiere Amasis, and the treasure of Rhampsinit is found in the story of `Ali al-Zaybak, as Noldeke pointed out. The monkey-scribe in the story of the three dames of Baghdad may have his prototype in Thot, the scribe of the Egyptian gods who is often represented as a monkey, or in Hanuman the monkey-leader of the Indian Ramayana. It has also been suggested that the ancient story of the Egyptian shipwrecked person is to be connected with Sindbad's journeys, and that the story of the capture of Jaffa by Egyptian warriors hidden in sacks recurs in the story of `Ali Baba; but these connections are not very likely; see Littmann, Tausendundeine Nacht in der arabischen Literatur, 22.

For possible Greek influences in the Nights see von Grunebaum, Medieval Islam, Chicago 1946, Chapter Nine, Greece in the Arabian Nights.

The various literary genres.

It remains to give a summary account of the different classes of literature represented in the Nights; it is here, of course, impossible to mention every one of all the stories, as has been done in the Anhang to Littmann's translation. There six main groups were distinguished: 1) Fairy-tales; 2) Romances and novels; 3) Legends; 4) Didactic stories; 5) Humorous tales; 6) Anecdotes. A few examples of each group must suffice here.


The frame-story consists of three Indian fairy-tales. The tales which come first in all manuscripts (The Merchant and the djinni; The Fisherman and the djinni; The Porter; The Three Calenders and the Three Dames in Baghdad; The Hunchback) belong to this class; they are themselves examples of the frame-work system and contain some traits which remind us of Indian prototypes and even of some motifs which have parallels in stories from farther east. The best known fairy-tales are those of `Ala" al-Din and the Magic Lamp and `Ali Baba. Other examples are Kamar al-Zaman and Budur, The Jealous Sisters, Prince Ahmad and Pari Banu, Sayf al-Muluk, Hasan al-Basri, Zayn al-Asnam.

2. The longest romance is that of `Umar b. al-Nu`man [q.v.] and his Sons; it has been discussed by Paret (Der Ritterroman von `Umar an-Nu`man, Tübingen 1927), and by H. Gregoire and R. Goossens (ZDMG 1934, 213: Byzantinisches Epos und arabischer Ritterroman). The Story of `Adjib and Gharib is the model of an Islamic popular romance. The stories of the Porter and the Three Dames, of `Ala" al-Din Abu 'l-Shamat, of Nur al-Din and Shams al-Din, of Nur al-Din and Maryam the Girdle-girl might be called "bourgeois" romances or novels, as also the story of Abu Kir and Abu ‘Sir.

Here the love-stories may be added. There are a great many of them in the Nights, and they comprise three groups: a) ancient Arabian life before Islam; b) urban life in Baghdad and Basra, love-affairs with girls or slave-girls in the cities or in the palace of the caliphs; c) love-novels from Cairo which are sometimes frivolous and lascivious. See Paret, Früharabische Liebesgeschichten, Bern 1927.

Also the stories of rogues and of seafarers are to be mentioned here. For `Ali al-Zaybak see above; many short stories of the guardians are told before the rulers of Egypt. The famous story of Sindbad [q.v.] the Sailor is based on a book The Wonders of India, which contained adventures and sailors' yarns collected by a Persian sea captain at Basra in the 10th century. The first part of the story of Abu Muhammad the Slothful is composed of sailors' stories and motifs of fairy-tales.


There are a few ancient Arabian legends inserted in the Nights: Hatim al-Ta`i, Iram the City of Columns; The Brass City; The City of Lebta, which refers to the conquest of North-western Africa by the Arabs. Other legends refer to pious men and women, among them to pious Israelites (these need not necessarily be due to Jewish authors); the legend of The Pious Prince, who was a son of Harun al-Rashid and became a dervish, is reminiscent of the famous legend of Alexius.


Didactic stories, fables and parables, especially of animals, are known to many peoples and have found their way into the Nights also, where most of them seem to have originated in India, as e.g. the two long cycles of Sindbad [q.v.] the Wise (Syntipas) and of djali`ad and Wird Khan, and many of the fables of animals, but they were sometimes remodelled in their Arabic forms. The long story of the clever slave-girl Tawaddud [q.v.] (in Spain la doncella Teodor, in Abyssinia Tauded) with its probable Greek prototype correctly discusssed by Horovitz belongs in this category.


Humorous tales are the stories of Abu 'l-Hasan or the Sleeper Awakened, of Khalifa the Fisherman, of dja`far the Barmakid and the Old Bedouin, and of `Ali the Persian; the latter is a typical story of lies. In the stories of Ma`ruf the Cobbler and of the Hunchback there are many humorous traits.

6. The group of anecdotes comprises here all the stories that are not classified in the preceding groups. Collections of anecdotes are the stories of the Hunchback and of the Barber and his Brothers, and they are combined to a comedy of great style. The other anecdotes are to be divided into three groups: those of rulers and their circles, those of munificent men, those taken from general human life. Those of rulers begin with Alexander the Great and end with the Mamluk sultans: a few of them refer to the Persian kings, a very large number of them refer to the `Abbasid caliphs, above all to Harun al-Rashid who became the ideal ruler in the opinion of later Muslims. Some of these anecdotes may not originate from Baghdad but from Egypt where they were ascribed to him. The munificent men about whom the Nights tell are mainly Hatim al-Ta`i, Ma`n b. Za`ida and the Barmakids. The anecdotes from general human life are of several kinds: they tell of rich and poor, of young and old, of sexual abnormities (Wardan and the Woman with the Bear; The Princess and the Monkey), of bad eunuchs, of unjust and of clever judges, of stupid schoolmasters (a type known in Greek and Roman literature as well as in modern Egyptian Arabic tales). The Nocturnal Adventure of the Caliph transmitted only by Galland contains three long anecdotes told at large and intermingled with motifs from fairy-tales.

There are about 1420 poems or fragments of poetry in the 2nd Calcutta edition, according to Horovitz (in Festschrift Sachau, Berlin 1915, 375-9) Of these a number of 170 repetitions must be deducted, so 1250 insertions of poetry remain. Horovitz has been able to prove that those insertions whose authors he could discover are to be dated from the 12th to the 14th centuries, i.e. from the Egyptian period of the history of the Nights. These poems and verses are mostly of the kind that they might be omitted without disturbing the course of the prose texts, and, therefore, have been later added to them.
(E. Littmann*)

Has been given in the course of the article. Here special attention should be called to Oestrup's Studier and their annotated translation by Rescher (see above), to N. Elisseeff, Themes et Motifs des Mille et Une Nuits, Beirut 1949, and to the full bibliography given by Brockelmann, II, 72-4, S II, 59-63. For the influence of the Arabian Nights on European literature cf. The legacy of Islam, 199 ff. Cassel's Encyclopedia of literature, s.v.

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Source: from the Encyclopedia of Islam --© 1999 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands