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The Tales of One Thousand and One Nights

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this is one of the oldest classic pieces of literature in the world

To continue my series on famous rulers and their wives, I want to emphasis where revenge and murder committed by a crazy ruler actually turns into love for his new wife. This twist of fate cannot be better exemplified more than in the Tales of the One Thousand and One Nights, often called the Tales of the Arabian Nights.

We all know these wonderful stories, though not in its entirety. Matt had one of the original collections written in Arabic, worth thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, they were either lost or stolen from his father's wonderful collection of out-of-print and priceless works.

The collection is a series of work that has been compiled from Sanskrit (Indian), Arabic, Egyptian, and even ancient Sumerian writings. The earliest collections surfaced in Mesopotamia during the 9th century. These tales have survived time and have been compiled by several countries throughout the centuries including several versions in the West. It is not certain if the Western versions contain the origin tales exclusively, or if new ones were added to the collections in this part of the world. The original stories are believed to originate from the Caliphate period in Mesopotamia. The first Western collections were translated into French, followed by English and then other European languages. The alternative name for the collection, The Arabian Nights' Entertainment or simply Arabian Nights came about only in Europe, in the 19th century.

Some of the stories in the collection remain old favorites among westerners. We particularly enjoy the stories of Sinbad the sailor sailing the seven seas, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Aladdin and his Wonderful Magic Lamp. Although it is not for certain that these stories were part of the original Arabic collection., what we do know is that the original collection contained love stories, tragedies, comedies, burlesque, and poems, intermingled with real people, magicians, jinns, (genies, or jins), sorcerers, and legendary places.

There is a heavy influence on animal fables in the Sanskrit Panchatantra and Baital Pachisis styles of literature. There are also Buddhist tales and, of course, Arabic or Muslim tales as well. These tales use many literary components such as foreshadowing, introducing a figure of little importance who later becomes of utmost importance to the theme. An unreliable narrator who cannot be relied upon to tell the truth often tells the stories. There is suspense and drama, and the method of a story-within-a-story is often used. Perhaps the origins of a cliffhanger that we see so much in modern literature and cinema, used throughout this collection, did not occur by fluke. The stories were crafted that way to keep the audience in suspense and wanting more.

Why was this element of literature so important to the collection, and why was fate and destiny a common theme running through the stories? It is now time to get back to my opening statement.

These stories are about a ruler and his wife, but not your typical love story, one might even conclude that rather than being romantic this legend is pretty macabre in nature. Shahryar, the ruler of Mesopotamia, the Persian Empire and all the lands as far east as China and India, was betrayed by his wife, who cheated on him. She was executed for her infidelity.

Naturally his betrayal left a bad taste in his mouth and a general mistrust for all women in general. Shahryar is said to have gone mad. For three years straight, he took it upon himself to find and marry virgins. He would lay with them but after the first night together the next day he would have them executed. I guess revenge is sweet-but oh, so nasty. We can say he made sure his brides never had a chance to cheat on him; they remained faithful to the bitter end.

So the king with his ferocious appetite managed to find and kill all the virgins off. The brave daughter of the vizier, Scheherazade, agreed to marry him. Of course she knew of her impeding death, but this new queen had plans in the working. Through her ingenuity she was able to save her own life.

Scheherazade, told the king one compelling story every night that did not have an ending. The king loved the stories so much that he wanted to hear the ending, but he had to wait for the continuation the following night. Of course each additional night she that she told such a story brought an additional new day of life for her. In the end, through her talent and wit, Queen Schherazade managed to get this crazy ruler of the known world to fall in love with her. Not only was her life spared, but in addition, a collection of some of the world's most cherished stories were born and have survived the annuals of time.

The theme of writing to save one's life has been done in modern day literature. Stephen King's Misery  is a modern adaptation of One Thousand and One Nights. King’s novel is about a writer who must write a novel in order to save his life, which is in the hands of a crazy, more than likely old maid (virgin), woman who is keeping him held hostage and will cut his head off with an axe if he doesn’t write that book for her.

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Posted on Jan 11, 2010

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carol roach

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