Historical origins of the 1,001 Nights?

Hello there :slight_smile: . I have one for all the social historians.

Last night I was having a discusion with someone about racial stereotyping in Disney films and Aladdin came up. In the course of the discussion my buddy mentioned as an aside that he had heard that the Aladdin stories from 1,001 Nights were Chinese in origin. He had no cite and wasn’t definite about it - Just something he had picked up somewhere.

So does anybody know if there is any truth to this?

For that matter, what are the origins of 1,001 Nights? I know it’s a hodgepodge of tales -But are most Persian in origin ( I would assume so )? Indian? How many are Pre-Islamic ( None? A few? Many? Most? )?

When was it more or less definitively collated? For some reason I always associate it with the Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid. Any truth to that, or is it just some brain-fart on my part?

I can think of two famous Ala’ad-Din’s off the top of my head. The son of the Khwarizm Shah, Jalal ad-Din, who was famous as a anti-Mongol resistance leader. And the famously paranoid ( but highly effective ) Sultan of Delhi from the Khalji dynasty. But both of those are relatively late ( and were Turkish ), 12th and 13th century respectively, I think. Can anyone think of any more?

Finally does anyone have a good cite ( book or article ) they can point me towards for scholarly information on this topic?

Thanks in advance :slight_smile: .

  • Tamerlane

I don’t know much about this topic, but here’s at least one book:
The Arabian Nights, translated by Husain Haddawy, based on the text of the 14th-century Syrian manuscript edited by Muhsin Mahdi (ISBN 0-679-41338-3, July 1992).

If I recall correctly for the introduction of this work the author claims that most of the later additions, such as Sinband the Sailor are Indian folktales.

There is an old penguin publication of pre-Islamic Arabic tales that are quite funny, but of course I can’t find the reference right now. I’ll try and remember to dig it out tonight and post on Monday.

Good grief- what do you feed your brain? Mine certainly doesn’t fart like that!

The book I was trying to remember is The Book of Dede Korkut. It’s available on amazon.com, but if you drop the title into a good search engine you will get some English translation of the stories for free.

Good luck in your search and I’m sorry I cannot be more help.

BTW, smaft, the more you read the more productive your brain farts will be.

The Book of Dede Korkut is a collection of pre-Islamic Turkish tales. They have nothing to do with the Arabian Nights.

The Alf Laylah wa-Laylah, as the Arabs call it, is built up of several layers added at various stages in history, over the course of about a thousand years. The origin of it was a corpus of Indian tales similar to the Pañcatantra (which was also translated into Arabic as Kalilah wa-Dimnah. Here was where the device of the frame story came from; the Indian frame story was adapted with Islamic names to form the Arabian Nights frame story with Shahrazâd and King Shahryâr. The Indian tales formed the core around which the rest of the collection coalesced. Their date is unknown, but my guess is they probably go back to around the 7th century or earlier.

The next layer came from early Islamic Persia; its earliest version was known in the 8th century, when it was already being translated into Arabic. Probably this is where Shahrazâd’s frame story took its present shape (the names in it are Persian). The earliest mention of the Arabian Nights in Arabic bibliographies was in the 10th century.

The next layer came from Baghdad, and these are the stories where Hârûn al-Rashîd appears. There are a lot more of these than in the Indian and Persian strata.

The next stories are from Cairo, and this is the biggest layer of all, dating to around the 12th century. The latest additions reflect the wars against the Crusaders and also added some tales brought by the Mongols (this is where the Chinese element would have come from).

If you can, read the Richard Burton translation of the Alf Laylah wa Laylah. A lot f purists hate his translation (including the folks at Penguin books), bt reading it is, to me, an unalloyed joy. One reason for this is his system of footnotes which frequently take u more space on the page than the text they’re explaining (and in smaller type, yet). Burton’s translation is LONG and unexpurgated. (Surprisingly, for something we think of as a kid’s book, it is filled with racy material).

“Aladdin” is not in the 1001 nights proper. Burton puts it in “The Supplemental Nights” volumes that follows the conclusion of the tale. (In other words, the original book is actually divided into 1001 “chapters” plus a framing story, with the start of each night noted. “Aladdin” doesn’t take place during any of those 1001 nights.) The story is, in the body of the tale itself, said to take place in China. But this may only be a way for a Persian stryteller to say t took place “a long way from here.” I don’t know of anyone who’s ever said it was originally a Chinese story. (The evil magician who passes himself off as the uncle is said to be from North Africa.) The story really is worth reading, because it is a complex story with some depth to it. Aladdin really does start off as a good-for-nothing (unlike virtually every screen version of the tale) who is slowly transformed by the newfound power the lamp gives him into a good person – as eloquent a denial of the dage that “Power Corrupts”. He slowly learns how NOT to be “taken” by the pawnbrokers and how to “wish” effectively, and how to respect others as well as himself. I highly recommend it.

which was begun on the seven hundred and thirty-first night, intoduces the character as

The tale lasted until the seven hundred and seventy-fourth night.

*[sub] Source: The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night, translated by Mardrus & Mathers, Published by Dingwall-Rock, Ltd., 1930, vol. 6[/sub]