The Book of One Thousand and One Nights

Translation by Sir Richard Burton, ~1850

arabian nights Richard Burton cover 22590
Arabian Nights, Richard Burton book cover 〔image source

The Arabian Nights, a tale of unfaithful wifes, Islamic mores, with monsters and gods. It's not what you've seen via Disney. To read the entire work thoroughly is tantamount to years of study of Arabian ethnology.

Here is selected stories of Sir Richard Burton's uncensored and unabridged version. Annotated by Xah Lee.







Alaeddin


Art Gallery

arabian nights George Barbier 35397
Arabian Nights, illustration by George Barbier

Arabian Nights Art Gallery


Notes from Xah Lee

Vast majority of Arabian Nights in English are censored out of shape. All sexual and cultural aspects are elided to conform to Western norms, leaving just phantasmagorical fairy tale of monsters.

Sir Richard Burton's translation is the second uncensored translation. (first is by John Payne)

The popular stories such as • “Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp” • “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”, • “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor”, are not part of The Nights in its original Arabic versions but were added to the collection by Antoine Galland in ~1704. These stories, even in full uncensored version, are lackluster in comparison to the stories in Arabian Nights.

The Arabian Nights has origin in India, and is collected stories from years 700 AD onward. Stories are continuously added and edited from different Middle East countries and Egypt. So, there is really no one true Arabian Nights nor a sense of “complete” version.

The annotation here are by Xah Lee (me). Most are done in 2005. The text are based on Sir Richard Burton's uncensored and unabridged version.

The Arabian Nights, Introduction by Xah Lee.

Synopsis of the Tales.

One problem with Sir Richard Burton's translation is that it uses archaic and poetic English. I find this making it far more enjoyable, for literary reasons, on language and linguistics, like reading Shakespeare. But this is a problem for those who just want to read the stories.

Best modern uncensored translation in modern English is by Husain Haddawy.

The Arabian Nights  Husain Haddawy
The Arabian Nights (1992), by Husain Haddawy. Buy at amazonThe Arabian Nights, Husain Haddawy
Sinbad  Husain Haddawy
The Arabian Nights II: Sindbad and Other Popular Stories (1998), by Husain Haddawy. Buy at amazonThe Arabian Nights, Husain Haddawy

See also: The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade by Edgar Allan Poe.