Ali Baba

Ali Baba Hero of the tale “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” included in The Thousand and One Nights but not in any manuscript copy of the work. It first appeared in the French translation of the Nights by Galland, who heard the tale from a Christian Syrian, Youhenna Diab. Ali Baba and his brother Kassim live in Persia. One day Ali Baba, while collecting wood in the forest, sees 40 thieves enter a cave after saying: “Open, Sesame!” At the first opportunity Ali goes to the cave and says the magic words. It opens, and he discovers that the cave is filled with gold and treasure. He takes some of it home, and in a short time his brother also discovers the secret. Kassim enters the cave but forgets the magic words needed to get out. The thieves return, kill Kassim, cut him into quarters, and hang him in the cave. Ali goes in search of his brother and, finding the body, takes it to a cobbler who can sew it back together so that Kassim’s death will appear natural. Through the cobbler, the thieves come
in search of Ali in order to kill him too. The head thief poses as an oil merchant and enters Ali’s house. He asks Ali if he may store his oil jars in the shed, and Ali agrees. A thief is hiding in each of the jars except one, waiting to kill Ali. The maid, Morgiana, needing some oil, goes to the jars. One of the men hears her approach and asks if it is time to come out. She replies, “Not yet.” Deciding that they must be robbers, she fills a caldron from the single jar that contains oil and pours the oil over the thieves, killing all of them. Ali, in gratitude, then marries Morgiana to his nephew, or in some versions to his son. The tale of Ali Baba is one of the most popular in the entire collection. It was made into an opera seven times and was filmed in 1902, 1919, 1943, 1952, and 1962. Comic variations, with Eddie Cantor in 1938 (Ali Baba Goes to Town) and Fernandel in 1954, also have been filmed. Hidden treasure is a common legend motif.

From the Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow
Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante

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