On The 1001 Nights

On The 1001 Nights November 15, 2020

Described as “the epitome of world literature” (Horta, 2020, p. 1), everyone knows a little bit about the 1001 Nights. We all grew up knowing the stories of Aladdin, Ali Baba, and Sinbad, we know there is a certain Scheherazade who told a different tale every single night to an Arabic king, but how many of us have actually read these folk tales?

“Čehrāzād, therefore, means “of noble or exalted lineage””. Scheherazade und Sultan Schariar (1880), by Ferdinand Keller. Taken from Wikimedia Commons. Cropped.

The Basics

While it is known that the One Thousand Nights and One Night (Arabic: أَلْفُ لَيْلَةٍ وَلَيْلَةٌ‎, ʾAlf Laylah wa-Laylah) is a collection of stories, all of them are tied together by the first one, the tale between the blood-thirsty King Shahryār and the clever Scheherazade. When Shahryār discovers his wife is being unfaithful, he is changed into a different man (Burton, 1885, p. 4):

The Queen, his wife, asleep on his own carpet-bed, embracing with both arms a black cook of loathsome aspect and foul with kitchen grease and grime. When he saw this the world waxed black before his sight and he said, “If such case happen while I am yet within sight of the city what will be the doings of this damned whore during my long absence at my brother’s court?”

This caused the King to be sure all women are the same, making him marry a different maiden every day only to kill them after consummating their marriage so they wouldn’t have time to betray him. Woman after woman died because of his obsession and misogyny until he decided to put his eyes on the vizier’s daughter, Scheherazade, a well-read woman who thinks about a definite solution to end the massacre.

Before the King has a chance to execute her, she asks for a final goodbye to her sister, Dunyazad, who knows about her plan asks Scheherazade to tell them a story. As the morning comes, the new Queen leaves the tale unfinished, buying a new day of life for her. For 1001 nights, Scheherazade weaves different stories in order to stay alive, after which Shahryār is deeply in love with her and admires his wife because of her wisdom, knowledge, and cunning character.

Names also play an important role in the story and describe the role of these characters, making this a fight of powers and social classes that want to prevail above the others (Pellat, 2011):

Šahrīār is a Middle Persian name (šahr + dār) which literally means “holder of a kingdom, possessor of ruling power,” and therefore, “prince, king.” Among the class-conscious Iranians of Sasanian times, the word carried a sharply defined social significance and referred to a provincial/local ruler, ranking with the most prestigious families.

Čehrāzād, another Middle Persian name, is composed of čehr, “lineage,” and āzād (going back to Av. āzāta-, which originally meant “agnate, born [into a family with full rights]” and eventually came to mean “noble, exalted”). In Sasanian Persia, āzād referred to the nobility as a whole, as against the slaves and the non-citizen freeborn, and it also designated the lower echelon of the nobility, mostly landed gentry (see Camb. Hist. Iran III, pp. 644ff.). Čehrāzād, therefore, means “of noble or exalted lineage.”

Dīnāzād, which also appears in the manuscripts as Dīnārzād and Donyāzād, is almost certainly the Middle Persian *Dēnāzād, composed of dēn (Av. daēnā-), “religious consciousness or sensibilities,” which was hypostatized as a goddess, and āzād, the name therefore meaning “[the goddess] Dēn[is] exalted.”

“Finally, there is one that I’m eager to read: although considerably shorter in comparison, the only critical edition to date”. Scheherazade, (between 1850 and 1900) by Sophie Gengembre Anderson. Taken from Wikimedia Commons. Cropped.

The 1001 Translations

The earliest version of the 1001 Nights, known as the Galland Manuscript, is agreed to come from 14th or 15th century Syria. Is a three-part manuscript, although some scholars have proposed the idea of it being originally a four-part book. French orientalist and archaeologist Antoine Galland based his translation, the first to be done, on this book and on tales told by Hanna Diyab (Zipes, 2007, p. 53), a writer and storyteller from Ottoman Syria (c. 1688).

Several writers have translated and edited this collection, some adding their own style to the book, and being criticized for doing so. It is beyond my reach to speak about all of them, but there are a few that have been quite notorious. First, we have Richard Francis Burton’s 1885-8 translation in 10 volumes, considered the best one since its publication, although it was censored for the highly erotic and explicit elements on it, followed by a 6 volume supplemental edition, both collections available for free.

Le livre des mille nuits et une nuit, a 12-volume French translation of One Thousand and One Nights by J. C. Mardrus, also gained some attention on its time, being also criticized because he “took elements which were there in the original Arabic and worked them up, exaggerating and inventing, reshaping the Nights in such a manner that the stories appear at times to have been written by Oscar Wilde or Stéphane Mallarmé” (Irwin 2004, p. 37). Although the full collection in French is available for free on Google Books, I couldn’t find a full English translation of this edition.

Compared to others, the 3 volume edition of the 1001 Nights translated by Malcolm Lyons and Ursula Lyons uses a simpler, more straightforward language that could be a better option for modern readers (Kirk, 2018):

Burton has a tendency towards rambling and flowery language, using “thee”s and “thou”s to evoke an archaic tone. He deliberately chooses obscure words, using Latin whenever the chance arises. (…) The Lyons, on the other hand, take a more grounded approach. They aim for clarity and a smooth effortless reading experience. You’ll never lose the train of thought or get exhausted after reading one tale. Some might argue that the Lyons version lacks pizzazz, but others would say that they allow the words to speak for themselves.

Finally, there is one that I’m eager to read. Although considerably shorter in comparison, The Leiden Edition, prepared by Muhsin Mahdi, is the only critical edition to date (Marzolph, 2007) and is believed by Irwin to be the most stylistically faithful representation of medieval Arabic versions currently available. (Irwin, 2004) This version also includes both the original material from Syria and tales originating from Egypt.

Which edition of the 1001 Nights is the best one is open to debate depending on what the reader wants. I am only interested in reading Mahdi’s, but both Burton and the Lyons have received good opinions as far as I have seen on the internet, and I cannot deny it worries me that this translation is so brief compared to the others.


About Bader Saab
I’m an Arabic witch and journalist, also with a master’s degree about to be finished on digital research. I have worked as a book reviewer and written about pre-Islamic folklore. You can read more about the author here.

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment

63 responses to “On The 1001 Nights”

  1. Aw, this was a very nice post. In thought I want to put in writing like this additionally ?taking time and precise effort to make a very good article?however what can I say?I procrastinate alot and by no means appear to get something done.

  2. Good day! I simply want to give a huge thumbs up for the good information you’ve here on this post. I will likely be coming again to your weblog for extra soon.

  3. Can I just say what a aid to seek out somebody who truly knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You positively know how to convey an issue to mild and make it important. Extra folks must learn this and understand this aspect of the story. I cant imagine youre no more popular since you definitely have the gift.

  4. Once I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new feedback are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get 4 emails with the identical comment. Is there any method you’ll be able to take away me from that service? Thanks!

  5. My brother recommended I might like this web site. He was entirely right. This post actually made my day. You cann’t imagine simply how much time I had spent for this information! Thanks!|

  6. An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a friend who was conducting a little research on this. And he actually bought me lunch due to the fact that I found it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to discuss this matter here on your website.|

  7. A powerful share, I simply given this onto a colleague who was doing just a little analysis on this. And he actually bought me breakfast as a result of I discovered it for him.. smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the treat! However yeah Thnkx for spending the time to discuss this, I really feel strongly about it and love studying more on this topic. If doable, as you turn out to be expertise, would you thoughts updating your weblog with more particulars? It’s extremely useful for me. Huge thumb up for this blog put up!

  8. The subsequent time I learn a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as a lot as this one. I mean, I do know it was my choice to learn, however I actually thought youd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you may repair when you werent too busy in search of attention.

  9. I抦 impressed, I have to say. Really not often do I encounter a blog that抯 both educative and entertaining, and let me inform you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Your idea is outstanding; the problem is something that not enough individuals are talking intelligently about. I am very completely satisfied that I stumbled across this in my seek for one thing referring to this.

  10. Today, I went to the beachfront with my children. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is entirely off topic but I had to tell someone!|

  11. I抦 impressed, I must say. Actually not often do I encounter a blog that抯 each educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you could have hit the nail on the head. Your thought is outstanding; the problem is one thing that not sufficient people are speaking intelligently about. I’m very glad that I stumbled across this in my seek for something referring to this.

  12. This website online can be a walk-by means of for all the information you needed about this and didn抰 know who to ask. Glimpse right here, and you抣l undoubtedly discover it.

  13. I am going to go ahead and bookmark this content for my sis for the research project for school. This is a appealing website by the way. Where did you get a hold the template for this webpage?

  14. Thanks a lot in advance for your effective answer !. Really nice posting.Excellent blogger, Thank you for publishing this great post. I found it handy. Best regards !!

  15. I most usually dont post in blogs but your Blog made me, beautiful writing. just unbelievable! The content are different but your Blog and Check Free Credit Score Blog are both the best I have read to this day. Keep up the good work!!

  16. What’s up?

    I found this article very interesting…please read!

    Do you remember the blockbuster hit film The Matrix that was released in 1999? You may not know this, but it has deep spiritual implications concerning the times we are living in and Bible prophecy.

    It tells a story of how these “agents” are trying to turn us into machines. We are closer then ever before for this to become a reality when they cause us to receive an implantable microchip in our body during a time when physical money will be no more.

    You may have seen on NBC news concerning the implantable RFID microchip that some people are getting put in their hand to make purchases, but did you know this microchip matches perfectly with prophecy in the Bible?

    “He (the false prophet who deceives many by his miracles) causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name…

    You also may have heard of the legendary number “666” that people have been speculating for possibly thousands of years on what it actually means. This article shares something I haven’t seen before, and I don’t think there could be any better explanation for what it means to calculate 666. This is no hoax. Very fascinating stuff!

    …Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666″ (Revelation 13:16-18 NKJV).

    To see all the details showing why the Bible foretold of all these things, check out this article!

    Article: https://biblewoke.com/rfid-mark-of-the-beast-666-revealed

    GOD is sending out His end time warning:

    “Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name'” (Revelation 14:9-11).

    In the Islamic religion they have man called the Mahdi who is known as their messiah of whom they are waiting to take the stage. There are many testimonies from people online who believe this man will be Barack Obama who is to be the biblical Antichrist based off dreams they have received. I myself have had strange dreams about him like no other person. So much so that I decided to share this information.

    He came on stage claiming to be a Christian with no affiliation to the Muslim faith…

    “In our lives, Michelle and I have been strengthened by our Christian faith. But there have been times where my faith has been questioned — by people who don’t know me — or they’ve said that I adhere to a different religion, as if that were somehow a bad thing,” – Barack Obama

    …but was later revealed by his own family members that he indeed is a devout Muslim.

    So what’s in the name? The meaning of someones name can say a lot about a person. God throughout history has given names to people that have a specific meaning tied to their lives. How about the name Barack Obama? Let us take a look at what may be hiding beneath the surface…

    “And He (Jesus) said to them (His disciples), ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven'” (Luke 10:18).

    In the Hebrew language we can uncover the meaning behind the name Barack Obama.

    Barack, also transliterated as Baraq, in Hebrew is: lightning

    baraq – Biblical definition:

    From Strongs H1299; lightning; by analogy a gleam; concretely a flashing sword: – bright, glitter (-ing, sword), lightning. (Strongs Hebrew word H1300 baraq baw-rawk’)

    Barak ‘O’bamah, The use of bamah is used to refer to the “heights” of Heaven.

    bamah – Biblical definition:

    From an unused root (meaning to be high); an elevation: – height, high place, wave. (Strongs Hebrew word H1116 bamah baw-maw’)

    The day following the election of Barack Obama (11/04/08), the winning pick 3 lotto numbers in Illinois (Obama’s home state) for 11/5/08 were 666.

    Obama was a U.S. senator for Illinois, and his zip code was 60606.

    Seek Jesus while He may be found…repent, confess and forsake your sins and trust in the savior! Jesus says we must be born again by His Holy Spirit to enter the kingdom of God…God bless!

  17. Heya i am for the first time here. I came across this board and I to find It truly helpful & it helped me out much. I hope to give something back and aid others such as you helped me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.