Saturday, July 25, 2009


Between 1991 and 1995, I spent a good deal of time studying and collating all the different texts of the 1001 Nights I could get hold of. The idea was to compile a complete list of all the stories included in all the various editions. I never really succeeded in finishing this task (it's since been done rather more satisfactorily by Ulrich Marzolph and Richard van Leeuwen in their 2004 Arabian Nights Encyclopedia).

In the process, I produced a number of papers and essays on the Nights, which I planned eventually to collate and rewrite into a comprehensive work on the Arabian Nights seen from the perspective of comparative literature. I never managed to complete this either, but rather than leaving it as unfinished (possibly unfinishable) business, I thought I'd put as much of it as I did get done up online.

I suppose I think of it as a sort of unofficial Post-Doctoral thesis, to be regarded as a companion to my MA and PhD dissertations, both of which I'm also (gradually) transferring online.

I'll continue to update it from time to time, but not (I fear) with the same fervour I brought to the subject two decades ago.

- Dr Jack Ross, Mairangi Bay (26 July, 2009)

Scheherazade's Web:
The 1001 Nights & Comparative Literature


Jerry said...

A friend translated from a French text "The parable of the true science of life," supposedly from the 774th night. I can't find any other references to this story. Can you help?

The parable is about a young man who always wanted to learn more. He heard about a famous wise holy man of Islam. The young man traveled 40 days and 40 nights to find this wise man, and learned the scientist, despite his fame, worked as a blacksmith.

When the young man found the blacksmith he was asked what he wanted. The young man replied "Learning science."

The old man put the young man to work pulling the string of a bellows. After five years the young man repeated his request for science, and the blacksmith replied "Pull the rope."

When ten years elapsed, the blacksmith told the young man "My son. You can return to your country and your home, with full knowledge of the world and life in your heart. For all that thou has acquired by acquiring the virtue of patience."

Can you direct me to additional translations of this story?

Dr Jack Ross said...

Dear Jerry,

Your friend is quite right. The story in question has been translated as "The Parable of True Learning" in Edward Powys Mather's English version of the French translation of the Nights by Dr J. C. Mardrus. It is the 774th night in that edition.

You can find an English translation at:

Mathers, E. Powys, trans. The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night: Rendered into English from the Literal and Complete French Translation of Dr. J. C. Mardrus. 4 vols. 1949. 2nd ed. 1964. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986. vol. 3, pp. 437-38.

You can find the French original at:

Mardrus, Dr. J. C., trans. Le Livre des Mille et une Nuits. 16 vols. Paris: Édition de la Revue blanche, 1899-1904. Ed. Marc Fumaroli. 2 vols. Paris: Laffont, 1989. vol. 2, pp. 392-93.

Mardrus's translation is notoriously unreliable, though. The real source of the story is actually (according to Victor Chauvin's magisterial Bibliographie des ouvrages arabes ou relatifs aux arabes publiés dans l’Europe chrétienne de 1810 à 1885. 12 vols (Liège: H. Vaillant-Carmanne, Leipzig: O. Harrassowitz, 1892-1922), vol. 7, pp.169-70) Artin Pacha's Contes populaires inédits de la Vallée du Nil [Popular Tales from the Valley of the Nile] (1895), rather than any original Arabic edition of the Nights themselves.