The Thousand and One Nights

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The Thousand and One Nights, generally known to the English, speaking world as the Arabian Nights, is a compendium of Arabic tales compiled between the twelfth and the fourteenth centuries. The collection starts with the story of King Shahrayar. Betrayed by his adulterous wife, he swears never to trust a woman again, deciding instead to marry a different virgin every night and have her executed the next day. He carries out his plan for three years, until his Vizier can no longer find a virgin to offer the king. The Vizier's courageous daughter, Shahrazad, then attempts to change the king's mind and save the remaining maidens of the kingdom. Shahrazad offers herself as a bride. With the help of her sister, Dinarzad, she obtains permission to tell the king a story. Just as the sun is about to rise, she reaches the point of critical suspense, and the king, his curiosity piqued, spares her for the next night to complete her narrative. But the following night only brings another unfinished story. Thus, the king spares the bride for a thousand and one nights during which time she narrates an astonishing variety of tales. Finally, fascinated with his bride of "one night," Shahrayar rescinds the decree and crowns her as the queen.

The stories connect through skillful interweaving rather than thematic links. Depicting all types of people from the wicked to the virtuous, from the proud to the humble, from the gruesome to the gleeful, the tales thread the whole scope of human experience into one long narrative. Some stories are stretched out and form a sort of mini-series. "The Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor," for example, are told in seven installments. Others are short anecdotes, barely one page long. The stories in The Thousand and One Nights originated in a wide geographical area. Although most relate to medieval Arabic culture and civilization, many stories are rooted in ancient oral traditions of the Near East, Persia, India, Iraq of the first millennium...
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