100 Best Books for an Education

A Revision and Update of Will Durant's 100 Best Books for an Education

Note 50

 


 

Some Western Authors Influenced by the Arabian Nights

 

 Al-Masudi (895-957) speaks in his Meadows of Gold of a Persian book Hazar Afsana, or Thousand Tales, and of its Arabic translation, Alf Laylah wa Laylah; this is one of the earliest known mentions of The Thousand and One Nights. The plan of the book as described by al-Masudi was that of our Arabian Nights; such a framework for a series of stories was already old in India. A great number of these tales circulated in the Oriental world; various collections might differ in their selection, and we are not sure that any story in our present editions appeared in the texts known to al-Masudi. Shortly after 1700, an incomplete Arabic manuscript, not traceable beyond 1536, was sent from Syria to the French Orientalist Antoine Galland. Fascinated by their whimsical fantasy, their glimpses of intimate Muslim life, perhaps by their occasional obscenity, he issued at Paris in 1704 the first European translation—Les mille et une nuits. The book succeeded beyond any expectation; translations were made into every European language; and children of all nations and ages began to talk of Sinbad the Sailor, Aladdin’s lamp, and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Next to the Bible (itself Oriental), the Panchatantra and the Nights are the most widely read books in the world. So much so that John Payne, nineteenth century English author and translator, called it “the most popular collection of narrative fiction in existence.”

    Below is a summarized table of how the Nights have grown in fame and influence. Of course, any list can only be partial, but what follows is just some of the many authors of the Western world who have been affected by their power, swayed by their beauty, and moved by the enchantment of their tales. Listed are the authors/works that scholars have found to be most subject to the influence of the Nights.

   

Date

Author

Comment

1160?

Anonymous; Henry von Veldeck?

Floire et Blancheflor a French metrical romance known in two versions dates from at least this time. Additionally, a clerical author writes Herzog Ernst, which according to E.W. Lane “was composed in German rhyme by Henry of Veldeck, who flourished about 1160; and a Latin poem on the same subject, by one Odo, appeared about the same time.” Lane points out that it contains numerous parallels to Sindbad the Sailor.[1]

1165?

Marie de France

Lais

1180?

Eilhart von Oberge

The first version of Tristan and Isolde (aka Tristam and Iseult in French) was written in German.

1220?

Anonymous

Aucassin and Nicolette is a French chantefable or story told in alternating sections of verse and prose the former sung the latter recited.[2] It is strongly similar to The Ebony Horse.

1282?

Adenet Le Roi

Cleomades is a romance about a wooden horse that flies through the air, bringing its riders fantastic adventures.[3] It too is strongly similar to The Ebony Horse.

1232?-1315?

Ramon Lull

Philosopher and creative author

1265-1321

Dante Alighieri

The Divine Comedy

1328-1335

Prince Don Juan Manuel

Tales of Count Lucanor (editor)

1348-1353

Giovanni Boccaccio

Decameron

1387-1400

Geoffrey Chaucer

The Ebony Horse in the Nights is unmistakably the same horse as the one in the Squire’s Tale from The Canterbury Tales. In addition, a heavy influence from The Tale of Taj al-Muluk and the Princess Dunya can be discerned in the same story.[4]

1389?

Johannes de Hese

Itinerarium ad Jerusalem per diversas mundi partes is a fantasy of travel in Asia with tales from the Arabian Nights.[5]

1390-1402

Giovanni Sercambi

La Novella

1457

Anonymous

The Fair Magelone and Peter of Provence is heavily based on and influenced by Tale of Kamar az-Zaman.[6]

1516-1532

Ludovico Ariosto

Orlando Furioso

1549-1559

Marguerite of Navarre

Heptaméron

1550-1553

Gianfrancesco Straparola

Le piacevoli notti

1554

Diego Hurtado de Mendoza?

Lazarillo de Tormes

1565

Geraldi Cinthio

Shakespeare took “[t]he original story of Othello . . . found in the novel Il Moro de Venezia from the Hecatommithi of Geraldo Cinthio, published in 1565. A French translation in 1584 was probably the edition with which Shakespeare was familiar. The novel may have been of Oriental origin, as it somewhat resembles the tale of The Three Apples in The Thousand And One Nights.”[7]

1589?

William Shakespeare

The Induction of The Taming of a Shrew, which he later (1594?) would revise as the Shrew seems to have come from The Sleeper and the Waker.

1599-1604

Mateo Alemán

Guzmán de Alfarache

1627

Francisco Gómez de Quevedo y Villegas

El Gran Tacaño

1634-1636

Giambattista Basile

Pentamerone

1672-1719

Joseph Addison

English author and politician

1688-1744

Alexander Pope

English poet

1704

J. Antoine Galland

Galland publishes his translation of the first volume of the Alf Layla wa Layla or The Thousand and One Nights, and a new era begins in the influence of the Nights.

1710-1712

François Pétis de la Croix

The Thousand and One Days

1715

Thomas-Simon Gueullette; Alain René Lesage

Mille et une quart d’heure (The Thousand and One Quarters of an Hour); Lesage publishes Gil Blas in parts (1715-1735) and is said to have assisted Galland in his translation of The Thousand and One Nights.[8]

1719

Daniel Defoe

Robinson Crusoe

1721

Baron Montesquieu

Les Lettres Persanes

1726

Jonathan Swift

Gulliver’s Travels

1730

Anthony Hamilton

Les Quatre Facardins was probably written between 1710-15 along with Le Bélier, Histoire du Fleur d’Epine (The History of the May-Flower), and Zeneyde.

1737-1794

Edward Gibbon

Gibbon described the Abbasid court in the later volumes of his Decline favorably.

1742

Jacques Cazotte; Claude-Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon, fils

Les Mille et une fadaises; Le Sopha

1747

Voltaire

Zadig

1749-1832

Johann von Goethe

German creative author, critic, amateur artist, scientist, and statesman

1759

Voltaire; Samuel Johnson

Candide;  Rasselas: Prince of Abyssinia

1761

John Hawkesworth

Almoran and Hamet

1765

Rev. James Ridley

The Tale of the Genii “Charles Dickens . . . loved James Ridley’s stories as a child, making several allusions to them in later novels.”[9]

1767

Hugh Kelly; Francis Sheridan

Orasmin and Elmira;  Nourjahad

1768

Samuel Johnson

The History of Rasselas “From the late eighteenth century onwards . . . the Nights influenced the development of the novel in many important ways . . .” The science fiction, sword and sorcery fantasy, horror, romance, and crime and thriller genres were all influenced by the Nights.[10]

1770-1850

William Wordsworth

English poet laureate

1780-1844

Charles Nodier

French author

1771-1832

Sir Walter Scott

 Scottish poet and novelist

1783-1842

Stendhal

French novelist and essayist

1785

Clara Reeve; Horace Walpole

The History of Charoba, Queen of Ægypt; Walpole, the author of Hieroglyphic Tales, was “a great enthusiast for the stories of the Nights.”[11]

1787

William Beckford

Vathek

1796-1835

August Graf von Platen-Hallermünde

German poet and dramatist

1798

Walter Savage Landor; Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Clara Reeve’s History of Charoba inspired Landor’s epic poem Gebir; The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

1799-1837

Aleksander S. Pushkin

Russian poet

1800

Robert Southey

Thalaba the Destroyer

1802-1885

Victor-Marie Hugo

French novelist, poet, and playwright

1802-1870

Alexandre Dumas, père

French novelist and playwright

1804

Maria Edgeworth; Count Jan Potocki

Murad the Unlucky “reads as if it was written specifically in opposition” to the History of Khwajah Hasan al-Habbal;[12] Potocki publishes the first part of The Saragossa Manuscript (1804-15), the origins of which  “lay in Potocki’s reading of the Nights and his wish to entertain his sick wife by telling stories in the same vein.”[13]

1808-1855

Gérard de Nerval

French Romantic poet

1810-1865

Elizabeth Gaskell

English novelist

1811-1863

William Makepeace Thackeray

English novelist

1812-1885

Peter Christen Asbjørnsen

Norwegian writer, scholar, and collector of Scandinavian folk tales

1812-1870

Charles Dickens

English novelist

1812-15

Brothers Grimm

Grimm’s Fairy Tales

1814

Lord Byron

The Corsair

1816

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Christabel and Kubla Khan

1816-1882

Joseph-Arthur de Gobineau

French author

1817

Thomas Moore

Lalla-Rookh

1819-1891

Herman Melville

American novelist

1821-1880

Gustave Flaubert

French novelist and playwright

1824

Lord Byron

Don Juan is left unfinished. “Lord Byron deployed imagery from the Nights in a number of his poems, most notably in Don Juan.”[14]

1824-1889

Wilkie Collins

English novelist

1824-1905

George Macdonald

Scottish novelist and poet

1828-1910

Leo Tolstoy

Russian novelist generally  considered one of the greatest of all time

1829

Washington Irving

The Conquest of Granada

1831-1903

Frederick William Farrar

Dean of Canterbury and writer

1832

Alfred, Lord Tennyson; Washington Irving

Recollections of the Arabian Nights; The Legends of Alhambra (revised 1857)

1835

Hans Christian Andersen; Frederick Marryat

Fairy Tales—his Tinderbox owes something to Aladdin and his Little Mermaid may be modeled on the story of Julnar the sea-born.[15] Marryat, an English novelist, publishes The Pacha of Many Tales. “[T]he Nights was often a major influence on this new breed of writer (including Frederick Marryat, Dean Farrar, George Macdonald and E. Nesbit).”[16]

1840

Edgar Allan Poe

Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque

1845

Edgar Allan Poe; Thomas De Quincey

Thousand and Second Tale of Schehrazade; Suspiria de Profundis (Sighs from the Depths) is published in Blackwood’s Magazine.

1847

Christina Rosetti; Austin Henry Layard

The City of Brass and The Ebony Horse are “the ghostly precursors of such morbidly poetic Victorian necropolises as Christina Rosetti’s The Dead City (1847) and James Thomson’s The City of Dreadful Night (1874).[17] “Sir Henry Layard’s childhood reading of . . . the Ebony Horse and The City of Brass led him as an adult in the 1840’s to recover the remains of Nineveh.”[18]

1849

Herman Melville

Mardi and a Voyage Thither

1851

Herman Melville

Moby Dick

1857-1924

Joseph Conrad

Polish-born English novelist

1859-1930

Arthur Conan Doyle

English novelist and creator of Sherlock Holmes

1862-1910

O. Henry

American author and creator of the term Baghdad on the Subway

1863-1933

Constantine Petrou Cavafy

Egyptian-born Greek poet

1864

Cardinal John Henry Newman

Newman publishes Apologia pro Vita Sua and admits that he “used to wish the Arabian Tales were true: my imagination ran on unknown influences, magic powers and talismans.”[19]

1865-1939

William Butler Yeats

Irish poet, playwright and essayist

1866-1946

H.G. Wells

English novelist and historian

1874-1929

Hugo von Hofmannsthal

Austrian playwright and poet

1874

James Thompson

The City of Dreadful Night

1884-1915

James Elroy Flecker

English poet, novelist, and playwright

1890-1937

Howard Phillips Lovecraft

American author of horror fiction

1899-1986

Jorge Luis Borges

Argentine author and Nights enthusiast

1905

Georges Méliès

Le Palais des Mille et une nuits, one of the first movies, is based on the Thousand and One Nights.

1913-1927

Marcel Proust

In Search of Lost Time

1922

James Joyce

Ulysses

1923-1985

Italo Calvino

Italian short story writer and novelist

1924

United Artists

The Thief of Baghdad

1930

Edith Nesbit

The Five Children is published containing The Five Children and It (which itself was originally published in 1902), The Phoenix and the Carpet (1904) and The Story of the Amulet (1906). “Nesbit’s Psammead (sand fairy) stories obviously owe a great deal to the Arab tales.”[20]

1935

Jorge Luis Borges

The Universal History of Infamy

1936-1982

Georges Perec

French novelist

1939

James Joyce

Finnegan’s Wake

1940

United Artists

The remake of The Thief of Baghdad

1944

Universal Pictures; MGM; Jorge Luis Borges

Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves; Kismet; The South

1950-1956

C.S. Lewis

Lewis publishes the Chronicles of Narnia. George Macdonald and Edith Nesbit are major influences on Lewis. Lewis saturates each volume with allusions to the Nights from a direct reference in vol. 2: Prince Caspian to a complete lifting of the abandoned City of Brass imagery in vol. 4: The Silver Chair. Many more allusions permeate the Narnia series. Lewis was very familiar with E.W. Lane’s  translation of the Thousand and One Nights even taking the name “Aslan” (Turkish for Lion) from Lane and applying it to his central character—the great golden Lion of Narnia.[21]

1958

Columbia Pictures

7th Voyage of Sinbad

1974

John Barth; United Artists

Chimera; Il fiore delle mille e una notte, an Italian Thousand and One Nights movie

1980

Jorge Luis Borges

 The Thousand and One Nights in Siete noches

1981

Salman Rushdie

Midnight’s Children

1984

John Barth

The Friday Book, or book-titles should be straight forward and subtitles avoided

1987

John Barth

Tidewater Tales

1990

Salman Rushdie

Haroun and the Sea of Stories

1992

Walt Disney Pictures

Aladdin, an animated feature length movie, becomes the highest grossing animated film to date.

 



[1] Edward W. Lane, The Arabian Nights’ Entertainment—or The Thousand and One Nights, N.Y.: Tudor Publishing, 1927, 1185-6.

[2] R. L. Storey, Chronology of the World, vol. 2, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1994, 291.

[3] Ibid., 357.

[4] Robert Irwin, The Arabian Nights: A Companion, London: Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 1994, 64, 96.

[5] Storey, 475.

[6] Lane, 1100; Irwin, 96.

[7] William Aldis Wright, ed., The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, The Cambridge Edition Text, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1936, 936.

[8] Joseph Campbell, The Portable Arabian Nights, ed. and with an introduction by J. Campbell, N.Y.: The Viking Press, 1952, 29.

[9] Irwin, 244

[10]  Ibid., 291

[11] Ibid., 254

[12] Ibid., 320

[13] Ibid., 259

[14] Ibid., 265

[15] Ibid., 101

[16] Ibid., 274

[17] Ibid., 271

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., 274.

[21] Paul F. Ford, Companion to Narnia: The Complete Guide to the Enchanting World of C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994, 63.