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You Will Love These Underrated Arabian Nights Stories

The Arabian Nights, also known as "One Thousand and One Nights", is a collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian stories and folktales compiled over many centuries. This collection of fables has captured the imaginations of people from all over the world and has inspired countless adaptations in literature, film, and other forms of media. However, while some stories like Aladdin, Sinbad, and Ali Baba & the Forty Thieves have become household names, there are many lesser-known tales that are just as captivating.
In this article, we will explore some of the obscure stories from Arabian Nights that have been overlooked in popular culture. These stories are filled with adventure, magic, and life lessons. They showcase the rich cultural heritage of the Middle East and South Asia and are a testament to the enduring power of storytelling. From the story of a schoolmaster who falls in love with a woman only based on people's descriptions to the tale of a wealthy merchant who vows never to laugh, these lesser-known stories are sure to captivate readers.
So, without further ado, let us dive into the world of Arabian Nights and explore some of its hidden gems.
Note: You can read the complete Arabian Nights online legally and free of charge. The Gutenberg Project has all the volumes. Visit the pages for volumes I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, and X.

1. The Tale of the Prince and the Ogress

Arabian Nights, Ogress
What’s it about? 
"The Tale of the Prince and the Ogress," tells the story of a prince named Ahmed who is on a quest to find a rare bird to cure his sick father. He comes across a beautiful princess named Parizade, who helps him find the bird. On his way back home, the prince is tricked by an ogress who wants to marry him. The ogress forces the prince to marry her, but he manages to delay the consummation of their marriage by telling her that he must first say goodbye to his beloved horse.
The prince then escapes from the monster's castle with the help of a genie and reunites with Princess Parizade.
Together, they cure the prince's father with the rare bird's magical powers.
Deeper Meaning: The story highlights the power of loyalty and love in overcoming obstacles and the importance of intelligence and resourcefulness in difficult situations. It also emphasizes the idea that true beauty lies within a person's character rather than their outward appearance.

2. The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad


What’s it about?
This story follows a poor porter who is on his way home from work when he comes across three beautiful women who are lost and in need of help. The ladies invite him to their home, where they entertain him with food and music.
During his stay, the porter overhears the women talking about their tragic stories of love and loss. The first lady tells of her love for a young man who was executed. The second lady tells of her love for a man who was stolen by pirates, while the third one describes her love for a man who was murdered.
The porter is moved by their experiences and decides to help them seek justice for their lost love. He arranges for the young man's body to be reburied in a proper grave. He also helps the second lady track down her stolen lover and brings the third lady's murderer to justice.
Deeper Meaning: As a reward for his kindness and bravery, the ladies give the porter a large sum of money and send him on his way. This story illustrates the importance of compassion and the significance of helping those in need, regardless of one's social status or position in life. It also emphasizes the idea that justice can be served, even in the face of tragedy and loss.

3. The Tale of the Three Apples

Arabian Nights,  Three Apples
What’s it about?
This is the story of a wealthy merchant who was murdered, and the caliph, Harun al-Rashid, who sets out to investigate the crime. The evidence presented to him is a basket of apples, one of which contains the dead man's finger. The caliph then embarks on a quest to discover the truth behind the murder.
As the story unfolds, the caliph listens to the testimony of various witnesses, including the murdered man's wife. She reveals that her husband was having an affair with a slave girl. The slave girl is eventually found and questioned, and she gives her version of the events leading up to the murder. Through her testimony, it is revealed that the wife of the murdered man was actually the one who committed the crime out of jealousy.
Deeper Meaning: The message of "The Tale of the Three Apples" is multifaceted. On the one hand, the story highlights the importance of justice and the dangers of false accusations. The caliph's commitment to uncovering the truth and his willingness to listen to all sides of the story is an invaluable lesson in the pursuit of justice. Additionally, the story underscores the importance of truth and honesty, as the slave girl's testimony ultimately leads to the discovery of the real culprit.
On another level, the story also explores themes of love, jealousy, and betrayal. The wife's jealousy over her husband's affair with the slave girl ultimately leads to her downfall and serves as a warning against the destructive power of envy. At the same time, the story also portrays the slave girl's love and loyalty to the murdered man, despite her lowly status as a slave.

4. The Birds and Beasts and the Carpenter

Arabian Nights, Birds and Beasts
What’s it about?
This one tells the story of a group of birds and beasts who come together to build a grand castle in the forest. They hire a carpenter to build the structure, and he agrees to do the work for them. However, as the carpenter works, he becomes greedy and decides to keep the castle for himself.
The birds and beasts soon discover the carpenter's treachery and devise a plan to get their castle back. They send a delegation to the carpenter, offering to buy the castle from him. The carpenter agrees, but the price they offer is one golden dinar less than the value of the castle. After accepting the deal, the carpenter is caught off guard when the birds and beasts immediately retrieve the castle and fly away with it without allowing him to reconsider.
Deeper Meaning: This is a cautionary tale about greed and treachery. The carpenter's greed leads him to break his word and steal the castle from the animals, ultimately leading to his undoing. The animals, on the other hand, are rewarded for their honesty and integrity, as they are able to get their castle back through cunning and resourcefulness.
At the same time, the story also underscores the value of cooperation and unity. The birds and beasts come together to build the castle, and it is their collective effort that ultimately enables them to regain their property from the carpenter. This message of cooperation and collaboration is a timeless one that will resonate with readers even today.

5. The City of Labtayt

Arabian Nights, City of Labtayt

What’s it about?

In this story, a wealthy merchant sets out on a journey to find the city of Labtayt, a legendary city reputed to be a place of abundance, wealth, and prosperity. After encountering a series of challenges along the way, the merchant eventually finds the city and is welcomed by its ruler, King Shahriman.

However, the merchant soon discovers that all is not as it seems in the city of Labtayt. Despite its reputation for wealth and prosperity, it is actually a place of poverty and despair. The town's inhabitants are forced to work long hours for meager wages, and many are unable to afford even basic necessities like food and shelter.

Deeper Meaning: The message of "The City of Labtayt" is a powerful one that points out the dangers of greed and the power of empathy and compassion. The merchant's quest for wealth and prosperity leads him to seek out the City of Labtayt, but his pursuit ultimately leads him to a place of suffering and hardship. This story acts as a warning about the dangers of materialism and the risk involved in pursuing wealth at the expense of others.

The fable also underlines the significance of empathy and compassion. The merchant's encounter with the suffering inhabitants of the City of Labtayt leads him to realize the error of his ways and inspires him to use his wealth and resources to help those in need. Empathy and using one's privilege to help others are therefore central themes in the story.

Related: 5 Zen Parables With Profound Life Lessons

6. The Caliph Hisham and the Arab Youth

Arabian Nights,
What’s it about?
The story begins with Caliph Hisham, the ruler of Baghdad, traveling through the desert. He meets a group of Arab youths who challenge him to a game of riddles. The caliph agrees to play and is impressed by the intelligence of one particular youth.
The youth then asks the caliph a difficult riddle, which he can't answer. The young man, however, provides the answer and explains the meaning behind it. The caliph is impressed and offers him a position in his court. He declines the offer, stating that he is content with his simple life and does not wish to be burdened by the responsibilities of court life.
The caliph is moved by the youth's wisdom and humility and decides to bestow a gift upon him. The youth requests a simple and practical gift - a camel to transport his goods. The caliph is pleased with the youth's request and grants it.
Deeper Meaning: This tale encourages us to value wisdom, humility, and contentment in our own lives. It reminds us that material possessions and power are not necessary for a fulfilling life and that sometimes the greatest gifts are the simplest ones. The youth in the story possessed great wisdom and intelligence, but he was also humble and content with his simple life. He did not seek power or wealth but rather was satisfied with what he had. This contentment allowed him to appreciate the simple gift of a camel, which would greatly benefit his life.

7. The King's Daughter and the Ape

Arabian Nights, Ape
What’s it about?
This beautiful story is about a powerful king who has a beautiful daughter. The king wants to marry his daughter to a prince who is worthy of her beauty and intelligence.
To find a worthy prince, the king designs a test in which suitors must choose between three doors, one of which leads to the princess' chamber. However, a clever ape manages to pass the test by pretending to choose one of the doors.
The king is enraged and orders the ape to be killed. However, the princess convinces her father to spare the ape's life and keep him as a pet. Over time, the ape proves to be intelligent and loyal, and the princess develops a close bond with him.
When a neighboring kingdom declares war on the king's kingdom, the princess convinces the ape to help them win the war. The ape uses his intelligence to outsmart the enemy and the king's kingdom emerges victorious.
Deeper Meaning: The message of the story is that intelligence and loyalty can be found in unexpected places. The king and his subjects initially view the ape as nothing more than an animal, but he proves to be intelligent and resourceful. The fable also emphasizes the importance of compassion and empathy towards all creatures, as the princess's kindness towards the ape ultimately leads to their victory in the war.
Furthermore, the story teaches us that it is imperative to judge individuals based on their character and actions, rather than their appearance or social status. The ape may have been viewed as inferior because of his animal form, but he ultimately proved himself to be a valuable member of society.

8. The Unwise Schoolmaster Who Fell in Love by Report

Arabian Nights, Schoolmaster
What’s it about?
This lesser-known tale tells the story of a schoolmaster who falls in love with a woman based solely on the descriptions he hears from others, without ever actually seeing her for himself.
Despite not knowing the woman, the schoolmaster becomes completely enamored with her and spends all of his time daydreaming about her. His obsession becomes so intense that he neglects his duties as a teacher and even forgets to eat or sleep.
Eventually, the schoolmaster is able to meet the woman he has fallen in love with. However, he discovers that she is old, unattractive, and completely different from the woman he had imagined in his mind. The shock of this realization causes the schoolmaster to fall ill and die.
Deeper Meaning: The story is a cautionary tale about the dangers of falling in love based solely on appearance or hearsay. The schoolmaster's obsession with the woman he had never actually seen leads to his downfall, and the neglect of his duties and health ultimately results in his death. The story also illustrates the importance of being cautious in matters of the heart and not allowing infatuation to blind one's judgment.
"The Unwise Schoolmaster Who Fell in Love by Report" ultimately reminds us to concentrate on what is truly valuable and not be distracted by superficial qualities or rumors.

9. The Angel of Death and the Rich King

Arabian Nights, Angel of Death
What’s it about?
The story revolves around a wealthy king who is warned by an angel of death that his time on earth is coming to an end. The king, desperate to avoid death, seeks out a wise man, who advises him to seek refuge in a far-off land.
The king heeds the wise man's advice and sets out on a journey with his family and wealth. However, along the way, he realizes the futility of his quest and the inevitability of death. He eventually accepts his fate and returns home to die peacefully.
Deeper Meaning: The deeper meaning of this story is a reminder of life's impermanence and the inevitable passing of time. No matter how much wealth or power one accumulates, death is an inescapable reality. Moreover, the narrative illustrates the importance of accepting one's mortality and living a meaningful life instead of focusing exclusively on material possessions.

10. The Man Who Never Laughed During the Rest of His Days

Arabian Nights, wealthy merchant
What’s it about?
This unique tale is about a wealthy merchant who makes a vow never to laugh after being betrayed by his wife. The merchant decided to spend the rest of his life in a state of misery and isolation, unable to find joy or happiness in anything.
One day, the merchant meets a wandering dervish (a Muslim monk) who teaches him a valuable lesson about the power of laughter and joy. The dervish tells the merchant a series of funny stories, and the merchant eventually breaks his vow and laughs for the first time in years.
Deeper Meaning: The narrative provides the reader with a vital lesson about the healing power of laughter and the importance of forgiveness. The merchant's vow never to laugh represents his bitterness and resentment towards his wife and the world around him. However, through the dervish's stories, he learns to let go of his anger and finds joy and happiness in life once again.
The fable shows that forgiveness and laughter can heal even the deepest wounds. The merchant's inability to laugh is symbolic of his emotional pain and trauma, but through the story, he manages to overcome his suffering and find inner peace. The story reminds us that forgiveness and laughter can be powerful tools for healing and self-discovery and that it is never too late to find joy and happiness in life.

11. Of Envy and Malice

Arabian Nights, Envy and Malice
What’s it about?
This tale centers on two sisters, one of whom is compassionate and generous, while the other is envious and malicious. The envious sister constantly tries to harm her kind sister and make her miserable, but her attempts are always thwarted by the kind sister's gentle nature and generosity.
One day, the envious sister pretends to be ill and convinces the kind sister to visit a witch who she claims can cure her. However, the witch turns out to be a fraud who tricks the kind sister into giving her valuable possessions. When the kind sister returns home, she discovers that her envious sister orchestrated the entire scheme.
Even in the face of this betrayal, the kind sister forgives her envious sister and continues to demonstrate kindness and love. In the end, the envious sister realizes the error of her ways and asks for forgiveness.
Deeper Meaning: The story teaches the reader a crucial lesson about the power of forgiveness as well as the perils of jealousy and hate. The kind sister's forgiveness is an act of grace that allows her envious sister to realize her folly and find redemption. It also highlights the significance of treating others with kindness and generosity, even in the face of cruelty and betrayal.
In a deeper sense, the story illustrates the power of forgiveness and love to overcome even the most destructive emotions. 

12. Story of the Falcon and the Locust 

Arabian Nights, Falcon and the Locust 
What’s it about?
This meaningful tale tells the story of a falcon who is captured and kept as a pet by a wealthy man. In spite of his captivity, the falcon retains his natural instincts and yearns to be free.
One day, the man takes the falcon out to hunt, but the bird is unable to catch any prey. Frustrated, the man throws a locust at the falcon, thinking it will be an easy catch. However, the falcon refuses to eat the locust, stating that it is not worthy of his status as a predator.
Deeper Meaning: The story can be interpreted as a commentary on the human desire for freedom and autonomy. Like the falcon, people have an innate desire to be free and to live according to their own natural instincts. However, societal norms and expectations often force individuals into roles that are not aligned with their true nature, leaving them feeling trapped and unfulfilled.
Furthermore, the story highlights the impact of self-respect and self-worth. The falcon refuses to eat the lowly locust, recognizing that he is a proud predator and deserves better. This can be seen as a message to individuals to value themselves and their own worth, rather than settling for less than they deserve.
A powerful fable, “The Story of the Falcon and the Locust” encourages readers to embrace their natural instincts and strive for freedom and self-esteem.
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