The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night/Volume 3/6

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The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night , translated by Richard Francis Burton
THE CAT AND THE CROW

THE CAT [1] AND THE CROW

Once upon a time, a crow and a cat lived in brotherhood; and one day as they were together under a tree, behold, they spied a leopard making towards them, and they were not aware of his approach till he was close upon them. The crow at once flew up to the tree-top; but the cat abode confounded and said to the crow, “O my friend, hast thou no device to save me, even as all my hope is in thee?” Replied the crow, “Of very truth it behoveth brethren, in case of need, to cast about for a device when peril overtaketh them, and how well saith the poet,

‘A friend in need is he who, ever true, * For they well-doing would himself undo:

One who when Fortune gars us parting rue * Victimeth self reunion to renew.’”

Now hard by that tree were shepherds with their dogs; so the crow flew towards them and smote the face of the earth with his wings, cawing and crying out. Furthermore he went up to one of the dogs and flapped his wings in his face and flew up a little way, whilst the dog ran after him thinking to catch him. Presently, one of the shepherds raised his head and saw the bird flying near the ground and lighting alternately; so he followed him, and the crow ceased not flying just high enough to save himself and to throw out the dogs; and yet tempting them to follow for the purpose of tearing him to pieces. But as soon as they came near him, he would fly up a little; and so at last he brought them to the tree, under which was the leopard. And when the dogs saw him they rushed upon him and he turned and fled. Now the leopard thought to eat the cat who was saved by the craft of his friend the crow. This story, O King, showeth that the friendship of the Brothers of Purity [2] delivereth and saveth from difficulties and from falling into mortal dangers. And they also tell a tale of


  1. Arab. “Sinnaur” (also meaning a prince). The common name is Kitt which is pronounced Katt or Gatt; and which Ibn Dorayd pronounces a foreign word (Syriac?). Hence, despite Freitag, Catus (which Isidore derives from catare, to look for) = gatto, chat, cat, an animal unknown to the Classics of Europe who used the mustela or putorius vulgaris and different species of viverræ. The Egyptians, who kept the cat to destroy vermin, especially snakes, called it Mau, Mai, Miao (onomatopoetic): this descendent of the Felis maniculata originated in Nubia; and we know from the mummy pits and Herodotus that it was the same species as ours. The first portraits of the cat are on the monuments of “Beni Hasan,” B.C. 2500. I have ventured to derive the familiar “Puss” from the Arab. “Biss (fem. :Bissah”), which is a congener of Pasht (Diana), the cat-faced goddess of Bubastis (Pi-Pasht), now Zagázig. Lastly, “tabby (brindled)-cat” is derived from the Attábi (Prince Attab’s) quarter at Baghdad where watered silks were made. It is usually attributed to the Tibbie, Tibalt, Tybalt, Thibert or Tybert (who is also executioner), various forms of Theobald in the old Beast Epic; as opposed to Gilbert the gib-cat, either a tom-cat or a gibbed (castrated) cat.
  2. Arab. “Ikhwán al-Safá,” a popular term for virtuous friends who perfectly love each other in all purity: it has also a mystic meaning. Some translate it “Brethren of Sincerity,” and hold this brotherhood to be Moslem Freemasons, a mere fancy (see the Mesnevi of Mr. Redhouse, Trubner 1881). There is a well-known Hindustani book of this name printed by Prof. Forbes in Persian character and translated by Platts and Eastwick.