An Aladdin's Cave
What's the meaning of the phrase 'An Aladdin's Cave'?
In the story of Aladdin, an Aladdin's Cave is a magical cave full of gold, silver, and jewel-bearing trees. In the more commonly used figurative meaning it is a place of great riches, a treasure trove.
What's the origin of the phrase 'An Aladdin's Cave'?
The Thousand and One Nights story of Aladdin has been well-known in the west since the translation of the original Arabic stories into French by Antoine Galland in 1710. The stories were collected from many cultures, including Indian and Persian.
Galland had previously published, in 1707, a version which didn't contain the Aladdin story. The authorship of The Story of Aladdin, or the Wonderful Lamp is unknown and it didn't appear in the original Arabic collection. It was probably translated from an Arabic folk-tale by Galland.
The gist of the story is that Aladdin was tricked into retrieving a magic lamp from a booby-trapped cave. A genie appears when Aladdin's mother rubs the lamp to clean it and Aladdin becomes rich and powerful.
The Thousand and One Nights was translated into English and published anonymously between 1706 and 1721. The stories became very popular and most schoolchildren in the late 18th century would have been familiar with them. The association between Aladdin and a marvellous cave full of riches become established in the public's consciousness in the early 1800s. For example, the British magazine The Literary Gazette, April 1824 contains this line:
There are beautiful jaspers with veins of gold, and all manner of gorgeous works of nature, fit for Aladdin's cave.
The figurative use of the phrase, as in 'An Aladdin's Cave' began to be used later. The first example that I can find of that in print is from the New Orleans newspaper The Daily Delta, April 1854:
The age of Curran was a golden age, the lips of which were red with the juice of the grape, and rich as an Aladdin's cave.
These days, few people read the original story and are familiar with Aladdin from the 1992 Disney cartoon version.