On this day - 17th Feb 1715: Antoine Gallande died

Antoine Gallande, the French antiquarian and traveller, died 300 years ago today. During his life he travelled extensively in the Middle East becoming fluent in Arabic, Turkish and the Persian languages and culture. He was a prolific collector and translator, bringing treasures and tales (not tails, that would have been weird) from the Middle East home to France. He is remembered today for being the European to translate ‘The 1001 Nights’ or as it is in la francais - ‘Les Mille et Une Nuits’ (it’s so glamorous isn’t it? No? Ok, imagine it said by a french perfume advert man. In a suit. With stubble. Annnd now its sexy.) 

page5-368px-Les Mille et Une Nuits, trad. Galland, Le Normant, 1806, IX.djvu

Les Mille et Une Nuits 

Trad Antoine Gallande [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

The 1001 Nights may sound a little like some form of a Kama Sutra marathon but in fact it contains some of the most famous tales in the world. The likes of Aladdin, Ali Babba and Sindbad the Sailor all came to life in Europe through his pen (or maybe a quill..? With hair of his artistic flow I like to imagine he used a quill. A nice big peacock one perhaps.) 

QT - Antoine Galland

Antoine Gallande 1646 - 1715 

[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The 1001 Nights was a mammoth translation, published between 1704 and 1717 (posthumously). The texts enjoyed a highly enthusiastic reception at the French court. This was achieved in part due to careful editing of the original Arabic texts cutting out most of the erotica and poetry. There are also rumours that some of the stories including Aladdin may have been his own creation as Arabic texts predating his have never been found. The editing and possible additions gave the texts a ‘fairy tale’ feel which was at that time the absolute height of fashion and started by Gallande’s good friend, Charles Perrault. Although you may not be familiar with his name, you will certainly be familiar with some of Perrault’s work: Cendrillon, La Chat Botte and La Belle au bois dormant to name but a few. Not familiar? Ok, try: Cinderella, Puss in Boots and Sleeping Beauty. We generally accredit this work to the famous Brother’s Grimm but in fact the Brother’s Grimm merely re-told Perrault’s stories, admittedly adding a fair few of their own in the process. 

799px-Genie Lamps 2

Aladdin’s Magic Lamp

By Vicki Nunn (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Without these two friends, Gallande and Perrault, our lives as we know them might never have been the same. It may seem like a melodramatic statement but a world without Disney?! How would we cope? Without these two wonderful men Aurora may never have walked with Prince Philip once upon a dream. Peter Andre and Jordan would never have been able to startle us with their rendition of A Whole New World on their wedding day (…ok, bad example but you get the picture). Cats up and down the country would have had no inspiration to dream of shoes. Antonio Bandaras would have never had the opportunity to make us seriously question our morals (Am I the only one who finds Puss a little bit sexy?). Panto Dames up and down the land would be throwing glass slippers in a tantrum desperately trying to find their ugly sister. In short, life would simply not be worth living. 

Now I am aware I may have got a little bit carried away but in all seriousness, Antoine Gallande made a phenomenal impact upon society. Through his tireless work the gateway to Euro-Middle East translation was opened and it inspired generations of cultural enthusiasts to take up his mantle. The likes of Coleridge, Tennyson and Edgar Allen Poe all started from Gallande’s original translation. However many follow the path, it is the pioneer who first trod it that must be honoured and so whichever Aladdin song you have in your head today I ask you to take just one moment and remember the man who first brought it to life. 

© Isla Robertson 2017