Thursday, August 23, 2007

King Solomon & The Arabian Nights

Per Wikipedia, King Solomon was around from 970 to 928 BC. The Arabian Nights, on the other hand, were compiled somewhere between AD 800-900. So Solomon predates the Arabian Nights.

That being said, I am still unsure as to whether the following tale is a tale-type that was utilized by the midrash/ folklore, or whether it honestly first appears by King Solomon and then shows up in the Arabian Nights. Anyway, the story appears in Legends of King Solomon as follows:
    The Talk of Beasts and Twittering of Birds

    Solomon had a faithful friend in a distant country who used to come and stay in the royal palace at Jerusalem every year, bringing gifts with him. The king in return would give him gifts for his people.

    On one occasion this faithful friend came to the king, and as usual he brought him a fine present. This time his gift was exceptionally precious, and when the time came for them to part, King Solomon wished to give him something equally precious in return. But his friend refused to take it, saying, "My lord the King, I do not wish to take any presents from you. The God who dwells in heaven has given me of His bounty; He has made my business prosper and has blessed everything I do. I have plenty and I lack for nothing. There is only one thing that I would beg of you, if you wish to show me your favor. I pray you, great King, teach me to understand the twittering of the birds and the talk of the beasts."

    Solomon answered: "I will grant you your request; this knowledge which you desire will I not keep from you. Yet it is a very dangerous thing to know, a great secret indeed. If you reveal a single word of all you hear, to any person, you will surely perish."

    But his friend answered fearlessly, "I greatly yearn to understand the languages of animals and birds, and if I find favor in your eyes, my lord King, please let me know this small part of your wisdom. I in turn will be careful and shall not reveal it."

    When the king saw how greatly his friend longed for this knowledge, he taught him the secrets of this wisdom. Cheerful and rejoicing, the faithful friend returned home.

    One evening the man sat at the entrance to his home. When he saw his ox returning from the hard work of the field, he led it into the cowshed and tied it up beside the donkey. In front of the ox he placed hay, but he did not put any food in front of the donkey, for it had been sick that day and had done no work. The donkey turned to the ox and said:

    "How are you, brother ox? How do men treat you?"

    And the ox answered: "Brother donkey, my life is hard, very hard. All day long and all night long I toil bitterly and exhaust myself."

    The donkey replied, "If you wish to have rest and ease from your heavy toil, take my advice, and things will go well with you from now on."

    "O have pity on me, and out of your great kindness tell me your good advice. I promise you, I shall follow your words to the letter. For I am weary and exhausted and I yearn for rest." So lowed the ox sadly.

    "I am thinking only of your good," promised the donkey, "and I speak to you honestly. Accept my words as the advice of a true friend. Do not eat any of the hay which the master set before you tonight. When our master sees that you have not touched the food he has given you, he will think that you are sick, and he will not send you to work in the field. Then you can rest and be at ease as I was today; for our master thinks that I am ill."

    The advice of the donkey seemed good to the ox, and he acted on it.

    Meanwhile their master bore the matter in mind and went home. During the night he rose from his bed, and stealthily entered the cowshed. He saw the donkey standing at the stall of the ox gorging the hay. Now the man realized how cunning the donkey was. He began to laugh aloud, and was still laughing when he returned to his room. His laughter woke his wife from her sleep, and she asked him: "What in the world is so funny in the middle of the night?"

    But the man remembered Solomon's warning and said: "I just remembered something that happened to me today, and that was why I laughed."

    Next morning the man went to the cowshed where he found that the donkey had left just a little straw, so that their master might think that the ox had not eaten everything up. He turned to his boy and said:

    "Look, the ox is sick and has not eaten, so let him rest today and do no work. Take the donkey in his place, and make him do both his own work and the ox's work as well."

    In the evening the donkey returned weary and exhausted from the work. He stood tired and drooping in the cowshed beside the ox; and their master was not far away either. When the ox saw his friend the donkey, he said to him: "Brother, have you heard what these wicked people intend to do to me?"

    "I heard them say," answered the donkey, "that if the ox does not eat tonight, either, they will slaughter him and turn his flesh into something tasty."

    When the ox heard this he lowed in terror and thrust his head into the crib, never raising it at all until he finished all the hay that had been put before him. This time as well the man heard the words of the donkey and understood how cunning the creature was. Now too he burst out laughing. Once again his wife wondered, and said:

    "What are you laughing at all the time? Yesterday you laughed and I thought to myself that this could only be accidental; but now you burst out laughing again, and there isn't anybody telling you any jokes. Surely you will tell me why you are laughing. Or are you laughing at me? I swear I shall not talk to you until you tell me the real reason why you have been laughing."

    Then the man began to try to pacify her, saying: "Heaven forbid that I should laugh at you, my beloved wife. I had quite a different reason, but I cannot tell it to you."

    "I swear," cried the woman, "that I shall not eat or drink until I know the reason for your laughter. Do you mean to say that you will hide your secrets from me?"

    When the man saw that there was no escape from his wife's scolding and complaining, he said to her:

    "My beloved, do not be angry; and do not fast on my account. I would far sooner die than hurt a single hair of your head. For what have I in my home except you? Leave me for a little while, and I shall make my will; for once I tell you my secret I am bound to perish."

    Now this man had a very faithful dog in his house, and it sensed that its master was about to die. from then on it refused to eat any of the rich meat set before it, but sat in a dark corner barking mournfully. A rooster saw this, and came swiftly to snatch up the bread and the meat and bring them to the hens. And they all ate together, very pleased at the rich and unexpected feast.

    When the dog saw how pleased they were, it jumped up and barked in fury:

    "You wretch of a rooster! How impudent you are and how shameless! Here our master is about to die, and you go eating and enjoying yourself in his home!"

    Then the rooster crowed long and loud, and he said: "If your master is a simpleton and a fool, what can I do about it? Is that any reason why I shouldn't eat? Look at me. I have ten wives and I rule them as I desire, and not one of them dares to disobey me. When I feel like it I laugh and when I feel like it I shout, and none of them even dreams of asking me why I laugh or shout. Yet look that master of yours: he has only one wife, and he cannot rule over her."

    "Why, what should he do?" asked the dog. "She has sworn that she will not eat or drink until he tells her his secret!"

    "If he were to shout at her and answer all she says with one big cock-a-doodle-do like me, she would not bother him any more."

    The man listened to this talk between the dog and the rooster, and he did what the wise bird said. He scolded his wife severely, and everything very swiftly returned to its proper state of affairs.

Lovely message, eh?

But here's the part that I find fascinating: this exact story is found in the Arabian Nights, otherwise known as The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.

It's titled The Fable of the Ass, the Ox, and the Labourer.

The one major difference is that instead of the wife saying that she will not eat, the following occurs:
    The wife responded by withholding all sexual favours from him until he did. The farmer's house was then thrown into great consternation, as the wife remained completely obstinate. The farmer then overheard the cock telling the dog that the only way to govern such a woman was to thrash her soundly. The farmer did this and succeeded in restoring order to his household. The grand visier suggests that the obstinate Scheherazade should be treated in much the same way by himself as the farmer treated his wife.

    In spite of the visier's objections, however, Scheherazade is married to Schahriar and proceeds with her as-yet unspecified plan of keeping the sultan in a state of constant suspense by telling him a series of narratives, none of which is capable of being completed within the space of a single night.

So now I'm wondering: where did this tale originate, and when? The version I have regarding King Solomon, was that deliberately changed to make it appropriate for children or is that the true version? Is the King Solomon tale based on the Arabian Nights or is the Arabian Nights based on King Solomon?

It's lots of fun to note how the same tales show up in the different types of literature, but that always leaves me with more questions than answers.

1 comment:

David_on_the_Lake said...

I recently had a similar question regarding The Alchemist...
The exactly the same as a Parable by R' Nachman of Breslov..written 200 years ago..