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Definition: Arabian Nights' Entertainment from The Macquarie Dictionary
1.

noun

The

Also, The Thousand and One Nights

a collection of Eastern folk tales derived in part from Indian and Persian sources and dating from the 10th century AD.


Summary Article: Thousand and One Nights from The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Love, Courtship, and Sexuality through History: The Medieval Era

Alf Laylah wa Laylah, The Thousand and One Nights, commonly known as the Arabian Nights, is a collection of Indian, Persian, Arabic, and Egyptian folktales. Abu abd-Allah Muhammed el-Gahshigar of the ninth century was the first Arabic compiler. Stories of Indian origin were added to the Persian work, Hazar Afsana (thousand tales) in the tenth century by al-Jahshiyari of Iraq. The endless additions from different sources and developing through centuries, the Arabian Nights became a composite work with many forms.

The setting of the stories is somewhere between India and China with a temperamental sultan named Shahrayar, who was betrayed by his first wife. She and her servants were found having affairs with the slaves. Believing wrongly in the infidelity of women, he had taken a vow to behead a new wife in the morning after sleeping together in the night. His cruel operation continued for three years. When there was death of virgins, it was the turn of the Wazir's daughter to become the sacrificial lamb. The elder daughter, Shahrazad, well versed in history and biographies of the kings, volunteered for marriage to the sultan. She went to the palace along with her sister Dunyzad. The resourceful woman bemused the sultan by telling him different stories each night for 1,001 days.

The subject matters of each story varied: tales of scandal with a tinge of bawdiness, amorous affairs of unfaithful wives, love stories, tragedies, comedies, and fables and stories pertaining to magic, famous palaces, jinns, and Islamic religious legends. Geography, historical characters, and important places were also dealt with. The Khalifa Harun al-Rashid occupied a central position. Apart from the Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, Sindbad the Sailor, and the tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, there were many stories like The Fisherman and the Jinni, The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad, The Tale of the Bull and the Ass, Kalandar's Tale, Tale of Nur Al-Din Ali and His Son Badr Al-Din Hasan, The Eldest Lady's Tale, etc. The beautiful and resourceful Shahrazad triumphed over the king, giving him three sons, and Shahrayar ended the vow of killing a bride after being convinced of her loyalty.

Through the medium of stories, intrepid Shahrazad saved her own life and those of other women and thus put herself in an exalted position. She emerged from the stories as an intelligent woman fighting for survival through the art of storytelling.

See also Islamic Society.

Further Reading
  • Irwin, Robert. The Arabian Nights: A Companion. Allen Lane London, 1994.
  • Lane, Edward William, trans. Stories from Thousand and One Nights (The Arabian Nights' Entertainments). The Harvard Classics. Vol. 16. New York: P.F. Collier & Son1909-1914.
  • Mahdi, Muhsin. The Thousand and One Nights. Brill New York, 1995.
  • Mishra, Patit Paban
    © 2008 by William E. Burns

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