I liked the tales of Arabian Nights from childhood and re-read them many times through my life. What strikes me as odd, is that all the main characters are predominantly Persian. Moreover Arabs (e.g. a recurring theme is an evil Maghreb mage) are sometimes are cast as evil and unfaithful. If a person is from Maghreb it's a good enough reason to distrust them, according to the narrative. But these are folk tales, and they were written in Arabic, not in Persian! How is this historically explained? Surely Persians would have written it in Persian, and Arabs would not make Persian the protagonists?

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    From the second paragraph in your link to wikipedia, "Many tales were originally folk stories from the Abbasid and Mamluk eras, while others, especially the frame story, are probably drawn from the Pahlavi Persian work Hezār Afsān". Can you please read the wikipedia article attentively, and state explicitly what is missing so that we can answer it here? May 1, 2023 at 2:29
  • @AstorFlorida I would imagine that if something has "roots" in a neighbouring area it would still be adapted so that the protagonists become "our folk". E.g. the Cinderella story was once about a Greek slave girl who marries the king of Egypt, but of course she is no longer Greek, etc May 1, 2023 at 3:11
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    The Maghreb by the time of the Abassids had slowly separated from the rest of the zones colonized by the Arabs. This separation might have been seen by the time as a treason by the Abassids, thus triggering this picture of Maghreb people as evil and unfaitfhul. May 1, 2023 at 9:17
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    Maghreb only means "west" in Arabic. Can we be sure that what is referred to as "West" in that literary work is actually the same area we call Maghreb today?
    – Jan
    May 1, 2023 at 14:50
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    The title of your question is rather poorly chosen, IMHO. It would probably be better to call it "One Thousand and One Nights", which is its original title, and the title it is best known by for everyone who is not a native English speaker (and I guess even a few of those). This also avoids a casual reader thinking that your question is (also) about the title, instead of the language and the character depiction. Then again, that link to WP basically answers your question already -- it is not an original Arabic work, but a collection of existing stories.
    – DevSolar
    May 2, 2023 at 11:32

1 Answer 1


The correct question would be "why is it called Arabian Nights". The answer is that this was a decision by the English translators, and has little to do with the original work. As explained in the second sentence of the wikipedia article you linked to.

Suppose someone would decide to translate the Song of Roland into English and give it the title "The Song of the French". Should we then ask why the work is mostly set in Spain?

One thing to keep in mind re. Persians is that the Abbasid court in Baghdad was located only a few dozen kilometers from where the (Persian) Sasanian court had been located earlier (and before that the Parthian and, for some time, the Seleucid court), in Ctesiphon. A story set in Baghdad, but several hundred years earlier, would automatically have been set in the Sasanian capital.

  • It's not just the name, it was written in Arabic language not in Persian. May 1, 2023 at 19:50
  • @AndrewSavinykh Yes, it is common that literary works written in language A are set in a country where language B is spoken. As mentioned above, the Chanson de Roland is one such example. Aladdin is another one: originally written in France and in French, but set somewhere in the Orient. The uncommon thing here is the title, not the setting.
    – Jan
    May 1, 2023 at 20:04
  • @AndrewSavinykh Asterix might be a more relevant example. Set in what today is France, but in a time when the language of the protagonists would have been quite different from French. Might some translator publish it under the title "The two French Bros"? Possibly. Would it be surprising that the stories are set in a world where everybody speaks Celtic or Latin instead of French? Not really I think.
    – Jan
    May 1, 2023 at 20:12

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