Fables Across Time
Tracing Patterns of Similarity and Difference

Notes on the Text


Scholars of both the East and West have long recognized the organic connection between Indian fables and the frame-tale genre of Europe.  While the exact correlation of Aesop and Vishnusharman, the great bards of the Greek and Sanskrit traditions, respectively, is largely unknown, modern scholarship has shown that such widely diverse texts as Barlaam y Josafat, Clerical Discipline, and the Book of the Seven Wise Masters, and even Ramón Lull’s Fábulas de las bestias, while mediated through Syrian, Hebrew, and Greek, have origins in India (see York, page xi, Edgerton, pages 14 and 15; Muller, pages 594-596; and Bádenas, pages xi-xx).   Nevertheless, the most direct and well-understood movement of fables by far occurred through the Arab world, a political sphere that had India on its eastern frontier and Spain on its western frontier.

Beginning in the sixth century, tales from the Panchatantra, the principal volume of Indian fables, began migrating westward, first through Pehlevi, the classical literary language of Persia, into Arabic as Kalilah-wa Dimnahh.  While the Persian redaction is lost, the Arabic text survived and in the thirteenth century was translated into Spanish as Calila e Dimna (See Keller, pages i-xxii).  Not only did the collection add to the tradition of western fables already present through Europe (see Gibbs), it became part of the literary background that was eventually compiled into Sendebar and El conde Lucanor, the most well-known frame-tales in Spanish literature (see Garriga-Nogues and Ayerbe-Chaux).

Because the relationship between these two Spanish texts and their literary sources in Arabic and Sanskrit are so well-known, they provide the perfect opportunity for investigation into the modifications the fables underwent as they moved across three different religious traditions, thousands of kilometers, and a millenium from their origins in north India to medieval Spain.  In fact, the relationship between the El conde Lucanor, Sendebar, Calila e Dimna, and the Panchatantra can be understood in terms of both similarity and difference: the basic narrative and moral structure of each tale is retained while the story as a whole undergoes a general compression, a purging of explicitly Hindu elements, normalization of the specific fable into the larger frame-tale, and minor modifications that do not affect the narrative and moral aspects of the fable.

A good example of this phenomenon in Don Juan Manuel’s collection of fables is exemplo VII.  The story is one of the most popular in terms of European literature and is included, through a complicated migration, by La Fontaine in his collection of fables (Muller, page 582).  In Spanish, the story begins, like all the others in Don Juan Manuel's collection, with a question posed by the count to Patronio who proceeds to answer the count's question and then provide an example to support his moralized response.  The fable itself narrates the story of doña Truhaña, a woman described as "más pobre que rica."

One day, carrying honey on her head, she goes to the market.  In transit, she begins to dream about what will become of the money that will be made on her goods:

  Ey yendo por el camino, començo a cuydar que vendría aquella olla de miel et que compraría una partida de huevos nazçirían gallinas et depués, de aquellos dineros que valdrían, conparía ovejas, et assí comprando de las ganançias que faría, que fallóse por más rica que ninguna de sus vezinas.
  Et con aquella riqueza que ella cuydava que avía, asmó cómo casaría sus fijos et sus fijas et cómmo yría aguardada por la calle con yernos et con nueras et cómmo dizían por ella cómmo fuera de buena ventura en llegar a tan grant riqueza, seyendo tan ponbre commo solía seer.

In her pleasant daydreams, though, the woman "començó a reyr con grand plazer" and "entonçe cayol la olla de la miel en la tierra."  With the loss of her bucket, the woman's dreams fade away and Patronio wisely advises the count, and the reader: "A las cosas çiertas vos comendat / et las fuyzas vanas dexat (Blecua, pages 84-86)."

In the Arabic source of this tale—Calila e Dimna VIII.1—the same basic narrative and moral structure exists without much change in the size of the fable (see Ayerbe-Chaux, pages 25-30).  The narrative structure of Calila e Dimna is different in that each fable is introduced and narrated by characters in the preceding fable.  In the story, there is a priest who receives from an "onbre rico" a series of alms that consists of "pan e manteca e de miel e de otras cosas."  After immediately eating the bread, he puts the lard and honey "en una olla fasta que la fyncho" and then "tenie la olla colgada en su casa."  With these goods stored away, the priest begins to imagine the wealth that will come of his small treasure:

Vendere quanto esta en esta olla por tantos marevedis, e conprare con ellos diez cabras; e enpreñarse an e paryran a cabo de çinco meses.  Desy fizo cuenta fasta çinco años e fallo que montavan fasta quatroçientas cabras.  E desy venderlas he, e con el preçio dellas conprare çien vacas, por cada quatro cabeças una vaca, e avere symiente e senbrare con los bueyes, e aprovecharme he de los bezerros e de las fenbras e de la leche e manteca, e de las mieses avre gran aver; e labrare muy nobles casas, e conprare syervos e syervas, e esto fecho, casarme he con una muger muy rrica e fermosa e de gran lugar, e enpreñarla he de fijo varon, e naçera conplido de sus mienbros.  E criar lo he commo a fijo de rrey, e castigarlo he con esta vara synon quisiere ser bueno e obediente.

Saying this, the priest manages to knock the pot which is hanging over him and the contents fall onto his head.  Before the particular fable ends, though, the female narrator adds: "E tu, onbre, non quieras desear e asmar lo que non sabes que ha de ser," adding a moral nearly identical to exemplo VII (Keller, pages 251-254.)

Even in V.10 of the Panchatantra, the Sanskrit source of the Arabic tale, the same narrative and moral structure is seen (Keller, page XIVg.)  The frame structure in the Sanskrit work is identical to Kalilah-wa Dimnah in that each story is framed and narrated by characters from the preceding story.  Thus, this particular story is framed by several layers of narration: "Eso es verdad, pues todo hombre que llegue á tener una cruel y engañosa esperanza á la que no se debiera prestar fe, cae en el ridículo.(1)"  After a verse that alludes specifically to the actions of the fable under consideration, the fable proper begins.

According to the tale, there lives in a certain city a brahman named Svabhavakripana(2)  who has been given alms.  He has hung his ritual gift in a reciprocal on the wall and begins to think to himself about what he can realize with this modest gift:

Tengo ya el bote lleno de harina; si sobreviniera una carestía, podría sacar de él cien monedas de plata, con las cuales puedo comprar un par de cabras.  Y como éstas paren cada seis meses, reuniré un ganado.  Con las cabras compraré muchas vacas; con las vacas, búfalas, y con las búfalas, yeguas.  Parirán las yeguas y tendré muchos caballos, de cuya venta sacaré abundancia de oro.  Con el oro me haré una casa de cuatro salas.  Entonces cualquier brahmán vendrá á mi casa y me dará en matrimonio á su hija hermosa y rica, la cual me habrá elegido por marido.  Tendré un hijo de ella, á quien le pondré el nombre de Somazarman.  Cuando él pueda ya saltar sobre mis rodillas, cogiendo yo un libro me sentaré detrás de la caballeriza y estudiaré.

The brahman then begins imagining a scene in which he orders his wife to pick up their mutual son.  When she fails to comply, the brahman imagines himself kicking her, and in his excitement actually makes a kicking motion that knocks the "bote" off the wall and drops its contents on him "y quedó todo blanco."  The narrator then recites a moral that again rings through Calila e Dimna and El conde Lucanor: "Quien conciba un proyecto irrealizable é imposible, se queda blanco en la cama como el padre de Somazarman (Bolufer, pages 371 and 372.)"(3)

What makes the Sanskrit story unique, however, in relation to its Arabic and Spanish counterparts is the further elaboration on certain elements of the text.  For example, the brahman’s dream does not simply end at marrying his child well, as in El conde Lucanor, or at having a ‘complete’ son, as in Calila e Dimna.  Rather, the dream includes a direct scene between the parent and child.  Similarly, as the story moves from Sanskrit to Spanish, the list of treasures that will come from the goods in the jar simplify such that in El conde Lucanor the protoganist only seeks eggs and the hens that will come of them instead of the elaborate chain expressed in the Arabic and the Sanskrit.

In addition to the absence of the compression seen in Calila e Dimna and especially in El conde Lucanor, the Panchatantra story also contains explicitly Hindu and Indian themes that are removed, understandably from the literature as it moves into domains where Sanskrit names or the Hindu social structure have no meaning.  Thus, rather than being a brahman—a member of the priestly caste—Calila e Dimna simply gives the reader “el rreligioso.”  Similarly, the names of the brahman and his son, allusions to Hindu gods and their mythology, are dropped (see Munuera, pages 102 and 103.)

Despite these two changes, and other minor narrative adjustments, in the fable as it moves towards medieval Spain, the basic structure of the tale is intact in the Panchatantra, Calila e Dimna, and El conde Lucanor.  This includes the moral at the end of the story that is virtually identical in all three versions and the basic narration that corresponds to that moral; in this case, the tale of someone who counted his chickens before they are hatched.

This particular tale also provides an interesting example of narrative changes in the fables that are the product of literary requirements.  Whereas the switch in the sex of the impoverished agent cannot easily be explained (see Muller), the individual requirements of the frame-tale in Panchatantra, Kalilah-wa Dimnah, El conde Lucanor, and Sendebar the fables have to be made to fit into the narrative structure of the works as a whole.  Perhaps the clearest example of this is in the nature of narration.  While a man may narrate a fable in Panchatantra, the reader may find a woman, or even an animal, narrating the corresponding fable in Calila.  In the two medieval Spanish texts, of course, the narrator will be Patronio, in the case of El conde Lucanor, or one of the partisan in the king’s court in the case of Sendebar.  The individual narrators must correspond to the larger frame, and many times to a series of frames in which the story is embedded.  Thus, the story of doña Trujana is told by Patronio, but the Kalilah-wa Dimnah version is narrated by a woman who is thrust into that role in the previous tale when another character, like the king who frames each of the Kalilah books, asks her a question.(4)  In the Panchatantra, though, it is a man, similarly thrust into his narrative role by a question in the preceding fable, who narrates the story within the larger frame, and several sub-frames.

The pattern of similarity and difference is repeated in the other two exemplos that have been traced through Calila e Dimna to the Panchatantra.  Exemplo XIX (Calila e Dimna VI.1, Panchatantra III.1,) like other tales in the collection, begins with a general situation outlined by the Count to which Patronio is asked to comment, and then provide an example through a fable.  In this case, Patronio narrates the story of two sets of birds, crows and owls.  The two species live side-by-side in a tree where the night-flying owls cause much damage to the night-resting crows:

Et los buhos, porque es su costumbre de andar de noche, et de día estar ascondidos en cuebas muy malas de fallar, vinían de noche a los árboles do los cuervos albergavan et matavan muchos dellos, et fazíanles mucho mal.

One of the crows “que avía entre ellos muy sabidor” made himself look injured. After taking up residence with the owls in his injured state "contóles el mal et el daño que los cuervos le fizieran…y que él les mostraría muchas maneras cómmo se podrían vengar de los cuervos et fazerles mucho daño.”  The crow is able to gain the trust and favor of the owl's through this sort of talk:

Quando los buhos esto oyeron, plógoles mucho, et tovieron que por este cuervo que era con ellos era todo su fecho enderecado, et comencaron a fazer mucho bien al cuervo et fiar en él todas sus faziendas e sus poridades…los otros buhos pensaron bien del cuervo.  Et desque las pénolas le fueron eguadas, dixo a los buhos que, pues podía volar, que yría saber do estavan los cuervos et que vernía dezírgelo porque pudiessen ayuntarse et yr a los estoyr todos.  A los buhos plogo mucho desto.

The crow's deceit fully develops at the end of the story:

Et desque el cuervo fue con los otros cuervos, ayuntáronse muchos dellos, et sabiendo toda la fazienda de los buhos, fueron a ellos de día quando ellos non buellan et estavan segurados et sin reçelo, et mataron et destruyeron dellos tantos porque fincaron vençedores los cuervos de toda su guerra.

The story ends with the verse: “Al que tu enemigo suel seer,/nunca quieras en l’mucho creer.”

In the Kalilah-wa Dimnah (VI.1) version of the story the frame structure is distinct from that of El conde Lucanor in that this fable is the first of its chapter, making it the story that frames all proceeding fables in this section of the work.  The tale, nonetheless, does begin with a king asking his advisor for advice on a specific question of enmity to which the counselor responds with a moralized tale that demonstrates the philosopher’s response to the monarch’s request.

En un monte avía un arvol muy grande donde de noche se ayuntavan a albergar muchos cuervos, e tenian su rrey.  E çerca dende avia una cueva muy grande donde albergava el rrey de los buos con muchos dellos.  E por la gran emenistad antyga que es entre los cuervos e los buos salio una noche el rrey de los buos con su conpaña e fue a dar sobre los cuervos en el arbol donde estavan asosegados syn miedo alguno.  E ferieron e mataron tantos dellos e fueronse en su salvo.

The king of the crows called a meeting in the aftermath of this attack to formulate a response to the owls’ assault: “E entre todos los cuervos avía çinco que eran de muy buen seso e eran consejeros del rrey, e el rrey non fazia cosa syn sus consejos; e eran de muy buenos entendimientos.”  Each of the “consejeros” gives the king a different piece of advice.  The fifth bird, however, calls on the king to sponsor the same tactic seen in El conde Lucanor.  He calls upon the king to use deception to win over an enemy that appears insurmountable:

E el ome a quien acaeçe alguna trybulaçion non se puede escusar de se consejar con el leal ome; que el ome cuytado, maguer sea de buen seso e de buen consejo e de buen acuerdo, creçe su entendimiento en consejandose, asy commo creçe el fuego en la luz con la grosura e con el azeyte.  E el ome que se quiere consejar de acordar con el ome que le diere el buen consejo, e deve con los malos consejores pasar con mansedumbre e con falago e de usar con gran cordura en las cosas dudosas fasta que vea en que se endereçan; e quando el rrey tiene sus poridades e se consejo con sus pryvados es tenido en las almas de sus pueblos e non deve de saber ninguno lo que el tiene en su coraçon; e el buen consejero non se maltraydo, e el que feziere malfecho non le estuerça la pena.

While this fable does not narrate the actual implementation of the plan, the story ends on the same moral note, cautioning the reader by example against an enemy in the clothes of a friend.

These narrative and moral elements are echoed in the Panchatantra version of the story despite a greater degree of development in the plot.  The story is the beginning of the frame for the third book of the text, just as its counterpart in Kalilah-wa Dimna.  Unlike the Arabic text, though, the story begins with the moral verse:

No hay que fiar en antiguo enemigo aunque haya solicitado y obtenga nueva amistad.  Mira si no la cueva llena de buhos, incendiada por el fuego que en ella echó un cuervo.

The fable proper then begins:

Hay en el populoso Dekán una ciudad llamada Mahilaropya.  No lejos de ella había también una grande y frondosísima higuera en cuyo espesísimo follaje habitaban muchas parejas de pájaros.  Vivía allí. Rodeando de varias cornejas que formaban su cortejo, un rey de cuervos llamado Meghavarna…También vivía allí, en una cueva del monte, que ocupaba como fortaleza, un rey de buhos llamado Arimardana…A todo cuervo que econtrara, lo mataba, de manera que con tan repetidos ataques quedó sin un habitante el fuerte de la higuera.

In response to the "repetidos ataques" by the owls, the King of the Crows, like his Arabic counterpart, convenes his most trusted advisors.  “Tenía este rey cinco ministros que venían siéndolo por derecho hereditario.”  Each of the five ministers advises his king in the same order and manner as the counselors found in Kalilah-wa Dimnah.  Their particular narrations, however, are much longer than those in the Arabic text, each minister elaborating his advice with examples and verses demonstrating his point.  After sixty metrical verses and several hundred lines of Sanskrit prose, the king turns to Sthirajivin “anciano ministro que lo había sido de su padre y que por su larga vida poseía en su más alto grado toda la ciencia política.”  The minister advises the king to seek out a weak spot in his enemy rather than following the advice of his other advisors: "Si observas algún punto débil en él, atacándole por ahí, le destrozarás."  The minister then begins to propound political theory on strength and weakness in the enemy before outlining the methods of success where he calls upon the king to gain intelligence through a spy placed in one of several positions:

El consejero, el sacerdote, el general en jefe, el príncipe heredero, el portero, el intendente del harén, el director espiritual, el que organiza las reuniones, el que sirve la comida, el juez supremo, el jefe de peticiones, el jefe de la callería, el jefe de los elefantes, el intendente de hacienda, el gobernador de la fortaleza, el cobrador general de contribuciones, el defensor de la frontera y los criados favoritos.

As in the Arabic version, the plan is not implemented in the text, but the point is conveyed--the crows must resort to deceit by placing a spy in one of these positions to gain the advantage over their perennial enemy.

Just as exemplo VII underwent some changes as it migrated to Europe, this tale, too, has undergone minor adjustments that do not ultimately affect the narrative or moral outcome of the story.  The Sanskrit version is, by far, the most elaborated of the fables, containing theories of politics and another story framed into the tale at the end.  This elaboration provides extra details to the story, such as the location in India of the narration, and more specific causes of the enmity between the two species.  Beyond the compression, though, the Sanskrit names are stripped out of the tale in the Arabic version of the fable as are specific locations in India.  Similarly, the medieval Spanish version includes the implementation of the deceitful plan.  Nevertheless, the basic elements of the story remain the same: ultimately these are stories of overcoming a stronger enemy, and each fable imparts moral, whether explicit or implicit, to beware of a wolf in sheep's clothing.

This tale from El conde Lucanor also provides a good example of another potential reason for why these fables were modified as they moved in Europe.  As demonstrated in this specific example, Panchatantra stories are more elaborated than their Arabic or Spanish counterparts.  Part of this extra verbage may be a result of the explicit purpose of the text.  Unlike other fable collections, the Panchatantra also purports to use the fables therein contained to teach a larger lesson about kingship that frames the smaller lessons of individual stories.  Thus, this fable contains political theory and information on the art of espionage because of the external requirements of the text and its ends. A similar argument can be made for the Arabic version of Kalilah-wa Dimnah that was translated and edited by Ibn al-Muqaffa, a Manichi whose own religious agenda may have been an implicit goal of the text that influenced particular elaborations in the narrative (see Brockmann and Gabrieli.)(5)

Exemplo XXII (Calila e Dimna III.1, Panchatantra I.1) of El conde Lucanor follows the same path described above.  The general narrative and moral structure of the fable, despite its migration from India through the Arab world to Spain, is largely unchanged.  The explicitly Hindu and Indian elements are removed and, as in exemplo VII, there is a compression of the text as it moves west with certain elements not central to the development of the basic plot removed or shortened.  There are also minor situational or character changes, similar to the ones described above, that do not come to affect the ultimate moral or narrative outcome of the story.

In examining the development of two tales from Sendebar, the other great collection of fables in medieval Spain, the same pattern of both similarity and difference between the Sanskrit, Arabic, and Spanish versions is seen.  Cuento 12, a story of great renown in the Indian fable tradition, is narrated by “el quinto privado” of the king in the hope that the monarch will not have his son executed.

  Señor, oí dezir que un omne que era criado de un rey, e aquel omne avía un perro de caça muy bueno e mucho entendido, e nunca le mandava fazer cosa que la non fiziese.  E vino un día que su muger fue veer sus parientes, e fue con ella toda su conpaña, e dixoella a su marido:--Sey con tu fijo que yaze durmiendo en la cama, ca non tardaré allá, ca luego seré aquí.
  El omne asentóse cabo su fijo.  El seyendo allí, llegó un omne de casa del rey que l’mandava llamar a gran priesa.  E el omne bueno dixo al perro: --Guarda bien este niño, e non te parta d’ él fasta que yo venga.
  E el omne çerro su puerta e fuese para el Rey.
  E el perro yaziendo çerca del niño, vino a él una culebra muy grande, e quísolo matar por el olor de la leche de la madre.  E quando la vio el perro, dio salto en ella e despedaçóla toda.  E el omne tornó aína por amor de su fijo que dexava solo.  E quando abrió la puerta, abriéndola, salió el perro a falagarse a su señor por lo que avía fecho, e traía la boca e los pechos sangrientos.  E quando lo vio tal cuidóse que avía matado su fijo e metío mano a un espada, e dio un gran golpe al perro, e matólo.  E fue más adelante a la cama, e falló su fijo durmiendo, e la culebra despedaçada a sus pies.  E quando esto vio, dio palmadas en su rostro e ronpióselo, e non pudo ál fazer, e tóvose por malandante que lo avía errado.

“El privado” then goes on to ask the king to stop the scheduled execution of the prince (Lacarra, pages 115 and 116.)

The Arabic version of the fable (Calila e Dimna, VIII.2) has an almost identical narrative and moral structure (Lacarra, page 116).  The tale is introduced as part of a secondary frame-narrative with in the larger frame-narrative of a king questioning his philosopher.  The discussion opens with the topic of “el ome que faze las cozas syn alvedrio e syn pensamiento e a que torna su fazienda e çima.”  The philosopher then begins to tell the story of “un rreligioso” and “ una muger” that serves as a tertiary frame to the actual fable (Keller, pages 251 and 252.)

  E desy pario la muger un fijo conplido de sus mienbros, e gozaronse con el.  E acaeçio que fue la madre al mercado a mercar çiertas cosas para su casa, e dixo al marido: “Guarda la casa e este niño fasta que yo venga.”  E el dixo que le plazia, e fuese la muger e quedo el marido en casa.  E el marido dende a poco fuese e dexo la casa sola, e el niño en su cabo salvo un gato que estava en casa que le guardava.  E avia en aquella casa una cueva en que avia una culebra.  E salio la culebra de la cueva e fuese para donde estava el niño para le matar, e el gato violo e salto en la culebra e matola.
  E quando el rreligioso vino para so posada, saliole el gato a rreçebyr, untado todo en sange de la culebra que avia muerta, demostrandole el serviçio que le avia fecho.  E quando el rreligioso le vio asy, perdio el seso pensando que avia muerto a su fijo; e fuese para el gato e tomole e diole tantos golpes fasta que le mato.  E desque entro dentro e vio al niño byvo e sano e a la culebra toda despedaçada, entendio commo acaeçiera; e comencço a mesarse e a carpyrse e a dezir: “¡Mandase Dios que este niño non fuese naçido, e yo non feziera este pecado e esta alevosya!”  E entro su muger en esto e fallolo llorando e dixole: “¿Por que estas llorando e quien despedaço asy esta culebra e commo esta asy este gato muerto?”  E el rreligioso fizogelo entender e dixo: “Este es el fruto de la cosa fecha rrabinosamente.”

Sendebar exhibits this narrative structure as well as the moral expressed at both the beginning and the end of the fable (Keller, pages 254 and 255.)

These narrative and moral similarities are also present in the Panchatantra version of this story (Panchatantra, V.2.)  The fable is introduced as the result of a question posed by a character from the previous fable, as was the case in the tale at the root of exemplo VII of El conde Lucanor, and the fables is narrated as a response to this question:

  En cierto lugar vivía un brahmán llamado Devazarman.  Parió su mujer y dió á luz un niño.  En el mismo día una icneumona parió un icneumoncito.  Llena de ternura la brahmana por el cariño que sentia hacia su hijo, crió al icneumón lo mismo que si lo fuera, alimentándole con leche de sus pechos, ungiéndole con aceite, etc.; pero no se fiaba de él, pensando que, por instinto natural de raza, pudiera algún dia causar daño al niño…
  Pero un día acostó la mujer al niño en la cama, cogió un cántaro de llevar agua, y dijo á su marido: --Brahmán, me voy al estanque por un cántaro de agua.  Ten cuidado y guarda al niño del icneumón.  –Apenas ella se fué, detrás de ella, el brahmán, dejando la cosa sola, salió también á recoger limosna de donde pudiese.  La mala suerte hizo que entretanto saliese de su madriguera una serpiente negra.  El icneumón, que la conoció como enemiga natural de su raza, por defender á su hermano, trabó combate con ella y la hizo trizas.  Alegre entonces salió con la cara llena de sangre al encuentro de la madre para manifestarle su proeza.  Pero la madre que le vió la cara llena de sangre, llena de temor, dijo: --Este desalmado se me ha comido el niño;--y sin pensar más, enfurecida, le arrojó encima el cántaro lleno de agua.  Y cuando, después de haber matado así al icneumón entró en su casa llorando, vió que el niño dormia tal como ella lo dejara, y cerca de él destrozada á la serpiente negra.
  Afligida entonces de haber matado al icneumón, empezó á darse golpes en la cabeza y en el pecho.  Volvió entretanto el brahmán con la colecta de la limosna; y en seguida que lo vió la brahmana, que seguía llorando por la muerte del icneumón, le dijo: --¡Oh, alma codiciosa!  Dominado por la avricia no has hecho le que te dije.  Ahí tienes, pués, el fruto del árbol de tu desdicha, la muerte del hijo.

Before concluding with a transition to the next fable, the story contains a moral that is very reminiscent of Sendebar: “No se ha de tener excesiva codicia ni hay que renunciar á ella todo.  Al que se deja dominar por la codicia, le da vueltas una rueda sobre la cabeza (Bolufer, pages 346 and 347.)”

As with the fables forming the background of El conde Lucanor, there is an elaboration of certain elements not central to the development of the short plot.  For example, the Sanskrit version tells of how the mongoose came to be a member of the brahman’s household while also making explicit the reasons that caused the parents to leave their child in the company of the domestic animal.  There is also a removal, as seen already, of the brahman-hood of the man in the Arabic and Spanish versions because such a classification does not make sense outside of the rigidly hierarchy of Hindu society.  Nevertheless, these changes and some smaller, accessory changes like the different loci of the women’s movements in the three texts do not affect the general narrative and moral structure that survives, without major modification, the long journey from ancient India to medieval Spain.

The change in the animal species of each story, although not important to the outcome of the story, is also a good tool for understanding change over time in these fables.  In this case, change is the product of differing cultural and social norms in the host societies of these three respective texts.  The mongoose, an animal that plays an important role in Indian literature (one is reminded of Kipling’s short story about the mongoose) is removed as the story moves into cultural and literary contexts in which the animal does not play the domestic role that it did and does in South Asia (see Muller, pages 582 and 583.)  Thus, in Kalilah-wa Dimnahh the animal has become a cat.(6)  In Sendebar, however, the domestic animal is a dog, corresponding to the preponderance of canines in the western world as domestic pets over cats and mongooses.

Cuento 14 of Sendebar, another tale that has links to the Panchatantra follows this same pattern.  This tale is framed by a “muger al sesto día” who is trying to convince “el Rey” that he should kill his son:

  Pasava un gran recuero por cabo de un aldea, e entró en ella un gran ladrón e muy malfechor; e ellos, yendo así, tomóles la noche, e llovió sobre ellos muy gran lluvia, e dixo el recuero:--Paremos mientes en nuestras cosas non nos faga algund mal el ladrón.
  E a esto vino un ladrón, e entró entre las bestias, e ellos non lo vieron con la gran escuredat, e començó de apalpar quál era la más gruesa para levarla; e puso la mano sobre un león, e non falló ninguna más gruesa nin de más gordo pescueço que él, e cavalgó en él, e dixo el león:--Esa es la enpestad que dizen los omnes.
  E corrió con él toda la noche fasta la mañana.  E quando se conosçieron el uno al otro, avíanse miedo.  E el lleón llegó a un árbol muy cansado, e el ladrón travóse a una rama, e subióse al árbol con gran miedo del león.  E el león fuese muy espantado, e fallóse con un ximio, e díxol’:--¿Qué as, león, o cómmo vienes así?
  E el león dixo:--Esta noche me tomón dixo:--Esta noche me tomó la tenpestad, e cavalgó en mí; fasta en la mañana nunca cansó de me correr.
  El ximio le dixo:--¿Dó es aquella tenpestad?
  E el león le mostró el omne ençima del árbol.  E el ximio subió ençima del árbol, e el león atendió por oír a veer qué faría, e el ximio vio que era omne, fizo señal al león que viniese, e el león vino corriendo.  E estonçes abaxóse un poco el omne, e echól’ mano de los cojones del ximio e apretógelos tanto fasta que lo mató, e echólo al león.  E desí quando el león esto vido, echó a foír e dixo:--¡Loado sea Dios, que me escapó desta tenpestad!

The female narrator then ends the tale with a moral: “Fío por Dios que me ayudará contra tus malos privados, así commo ayudó al ladrón contra el león. (Sendebar, page 122.)

A similar narrative and moral outline can be discerned in the Arabic and Sanskrit equivalents of the fable.  As in the Spanish text, Calila e Dimna speaks of a lion taken away mistakenly by a thief.  When the thief realizes that his prize is not quite what he had expected—the fattest horse in the stable—he runs off into a tree.  A monkey attempts to intervene and lead the lion to the man, but finds his meddling leads him to his own doom (Sendebar, pages 122 and 123.)

In the Panchatantra (V.11) there is a greater degree of change in the narrative elements of the fable.  Rather than a lion, the being mistakenly taken by the thief is a raksasa, a species of demon in Hindu mythology.  In the Sanskrit version, however, there are new elements to the story.

Vivía en cierta ciudad un rey llamado Bhadrasena.  Tenía éste una hija llamada Ratnavati…y un rakxasa se la quería robar.  Venía éste de noche á gozar de ella, pero no podía llevársela por la asidua guardia que custodiaba á la princesa…Y como el tiempo pasaba así, el rakxasa se colocó una vez, á media noche, en un rincón de sala.

From his privileged position in the room, the demon is able to craft a plan whereby he can be admitted to the room of the princess.  Thinking that she seeks after her horse named Dawn, he goes to the royal stables and takes the form of a horse.(7)  As in the Arabic and Spanish versions, however:

Entró aquella noche en el palacio del rey un ladrón á robar un caballo; y después que los hubo examinado todos, reconociendo al rakxasa por el mejor caballo, montó en él.

The thief and demon ride on through the night until they realize who the other is, when

El ladrón se agarró de una rama de la higuera y quedó colgado.  Entonces los dos al haberse separado, experimentaron la mayor alegría por haber salido de la empresa sin defraudárseles las esperanzas de vivir.

Of course, though, “en aquella higuera se había establecido un mono” who, having seen the raksasa and the man calls on the demon to overpower and devour the human.  “Pero el ladrón que se apercibió de que el mono llamaba al rakxasa, cogió lleno de cólera en su boca la cola de aquél, que colgaba por encima de él, y la mordió fuertemente.”  The fable ends with the raksasa and the human going their separate ways, confirming the moral expressed at the prompt for the framing of this story that one should mind his own business to stay alive.

While the figure of the lion in Sendebar and Calila e Dimna is filled by a raksasa, a variety of demon in Hindu mythology, in the form of a horse, the basic narrative and moral elements of the story is identical across the three different texts.  A raksasa is a particularly Hindu feature, as are the Sanskrit names of the particular characters in the Panchatantra.  As such, it is not surprising that they have been removed as the plot moves away from the linguistic and religious context in which they would be understood.  Moreover, the Sanskrit version elaborates certain secondary elements of the story, explaining, for example, how the demon came to be in the stable.  There is also a compression of the text in the Arabic and Spanish versions where the reader is left to guess about how the thief could have mistaken another animal for a horse.  Nonetheless, these changes fall within the pattern of difference and similarity described above.

The only major difference in the text is the lack of an explicit moral in Sendebar that corresponds to its counterparts in Arabic and Sanskrit.  These features can be explained, however, by the particular nature of the medieval Spanish text.  Without doubt, the cuento 14 expresses the same idea as the fables in Calila e Digna and Panchatantra, but the explicit moral at the end of the story has been changed to correspond to the needs of the frame-tale.  Sendebar is a series of stories told by alternating groups interested in either saving or killing the prince.  In this particular case, the fable is narrated by the “muger sesto” who hopes to convince the king that killing his son is the best option.  Thus, the moral she interpolates at the end of the tale corresponds to that need, equating the meddling monkey with the ministers opposed to the “muger” despite the fact that the story still conveys, through the plot, the original moral attached in the Panchatantra.

The differences that we find in each of these examples as they move westward from India is not particularly surprising, though: such a long migration will inevitably lead to reinterpretations and modifications of moralized fables.  Nonetheless, the similarity in the narrative and moral elements of each of these fables is astounding in light of the geographic, diachronic, and cultural distance between their composition in ancient India, and their manifestations in Calila e Dimna, El conde Lucanor, and Sendebar.

The fact that the moral and narrative elements of these fables were preserved to such a degree suggests that their lessons transcend individual religion and speak to a deeper humanistic sensibility of right and wrong that unites India, the Middle East, and Spain.  This is particularly true in that these five fables specifically moved through a series of cultural contexts that each presented its own social and religious structure.  From the Hindu systems of India that first organized the fables into the Panchatantra, the tales moved into the pre-Islamic world of Iran, and then into a classical Arabic prose that flowered under the tutelage of Islam before reaching the shores of an increasingly Catholic Spain.  The work of Vishnusharman could be transformed into the Zoroastran world of Iran, then re-worked into the Manichean system of Ibn al-Muqaffa before finding its way into the Catholic order of Don Juan Manuel without suffering from major changes in the narrative or moral outline of the individual tales.

The similarities are particularly noteworthy in that such a direct correspondence to the Sanskrit originals of many European fables is not maintained.  The western redactions of Sendebar, the collection of La Fontaine, and even Chaucer all have some degree of literary parentage in the Panchatantra, but unlike the examples from El conde Lucanor, Sendebar, and Kalilah-wa Dimnah, the changes in many of these texts is so great the stories' origins are barely recognizeable (see Muller.)  Such is the case of the Manciple's Tale in The Canterbury Tales.  The parrot is an echo of an oriental past that is largely lost in medieval England (see Chaucer, pages 499-508.)  Perhaps, then, it was the Arab world straddling the Hindu world of India on the East and the Catholic world of Spain on the West, and literary the sensibilities that it imparted, that kept these collections of fables so united.

Last Updated 15 March 2005.
Copyright 2005-2007 by Rishi Sharma.
All Rights Reserved.