Tales of the Sun/Notes
NOTES TO XIII.—FIRST PART.
- ↑ It is not generally known that the “Birnam Wood” incident in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” occurs in the same Arabian historical work.
NOTES TO XIII.—THE SECOND PART.
NOTES TO XIII.—THE THIRD PART.
In a black-letter English edition of the “Seven Wise Masters,” the knight, having slain his hound and discovered his child safe in its cradle, exclaims (and here the hand of the misogynist monkish writer is very evident!)—“Woe be to me, that, for the words of my wife, I have slain my good and best greyhound, the which had saved my child’s life, and hath slain the serpent; therefore I will put myself to penance.” And so he brake his sword in three pieces, and travelled in the direction of the Holy Land, and abode there all the days of his life. The preceding story of the Hunter and his Dog, it will be observed, is closely allied to that of the Brahman’s Wife and the Mongoose; and in conclusion, where the hunter erects a stately tomb over his dog’s remains, it presents a striking resemblance to the Welsh legend of Llewellyn and the dog Gellert, which is probably not merely fortuitous.
A very curious version is found in a black-letter chapter-book, entitled the “Seven Wise Mistresses,” written in imitation of the “Seven Wise Masters,” by one Thomas Howard, about the end of the seventeenth century, in which a knight and his lady are wrecked and cast ashore on a desert island, and the knight soon afterwards dies. His wife takes a thorn out of a lion’s foot (Androcles in petticoats), and the grateful animal follows her about, and provides her with food, and this is how the story goes on:—
“At last she began mourning to herself, deploring her condition in living in such obscurity in a foreign Country, and as her daily companion, a savage Beast, her mind yearning after her own habitation, she thus complained: ‘Oh, how hath fortune frowned on me that I am driven out from all human knowledge, and am glad to take up my habitation with the Beast of the Field!’
“As she thus complained to herself, the Devil chanced to appear to her, and demanded the cause of her complaint, and she related all to him as you have heard. Then said he to her: ‘What wilt thou give and I will provide a ship which shall carry thee home to thy own country.’ She answered: ‘Half my Estates.’
“‘Nay,’ said the Devil, ‘If thou wilt give me thy Soul at the term of twelve years, I will set thee down in thy own country, and thou shalt live and flourish so long.’ ‘God forbid,’ said the Lady. ‘I would rather end my wretched life in this solitary island than that.’ ‘Why, then,’ said the Devil, ‘I will make this bargain with you, that if you abstain from sleeping all the time of our voyage, which shall be but three days, I will have nothing to do with your Soul; if you sleep, I will have it as I have said.’
“And upon this bargain the lady ventured, provided she might have her Lion with her. So ’twas concluded, and a brave Ship came and took the Lady and her Lion. When she lay down the Lion lay by her, and if she slumbered the Lion would touch her with his paw, by which means he kept her awake all the voyage, until she landed in her own country, and being come to her Father’s house, she knocked at the gate. Then the Porter coming with all speed opened the gate and thought that it was a Beggar.
“Frowningly he shut it again, saying, ‘There’s nothing here for you.’ Then she bounced at the gate again, and asked the Porter if such a Knight lived there, meaning her Father, and he said ‘Yes.’ ‘Then,’ said she, ‘Pray, deliver this piece of ring unto him.’ Now this ring was it she brake betwixt her Father and she at her departure out of the land. Then the Porter delivered the King to his Master, saying; ‘The Beggar woman at the gate willed me to deliver the piece of ring unto you.’
“When the Knight saw the ring he fell down in a swound but when he was revived he said, ‘Call her in, for she is my only Daughter, whom I thought was dead.’ ‘Then,’ said the Porter, ‘I dare not call her in, for there is a mighty Lion with her.’ ‘Though it be,’ said the Knight, ‘call her in.’ Then said the Porter [to the Lady], ‘You are to come in, but leave your Lion outside.’ ‘No,’ said the Lady, ‘my Lion goes whereever I go, and where he is not, there will I not be.’
“And when she came to her Father she fell down on her knees and wept. Her Father took her up in his arms and kissed her, weeping as fast, and after he clothed her in purple, and placed her by him in a chair, and demanded an account of her travels, and she told him all that had happened, and how the Lion had saved her life, and was the greatest comfort she had in the Wilderness. It chanced afterwards that as the Knight was going into his Wood to look after his young Horses, he met with a wild Boar, with whom he fell in combat. The Lion loved the Old Knight, and by accident walking along he scented the Boar, and as the Lion ran toward the place where the Boar was, the Steward espied him, and he ran into the Palace, and cryed out, the ‘Lion is running after my Master to destroy him.’
“Then the Lady sent after him ten of her servants, who met the Lion, his mouth all bloody, and they ran back and told the Lady the Lion had destroyed her aged Father. Then said the Lady, ‘O woe is me that ever I was born, that have brought a Lion from far to destroy my own Father.’ Therefore she commanded her servants to slay the Lyon, which no sooner was done but her Father came in, and said; ‘O, I have met with a wild Boar, with whom I fought, and there came the Lion to my aid, and slew the Boar, and so saved my life, else I had died by the Boar.’“When the Lady heard this, O how she wept and wrung her hands, saying, ‘For the words of a wicked Steward, I have slain my good Lion, who hath saved my life and my Father’s. Cursed be the time I was advised by him.’”
NOTES TO XIII.—THE FOURTH PART.
“If you cause this to be planted and grow, whoever eats of its fruit old age will forsake him and his youth be restored.”
The king was much pleased, and caused it to be planted in his favourite garden. After some years, buds appeared and became flowers, then young fruit, then full grown; and when the fruit was ripe the king ordered one to be plucked and brought to him, when he gave it to an old man. But on it had fallen poison from a serpent as it was carried through the air by a kite, so the old man immediately withered and died. The king, on seeing this, exclaimed in wrath:—
“Is not this bird attempting to kill me?” And he seized the magpie and wrung off its head. Afterwards in the village the tree had the name of the poisonous mango. Now, it happened that a washerman, taking the part of his wife in a quarrel with his old mother, struck the latter, who was so angry at her son that she resolved to die, in order that the blame of her death should fall upon him; and having gone to the poisonous mango-tree in the garden, she cut off a fruit and ate it, when instantly she became more blooming than a girl of sixteen. This miracle she published everywhere and it came to the king’s ears, who, having called her and seen her, caused the fruit to be given to other old people. Having seen what was thus done by the marvellous virtue of the mango-fruit, the king sorrowfully exclaimed:—
“Alas, the faithful magpie is killed which gave me this divine tree! How guilty am I!” And he pierced himself with his sword and died.“Therefore,” adds the story-teller, “those who act without thought are certain to be ruined.” The old Brahman’s generously presenting the king with the wonderful mango-fruit in our story, finds its parallel with a difference, in the Hindu romance entitled “Simhasana Dwatrinsatri,” or Thirty-two Tales of a throne, where a Brahman having received from the gods, as a reward for his devotional austerities, the fruit of immortality, joyfully proceeds home and shows it to his wife, who advises him to give it to the Raja Bhartrigari, as the wealth he should receive in in return were preferable to an endless life of poverty. He goes to the palace, and presenting the fruit to the Raja, acquaints him of its nature, and is rewarded with a lakh of rupees. The Raja gives the fruit to his wife, telling her that if she ate it her beauty would increase day by day, and she should be immortal. The Kani gives it to her paramour, the chief of police, who, in his turn, presents it as the choicest of gifts to a courtesan, who, after reflecting that it would only enable her to commit innumerable sins, resolves to offer it to the Raja, in hope of a reward in a future life. When Raja Bhartrihari receives the fruit again he is astonished, and, on learning from the hætera from whom she had obtained it, he knew that his queen was unfaithful, and, abandoning his throne and kingdom, departs into the jungle, where he became an ascetic.
NOTES TO XIII.—THE FIFTH PART.
At that season Harisvamin, wearied out with the heat of the sun, with bereavement, hunger and thirst, and continual travelling, emaciated and dirty, and pining tor food, reached in the course of his wanderings a certain village, and found in it the house of a Brahman named Padmanabha, who was engaged in a sacrifice. And, seeing that many Brahmans were eating in his house, he stood leaning against the doorpost, silent and motionless. And the good wife of that Brahman named Padmanabha, seeing him in this position, felt pity for him, and reflected:—
“Alas! mighty is hunger! Whom will it not bring down? For here stands a man at the door, who appears to be a householder, desiring food, with downcast countenance; evidently come from a long journey, and with all his faculties impaired by hunger. So is not he a man to whom food ought to be given?” Having gone through these reflections, that kind woman took up in her hand a vessel full of rice boiled in milk, with ghi and sugar, and brought it, and courteously presented it to him, and said:—
“Go and eat this somewhere on the bank of the lake, for this place is unfit to eat in, as it is filled with feasting Brahmans.” He said “I will do so,” and took the vessel of rice and placed it at no great distance under a banyan-tree on the edge of the lake; and he washed his hands and feet in the lake, and rinsed his mouth, and then came back in high spirits to eat the rice. But while he was thus engaged a kite, holding a black cobra with its beak and claws, came and sat on that tree. And it so happened that poisonous saliva issued from the mouth of that dead snake, which the bird had captured and was carrying along. The saliva fell into the dish of rice which was placed under the tree, and Harisvamin, without observing it, came and ate up that rice. As soon as in his hunger he had devoured all that food, he began to suffer terrible agonies, caused by the poison. He exclaimed:—
“When fate has turned against a man, everything in this world turns also; accordingly this rice has become poison to me.” Thus speaking, Harisvamin, tortured with the poison, tottered to the house of that Brahman who was engaged in a sacrifice, and said to his wife:—
“The rice which you gave me has poisoned me; so fetch me quickly a charmer who can counteract the operation of poison; otherwise you will be guilty of the death of a Brahman.” When Harisvamin had said this to the good woman, who was beside herself to think what it could all mean, his eyes closed and he died.
Then the Brahman who was engaged in a sacrifice drove his wife out of the house, though she was innocent and hospitable, being enraged with her for the supposed murder of her guest. The good woman, for her part, having incurred groundless blame from her charitable deed, and so become burdened with infamy, went to a holy bathing-place, to perform penance. Then there was a discussion before the superintendent of religion as to which of the four parties, the kite, the snake, and the couple who gave rice, was guilty of the murder of a Brahman; but the question was not decided.It will be seen that our story differs very considerably from the foregoing, which we must regard as the original. The same story occurs in all the Eastern versions of the Book of Sindibad, but in most of these it is not a traveller who is thus poisoned, but a wealthy man and his guests; having sent a domestic to the market to buy sour curds, which she carried back in an open vessel, poison from a serpent in a stork’s mouth dropped into the curds, of which the master of the house and his guests partook and died. The story is probably more than 2,000 years old.
The serpent’s emitting gems recalls Shakespeare’s allusion to the popular notion of the “toad, ugly and venomous, which bears a precious jewel in its head.” It is a very ancient and widespread belief that serpents are the guardians of hidden treasure. Preller, in his work on Grecian mythology, refers to a Servian story in which a shepherd, as in our tale, saves the life of a snake in a forest fire, and, in return for this service, the snake’s father gives him endless treasures and teaches him the language of birds. There is a very similar story in Dozon’s “Contes Albanais.”
In the charming tale of “Nala and Damayanti,” which occurs in the third part (“Vana Parva”) of the grand Indian epic “Mahabharata,” the exiled king perceives a snake with a ray of jewels in its crest, writhing in a jungle fire, and lifting it out, carries it some distance, and is about to set it down, when the snake says to him, “Carry me ten steps farther, and count them aloud as you go.” So Nala proceeds, counting the steps—one, two, three—and when he said “ten” (dasa, which means “ten” and also “bite”) the snake took him at his word, and bit the king in the forehead, upon which he became black and deformed.
An abstract of a considerably modified form of our romance orally current among the people of Bengal may be given in conclusion: A king appoints his three sons to patrol in turn the streets of his capital during the night. It happens that the youngest Prince in going his rounds one night sees a beautiful woman issuing from the royal palace, and accosting her, asks her business at such an hour. She replies:—
“I am the guardian deity of this palace; the king will be killed this night, therefore I am going away.”
The Prince persuades the goddess to return into the palace and await the event. As in our story, he enters his father’s sleeping chamber and discovers a huge cobra near the royal couch. He cuts the serpent into many pieces, which he puts inside a brass vessel that is in the room. Then seeing that some drops of the serpent’s blood had fallen on his stepmother’s breast, he wraps a piece of cloth round his tongue to protect it from the poison, and licks off the blood. The lady awakes, and recognises him as he is leaving the room. She accuses him to the king of having used an unpardonable freedom with her. In the morning the king sends for his eldest son, and asks him: “If a trusted servant should prove faithless how should he be punished?”
Quoth the Prince: “Surely his head should be parted from his body; but before doing so you should ascertain whether the man is actually guilty.”
And then he proceeds to relate the following story:—“Once upon a time there was a goldsmith who had a grown-up son, whose wife was acquainted with the language of animals, but she kept secret from her husband and all others the fact of her being endowed with such a rare gift. It happened one night she heard a jackal exclaim: ‘There is a dead body floating on the river; would that some one might give me that body to eat, and for his pains take the diamond ring from the finger of the dead man.’
“The woman arose from her bed and went to the bank of the river, and her husband, who was not asleep, followed her unobserved. She went into the water, drew the corpse to land, and unable to loosen the ring from the dead man’s finger, which had swelled, she bit off the finger, and leaving the corpse on the bank, returned home, whither she had been preceded by her husband. Almost petrified with fear, the young goldsmith concluded from what he had seen that his wife was not a human being, but a ghoul (rakshasi), and early in the morning he hastened to his father and related the whole affair to him—how the woman had got up during the night and gone to the river, out of which she dragged a dead body to the land, and was busy devouring it when he ran home in horror.
“The old man was greatly shocked, and advised his son to take his wife on some pretext into the forest and leave her there to be destroyed by wild beasts. So the husband caused the woman to get herself ready to go on a visit to her father, and after a hasty breakfast they set out. In going through a dense jungle, where the goldsmith proposed abandoning his wife, she heard a serpent cry, ‘O, passenger, I pray thee to seize and give me that croaking frog, and take for thy reward the gold and precious stones concealed in yonder hole.’ The woman at once seized the frog and threw it towards the serpent, and then began digging into the ground with a stick. Her husband quaked with fear, thinking that his ghoul-wife was about to kill him, but she called to him, saying, ‘My dear husband, gather up all this gold and precious gems.’
“Approaching the spot with hesitation he was surprised to perceive an immense treasure laid bare by his wife, who then explained to him how she had learned of it from the snake that lay coiled up near them, whose language she understood. Then he said to his wife—‘It is now so late that we cannot reach your father’s house before dark, and we might be slain by wild beasts. Let us therefore return home.’ So they retraced their steps, and approaching the house the goldsmith said to his wife ‘Do you, my dear, go in by the back door, while I enter by the front and show my father all this treasure.’
“The woman went in by the back door and was met by her father-in-law, who, on seeing her, concluded that she had killed and devoured his son, and striking her on the head with a hammer which he happened to have in his hand, she instantly expired. Just then the son came into the room, but it was too late.”
“I have told your Majesty this story,” adds the eldest Prince, “in order that before putting the man to death you should make sure that he is guilty.”
The king next calls his second son and asks him the same question, to which he replies by relating a story to caution his father against rash actions.
“A king, separated from his attendants while engaged in the chase, saw what he conceived to be rain-water dropping from the top of a tree, and, being very thirst, held his drinking cup under it until it was nearly filled, and, just as he was about to put it to his lips, his horse purposely moved so as to cause the contents to be spilled on the ground, upon which the king in a rage drew his sword and killed the faithful animal; but afterwards discovering that what he had taken for rain-water was poison that dropped from a cobra in the tree, his grief knew no bounds.”
Calling lastly his third son, the king asks him what should be done to the man who proved false to his trust. The Prince tells the story of the wonderful tree, the fruit of which bestowed on him who ate of it perennial youth, with unimportant variations from the version in our romance.Then the Prince explained the occasion of his presence in the Royal bedchamber, and how he had saved the king and his consort from the cobra’s deadly bite. And the king, overjoyed and full of gratitude, strained his faithful son to his heart, and ever after cherished and loved him with all a father’s love.
T. Brettell & Co., Printers, Rupert Street, London,—W.