The Greatest Book in Arabic,the “Thousand and One Nights”,is a Copy of a pagan,pre-Islamic book from Iran
There is a Muslim affirmation that Dante,the author of “The Divine Comedy”,the greatest Italian writer and one of the greatest ever,copied his story from a Muslim book.It could be true but it is not 100% sure.Read:
“Was Dante inspired by a Muslim Book to write his Divine Comedy?”
The Greatest Book in Arabic is a Copy of a pagan,pre-Islamic book from Iran
Muslims say the greatest book in Arabic is the Koran,that is false.It is the “Thousand and One Nights”,a collection of stories.Muslims translated an Iranian book and added more stories,of that there is no doubt,unlike the case regarding Dante.
In world literature there are several famous and beloved collections of stories:
1.The Fairy Tales by Charles Perreault (1628 – 1703),the “Tales told by my Mother Goose”.
2.The Fairy Tales by the Grimm Brothers of Germany, Jacob Grimm (1785- 1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859)
3.The Fairy Tales by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875)
4.The Panchatantra (around 400 AD)
It means “Five Principles” and is in Sanskrit.The story is it was written for the education of an Indian prince.It is a collection of animal fables.
5.The Jataka Tales
It is a Buddhist book of more than 500 stories about the previous lives of the Buddha, in both human and animal form.
What is the “Thousand and One Nights”?
1.It is a collection of tales and it is often known in English as the “Arabian Nights”, from the first English translation (1706), which gave it that title.
2.It was collected over many centuries by various authors across the Middle East. The tales are Arab, Persian, Indian, and Turkish.
3.Many tales are folk stories from the Caliphate era, while the main story is from the Pahlavi Persian work “Hazār Afsān/A Thousand Tales”,which has Indian stories.
The 3 Different “Thousand and One Nights”
1.The Iranian “Thousand and One Nights”,the original book
Some even say it was written by a Persian princess,princess Homai, daughter of Artaxerxes I,( 465-424 BC) but that is not true.
2.The Arabic “Thousand and One Nights” of the Middle Ages
3.The European “Thousand and One Nights”,written by Antoine Galland (1704–1717)
Why one can say there is a European “Thousand and One Nights”
It is very different from the Arabic version since:
1.It is shorter,Galland eliminated much material.For example the Arabic version has alot of poetry and also references to Islam.It has many poems, poetic speeches, chants, songs, lamentations, hymns, praises and riddles.Galland eliminated all that.The version we have by Galland has 384 tales,not 1,001 and since often several tales are told in one night then so it is not even 300 nights of stories.
2.The most beloved stories were never in the Arabic version,they were added by Galland.He was told stories by a Syrian Christian priest called Hanna Diab.They are:
“Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp“:this is really a Chinese story,not Arab.
“Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”
“The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor”
By the way,in one the voyages Sinbad goes to an island:
1. And he and his men are trapped by a one-eyed giant, who begins eating them,day after day.
2.Finally,when he is asleep,Sinbad and the survivors pierce the eye of the giant and escape.
3.This is a European story,it is in The Odyssey of Homer,where Odysseus/Ulysees has the same adventure,it is not an Arab story.
3.The European version is the most beloved and popular.
The Story that is at the Beginning and the End of the Collection
Now both Shahryar and Scheherazade are Persian,non-Muslim,pagan names.
1.Shahryar is the Persian king and he discovers that his brother’s wife is unfaithful.Later he discovers his own wife’s infidelity with a black slave and he has her executed.
2.In his bitterness and grief he decides that all women are the same and for 3 years marries a new wife,a virgin and executes her the next morning, before she can be unfaithful.And so 1,000 are killed.
3.Then man who has to find the king a new wife is the vizier.
4.Scheherazade, the vizier’s daughter, offers to be the next bride and save more girls from being killed.On the night of their marriage, Scheherazade begins to tell the king a tale, but does not end it. The king is forced to not execute her in order to hear the conclusion. The next night, as soon as she finishes the tale, she begins a new story, and the king, eager to hear the conclusion, postpones her execution once again. So it goes on for 1,001 nights.
5.She tells many stories and after more than 3 years the king decides not to kill her.
The 10001 Nights is in Essence a Translation of a Non-Muslim,Pre-Islamic Persian Book,”Hazar Afsan”(The Thousand Tales)
1.The earliest mentions of the book refers to it as an Arabic translation from a Persian book, Hazar Afsan,which was written before Islam came to Iran.
2.In the 10th century Ibn al-Nadim wrote a book called “Fihrist” (Catalogue of books), in Baghdad,around 987. He noted that the Sassanid kings of Iran enjoyed evening tales and fables. Al-Nadim then wrote about the Persian Hazār Afsān and told the story of Shariar and Sheherazade.According to al-Nadim, who says he read the book itself,the book contained only 200 stories.
Here is the citation from the Fihrist:
“The ancient Persians were the first to invent tales and make books of them, and some of their tales were put in the mouths of animals. The Ashghanians, or third dynasty of Persian kings, and after them the Sasanians, had a special part in the development of this literature, which found Arabic translators, and was taken up by accomplished Arabic literati, who edited it and imitated it.
The earliest book of the kind was the Hezar afsane or Thousand Tales, which had the following origin. A certain Persian king was accustomed to kill his wives on the morning after the consummation of the marriage. But once he married a clever princess called Shahrazad, who spent the marriage night in telling a story which in the morning reached a point so interesting that the king spared her, and asked next night for the sequel.
This went on for a thousand nights till Shahrazad had a son, and ventured to tell the king of her device. He admired her intelligence, loved her, and spared her life. In all this the princess was assisted by the king’s stewardess Dinazad. This book is said to have been written for the princess Homai, daughter of Bahman.. .. It contains nearly two hundred stories, one story often occupying several nights.
I have repeatedly seen the complete book, but it is really a meagre and uninterestir.g production”
3.In the same century Al-Masudi also refers to the Hazār Afsān, saying the Arabic translation is called Alf Khurafa (“A Thousand Entertaining Tales”) but is generally known as Alf Layla (“A Thousand Nights”). He mentions Scheherazade.
4.Almost no physical evidence of the Hazār Afsān has survived but in 1948 scholar Nabia Abbott found a document with a few lines of an Arabic work with the title “The Book of the Tale of a Thousand Nights”, from the ninth century. This is the earliest surviving fragment of the Iranian book.
About the Arabic version of the “Thousand and One Nights”
1.It has a cycle of Arabic tales regarding historical figures from 9th-century Baghdad,the caliph Harun al-Rashid (died 809), his vizier Jafar al-Barmaki (died 803) and the licentious poet Abu Nuwas (died 813).
2.In the thirteenth century and onwards more stories were added in Syria and Egypt.
The Technique of the Frame Story,invented by the Indians,used in the Persian “The 1000 Tales”
A frame story is when there is a story and then there is a story within the story and so on.You see that alot in the “Thousand and One Nights”.It is a technique that was copied from Sanskrit literature,it appears in the Panchatantra.
One famous story of the book
It is the “The Tale of Attaf” where Harun al-Rashid reads a book in his library and starts laughing without control. His vizier Jafar is troubled and leaves Baghdad and has many adventures,including one with a man called Attaf. After returning to Baghdad, Jafar reads the same book that caused Harun to laugh and discovers that it describes his own adventures with Attaf. In other words, it was Harun’s reading of the book that provoked the adventures described in the book to take place. Near the end of the tale, Attaf is given a death sentence for a crime he didn’t commit but Harun, knowing the truth from what he has read in the book, prevents this and has Attaf released from prison.
The Influence of the “Thousand and One Nights” on Western Literature
1.The most famous book by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho ( born in 1947) is the 1988 book “The Alchemist”.It tells the story of a Spaniard called Santiago who goes to Egypt and there is told in a dream that under the ruins of a church in Spain,a church he knows,is a treasure.He returns and finds it.
Coelho copied the story from the “Thousand and One Nights”.In it is the story “The Ruined Man who Became Rich Again through a Dream”, in which a man is told in his dream to leave his native city of Baghdad and travel to Cairo, where he will discover the location of a hidden treasure. The man goes there and is sent to jail, where he tells of his dream to a police officer. The officer mocks him and tells him that he himself had a dream about a house with a courtyard in Baghdad where a treasure is buried. The man recognizes the place as his own house and, after he is released, he returns home and digs up the treasure.
2.The play “The Thousandth Night” by Carol Wolf
It is 1943 in Nazi-occupied Paris and the hero is the actor Guy de Bonheur.He he not Jewish, nor a Communist, nor a member of the Resistance, but is arrested because of the stories he performs at the Cafe Sheherazade.They are considered dangerous.
He is sent to Buchenwald but the track is blown up by saboteurs.He escapes and enters a station which is full of French soldiers of the Vichy regime.They think he is responsible for the explosion but he says he is only an actor and to prove it tells the stories of the “Thousand and One Nights” he told in the Cafe Sheherazade.He is acting for his life.In the end he fails and goes to Buchenwald.
A book not very loved in the Arab-Muslim world
There is little evidence it was esteemed in the Arab world and was rarely mentioned in lists of popular literature and few pre-18th century manuscripts of the collection exist.Even today it is considered,in general, as vulgar,childish and, above all, badly written.
The “Thousand and One Nights” and Arab writers
Three Egyptian writers have been written books inspired by the book:
1.Tawfiq al-Hakim (1898-1987) (author of the Symbolist play Shahrazad, 1934)
2.Taha Hussein (1889-1973)(Sheherazade’s Dreams, 1943):he became blind at the age of three.
3.Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006) (Arabian Nights and Days, 1981)
He won the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature.He supported Sadat’s Camp David peace treaty with Israel in 1978 and he defended Salman Rushdie after Khomeini condemned Rushdie to death in 1989, but also criticized his Satanic Verses as “insulting” to Islam. Mahfouz believed in freedom of expression and although he did not personally agree with Rushdie’s work, he did not believe that there should be a fatwa condemning him.
In 1994 Islamic extremists almost succeeded in assassinating the then 82-year-old novelist by stabbing him in the neck.
The “Thousand and One Nights” has 1001 stories but some Western writers have written a one thousand and second tale
1.Théophile Gautier (1811-1872)
French poet,wrote “La mille deuxième nuit “(1842)
2.Joseph Roth (1894- 1939)
He was a Jewish-Austrian novelist, best known for his family saga “The Radetzky March” (1932) about the decline and fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.He wrote “Die Geschichte von der 1002 Nacht “(1939).
3.Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
American literary genius,author of the stories “The Cask of Amontillado”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”,”The Gold-Bug”,”The Pit and the Pendulum”,”The Purloined Letter” and the poems “Annabel Lee”,”The Bells”,”Tamerlane” and”The Raven”.
He also wrote “The Thousand and Second Tale of Scheherazade” (1845).
It is about the eighth and final voyage of Sinbad the Sailor and the strange things Sinbad sees.While the king is uncertain—except in the case of the elephants carrying the world on the back of the turtle—that these mysteries are real, they are actual modern events that occurred in various places during, or before, Poe’s lifetime. The story ends with the king in such disgust at the tale Scheherazade has told that he has her executed the very next day.
Read Poe’s “The Thousand and Second Tale of Scheherazade” (1845)
The “Thousand and One Nights” and Music
It has inspired Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” (1888).
Extract from a book about the existence of the Iranian book,that it really existed
It is from “Sheherazade through the looking glass: the metamorphosis of the Thousand and One Nights” by Eva Sallis (1999)
For more information on the book: