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A plain and literal translation of the Arabian nights entertainments, now entitled The book of the Thousand Nights and a Night

The 1001 Arabian Nights is an old collection of even older stories.  Folk tales that circulated in the Middle East and South Asia were gathered into this collection during the 8th - 13th centuries AD.  Many of these individual stories can be traced separately.  Think of the 1001 Nights as a building where the stories are individual bricks, and they are held together by the mortar of the narration.  Chaucer is the most famous English example of this type of collection with narratives within a larger narrative.  Boccaccio's Decameron is another famous collection; Christine de Pizan's Book of the City of Ladies has the collection of stories occur within a dream vision combining the approaches of Boethius and 1001 Nights

From 1885 - 2008, the dominant English translation of 1001 Nights was the translation by Sir Richard Burton (the 19th-century explorer, not the 20th-century actor).  The dirty stories and dirty pictures were beyond the pale for Victorian England, so Burton released the work (ultimately 16 volumes) as a private subscription that was not on sale to the general public.  Scandalizing England was something of a habit for Burton, who also published a translation of the Kama Sutra.

The framing device for the 1001 Nights is the predicament of Scheherazade,  who was slated to be executed the day after being with Shahryār, a misogynistic ruler who sleeps with a different woman every night and kills her the next day because he had been betrayed by his first wife.  Since sex wasn't going to work on a guy with a harem, Scheherazade tells him a story and leaves it pending when the night is over.  The only way to find out how the story ends if for Shahryār to have her spared until the next day.  So Scheherazade may well have invented the plot device of the cliff-hanger.

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