Beautiful men and deceitful women: The One Hundred and One Nights and world literature

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World literature, concerned with the circulation of literature outside its place and culture of origin, has long privileged The Thousand and One Nights as a site of exchange between Arabic and European letters. Recent works even suggest that tales from the Arabic story collection and their analogues in European literature represent versions of the “same” stories. Closer scrutiny of such perceived resonances, however, suggests the need to look elsewhere for closer possible mediating or parallel texts in Arabic letters. Perceived European analogues to the frame narrative of The Thousand and One Nights, for instance, bear a closer resemblance to the frame of the One Hundred and One Nights, sharing its theme of beauty. The long overdue translation of the One Hundred and One Nights into English makes this investigation timely for the scholar of world literature. The English translation caps the momentum of a global revival of interest in the story collection, which has added to the first translation into French more recent versions in Russian, German, Japanese, and Portuguese. These translations represent an advancement of knowledge regarding the story collection through a new edition of the Arabic text and the critical apparatus of introductions and critical notes. For scholars of world literature a crucial question is whether this new knowledge will illuminate the travel of tales between European letters and the story collection. At issue is the hypothesis of the Maghrebi character of One Hundred and One Nights, and whether the presence of the story collection in the western region of the Arab world may indicate a greater likelihood of the dissemination of tales between its corpus and European letters. No clear consensus on this question has emerged. While some scholars are confident in asserting both the relative antiquity and Maghrebi origin of the One Hundred and One Nights in relation to The Thousand and One Nights, others are less persuaded on both points. If the story collection does not date as far back as the thirteenth century CE as one translator posits, and if there can only be certainty of its presence in the Maghreb in the eighteenth and later centuries (the date of later manuscripts), it would be premature to conclude its tales influenced medieval European letters, rather than vice versa, or that analogue tales share an older common source.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)190-207
Number of pages18
JournalNarrative Culture
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Anthropology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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