Antoine Galland (1646-1715) was born at Rollot in Picardy (France) and studied old Greek, Latin and Arab in Paris. At the age of 24th, he went to work to the French embassy in Constantinople and he started to travel to Syria and other Oriental countries to study inscriptions and ancient monuments and to collect antiquities. Soon, he was named “antiquary” of the king Louis XVI.
When Antoine Galland returned to France, he had acquired great knowledge of Arabic, Turkish and Persian languages, history and literature. He began to work in the royal library together with d’Herbelot who was writing “Bibliothèque orientale”, the biggest compendium of information of Islamic culture of that time. It was published in 1697, after d’Herbelot’s death.
In 1701, Antoine Galland published the translation into French of a manuscript that he had found years later: “The Tale of Sinbad the Sailor”, the big success encouraged him to translate more 14th Syrian tales under the title of “Les Mille et Une Nuits” (they are still the standard French translation of “One Thousand and One Nights”). The first two volumes appeared in 1704, the twelfth and final in 1717 (it was posthumously).
Antoine Galland had translated the first volumes alone but in 1709, Hanna Diab, a Christian Maronite monk from Aleppo, told fourteen more tales to Galland by heart (seven of them were includes in his version of “One Thousand and One Nights”).
Mystery has always surrounded Galland’s translation and, for example, there are not Arabic manuscripts of Aladdin or Ali Baba: Were there an invention of Galland?
There is not doubt that Antoine Galland adapted the Syrian tales to the taste of his time. In France, people of 18th century were fond of fairy tales (Charles Perrault is a good example). He also cut the erotic or violent passages and all of the poetry. Then, when Sir Richard Burton translated the tales into English, he affirmed they did not represent the Eastern original.
Antoine Galland’s publication of “One Thousand and One Nights” was greeted with big enthusiasm and was soon translated into other European languages: German (1712), Italian (1722)… a grub street English version had appeared in 1706. They produced very many imitations and the Oriental fashion during the 18th and 19th centuries.
In the 20th century, Jorge Luis Borges –another great admirer of the Arabian tales- wrote: “The Spanish adjective milyunanochesco (thousand-and-one-nights) … has nothing to do with the erudite obscenities of Burton or Mardrus and everything to do with Antoine Galland’s bijoux and sorcery.