Though each collection features different stories, they are all centered around the frame story of the sultan Shahrayar and his wife, Scheherazade. After finding out that his first wife is unfaithful, Shahrayar kills her and swears to marry a different woman each night before killing her the following morning to prevent further betrayal. She marries Shahrayar, and then begins to tell him a story that night. However, she stops the story in the middle, so that he will be excited to hear the rest the following night.
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In his bitterness and grief, he decides that all women are the same. Eventually the vizier , whose duty it is to provide them, cannot find any more virgins. On the night of their marriage, Scheherazade begins to tell the king a tale, but does not end it.
The king, curious about how the story ends, is thus forced to postpone her execution in order to hear the conclusion.
The next night, as soon as she finishes the tale, she begins another one, and the king, eager to hear the conclusion of that tale as well, postpones her execution once again. This goes on for one thousand and one nights, hence the name. The tales vary widely: they include historical tales, love stories, tragedies, comedies, poems, burlesques , and various forms of erotica.
Numerous stories depict jinns , ghouls , apes ,  sorcerers , magicians , and legendary places, which are often intermingled with real people and geography, not always rationally. Common protagonists include the historical Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid , his Grand Vizier , Jafar al-Barmaki , and the famous poet Abu Nuwas , despite the fact that these figures lived some years after the fall of the Sassanid Empire , in which the frame tale of Scheherazade is set.
The different versions have different individually detailed endings in some Scheherazade asks for a pardon, in some the king sees their children and decides not to execute his wife, in some other things happen that make the king distracted but they all end with the king giving his wife a pardon and sparing her life. History: versions and translations[ edit ] The history of the Nights is extremely complex and modern scholars have made many attempts to untangle the story of how the collection as it currently exists came about.
Robert Irwin summarises their findings: In the s and s a lot of work was done on the Nights by Zotenberg and others, in the course of which a consensus view of the history of the text emerged. Most scholars agreed that the Nights was a composite work and that the earliest tales in it came from India and Persia.
This collection then formed the basis of The Thousand and One Nights. The original core of stories was quite small. Then, in Iraq in the 9th or 10th century, this original core had Arab stories added to it—among them some tales about the Caliph Harun al-Rashid. Also, perhaps from the 10th century onwards, previously independent sagas and story cycles were added to the compilation [ The influence of the Panchatantra and Baital Pachisi is particularly notable.
Only fragments of the original Sanskrit form of this work survive, but translations or adaptations exist in Tamil,  Lao,  Thai  and Old Javanese.
In the 10th century Ibn al-Nadim compiled a catalogue of books the "Fihrist" in Baghdad. He noted that the Sassanid kings of Iran enjoyed "evening tales and fables". This would place genesis of the collection in the 8th century. This is the earliest known surviving fragment of the Nights. One such cycle of Arabic tales centres around a small group of historical figures from 9th-century Baghdad, including the caliph Harun al-Rashid died , his vizier Jafar al-Barmaki d.
Another cluster is a body of stories from late medieval Cairo in which are mentioned persons and places that date to as late as the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The Syrian tradition is primarily represented by the earliest extensive manuscript of the Nights, a fourteenth- or fifteenth-century Syrian manuscript now known as the Galland Manuscript. It and surviving copies of it are much shorter and include fewer tales than the Egyptian tradition. All extant substantial versions of both recensions share a small common core of tales:  The Merchant and the Genie.
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