is a collection of ancient Middle Eastern and South Asian short stories and folk tales. They are also known as One Thousand and One Nights
The tales were collected over many centuries by authors, translators, and scholars across Asia and North Africa. Written originally in Arabic, the collection first appeared in an English-language edition in 1706. Many different versions of the tales exist. In some, there are a few hundred tales, while in others, there are 1,001 or more stories.
Every version of Arabian Nights
features the same frame story
. A frame story is a narrative written to set the stage for a series of shorter stories. This technique helps to heighten the drama and suspense of the entire tale.
The main frame story of Arabian Nights
tells the tale of the ruler Shahryar and of Scheherazade. Shahryar discovers that both his brother's wife and his own wife have been unfaithful. He has his first wife executed. Shahryar comes to distrust all women. He becomes a bitter and grief-stricken man. He decides to marry a different virgin every day. He is such a jealous man that he has all the women executed the next morning. This way his wives will not be able to cheat and dishonor him.
His vizier, a high-ranking officer, finds him the women he marries and kills. Eventually, he cannot find any more virgins. He tells his daughter Scheherazade his troubles. She offers to be the ruler's next bride. Her father fears for his daughter's life, but he reluctantly agrees.
On her wedding night, Scheherazade knows about her murderous husband. So, she weaves an enchanting tale to entertain her husband and to keep herself alive. But she does not end the story; she leaves her husband in suspense. He cannot kill her, as he wants to know how the story ends.
Scheherazade lives until the next night. When she finishes the first tale, she immediately begins the next, and successfully lives to see another day. This process continues for hundreds or 1,001 nights, depending on the version that you read.
Scheherazade tells many different types of tale. She entertains the ruler with love stories, tragedies, comedies, poems, riddles, songs, historical tales, and erotica. Her stories often depict ghouls, magicians, and genies.
Sometimes one of Scheherazade's characters will begin telling his or her own story. This creates a layered narrative of stories within stories within stories.
Scheherazade always ends her tales with a cliffhanger
ending. In the exciting endings, heroes are in danger: they are about to die or in other deep trouble. The endings could also be the middle of a complex philosophical idea that left Shahryar wanting more information.
In all the versions of Arabian Nights
, Shahryar spares Scheherazade’s life. Depending on the version, she asks for his pardon, shows him their children, or distracts him in various ways.
The most famous stories associated with Arabian Nights
include “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor,” and “Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp.” Most of these were added by European translators and did not appear in the original Arabic version.
In “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” Ali is a poor woodcutter. He stumbles upon a den filled with treasure, hidden there by thieves. The entrance to the den is protected by magic. The only way to enter is by saying the secret phrase “Open Sesame.” The thieves find out that Ali has broken into their den and try to kill him. He is saved by his quick-thinking and faithful slave Morgiana. She plunges a dagger into the thief’s heart, killing him, and saving Ali Baba’s life. In gratitude, Ali Baba gives his son to Morgiana in marriage. Ali Baba remains the only person to know the secret of the cave and how to enter it.
In “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor,” the famous sailor Sinbad tells a poor porter about the challenges of his life on the sea. Sinbad has survived seven adventurous and dangerous voyages. Over the course of these voyages he faced shipwrecks, strange beasts, and the supernatural. The thrill and excitement of the sea kept Sinbad coming back. Finally, after seven voyages, he has decided to settle down on land with his wealth.
In “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp,” Aladdin is a poor troublemaker. A sorcerer recruits him to fetch an oil lamp from a magic cave. The sorcerer asks Aladdin to wear a magic ring for the task. Aladdin gets trapped in the cave. He inadvertently rubs the ring and a genie appears. The genie releases Aladdin, who is still carrying the lamp, from the cave, so that he can return home to his mother. His mother tries to clean the lamp so they can sell it. An even more powerful genie appears, who will do whatever the person holding the lamp desires. Aladdin uses the powerful genie and the lamp to become rich and powerful. He marries the Princess Badroulbadour and lives in a large palace.
However, the jealous sorcerer tricks the princess into giving him the lamp. He orders the genie to take all Aladdin's possessions and transport his palace to Maghreb. Aladdin uses the magic ring still in his possession to summon back the first genie. Together with the Princess, Aladdin kills the sorcerer and gets back all that is his. The sorcerer has an evil brother who plots revenge and plans to kill Aladdin. The genie warns Aladdin, who kills the evil brother. Finally, they all live happily ever after, and Aladdin takes over the throne from his father-in-law.For our full study guide on One Thousand and One Nights/Arabian Nights, click here