I watched this excellent tv programme about the history of the stories of the Arabian Nights. I knew very little about them, apart from knowing that Aladdin and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves were among them.
Apparently many of the stories are over 1,000 years old. For much of that time they were not written down but travelled and were told along the trade routes in the Middle East. Gradually over the years they were put down on paper. Then in the late 17th century a French traveller in the region, Antoine Galland took some of the stories back to Paris and published them. They were an immediate sensation at a time when people in Europe knew very little about the Middle East. When they were published in London a few years later they sparked a fashion for oriental interior design and dress.
What I didn't realise was that they were not originally children's stories, but were in fact very sexually explicit. In the 19th century they were censored by the Victorians to make them more family friendly. They are still controversial now. Earlier this year an Egyptian publisher produced an unabridged version and some religious groups have pushed to have it censored. The publisher even received death threats. However the Egyptian courts have allowed the book to be published uncensored saying that it is 'one of humanities greatest treasures.'
The programme was presented by Richard E. Grant who was an enthusiastic and friendly guide. It's still available on iplayer for a couple more days and I would recommend it to anyone who has access to it.