The Translators of The Thousand and One Nights

… I think of the repertory’s deliberate wonders—the all-powerful slaves of a lamp or a ring; Queen Lab, who transforms Muslims into birds; the copper boatman with talismans and formulae on his chest—and of those more general ones that proceed from its collective nature, from the need to complete one thousand and one episodes. Once they had run out of magic, the copyists had to fall back on historical or pious notices whose inclusion seems to attest to the good faith of the rest. The ruby that ascends into the sky and the earliest description of Sumatra, details of the court of the Abbasids and silver angels whose food is the justification of the lord, all dwell together in a single volume. It is, finally, a poetic mixture; and I would say the same of certain repetitions. Is it not portentous that on night 602 King Schahriah hears his own story from the queen’s lips? Like the general framework, a given tale often contains within itself other tales of equal length: stages within the stage as in the tragedy of Hamlet, raised to the power of a dream. A clear and difficult line from Tennyson seems to define them:

Laborious orient ivory, sphere in sphere.

To further heighten the astonishment, these adventitious Hydra’s heads can be more concrete than the body: Schahriah, the fantastical king “of the Islands of China and Hindustan,” receives news of Tarik ibn Ziyad, governor of Tangiers and victor in the battle of Guadalete.... The threshold is confused with the mirror, the mask lies beneath the face, no one knows any longer which is the true man and which are his idols. And none of it matters; the disorder is as acceptable and trivial as the inventions of a daydream.

Extract from: Jorge Luis Borges, The Translators of the Thousand and One Nights, 1934–1936. [Translated by Esther Allen]