Scheherazade's French translators

The first translation into French of the 1001 Arabian Nights — that great, scary tale of a woman holding off a power-crazed serial-killer of women with night-long strings of words — came out in 1704. It was done by Antoine Galland — who did, however, more than translate. He put togetehr the book (or at least parts thereof) himself, by inserting a number of stories that had not been part of the original 1001 Nights. Among those: the Sindbad material, Ali Baba & the Forty Thieves, Aladin. Those stories, inserted, seemd to fit so well that not only did the French speakers who met them there feel they belonged to the Nights canon, but they were then also integrated into the subsequent Arab versions of the 1001 Nights! (I nearly wrote “original Arab version” of which there is of course none, though there are various differing Arab and Persan gatherings of tales). So Borges spoke of “the scandalous decency” of Galland’s version & dismissed it as a bad version. Can’t remember if he knew — but don’t think he did — the little story about the 3 stories wandering into the final “original” version via Galland’s editorial intervention, but I think he would have liked the Galland version better had he known. Or maybe it is too borgesian a story for Borges to have enjoyed it when he hadn’t invented it himself?

A new French version just came out — a first volume of 1312 pages covering the first 327 stories & translated by Jamel Eddine Bencheikh et André Miquel published in the (bible-paper-ed) Editions de la Pléiade by Gallimard, with the next & final 2 volumes scheduled for late 2006. Will pick the first one up next month in France & make it the mainstay of my late summer (into fall & maybe even winter) reading list.

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