The Arabian Nights commands a place in world literature unrivaled by any other fictional work of "Oriental" provenance. Bringing together Indian, Iranian, and Arabic tradition, this collection of tales became popular in the Western world during the eighteenth century and has since exerted a profound influence on theater, opera, music, painting, architecture, and literature. The Arabian Nights Reader offers an authoritative guide to the research inspired by this rich and intricate work. Through a selection of sixteen influential and currently relevant essays, culled from decades of scholarship, this volume encompasses the most salient research topics to date, from the Nights' early history to interpretations of such famous characters as Sheherazade.
While serious research on the Nights began early in the nineteenth century, some of the most puzzling aspects of the collection's complex history and character were solved only quite recently. This volume's topics reflect the makings of a transnational narrative: evidence of a ninth-century version of the Nights, the work's circulation among booksellers in twelfth-century Cairo, the establishment of a "canonical" text, the sources used by the French translator who introduced the Nights to the West and the dating of this French translation, the influence of Greek literature on the Nights, the genre of romance, the relationship between narration and survival within the plots, reception of the Nights from the nineteenth century onward, interpretations of single stories from the collection, the universal nature of the sexual politics surrounding Sheherazade, and the repercussion of the Nights in modern Arabic literature.
As this collection demonstrates, the Arabian Nights helped shape Western perceptions of the "Orient" as the quintessential "Other" while serving to inspire Western creativity. The research presented here not only deepens our insight into this great work but also heightens our awareness of the powerful communal forces of transnational narrative.