Saturday, July 24, 2010

Free Online Versions of the Nights

I'm going to add to this over time (and put a link to this page on the main blog menu on the right) as I come across them but this page is a list of links to freely accessible well known versions of the 1001 Nights.

English Versions:

- - This website has complete versions of the following: 1. Richard Burton's complete 16 volume set (including hyperlinked footnotes), 2. Jonathan Scott's 1890 version, 3. JW Scott's Jack Hardin's Arabian Nights (1903), 4. John Payne's 9 volume Nights, his Tales from the Arabic and his Alaeddin, 5. WF Kirby's The New Arabian Nights (1883), 6. Andrew Lang's Arabian Nights (1898), 7. Edward Lane's Arabian Nights (1909 - edited by Stanley Lane-Poole), 8. E. Dixon's Fairy Tales from the Arabian Nights (1893) and More Tales (1895) and several other derivative versions and single stories. The best source for English versions online and collected in one place.


- Little Hunchback. From the Arabian Nights Entertainments. In Three Cantos (1817). This is a three canto poem derived from the Hunchback story of the Nights, published first in London, England.



Las mil y una noches - Translated by Vicente Blasco Ibanez. According to the Arabian Nights Encyclopedia the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez is said to have been inspired by this particular version (p. 561 vol. 2).


Arabic Versions:

Calcutta II online

Thanks to Moti (> for passing on the online version of Calcutta II of the Arabian Nights (1001 Nights) linked below, free and complete and in Arabic with a nice looking script too.

Unfortunately the book is scanned backwards! And it starts with the last page!

I'll try to contact Google books about it.

Here is the link to the Calcutta II online version:

Bulaq - 

Here is the 1863 Bulak Edition of Alf Laila wa Laila complete and online for free (in Arabic):

Volume one:

Volume two:


Volume three:


Voume four:


Mr Magoo in "1001 Arabian Nights" has a new great review of the Mr. Magoo animated film 1001 Arabian Nights.  It's a relatively difficult film to track down though I did manage to buy a VHS copy on ebay for not too much money.  I'll just have to venture into the depths of the garage one day to look for the VCR and make a digital copy.

The film is Mr. Magoo-ish take on Aladdin.  For those who don't know Mr. Magoo was a popular cartoon in the 1950s-70s.  His whole character and his adventures are based on his lack of eyesight, he often confuses the world as other things and finds himself in irreverent adventures because of it.

Here's a link to the entire article, I've excerpted the plot review (and posted a youtube trailer for the film) below:

from the review: “1001 Arabian Nights” is a fun, entertaining riff that deftly integrates the Mr. Magoo character into the wild fantasies of magic lamps and flying carpets. Set in the mystical Arabian kingdom of Egomania (!), the film presents “Abdul Aziz Magoo” as the myopic lamp retailer who mistakes barnyard animals for truant schoolchildren and the contents of a broom closet as front door visitors. Magoo is the uncle of the handsome young Aladdin, who doesn’t appear to do anything but lie around all day.

Within the kingdom, there is tumult at the palace – the sultan realizes he is near bankrupt, and he reluctantly agrees to replenish his treasury by giving the hand of his daughter, the beautiful Princess Yasminda, to the Wicked Wazir. UPA struck gold with the character of the Wicked Wazir: a pointy-nose, razor-toothed baddie who dwells in a deep cellar with a collection of icky creatures (spiders, rats, bats, snakes, and an alligator) that he treats like his children. There is one scene that offers a devastating parody of “Cinderella,” with the Wazir’s monstrous animals lovingly preparing his clothing and accessories for the wedding day.

The Wazir is voiced by Hans Conried, who is part of a stellar cast of voice actors that include Alan Reed as the sultan, Daws Butler as the harried weaver who creates a flying carpet, Herschel Bernardi as the sly genie of the lamp, and Kathryn Grant and Dwayne Hickman as Yasminda and Aladdin. And, of course, Jim Backus’ boisterous Magoo leads the pack with his unique brand of chaos.

For its time, “1001 Arabian Nights” offered a jolting alternative to the standard Disney fare. The film is fast, jazzy (both in its visual style and musical score), unapologetically slapstick, and rude without being unpleasant (Magoo’s crotchety personality is ratcheted down a few points, making him more eccentric than cantankerous). Even the Yasminda-Aladdin love story manages to avoid being syrupy – Aladdin’s initial bout of passionate love finds him walking absentmindedly over the turbaned heads of pedestrians, while the couple’s initial romantic tryst is depicted in an unexpected burst of proto-psychedelic abstract colors."


Thursday, July 22, 2010

LA Times Article on Egypt

The LA Times has jumped on the bandwagon a bit late concerning the 1001 Nights ban in Egypt. 

Here's the link (excerpts below):

"Egyptian group wants to censor Arabic classic

Lawyers Without Shackles seeks to delete salacious passages from contemporary literature and cherished classics. Its campaign against 'The Arabian Nights' is part of a growing religious conservatism.

July 11, 2010 - By Amro Hassan and Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times"

For me this title smacks of the media frenzy regarding any ban in the Middle East that I mentioned in previous posts about this issue, ie:  "part of a growing religious conservatism."  For a more realistic portrayal of Egypt in the 21st century see the most recent issue of the Economist (most of the section is currently online for free here: which has a special section on Egypt and that country's future, based largely on the country's economic policies, foreign relations and governmental problems vs. what that magazine suggests is essentially a non-threat in the bigger picture, the religious Islamic extremists.

In any event, here is more from the LA Times article which continues its rhetoric:

"Reporting from Cairo — Let the ancient temptress beware, censors with sharp pens beckon.

Arab writers and poets through the centuries have spiced their tales with explicit language and carnal desire. Even during the height of the Islamic Empire, when Sharia law dictated virtue across the Middle East, storytellers revealed a fondness for the unholy.

But nowadays fundamentalist Muslims are campaigning to "purify" one of the great works of Arabic literature, the "One Thousand and One Nights."

"The book contains profanities that cannot be acceptable in Egyptian society," said lawyer Ayman Abdel-Hakim, venting his disgust at one of the "Nights" poems in which a woman challenges Muslim men to fulfill her insatiable sexual urges. "We understand that this kind of literature is acceptable in the West, but here we have a different culture and different religion."


"Such tactics are common in Saudi Arabia, where last year a scholar issued death fatwas against racy-TV programmers. But they are unsettling in Egypt, traditionally more tolerant.

Egypt's prosecutor general, Abdel-Maguid Mahmoud, recently dismissed a complaint brought to him by Lawyers Without Shackles against a publishing house affiliated with the Ministry of Culture. The group sought to ban a new edition of "The Arabian Nights" or excise "obscene" passages so as not to incite "vice and sin" among readers. The prosecutor held that the tales have been published in Egypt for centuries without any danger to public morality."


"O my sister, recite to us some new story, delightsome and delectable, wherewith to while away the waking hours of our latter night.”....

Monday, July 19, 2010


I've subscribed to Merriam-Webster's "word of the day" emails for a long time now (, it's an interesting way to learn new words.

Today the word of the day was one I've never heard of but it's got a Nights related etymology.  I think they've got the Barmecide history a bit wrong but then again the information on them is fairly scant.  One thing is for sure there are a lot of derogatory things written about the Barmecides, owing perhaps to the speculated slight that Jafar gave to Harun Al Rashid.  This English word appears to be a continuation of that negative portrayal.

"The Word of the Day for July 19 is:

Barmecidal   \bahr-muh-SYE-dul\   adjective
: providing only the illusion of abundance

Example sentence:
The tax rebate is a Barmecidal windfall, coming as it does in the wake of new hidden taxes on consumer goods and services.

Did you know?
"Barmecide" is the name of a family of princes in a tale from The Thousand and One Nights (also known as The Arabian Nights' Entertainment). One prince in the family torments a beggar by inviting him to a fabulous feast, at which all the dishes are imaginary. The poor man plays along with his malicious host, pretending to get drunk on the imaginary wine; he then gets even by knocking down the patronizing royal."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

more from Egypt

Many thanks to Abu Sam for passing this on, it seems that the controversy in Egypt has resurfaced in new articles around the world, the story that wouldn't stop getting passed on I suppose.  The National out of the UAE has published the story below from Egypt based US journalist Ursula Lindsey.  The article does a great job at giving an overview of the Nights in Egypt and the Arab world as well as does a good job at interviewing the publisher of the book in question, Egyptian author Gamal al Ghitany.

Here is a link to the entire article and I've pasted excerpts below:

"In April, a group of Egyptian lawyers sued the novelist Gamal al Ghitany for publishing obscene materials. Al Ghitany is the editor of the literary magazine Akhbar al Adab and has recently taken over the government-printed literary series Al-Dakhaa’ir (Treasures). One of his first decisions there was to put out an edition of The Thousand and One Nights. The lawyers and their supporters argue that the classic medieval story collection is offensive trash, and are indignant that government funds were used to publish it. Al Ghitany defends the Nights as “one of the greatest human creations”.

This battle over Nights is a recurring one in Egypt’s culture wars, which pit conservative religious groups against writers and intellectuals (with the state acting as a cynical and unpredictable referee); previous attempts to ban the stories in 1985 and 1998 met with little success. The work – which in the West lives solidly ensconced in its reputation and influence, inspiring children’s tales and novels, fashion crazes and dissertations – still ekes out a marginal existence in the Arab world, somewhere on the edges of both literature and propriety.

Most everyone is familiar with Nights’ brilliant framing device, in which the sultan Shahryar, cuckolded by his wife, resolves to take a virgin to bed each night and put her to death every morning. When the Sultan runs out of virgins, Scheherazade, the vizier’s daughter, offers herself. She survives the 1,001 nights of the title – by the end of which she has borne the king three sons, and earned his pardon – by telling him mesmerising stories, cleverly left unfinished every sunrise, and full of suspenseful tales-within-a-tale.

Yet no one knows when and how the Nights came into being. Scholars believe the oldest stories originated in India and Persia, and were probably translated into Arabic in the 10th century. As the collection travelled from Baghdad to Damascus to Cairo, tales were added or tweaked, to feature those locales and appeal to the audiences there."


The early translators of the Nights had to figure out how to tackle the stories’ frank sexuality – and did so in quite different ways. In 1707, the scholar and explorer Antoine Galland sat down to translate a 14th-century Syrian manuscript into French. The collection of stories he produced was immensely popular, inspiring an Oriental craze across Europe. The sexual situations in the Nights were often given a veneer of refinement by Galland. They were expurgated, with Victorian stringency, by the Arabist Edward Lane, who first translated the work into English in 1840. Whole stories – those, Lane lamented, that “cannot be purified” – were simply cut.

Lane’s prissiness incensed the daredevil explorer and writer Richard Burton – famous for entering the Kaaba disguised as a Muslim and accidentally discovering Lake Tanganyika on a trip to find the source of the Nile. In his 1885 translation, Burton purposefully played up the lewd and the outré. He also provided copious notes that delved into – among the many far-ranging topics of interest to him – the sexual habits and proclivities of Arabs.

The early translators of the Nights, in other words, took enormous liberties, editing and embellishing, adding stories from other sources or their own imagination (some of the most famous stories, like Aladdin or Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, were never part of the original collection), vituperating earlier translators and sometimes backing up their own versions with forgeries.

Then again, these faithless translators were true to the tradition of the Nights – the most mobile and malleable of texts, open to endless manipulation. Today’s translators take a more staid approach, whether in the excellent, annotated Pléiade edition; Husain Haddawy’s translation of a reconstructed medieval manuscript; or the beautiful, three-volume edition released by Penguin Classics in 2008."


Writing in Akhbar al Adab, al Ghitany – much of whose fiction is set in medieval Cairo, where storytellers may have recited the Nights to café crowds – notes that the collection is “a foundling with no lineage,” the product of an oral folklore tradition, and has always been looked down upon by Arab intellectuals.

According to al Ghitany, a change in attitude towards the Nights began in the 1930s, when the great writer Taha Hussein encouraged his students at Cairo University to study it seriously. The first scholarly Arabic edition of the Nights wasn’t published – amazingly – until 1984, but the work has been an influence on many Arab writers, from al Ghitany himself and Naguib Mahfouz to the Lebanese author Elias Khoury (whose protagonist, in The Gate of the Sun, tells endless stories to a man in a coma, hoping to bring him back to life).

Al Ghitany first read the Nights when he was 10, at a time when cheap, popular editions of the book were easy to find. Now, he told me, it has practically disappeared from the Egyptian book market, the victim of neglect, prudishness and the threat of censorship. So the novelist’s decision to publish the Nights – at the affordable, government-subsidised price of 12 Egyptian pounds (Dh8) – is a challenge to Islamist attempts to scrub popular culture clean, and an attempt to reclaim the work as an important element in Arab literary heritage.

Borges called the Nights –affectionately –the “pulp fiction of the 13th century”. Even if that was all it was, it would make the stories a precious socio-historical document. But the Nights is so much more than the sum of its (multitudinous) parts.

The Nights grew organically from the imaginative accretions of 10 centuries, the collective fantasies of continents. It’s small wonder there’s sex in the Nights – there’s everything in it. It has the depth, complexity, contradictions, surprises, repetitions, lulls, lack of logic, symmetries and accidental poetry of life. Scheherazade and many other characters in the Nights tell stories to stave off death, and it was a common superstition in Arab countries that anyone who finished reading the book would die. The Nights makes storytelling the engine and the essence of life, and also reminds us that our stories are our lives, both of which (no matter how many rambling detours they take) must one day come to an end.

Many believe the goal of the case against al Ghitany is to embarrass the government and intimidate secular intellectuals – to use this book (as others have been used) as a pretext for another moral campaign. At the same time, the Nights are subversive in a way that may genuinely rankle. It’s no surprise that bigots, ideologues and literary purists would have problems with this mass of stories, of obscure provenance and dubious intent – stories in which profanity rubs against piety, eloquence against vulgarity, and the moral is often anyone’s guess.

For centuries, writes al Ghitany, the Nights “expressed what was not spoken in official, sanctioned literature. I don’t mean sex – for all the Arab literary texts by the great authors contain a treatment of sexual matters that no Arab writer dares to embark upon today – but the Nights expressed the repressed collective consciousness… since their author is unknown, the Nights achieve storytelling freedom – for who can be held accountable here?”

Of course it’s al Ghitany himself who some in Egypt would like to hold accountable. He faces up to two years in jail in the – one hopes, rather unlikely – event that he is found guilty of the crime of publishing material “offensive to public decency”. If he was a character in the Nights, he would baffle his adversaries with a wonderful tale, talk his way out of his predicament. But in Egypt today, too many stories that need to be told are hushed up and frowned upon.

Ursula Lindsey, a regular contributor to The Review, lives in Cairo"

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Arabian Nights in Wisconsin

There is this literary project I recently became aware of called "Great World Texts in Wisconsin" and next (academic - 2010-11) year's work is our own Arabian Nights.

It sounds like a really promising literary project which is based out of the Center for the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Each year they pick a text and offer stipends to Wisconsin high school teachers who all agree to teach and focus on that text statewide in their classes at the same time during the school year.

Here is their website:

From the website: "The mission of the Great World Texts in Wisconsin program is to encourage more high school and university students to read the classic world texts of the humanities and to connect and engage UW faculty and high-school teachers across the state in this project. High school and college classes will participate in these projects throughout the year. Each program culminates in a student conference in the spring."

and also: "The Arabian Nights in Wisconsin: The Center for the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison invites interested schools and teachers from across Wisconsin to join us in our year-long partnership program, The Arabian Nights in Wisconsin. Teachers and teams will be selected to participate in the sixth of our series of successful state-wide projects. The project aims to bring this classic text into high school classrooms throughout Wisconsin. Each team will receive a financial award, teaching support and materials, access to university resources, and opportunities to participate in two teacher colloquia, and a student conference. Program details are listed below, and information is available at"

Sounds like a very interesting project and I'll be eager to know how it turns out and how the final student conference/presentations go.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Alf Layla wa Layla - The Title

1001 Titles...or 1000 Titles and another Title

It occurs to me that the title from the Arabic is often misconstrued as the number 1001, making it "1001 Nights" from the Arabic "Alf Layla wa Layla."  (for history on some of the title variants see the article "what is the arabian nights" on this blog)

In fact though the title translates not as "1001 Nights" but rather "1000 Nights and a Night" - I like the latter title better actually because it opens up the form of the Nights more, adding to their infinite reproducibility vs. the finite though suggestive number of "1001."

"One Thousand Nights and a Night" is an active title, there is a thousand nights (a lot) and then on top of it, there's another one (and another, and another), there is always another night even after a thousand.

Saying 1001 in Arabic would be something like "Wahid (one) wa Alf (and a thousand)" and not "Alf wa wahid"anyway, though in some colloquial sayings it is this way in Arabic but not for the strict number itself.

So here we have instead of having a finite number of stories to listen to ("well now we are at story 1001, the last one"), you have an infinite one ("if you think that story was cool wait till you hear about the one with the three beggars and the salmon...").

In English translations Payne has it as "The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night" and Burton has it as "The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night" ("a" vs. "one" - the "a" of Burton being, in my opinion, more "open").  Lane's seems to be "The Thousand and One Nights."  Galland's French title:  "Les mille et une nuits" (literally "The Thousand and One Nights."

I can't recall ever seeing this particular issue mentioned before, if someone knows of it being brought up please let me know.