Literary Reflections

Timeline of Publication History: The Arabian Nights

About This Resource

The Arabian Nights, or The Thousand and One Nights (Alf Layla wa Layla in Arabic) has multiple origins in several cultures, and a long history of collection, publication, translation and scholarship. Its deepest roots lie in the oral tradition of storytelling in Asia. Frame tales and moral stories from India, Persian stories of magic and the world of unseen creatures, and other tales of unknown origins came together and were translated into Arabic language from about the eighth century. The stories were added to and embellished over the centuries both in print and orally. The first eighteenth century translation of The Arabian Nights into French began a tradition of publication in Europe, then globally.


10th century, Baghdad, Iraq


Ibn al Nadim (ca. 932-990) in the Fihrist, or Catalogue of Books, mentions a book of Persian stories entitled Hazār Afsān, a tale of 200 stories in which Sheherezade tells a thousand nights of stories to save her life.

Ca. 1150, Cairo, Egypt

A Jewish bookseller’s notebook from the Cairo Geniza, or synagogue storage room, mentions lending out a copy of The Thousand and One Nights, the first time this title appears in the historical record. The document is found in 1958 by Solomon Goitein.

14th century, Syria 

A Syrian manuscript of Alf Layla wa Layla containing about 300 stories is found. In 1948, Scholar Nabia Abbot identifies handwritten copies of Kitab Hadith Alf Layla ("The Book of the Tale of the Thousand Nights") dated to early 9th century Syria.

1701-1717, France

French archaeologist Antoine Galland (1646-1715) translates a Constantinople manuscript of the Sindbad the Sailor stories into French. Galland publishes translations of the 14th century Syrian manuscript The Thousand and One Nights in 12 volumes. Galland’s editions added stories by Syrian Christian monk Hanna Diab, as well as possible inventions such as Aladdin and Ali Baba.

1706, 1712-1763, Europe

The first known English version of the tales is published as The Arabian Nights' Entertainment. This version has been translated into German, Italian, Dutch, and Russian by 1763, making The Arabian Nights into a European literary tradition.

1775, Egypt

German orientalist and Arabist Herman Zotenberg (1836-1894) publishes The Arabian Nights based on now-lost versions from Egyptian cities of Bulaq and Cairo. Zotenberg’s Egyptian Recension (ZER), attempts to trace the tales to their indigenous sources and remove later additions.

1835, Bulaq, Egypt

The Egyptian government under Muhammad Ali (1769-1849), establishes a printing press in Egypt. This version of The Arabian Nights is the first printed in Arabic by a non-European.

1825–1843, Breslau, Prussia

Christian Maxmilian  Habicht (b. 1775), publishes an 8- volume edition with Tunisian author Murad Al-Najjar in Arabic and German. This edition contains 1001 stories, using existing versions and adding tales from al-Najjar and unknown sources.

1838–1840 Cairo, Egypt and London, England

British orientalist Edward W. Lane (1801-1876) publishes an English translation of the One Thousand and One Nights. Lane’s work is known for its engravings by William Harvey (1796-1866). Many children’s editions draw upon this edition.

1885–1888, London, England

Richard Francis Burton (1821 – 1890), geographer, explorer, orientalist, cartographer, linguist, poet, and diplomat, publishes an English translation known for its sexual content.

1984, Leiden, Netherlands

Muhsin Mahdi (1926-2007) publishes an Arabic edition claiming fealty to the oldest Arabic versions, based on early manuscripts from the Syrian tradition.


Husain Haddawy publishes an English translation of Mahdi’s Arabic edition as The Arabian Nights (W.W. Norton, 1990).


Robert Irwin The Arabian Nights: A Companion (Tauris Parke, 2005); David Pinault Story-Telling Techniques in the Arabian Nights (Brill Publishers, 1992); Ulrich Marzolph, Richard van Leeuwen, Hassan Wassouf, The Arabian Nights Encyclopedia (2004); Ulrich Marzolph (ed.) The Arabian Nights Reader (Wayne State University Press, 2006); Dwight Reynolds, "A Thousand and One Nights: a history of the text and its reception" in The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature, Vol 6. (CUP 2006); Eva Sallis Scheherazade Through the Looking-Glass: The Metamorphosis of the Thousand and One Nights (Routledge, 1999); Yamanaka, Yuriko and Nishio, Tetsuo (ed.) The Arabian Nights and Orientalism – Perspectives from East and West (I.B.Tauris, 2006) ISBN 1-85043-768-8; Charles Pellat, "Alf Layla Wa Layla" in Encyclopædia Iranica. Online Access June 2011 at

Image source: William Harvey illustration “Efreet [genie] liberated from the Bottle” engraved by Orrin Smith from “The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Thousand and One Nights Translated from the Arabic by Edward William Lane”, n.d.

How to Cite This Page

"Muslim Journeys | Item #157: Timeline of Publication History: The Arabian Nights", May 18, 2024


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