An argosy of fables/Persian fables

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An argosy of fables
Book 2—Oriental fables
Part 2—Persian fables




A CAMEL, bound by a foot so that he could not wander, was browsing in a desert. A Rat, finding him without a guardian, decided to take hold of the leash and lead the Camel back to his rat-hole. As the Camel is naturally docile and never balky, he readily followed his new leader. But when they arrived at the threshold of the rat-hole it proved to be much too narrow. "You simpleton!" said the Camel, "what have you done? Don't you see that my body is too big and your home too little? The one will never grow any smaller nor the other bigger. How do you expect to keep me with you?"

Good intentions are useless in the absence of common-sense.


A CAMEL and an Ass were once travelling together. Upon reach- the bank of a river the Camel was the first to enter the water. As it rose somewhat above his knees, but barely touched his body, he called to his companion: "Follow me in, for the water hardly bathes my sides."

"I believe you," rejoined his wise, long-eared friend, "but between us two there is a big difference, and if the water rises to your sides, it would be well over my back."

The wise man refuses to be led beyond his own depth.

(Jami, The Baharistan.)


A DOG, driven desperate with hunger, stood watching at the gate of a village, when he saw a Loaf of Bread roll out of the gate and make its way towards the desert. The Dog started in pursuit of the Loaf, and as he ran he cried:

"Oh, Staff of Life, Strength of the Traveller, Object of my Desire, sweet Consolation of my Soul! In what direction do you turn your steps? Where are you going?"

"To the desert," replied the Loaf of Bread, "to see my friends the Wolves and Leopards, for I am returning their visit."

"Your boasting speech doesn't frighten me," replied the Dog, "I would follow you down the throat of a Crocodile, or between the teeth of a Lion. If you rolled around the world I should still pursue you."

Those who live by bread alone will submit, for the sake of it, to the vilest abuse, like a hungry dog.

(Jami, The Baharistan.)


A CAMEL was crossing a desert and as he went was browsing on thistles and brambles. Presently he came upon a shrub with foliage as thick as the hair of a young girl and as pleasant to look upon as the rosy cheeks of youth. But just as he stretched forth his neck


to take a mouthful, he perceived an enormous serpent, coiled up like a ring and hidden in the depths of the bush. The Camel quickly shrank back and turned away his head, his appetite quite gone. The Shrub impudently asked him if his sudden change of mind was due to his fear of its sharp thorns. The Camel, disgusted by such conceit, replied, "Don't you see that it is the Serpent hidden under your leaves that startled me, and not the conceited plant that shelters the reptile. I am more afraid of one serpent's tooth than of the thorns of all the shrubs that grow. Be grateful to the crawling guest that has taken shelter beneath your leaves. But for him, I would have made but one mouthful of the whole of you."

It is not strange that a brave man fears the wicked. It is not their strength nor their courage, but their treachery that makes them dangerous.

(Jami, The Baharistan.)


A RED WASP one day attacked a Honey-bee eager to feast upon her sweetness. The Honey-bee began to weep, and said pitifully:

"Surrounded as we are by all the pure honey and sweet nectar of flowers, what attraction have I that you should leave them and pursue only me?"

The Wasp replied, "If there is pure honey in the world, you are the source thereof; if there is sweet nectar you are its fountainhead."

Happy is the man who knows the true from the false, and refuses to accept less.

(Jami, The Baharistan.)


A PEACOCK and a Crow once came together in the inner courtyard of a palace and began to discuss their respective beauty and defects. The Peacock said to the Crow: "Those red boots on your feet are much better suited to go with the gold-embroidered silk and variegated brocade of my attire. Evidently in the days when we were first created we made the mistake of putting on the wrong boots, we Peacocks taking your black Crows' boots of untanned leather, while you Crows put on our red boots of fine-grained, perfumed morocco."

The Crow replied, "It was just the other way. If there was any mistake made it was in our garments and not our boots. None of your feathers match your boots; so it must be that when we were still half dazed by the light of day, you put your necks within our coat-collars and we Crows put our necks within those intended for you."

Now all this time there was a Tortoise near by who had drawn his head within his shell and was listening with interest. At this point he thrust out his head and spoke as follows:

"Good friends, pray drop this foolish argument and put an end to such profitless conversation. There is no living creature who has had granted to him all his desires. There is no one who does not have some peculiarity which makes him different from the rest, no one but what has some special quality which others might well envy. Accordingly, every one of us ought to be thankful for such good things as it has pleased heaven to grant us."

(Jami, The Baharistan.)


A YOUNG Fox said to his Mother: "Teach me a trick that will help me to escape, when I am close pressed by a dog, and my strength is failing." The Mother Fox replied: "There are many tricks for escaping from dogs and other enemies. But the best of them all is to remain hidden safe in your home, so that neither they see you nor you them."

It is best to avoid low company, whether they come in peace or in war.

(Jami, The Baharistan.)


DOUBTLESS you have sometimes seen the Firefly, gleaming like a lamp, in the garden at night.

"Oh, Night-illumining insect," some one said to the Firefly, "why can you not also shine in the day-time?"

The modest Firefly gave an answer full of wisdom: "Because no one would ever see me, in the light of the splendid sun!"

(Sadi, The Burstan.)


A YOUNG Camel once said to its Mother, "After you have reached the end of this journey, rest for a while."

"If the bridle was in my own hands," the Mother Camel replied, "no one would ever see me in the string of camels, plodding across the desert sands with a pack on my back."

One of the first rules of wise living is obedience.

(Sadi, The Burstan.)


THE story is told of Abdul Aziz that he had a pearl of great beauty and value, set in a ring. Shortly afterwards there came a dry season, the crops failed, and there was great suffering among his people. Moved by compassion the King ordered that the pearl should be sold, and the money received for it given to the poor. One of his friends reproached him for doing this, saying:

"Never again will such a beautiful jewel come into your hands."

Sighing regretfully, the King answered: "Ugly is any ornament upon the person of a King when the hearts of his people are wrung with want and hunger. Better for me is a stoneless ring than a suffering people."

Moral. Happy is he who sets the welfare of others above his own.

(Sadi, The Burstan.)


A RAIN-DROP fell from a spring cloud, and when it saw the wide expanse of the ocean it felt ashamed. "At best," it said, "I am only a Rain-drop,—but compared with the ocean I am nothing at all!"

But just at the moment that the little Rain-drop was judging itself so humbly, an oyster opened her shell and took it to her bosom. And fate so shaped its course that in the end it became a famous royal pearl.

(Sadi, The Burstan.)


A VULTURE said to a Kite, "No one can see as far as I." "That may be so," replied the Kite, "But what can you see yonder across the desert?" Gazing down from the lofty height in the skies, to which he had risen, the Vulture exclaimed, "Yonder on the ground I see a grain of wheat!" Thereupon the two birds flew down to the ground. As the Vulture swooped down upon the grain of wheat, he found himself caught in a trap. "What good did it do you," asked the Kite, "to see the grain of wheat from so far off, if you could not also see the trap that your enemy had set?" "Alas," replied the captive Vulture, "no amount of caution will protect us against fate!"

The unexpected will sometimes happen.

(Sadi, The Burstan.)


IN former times there lived a certain old woman who was very, very poor. This old woman had a Cat that never had meat or a crust of bread, and thought herself lucky if once in a while she managed to catch a mouse. One day, when this hungry Cat managed to climb to the roof of her home, she was surprised to see another Cat, fat and sleek, walking along the wall of another house:

"Good morning, neighbour," she called out, "who are you, and how do you keep yourself so fine and sleek?"

The other Cat replied: "I am the Crumb-eater from the tray of the Sultan. Every day I attend the Sultan's banquet, and dine on morsels of rich meat and crumbs from the finest of white bread."

The old woman's Cat begged her new friend to take her to the Palace; and the neighbour-Cat, pitying her miserable condition, agreed to do so. The old woman, upon hearing of this arrangement, warned her Cat not to be deceived by outward appearances, but to be contented with what little she already had. But the Greedy Cat, already dreaming of the Sultan's rich meats and fine white bread, would not take the advice.

Now it happened that the Palace Cats, of which there were a great many, had lately begun to grow too bold and troublesome; and only the day before they had made a raid on the dining tables, with such a spitting and scratching and miauling as had greatly angered the Sultan, and disturbed his guests. So the Sultan directed that a company of archers with their bows and sharp arrows should be placed in hiding, with orders to shoot down every Cat that entered the dining-room. The old woman's Cat, knowing nothing of this, dashed into the hall as soon as it smelled the enticing odour of the rich meat and freshly baked bread. She dashed forward like a swooping Hawk, when a sharp arrow from an archer's bow was driven through her heart.

(From the Anvar-i Suhaili. or The Lights of Canopus.)


A CAMEL DRIVER, in the course of a journey, reached a certain spot where a passing caravan had carelessly left the embers of a fire. The wind had scattered the sparks on all sides amidst the dry grass and stubble, until a wide stretch of the plain glowed like a bed of red and yellow tulips. In the midst of the fire a huge Snake found itself caught and surrounded, and was on the point of roasting like a fish on a gridiron. Seeing the Camel Driver the Snake called for help. The Camel Driver said to himself, "Although a Snake is an enemy of mankind yet since this one is in danger of his life, it is my duty to help him."

Accordingly, the Camel Driver unfastened one of his saddle bags and having fixed it to the tip of the spear which he carried, he stretched it out across the flames in such manner that the Snake was able to crawl into the bag. Having thus rescued it from the fire, the Camel Driver opened the mouth of the bag and said to the Snake, "Go where you will, be thankful for your escape, and henceforth do no further harm to mankind."

The Snake replied, "Young man, do not waste your breath, for I have no intention of going until I have stung both you and your Camel. For I am the very source of evil, and can accept no benefits from man. In saving an evil beast like me, you have earned misfortune. Besides, in returning evil for good I am only following the custom of mankind."

The Camel Driver indignantly denied that such was the custom of man, and said, "If you can prove that it is the custom of man to return evil for good, I will willingly let you sting me, and will consent to my own death."

The Snake looked around and saw a Buffalo grazing afar off in the desert. "Come," said he, "I will ask the Buffalo to decide the question for us."

Accordingly, the Snake and the Camel Driver crossed through the desert to the Buffalo, and the Snake said, "Oh, Buffalo, what is the recompense of good?"

The Buffalo answered, "If you ask according to the creed of men, the return for good is evil. For many years I gave my master a calf each year, and filled my master's house with milk and butter; but when I became old and could give nothing more, he ceased to care for me, and turned me out into the desert."

The Snake then said to the Camel Driver, "You see I was right! Prepare yourself to receive my sting."

The Camel Driver replied, "It is not good law to decide a case on the evidence of only one witness. Let us seek another and abide by what he says."

The Snake again looked around and saw a tree, "Come," said he, "and let us ask that tree to decide for us."

So they came together to the foot of the tree, and the Snake enquired of it, "What is the recompense for good?"

The tree replied, "According to the custom of men the return for good is evil. The proof is as follows: I am a tree, grown in this wild region, standing here for the service of every passerby. When a weary traveller, overpowered by the heat, comes forth from the desert, he rests for a while beneath my shade. Then, when he opens his eyes again, he exclaims, 'Such a branch is suitable as a handle for my axe, and such a portion is fit and proper for my shovel; from the trunk a number of good planks might be cut, and some of them could be made into beautiful doors.' If they have an axe or saw with them they cut off what boughs and limbs they please and carry them off. Such is the cruelty with which they repay the pleasure they have derived from you."

The Snake exclaimed, "There, you see, both witnesses have decided against you. Make ready, for I am about to sting you."

The Camel Driver rejoined, "Life is very precious, and so long as there is the faintest hope, it is hard for the heart to reconcile itself to fate. If only one other witness will give evidence in this matter, I will ungrudgingly surrender myself to your sting."

It chanced to happen that a Fox was standing nearby listening to the discussion with much interest. The Snake said, "Let us consult this Fox, and see what answer he will give."

No sooner had the Camel Driver asked this question, "What is the recompense for good?" than the Fox replied, "Surely you must know that the return for good is evil? What kindness have you done the Snake to make you deserving of punishment?"

The young man repeated the circumstances of the case. The Fox replied, "I took you to be a clever man. What do you expect to gain by telling a falsehood?"

The Snake interrupted, and said, "The man has spoken nothing but the truth. Look, there, tied to his saddle strap is the very bag with which he brought me out of the fire!"

The Fox expressed great astonishment that the Snake should expect him to believe such a story, since how could so large a Snake ever be contained in so small a bag?

The Snake exclaimed, "If you do not believe me I will crawl back again into the bag, so that you may see with your own eyes that we have told the truth."

The Fox said, "When I have seen with my own eyes the proof of what you have told me, then I will give an impartial decision on the question in dispute between you."

The man opened the bag, and the Snake, deceived by the Fox's words, once again crawled into it. Then the Fox exclaimed, "Oh, young man, when you have an enemy in your power, give him no quarter!"

The Camel Driver, taking the Fox's advice, tied up the mouth of the bag, and pounded it upon the ground until the Snake's power to do harm was destroyed.

(Anvar-i Suhaili. Book III, Chapter 3.)


TWO travellers, one of whom was blind, halted their horses in the midst of a wild tract of country, and dismounted for the night. They set forth again on their journey in the grey dawn of early morning. The Blind Man searched upon the ground for his whip, and since it happened that a snake lay there half frozen with the cold, he mistook it for his whip, and picked it up. When he touched it with his hand he found it much softer and nicer than his old whip had been, and mounted his horse much pleased, giving no further thought to the whip he had lost. When daylight broke his companion looked and saw the Snake in the Blind Man's hand, whereupon he shouted: "Comrade, what you mistook for a whip is a poisonous Snake, fling it away at once, before it stings you!"

The Blind Man thought that his companion envied him his fine new whip, so he replied, "Ah, friend, I lost my whip and God has given me a better one. You, too, will doubtless find one as good if fortune favours you, but I am not the man to let any one cheat me out of my whip with fantastic tales and false alarms."

His companion laughed and said, "Friend, my sense of duty compelled me to warn you of your danger. You had best listen to what I say, and throw down the Snake."

At this the Blind Man became angry, and said, "You can't fool me! You have taken a fancy to my whip, and are urging me to throw it away so that you may take advantage of my blindness and secure it for yourself. Give up that hope, for the whip came to me miraculously and I shall hold it fast."

The more his comrade urged him to drop the Snake, the more closely the Blind Man clung to it. But at last, when the sun had mounted high and shone hotly down upon them, the Snake recovered its activity, and twisting itself around stung the Blind Man upon his hand and killed him.

(The Anvar-i Suhaili or The Lights of Canopus.)