One Thousand and One Nights (Arabic: أَلْف لَيْلَة وَلَيْلَة, Alf layla wa-layla) or the Arabian Nights, is a collection of folk tales from the Middle East. Some of the tales are set in distant lands, such as Egypt, India or even China.
The tales became widespread in the Western world from the 18th century, and helped to shape a romanticized view of Islamic culture. Several of the tales, including Aladdin and the Magic Lamp, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and the voyages of Sinbad the Sailor, have been made into films and television series.
There are multiple versions in several Middle Eastern languages and several different translations into Western languages. Though it is generally called the Arabian Nights, not all the stories are Arabian in origin; the original collection, now lost but believed to be the ancestor of all the others, was in Persian, translated to Arabic in the 10th century. Some of the tales are originally Indian and some scholars believe the whole collection originated in India. The translations are generally based on later collections in Arabic, but some include additional tales not found in the Arabic versions.
Project Gutenberg has tens of thousands of books for free, legal (copyright has expired) download, including multiple translations of the Arabian Nights.
The main frame story concerns Shahryār (from Middle Persian šahr-dār, "holder of realm"), whom the narrator calls a "Sasanian king" ruling in "India and China". Shahryār is shocked to learn that his brother's wife is unfaithful; discovering that his own wife's infidelity has been even more flagrant, he has her killed. In his bitterness and grief, he decides that all women are the same. Shahryār begins to marry a succession of virgins only to execute each one the next morning, before she has a chance to dishonor him.
Finally, the Grand Vizier's daughter Sheherezade offers herself for marriage. In the night, she begins telling him a tale. She withholds the end of the story and offers to tell it the following night. Shahryār lets her live the next day to hear the end of the story. As she tells the end, she tells Shahryār a new story, saving the end for another night. He spares her life for 1001 nights, and implicitly forever.
1001 Nights is credited to have introduced many literary tropes, such as the frame story and the cliffhanger. The tales vary widely: they include historical tales, love stories, tragedies, comedies, poems, burlesques, and various forms of erotica. Numerous stories depict jinns, ghouls, apes, sorcerers, magicians, and legendary places, which are often intermingled with real people and geography, not always rationally. Common protagonists include the historical Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid, his Grand Vizier, Jafar al-Barmaki, and the famous poet Abu Nuwas, despite the fact that these figures lived some 200 years after the fall of the Sassanid Empire, in which the frame tale of Sheherezade is set. Sometimes a character in Sheherezade's tale will begin telling other characters a story of his own, and that story may have another one told within it, resulting in a richly layered narrative texture.
Many of the locations in the tales are uncertain. Also, many Middle Eastern cities try to make a claim of the 1001 Nights heritage, without any certain evidence.
Some of the locations are in Iraq and other countries which are, as of the 2010s, unsafe for visitors.
- Basra, Sinbad's home port