In Burton’s The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, the first thing in each volume is a whole page illustration of a grid or a maze:

A grid with differently crosshatched squares, forming a maze or mandala with rotational symmetry.

What’s the significance of this? Arabic art centres on geometric patterns, but what does this illustration specifically mean?

1 Answer 1


enter image description hereThe most direct answer to you question is that the "illustration" is a version of Arabic Calligraphic text: Kufic Script. The geometrically ornate square is aesthetically appealling on its own, but it also spells out the title of the translated book "Kitab Al Layla Wa Layla" (The book of a Thousand nights and one night) in each of four interlocking hatchet shaped figures within the large square as illustrated in the garishly coloured figure :). Reading from right to left : starting from the bottom right and proceeding leftward down the length of the hatchet handle then moving above to the blade section reads Kitab alf laylah wa laylah- proceeding clockwise this is repeated thrice over.

A far more detailed and lengthy exposition of implied significance of the figure with respect to aspects of its interpretation in relation to the books contents can be found in the preface and acknowledgements of Peter L. Caracciolo's: The Arabian Nights in English Literature Studies in the reception of The Thousand and One nights into British Culture: Macmillan 1988 if you are seeking a more elaboration than my own concise attempt at explaining "the illustration".

  • 1
    Can you explain (and ideally illustrate) how this grid is a version of Arabic Calligraphic text?
    – Valorum
    Sep 30, 2023 at 12:49
  • I've modified the original answer with the addition of colour to original illustration to explain that the garish sections of colour contain repeated arabic kufic script (in black) of the book title .
    – schweppz
    Sep 30, 2023 at 14:50
  • Sorry, but I'm still not seeing it. Are these images all the right way up or sideways or something? I don't have a copy of "the Arabian Nights in English Literature Studies in the reception of The Thousand and One nights into British Culture". Could you copy or transcribe over the relevant parts?
    – Valorum
    Sep 30, 2023 at 16:10
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    @Valorum: the four quadrants of the square have four different orientations, so only one of them can be right-side-up. Google translate gives "kitab 'alf laylat walayla", or كتاب ألف ليلة وليلة as the translation of "The book of a thousand and one nights"; the Arabic letters roughly match the yellow section of the square. For further details, you'd need somebody who actually knows Arabic. I believe the "f" on alf is missing in the book illustration.
    – Peter Shor
    Oct 1, 2023 at 2:13
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    Thanks! Looks like that answers my question perfectly. Oct 10, 2023 at 8:13

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