Story History
The First European edition of the Thousand and One Nights was in French. The translator was Antoine Galland. His publication came out between the years 1704 and 1717 A.D.(1) This French version was titled Les Milles et une Nuits and consisted of twelve volumes.(2) The English translation of this French version is what is annotated at this site. You will find that the text is very simple(3), as compared to the English translation by Richard F. Burton. Comparisons between Galland's text and Burton's text can be viewed by clicking on the "Burton" hyperlinks included in the text.

Galland was a antiquarian, numismatist, and student of Oriental languages, so when he acquired the manuscript of the Thousand and One Nights, he became the first person to translate it into a Western language. It is said that he fell under the spell of the title, Thousand and one Nights, and waited for many years to retrieve the entire manuscript. He was, of course, expecting there to be 1001 stories. However, he was sorely disappointed and did not receive a manuscript of 1001 stories. So, it is highly likely that he invented many of his own, French tales, that appeared to have been translated from the Arabic original.(4)

Galland was not the only translator of the Thousand and One Nights. Following his French version, there was another French version, 3 English versions (of which Edward William Lane and Richard F. Burton are the most famous), 3 in German, and 1 in Spanish.(5)

As for the framework of the story, it is made up of many different stories. The general framework, or vehicle, of the stories, is centered around Scheherazade's mission to stop the king from putting the women of his kingdom to death.(6) (To learn more, read King Schahriar and His Brother) Her goal is to keep the king so entertained by her stories that he will spare her life, thereby sparing the lives of the women of the kingdom. To do this, she tells tale after tale, stopping just before dawn of each day, leaving the tales unfinished. She is able to lure the king into a three year reprieve that equals 1001 nights. (7) Some other example of this type of Framework tale are Boccaccio's Decameron, Margaret of Navarre's Heptamerone, and Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.(8)


Title History
The Arabic title of this story Alf Laylah wa Laylah literally translates into English as A Thousand Nights and a Night, more commonly known as the Arabian Nights.(9) When Galland first translated the text, he changed the title to Arabian Nights Entertainments, probably in an attempt to appeal to the French Courts' taste for exotic delights. (10)

The title of Thousand and One Nights is very enchanting to translators and readers alike. The ancient Egyptians used the hieroglyph which stood for 1000 to mean "all." Therefore, 1000 + 1 would be the maximum number imaginable, or infinity.(11) This is reminiscent of a common English expression "forever and a day," used to mean an unimaginable amount of time, or infinity. So to call this work Thousand and One Nights is to say that the stories will go on until infinity, or countless nights, endless nights. (12)

There are two other interpretations of the reasons for choosing Thousand and One Nights for the title. The first is that in Islamic society, 1001 stand for the new era. For Muslims, the millennium has a particular appeal for the masses because they believe that each thousandth year will bring the mahdi, or redeemer. With the mahdi comes a new era of justice and benevolence. So, we see with Scheherazade, that one the first day after a thousand, she has successfully ended the reign of terror posed by King Schahriar.

We can also turn to the binary system to find reasoning behind this title. 1001 in binary represents the number 9 in the decimal system. In medieval Islam, 9 was considered to be a magical number. One of the riddles posed by Balqis, Queen of Sheeba, to King Solomon dealt with the significance of the number nine. King Solomon was able to figure out that it represented the period of time in which a woman is pregnant (9 months).(13)


Title Page
Foreward
King Schahriar and His Brother
The Story of the Fisherman
The Husband and the Parrot
Bibliography
Links