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The Arabian Nights

by Muhsin Mahdi

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Arabian Nights, translated by Haddawy (1)

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1,3041711,711 (3.89)101
The tales portray a world of magic, wish-fulfillment and pleasure, depicting the marriage of the supernatural to the ordinary and the sacred to the profane.

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» See also 101 mentions

English (16)  Danish (1)  All languages (17)
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
The famous tale ("Open Sesame") is magical. The rest are barely mediocre aside from historical interest. ( )
  KENNERLYDAN | Jul 11, 2021 |
This edition is translated into the English from Arabic by Husain Haddawy. The Arabic source is a 14th century Syrian manuscript edited by Muhsin Mahdi.
  matthewtbradley | Dec 25, 2020 |

A translation of one of the classic Arabian Nights manuscripts, with some familiar stories absent (Aladdin, Sinbad, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves) but lots more, all giving a very vivid picture of a time and a number of places in a world stretching from Egypt to India as a single cultural unit, but centred on Baghdad and Persia. There's a lot of fairly intricate nesting of stories within stories - I think it was four layers deep at one point - but all rather entertaining, with of course some stories displaying the prejudices of the day, but others giving women agency - including the framing narrative. I actually started with the Burton translation, but found it unreadable; this is much better. ( )
  nwhyte | Nov 1, 2015 |
This is the best version out there and excellent on the history of the Nights and where previous translators were amiss. ( )
  JayLivernois | Aug 25, 2014 |
There are many versions of The Arabian Nights that have floated about over the centuries; this one is a translation of the Mahdi edition, based on the oldest known copy from 14th century Syria. It has 271 “nights”, tales that were collected from Persia, Arabia, and India and containing stories within stories (and sometimes within stories, and so on). The collection was expanded over the centuries to reach the well-known 1,001 nights, including “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp", "The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor", and "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" – none of this later content is present in this version.

With that said, it’s an enjoyable read, and there is plenty of 700 year old sex and violence from the Middle East to hold one’s interest. :)

The stage is set in the prologue in a way that certainly opens the eyes. There are two kings, one named Shahrayar, the other Shahzaman, who are brothers. Shahzaman is sent for by his brother to visit, but before leaving, discovers his wife in the arms of one of the kitchen boys. Naturally, he strikes them with his sword, drags them by their heels, and throws them from the top of the palace to the trench below. He then arrives in Shahrayar’s domain in a dejected mood. As he’s agonizing over his sorrow, he finds himself a witness to an interracial orgy involving Shahrayar’s wife, ten white slave girls, ten black slaves who had been dressed as girls, and Mas’ud, another black slave who, upon being summoned, jumps out of a tree to have his way with the Queen. Yeah, wow.

Shahrayar can’t believe his ears when he hears of this, and so the two of them have to watch a repeat performance to convince him. They are so disheartened that they decide to take to the road and leave the palace. That night they see what seems to be a giant pillar, one that grows to touch the clouds, emerging from the sea. They flee in terror and hide in a tree, and when they look again discover that the pillar is actually a mighty demon, who approaches without seeing them, carrying a large glass chest with four locks. He sets it down in the meadow beneath them and unlocks it, and what emerges is a beautiful woman, with a face “like the full moon, and a lovely smile.” The demon then proceeds to fall asleep, whereupon the woman notices Shahrayar and Shahzaman in the tree, and asks them to come down and make love to her, otherwise she’ll wake her husband the demon and have him kill them. They comply, one after the other, and she then asks for a ring as a souvenir from each; she’s collected one from each of her lovers and has now reached a full hundred, despite the demon keeping her locked up. Again, yeah, wow.

The brothers decide to return to their kingdoms and never marry again. Shahrayar has his wife and all her slave girls killed, but then formulates a new plan, to marry a new woman each night and then kill her in the morning to prevent her from cheating on him. After he’s done this for so long that girls in the kingdom are becoming a little scarce, Shahrazad (sometimes spelled Scheherazade), the vizier’s daughter, volunteers to marry the king. She is smart and very well read, and her plan for survival is to tell the king a new story each night, but to not finish it, betting on his curiosity to postpone the execution from night to night.

And thus begin the stories, each ‘tale’ or night of which are generally just a couple pages each, but which are grouped into larger stories, such as The Fisherman and the Demon, The Porter and the Three Ladies, and The Hunchback. The prologue is so classic that frankly it’s a tough act to follow, and I have to say the tales tend to get a bit tedious. If you’re not a fan of misogyny or body parts getting lopped off you may not enjoy them, but they are certainly not dry, and there is something special about reading stories this old that provided entertainment for the medieval Islam world, similar to The Decameron or The Canterbury Tales. I prefer those other books to this one, but wonder if the inclusion of the other stories in the 1,001 Nights version would have upped my rating. ( )
2 vote gbill | Jun 13, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mahdi, Muhsinprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Haddawy, HusainTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Bless thee, Bottom! Bless thee! Thou art translated.
--A Midsummer Night's Dream
For Mike, for Myriam, Peter
Christopher, and Mark, and for
Diana and Shahrazad
First words
The World of The Arabian Nights
It has been some years now since as a little boy in Baghdad I used to listen to tales from The Thousand and One Nights.
[The Story of King Shahrayar and Shahrazad, His Vizier's Daughter]
It is related -- but God knows and sees best what lies hidden in the old accounts of bygone peoples and times -- that long ago, during the time of the Sasanid dynasty, in the peninsulas of India and Indochina, there lived two kings who were brothers.
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The tales portray a world of magic, wish-fulfillment and pleasure, depicting the marriage of the supernatural to the ordinary and the sacred to the profane.

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Average: (3.89)
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4.5 9
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W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393313670, 0393331660


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