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The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights: Volume 2

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The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights: Volume 2




  MALCOLM C. LYONS, sometime Sir Thomas Adams Professor of Arabic at Cambridge University and a life Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge, is a specialist in the field of classical Arabic Literature. His published works include the biography Saladin: The Politics of the Holy War, The Arabian Epic: Heroic and Oral Storytelling, Identification and Identity in Classical Arabic Poetry and many articles on Arabic literature.

  URSULA LYONS, formerly an Affiliated Lecturer at the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Cambridge University and, since 1976, an Emeritus Fellow of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, specializes in modern Arabic literature.

  ROBERT IRWIN is the author of For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and Their Enemies, The Middle East in the Middle Ages, The Arabian Nights: A Companion and numerous other specialized studies of Middle Eastern politics, art and mysticism. His novels include The Limits of Vision, The Arabian Nightmare, The Mysteries of Algiers and Satan Wants Me.

  Volume 2

  Nights 295 to 719

  Translated by MALCOLM C. LYONS,


  Introduced and Annotated by ROBERT IRWIN



  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

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  (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)

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  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England


  Translation of Nights 295 to 719 copyright © Malcolm C. Lyons, 2008

  Translation of alternative version of ‘The seventh journey of Sindbad’

  copyright © Ursula Lyons, 2008

  Introduction and Glossary copyright © Robert Irwin, 2008

  All rights reserved

  The moral right of the translators and editor has been asserted

  Text illustrations design by Coralie Bickford-Smith; images: Gianni Dagli Orti/Turkish and

  Islamic Art Museum, Istanbul/The Art Archive

  Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

  ISBN: 978-0-14-194352-7

  Editorial Note


  The Arabian Nights: Nights 295 to 719



  The ‘Abbasid Caliphate in the Ninth Century

  Baghdad in the Ninth Century

  Cairo in the Fourteenth Century

  Index of Nights and Stories

  This new English version of The Arabian Nights (also known as The Thousand and One Nights) is the first complete translation of the Arabic text known as the Macnaghten edition or Calcutta II since Richard Burton’s famous translation of it in 1885–8. A great achievement in its time, Burton’s translation nonetheless contained many errors, and even in the 1880s his English read strangely.

  In this new edition, in addition to Malcolm Lyons’s translation of all the stories found in the Arabic text of Calcutta II, Ursula Lyons has translated the tales of Aladdin and Ali Baba, as well as an alternative ending to ‘The seventh journey of Sindbad’, from Antoine Galland’s eighteenth-century French. (For the Aladdin and Ali Baba stories no original Arabic text has survived and consequently these are classed as ‘orphan stories’.)

  The text appears in three volumes, each with an introduction, which, in Volume 1, discusses the strange nature of the Nights; in Volume 2, their history and provenance; and, in Volume 3, the influence the tales have exerted on writers through the centuries. Volume 1 also includes an explanatory note on the translation, a note on the text and an introduction to the ‘orphan stories’ (‘Editing Galland’), in addition to a chronology and suggestions for further reading. Footnotes, a glossary and maps appear in all three volumes.

  As often happens in popular narrative, inconsistencies and contradictions abound in the text of the Nights. It would be easy to emend these, and where names have been misplaced this has been done to avoid confusion. Elsewhere, however, emendations for which there is no textual authority would run counter to the fluid and uncritical spirit of the Arabic narrative. In such circumstances no changes have been made.

  The medieval Arabic story collection of Alf Layla wa-Layla, or the Thousand and One Nights, is best known in English as The Arabian Nights. It is reasonable to ask how old this classic work of Oriental fiction is, who wrote or compiled it and how many stories it contains. But such questions are almost impossible to answer. The collection was put together in a haphazard, unpoliced fashion over many centuries.

  In the opening story which frames all the other stories in the Nights, the monarch Shahriyar, who has been sexually betrayed by his wife, cuts off her head and, thereafter, he takes a different virgin to bed every night and has her killed in the morning. In order to break the bloody cycle, Shahrazad, daughter of the king’s vizier, volunteers to give herself to Shahriyar, but, in order to avert her execution, she starts to tell a story to her sister, Dunyazad, whom she has brought with her into Shahriyar’s bedroom. Shahrazad leaves her story unfinished at the break of dawn, and Shahriyar spares her life in order to hear the rest. And so things proceed, with Shahrazad finishing one tale only to start a new one. This goes on night after night until, after a thousand and one nights, Shahriyar repents of his decision to have her killed.

  This frame story of a clever bride telling stories to a jealous king in order to prolong her life goes back to a lost Sanskrit original dating from no later than the eighth century. At some point, stories from this Indian story collection were translated into Pahlavi Persian. The tenth-century Arab polymath al-Mas‘udi refers to the Persian version, which was called Hezar Afsaneh, ‘A Thousand Stories’. We do not know what was in this story collection. Although the Sasanian Persians seem to have had an extensive literature of entertainment, no examples have survived in their original Persian form. However, it seems likely that the stories of the Hezar Afsaneh were mostly didactic fables, often adapted from Indian originals (as was the case with the famous collection of animal stories known as the Fables of Bidpai). Such stories of the mirrors-for-princes kind gave guidance on good government and right conduct. The early Persian prototype of The Arabian Nights was probably a bit boring, and the wilder tales of marvels, monsters and mutilations were likely to have been the later inventions of Arab storytellers.

  The Persian stories of Hezar Afsaneh, probably quite small in number, were in turn
translated and adapted for an Arab audience. A ninth-century paper fragment of the opening page of the Nights survives (its title is Kitab Hadith Alf Layla, or ‘The Book of the Tale of One Thousand Nights’) but, though it features an early version of Shahrazad telling stories to her sister, the plot device of telling stories to prolong a life does not appear. However, Ibn Nadim’s tenth-century discursive catalogue of books, the Fihrist (or ‘Index’), mentions the story collection which he says derived from a Persian original, and he does give the frame story of Shahrazad telling stories for her life. Although he claims to have seen complete manuscripts of The Thousand and One Nights, he says that these comprised less than two hundred stories.

  The oldest substantial surviving Arabic version of the Nights is a three-volume manuscript that today is in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. It seems to have been put together in Syria in the late fifteenth century. It was this manuscript which formed the basis of the epoch-making translation into French by Antoine Galland (1646–1715), an antiquarian who had spent years in Istanbul studying the various positions on the Eucharist taken by the Eastern Christian churches. He also collected old coins and other antiquities for the Royal Library (later to become the Bibliothèque Nationale) and the Cabinet des Médailles (a collection of coins, medals and antiquities that belonged to the French king). In the course of Galland’s sojourns in the Middle East in the years 1670–75, 1675–6 and 1679–88, he had become fluent in Arabic, Persian and Turkish.

  Back in France, Galland settled in Caen and published a number of scholarly works. He also assisted the Orientalist Barthélemy d’Herbelot in compiling the Bibliothèque orientale, a monumental work of reference mostly devoted to Islamic culture that was finally published in 1697. Around 1698, Galland translated the stories of ‘Sindbad of the sea’. Then someone told him that the Sindbad stories were part of a much larger collection. This, he eventually decided, must be a longer version of the Arabic story collection known as Alf Layla wa-Layla, or, as he translated it, Les Mille et une nuits. (In fact, no early Arabic manuscripts of the Nights contain the Sindbad stories. They are found only in later manuscripts that were influenced by Galland’s choices.) He used a Syrian manuscript of the Nights, though there are occasional instances of Egyptian vocabulary and turns of phrase in the text. This manuscript, which Galland bought from a friend in Paris and which ended up in the Royal Library, is, as already noted, the oldest substantial, surviving manuscript of the Nights. (The manuscript Galland worked from was probably in four volumes, but the fourth volume has since been lost.) There is no such thing as a canonical text of the Nights with a fixed number of stories in a fixed order.

  The surviving three volumes of the manuscript translated by Galland contained only thirty-five and a half stories and the number of breaks within the stories into nights was well short of a thousand and one. Though he was convinced that there must be a longer manuscript of the Nights, Galland was unable to lay his hands on one. Therefore, in order to satisfy public demand, he added stories which had been told to him by a Syrian informant. These stories, the so-called ‘orphan stories’, include ‘Ali Baba’ and ‘Aladdin’. There are no Arabic originals for them (though Arabic versions purporting to be the originals were produced by forgers in the nineteenth century). Galland also added the previously published Sindbad stories. In addition, in order to plump out his collection, he seems to have drawn on one or more Egyptian manuscripts of the Nights.

  Galland probably intended that his translation Les Mille et une nuits (1704–17) should serve as a sort of sequel to d’Herbelot’s Bibliothèque orientale. The stories offered fantasy and diversion, but edification also: ‘They should also please by what they reveal of the manners and customs of Orientals, of their religious ceremonies, both pagan and Mohammedan; and these subjects are better brought out than in the authors who have written about them or in travellers’ narratives.’ Thus Galland claimed that he had tried to preserve the authentic way the Orientals spoke and felt – at least in so far as was compatible with bienséance (decorum). In fact, Galland’s translation was elegant and courtly, as the conventions of eighteenth-century literature demanded. It was also heavily glossed; Galland, instead of using footnotes, sometimes explained Oriental practices within the text of his translation. Also, in cases where it seemed appropriate to him, he exaggerated the magnificence of palaces, royal robes and jewellery.

  Muhsin Mahdi, the Harvard professor who in the 1980s edited the Galland manuscript of the Nights in the Bibliothèque Nationale, is particularly critical of the liberties that the Frenchman took with his translation:

  Abandoning the generally lean structure and fast movement of the original in order to create a more prudish, sentimental, moralistic, romantic, or glamorous atmosphere, he was apparently willing to pay a heavy price to make his Nuits popular. All this, along with his frequently imperfect understanding or misunderstanding of the Arabic original and inexplicable significant omissions, reflects poorly on his knowledge of the language he was trying to translate, acquaintance with the habits and the customs of the Orientals he was trying to explain and art as a storyteller.

  Be that as it may, precisely that quality of Galland’s stories – ‘prudish, sentimental, moralistic, romantic, or glamorous’ – made them a great hit with the French reading public. More specifically, they appealed in the first instance to the ladies of the court and the salons. Galland had dedicated both the translations of the Sindbad stories and Les Mille et une nuits to the Marquise d’O, a lady in the service of the Duchess of Burgundy, and both these women took an interest in promoting his translations. Galland’s earliest readers were mostly adult, highly cultured and female. This was an age when women presided over literary salons (an age which the cultural historian Jean Starobinski has characterized as that of ‘the fictitious ascendancy of women’). Before Galland, Charles Perrault had won acclaim with the same audience when he published his Contes (1691–5), a collection of folk tales, including such famous stories as ‘Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Bluebeard’ and ‘Cinderella’, which were rewritten by him in an elegantly mock-simple style.

  Earlier, Perrault had launched the fiercely debated ‘Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns’, by claiming that seventeenth-century France had reached a higher level of civilization than that of ancient Greece and Rome. He attacked the ancients and, most specifically, Homer for barbarousness. Perrault’s fairy stories had been collected and stylishly rewritten as a demonstration that there could be a distinctively modern French literary culture that owed little or nothing to classical precepts. Moreover, the fairy stories with his added glosses were, he claimed, more moral than most of the stories found in ancient Greek and Latin literature. Galland’s collection of stories was similarly admired for the fresh repertoire of plots, settings and characters that it provided. ‘Read Sinbad and you will be sick of Aeneas,’ the Gothic novelist Horace Walpole urged. Galland, like Perrault, wished to moralize and, in a prefatory note to his translation, he expressed the hope that those who read his stories would be ready to profit from the examples of the virtues and vices found in them.

  Galland’s French volumes were rapidly translated into English. The first English translation of the early volumes of Les Mille et une nuits seems to have been published London in 1708 in chapbook form. (A chapbook is a book or pamphlet of popular stories of the kind originally sold by pedlars.) For a long time, English readers were content with this translation of a translation. Only in the years 1838–41 did a three-volume translation appear, taken directly from the Arabic by Edward William Lane (1801–76). Lane, a distinguished Arabist, had spent many years in Cairo. On his return to England in 1836, he published his famous quasi-encyclopedic survey Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians. Lane seems to have intended his subsequent translation of the Nights to serve as a kind of supplement to this book. His translation was brought out by the same publisher, the Society for the Propagation of Useful Knowledge, and it was therefore aimed at a wide market. In his translation
, the text of the Nights served as a pretext for lengthy and numerous footnotes explaining yet more aspects of the manners and customs of the Egyptians and Muslims more generally. The specially commissioned illustrations, executed by William Harvey, a well-known engraver who had been the favourite pupil of Thomas Bewick, and closely supervised by Lane, were almost as important to the essentially educational enterprise as were the footnotes.

  Lane translated the Arabic into an antiquated, mock-biblical prose. Since he was even more prudish than Galland, his translation was heavily bowdlerized and some stories were omitted altogether on the grounds of indecency. Yet other stories were omitted because Lane claimed to find them too fantastical, vulgar or silly. But the truth seems to have been that the heavily illustrated text, which appeared in weekly instalments before being issued in three bound volumes, was losing money, and Lane was coming under pressure from his publisher to bring the unprofitable enterprise to a speedy end.

  Lane translated from the Bulaq text, whereas this new Penguin translation by Malcolm Lyons has been made from Calcutta II. What do Bulaq and Calcutta II refer to? By the time Lane had begun his translation, several Arabic printed texts of the Nights were available. Of these the most important were first, a two-volume translation published in Calcutta by the College of Fort William for Oriental Languages in 1814 and 1818 (known to scholars as Calcutta I), and secondly the Bulaq edition (so called after the port suburb of Cairo), published in two volumes in 1835. Lane chose to work from the more recently published Bulaq text, which seems to have been based primarily on an eighteenth-century Egyptian manuscript.

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