Arabian Nights

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Arabian nights manuscript.

The Arabian Nights (also: The Thousand and One Nights) is a collection of stories that originated in the Middle East in medieval times. The stories are set in Baghdad during the reign of Caliph Haroun-al-Raschid. The originals are in Persian.

In English translation, they captured the imagination of the Western world, particularly in the Victorian era. John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote that "I used to wish the Arabian tales were true: my imagination ran on unknown influences, on magical powers, and talismans."

Among the stories, the Arabian Nights includes the famous stories of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves," "Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp," and "The Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor." Images of flying carpets and genies in bottles—and the idea of Baghdad as a glittering, cosmopolitan romantic city—come from the Arabian Nights. (The writer O. Henry in particular was fond of comparing his 1900s New York to the Baghdad of the Arabian Nights).

The framing story of the collection concerns a cruel king and a brave woman named Scheherazade[1] The king has been disappointed by his first wife, and decides to take revenge on all women. He marries a new woman each day, beheads her the next day, and marries another. Scheherazade decides to stop him. She marries him herself, and, every night, tells him part of a wonderful story. Each night, she breaks off at a "cliffhanger" moment in the story. Each day the king decides to let her live another day so that he can hear what happens next. Of course, whenever a story ends, she begins another. The king continues to let her live, day after day. Her stories emphasize kindness and morality. After one thousand and one nights, under Scheherazade's influence the king gradually mellows, realizes that not all women are bad, and makes Scheherazade his queen.

In music

Scheherazade is the title and subject of a very popular symphonic suite by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov. It is a musical depiction of Scheherazade's stories.

Notes

  1. Pronounced "sha-HEHR-a-ZOD"

External Links

The Thousand Nights and a Night in several classic translations
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