Thousand and One Nights, A

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Thousand and One Nights, A


(also known as Arabian Nights), a collection of medieval Arabic tales whose origin and composition have long been a subject of scholarly controversy. Most scholars agree that the collection is based on an Arabic translation made in approximately the ninth century of the collection A Thousand Tales (Hazar Afsana) into Middle Persian (Pahlavi). A Thousand Tales may be derived in turn from Indian originals. The Pahlavi text has not been preserved, and most surviving Arabic manuscripts of A Thousand and One Nights date from the 17th to 19th centuries; only a few are from the 15th century, when the collection apparently acquired its final form.

The work is based on an Arabic tale about King Shahriyar and Shahrazad (Scheherazade), the wise daughter of his vizier. Condemned to death, Shahrazad, during the course of a thousand and one nights, tells Shahriyar entertaining stories, interrupting each of them at a crucial point in order to keep his curiosity aroused.

The content and treatment of the tales, which contain motifs from Indian, Persian, and Arabic folklore, romances, and folk humor, are highly diverse, since the tales were composed during different periods and originated in varying social milieus. Later publishers, such as the Arab Jesuit Salhani, who published the collection in the 19th century, attempted to eliminate frivolous scenes and terms, as did translators rendering the work into European languages. The first (incomplete) translation into French, by A. Galland, was published from 1704 to 1717 and was the source for later translations into many languages, including the Russian version published in Moscow from 1763 to 1774. The first Russian translation of the Arabic original was made by M. A. Sal’e from 1929 to 1939.

The tales of A Thousand and One Nights became world-famous and influenced the folklore of Asia and Europe, as well as the written literature of many countries. The tales have also been reflected in works of art and music, such as Persian miniatures and N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov’s suite Scheherezade. Motion pictures based on the tales have included Thief of Bagdad (1924, USA), The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958, USA), and Aladdin’s Magic Lamp (1967, USSR).


Kniga tysiachi i odnoi nochi, vols. 1–8. [Forewords by M. Gorky and M. A. Sal’e.] Edited by Academician I. Iu. Krachkovskii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1929–39.


Gorster, A., and A. Krymskii. K literaturnoi istorii ‘Tysiachi i odnoi nochi.’ Moscow, 1900.
Estrup, I. Issledovanie o’1001 nochi, ’ ee sostave, vozniknovenii i razvitii. Moscow, 1904. (Translated from Danish.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.