Arabian Nights' Entertainments

Arabian Nights' Entertainments

Arabian Nights' Entertainments

Arabian Nights' Entertainments

Synopsis

The stories contained in this "store house of ingenious fiction" initiate a pattern of literary reference and influence which today remains as powerful and intense as it was throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Sinbad, Ali Baba, Aladdin: all make their appearance here. This edition reproduces in its entirety the earliest English translation of the French orientalist Antoine Galland's Mille et une Nuits (1001 Nights), which remained for over a century the only English translation of the story cycle, influencing an incalculable number of writers. In addition, it offers the complete text or the tales supplemented by extensive explanatory notes and plot summaries, which are particularly vital as these expansive stories are complex and interwoven.

Excerpt

With the exception of Ovid's Metamorphoses and—obviously—the Bible, few works have had such a profound and lasting influence on the English literary tradition as the Thousand and One Nights or, to use the name by which the volumes were more commonly known in England throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Arabian Nights' Entertainments. Like Ovid's exhaustive compilation of Greek and Roman mythology (and, indeed, to some degree like the Bible itself) the Nights is not a single tale, but a generically diverse and kaleidoscopic collection of tales; like the Metamorphoses, it shuns singularity and revels in multiplicity, never allowing its readers to rest content and inactive on any one narrative shore. Like Ovid's collection, too, the Nights not only celebrates the power of stories, but offers a vision of the very act of story-telling itself as nothing less than an art form which offers both its practitioners and its listeners an opportunity to order, comprehend, define, and delimit (at least temporarily) an otherwise chaotic and incomprehensible world of experience. It is by telling stories and by hearing stories told, the Nights seems to say, that we come to know our world, each other, and—ultimately—our own selves.

Some characters in the Nights tell tales simply because they find it difficult ever to keep still or to keep silent. They narrate fables, fairy tales, travel adventures, crime stories, romances, and even family anecdotes simply because they are compelled to articulate—articulate both in the sense of speaking and expressing themselves, but also in the more etymologically precise sense of joining or uniting, of making intelligible the raw 'stuff' of existence. For other characters, however (including the central figure of Scheherazade herself), story-telling is nothing less than a matter of life and death. Again and again in the collection we encounter individuals whose lives depend upon the responses of their listeners to their tales. If, in the frame story which structures the entire body of narratives, for example, Scheherazade fails to persuade the sultan Schahriar to rescind his pledge to execute each of his new wives on the morning following their marriage, she will not only forfeit her own life, but effectively will be Schahriar's accomplice in sentencing an untold number of young women to a similar fate. Her plight is reiterated and reflected in many other tales in the Nights. The diversion or entertainment provided by a well-told story can mitigate a sentence or even prevent an execution; narrative itself often serves as a placating salve to the impatient or to the wicked as well as a healing, consolatory balm for the wounded. For characters like Scheherazade, then, story-telling is both a . . .

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