There have been many translations of the 1001 Arabian Nights, the unique collection of tales has undergone many changes and additions since they were first fell upon in the West. Burton’s version was designed for a specific range of rather upper class connoisseurs. There were originally ten volumes with a further six supplementary volumes bound in white leather.
For many years it was my ambition to own the collection. On another of my schoolboy sojourns, I once entered an antiquarian book shop just off St Annes’ Square in Manchester and saw the complete set on a shelf. If I remember correctly, the price was £100, this was in the early sixties. I cheekily asked if I could buy a single volume (which I still wouldn’t have been able to afford). You can guess the reply…
Burton’s translation is full of footnotes, many regarding sexual practices of the time – another reason why the volumes were privately published. They were also illustrated with plates of a fairly explicit nature, where the text required it. Although the language of the translation has been criticised as being archaic (as well as ‘politically incorrect)’ the telling of the tales is full of humour and are very entertaining.
The footnotes have now been released in a book by Tahir Shah, the son of Idries Shah and is available through Amazon:
For an erudite history of The Arabian Nights why not read Robert Irwin’s ‘The Arabian Nights: A Companion‘ ? In addition he has also produced two new volumes of the classics himself.