by Antoine Galland in 1704, and rapidly attained a unique popularity.
There are even accounts of the translator being roused from sleep by
bands of young men under his windows in Paris, importuning him to tell
them another story.
The learned world at first refused to believe that M. Galland had not
invented the tales. But he had really discovered an Arabic manuscript
from sixteenth-century Egypt, and had consulted Oriental
story-tellers. In spite of inaccuracies and loss of color, his twelve
volumes long remained classic in France, and formed the basis of our
A more accurate version, corrected from the Arabic, with a style
admirably direct, easy, and simple, was published by Dr. Jonathan
Scott in 1811. This is the text of the present edition.
The Moslems delight in stories, but are generally ashamed to show a
literary interest in fiction. Hence the world's most delightful story
book has come to us with but scant indications of its origin. Critical
scholarship, however, has been able to reach fairly definite
The reader will be interested to trace out for himself the
similarities in the adventures of the two Persian queens,
Schehera-zade, and Esther of Bible story, which M. de Goeje has
pointed out as indicating their original identity (_Encyclopædia
Britannica_, "Thousand and One Nights"). There are two or three
references in tenth-century Arabic literature to a Persian collection
of tales, called _The Thousand Nights_, by the fascination of which
the lady Schehera-zade kept winning one more day's lease of life. A
good many of the tales as we have them contain elements clearly
indicating Persian or Hindu origin. But most of the stories, even
those with scenes laid in Persia or India, are thoroughly Mohammedan
in thought, feeling, situation, and action.
The favorite scene is "the glorious city," ninth-century Bagdad, whose
caliph, Haroun al Raschid, though a great king, and heir of still
mightier men, is known to fame chiefly by the favor of these tales.
But the contents (with due regard to the possibility of later
insertions), references in other writings, and the dialect show that
our _Arabian Nights_ took form in Egypt very soon after the year 1450.
The author, doubtless a professional teller of stories, was, like his
Schehera-zade, a person of extensive reading and faultless memory,
fluent of speech, and ready on occasion to drop into poetry. The
coarseness of the Arabic narrative, which does not appear in our
translation, is characteristic of Egyptian society under the Mameluke
sultans. It would have been tolerated by the subjects of the caliph in
old Bagdad no more than by modern Christians.