Who is Sinbad the Sailor?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Sinbad the Sailor is the star of a cycle of stories written about his adventures on the high seas. These stories are probably Persian in origin, and they are included in some collections of the Arabian Nights, an epic collection of Arabic folktales, songs, and parables which is familiar to many Westerners. Sinbad is such a distinctive character that stories about him are sometimes published alone, and he has inspired other books in addition to films and musical performances.

Many publishers produce sanitized versions of stories from the Arabian Nights which are considered suitable for children.
Many publishers produce sanitized versions of stories from the Arabian Nights which are considered suitable for children.

One may also see Sinbad's name spelled with an additional “D,” as “Sindbad,” reflecting the imperfections inherent in transliterating from Arabic into English. In either event, it is probable that the stories about Sinbad were compiled from a variety of sources, including sailors' yarns and nursery stories, making Sinbad a sort of composite character upon which these tales could be projected. In this sense, he is like many characters in the Arabian Nights, used a vehicle for a cycle of stories to make them more interesting.

According to the stories, Sinbad took to the sea because he spent all of his inheritance, and he needed to earn money to survive. He went on seven voyages in all before managing to make his money back, and got caught up in a wide assortment of exotic adventures around Africa and Asia. In editions of the Arabian Nights which are more true to the original, many of Sinbad's stories include extensive musings on Islam, and in the final story, he repeatedly praises Allah for helping him get through the various challenges he met on his journeys.

One of the more famous stories about Sinbad the Sailor features the Roc, a mythical and fearsome bird which lays formidably large eggs. Sinbad also encounters kings, demons, and a variety of other characters, and he often ends stories with piles of precious metals or gems. Many of the stories are inspired by other story cycles, such as those told by the Greeks, which can a surprise for readers who are not familiar with the extensive historical cultural exchange between the Middle East and Greece.

Many translations of the Arabian Nights feature the stories of Sinbad the Sailor, although they are somewhat harder to find in Arabic editions. It is also possible to find the stories bound separately. People who are seeking out the stories may want to be aware that many publishers produce sanitized versions of stories from the Arabian Nights which are considered suitable for children, but sometimes a bit dull for adults, so make sure to ask for an adult edition if you are interested in all of the fascinating details of these old sailing stories.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

@logicfest - The Popeye reference is a good one, but how about one that's more contemporary? Sinbad the comedian who has been a minor celebrity since the 1990s.

Sindbad may be one of the most famous characters from "Arabian Nights." He was even a rival of Popeye's and a lot of Americans were exposed to him that way. Even Roc journeyed to the Popeye universe with Sindbad.

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