Kalila wa Dimna
The Lion and the Ox is a one of the oldest and most popular pieces of classic Arabic literature. Originally from India, this animal fable is famous for its inclusion of many other animal fables, each of which help provide the characters of the story with advice regarding their situation. Unlike The Arabian Nights, which also uses a frame tale that contains each tale, multiple animals share their wisdom with one another. The wisdom of the story’s two main characters, Kalila and Dimna, help foreshadow and motivate the events of the frame tale and bring it to a reasonable yet tragic conclusion.
Kalila, one of the two main jackals of the frame tale, is living in the court of the king, a lion who rules an area described as, “a broad meadow adorned with all manner of succulent grasses and aromatic herbs, such as the Garden of Eden itself would have bit the finger of envy to behold” (Arberry 76). Kalila is happy with his place in society; he is fed well and feels safe from harm. His fellow jackal, Dimna, does not share his same contentment. Realizing the potential power he could have were he to rise through the ranks of the king’s court, Dimna hatches a plan and consults with Kalila. Being the realist in their friendship, Kalila advises against this, telling him the comical story of the monkey and the carpenter (Arberry). To summarize, the carpenter is attempting to split a log. Using a system of two pegs, he sits on the log, hitting one peg with a hammer while the other holds the log open, then leaves the peg in the log and removes the other one previously idle to hit it with the hammer. When the carpenter leaves, the monkey decides to attempt the same job, sitting himself on the log. As he does this, his testicles rest in the split of the log. Not realizing exactly how the peg system works, the monkey removes the peg holding the log open, causing the log to close on his testicles. When the carpenter hears the monkey writhe in pain, he “belaboured the monkey soundly until the brute died” (Arberry 77). This story explains to Dimna that since he doesn’t know exactly what he is doing, he is likely to fail. But since Dimna has resolved to go against the story’s moral, it is clearly foreshadowed that he will end up like the monkey. This ends up being the case; Dimna puts himself in a worse spot than he was in before by bringing the ox to the lion and causing them to become great friends. Kalila also uses another parable, that of the pious man, to not only explain to Dimna the error of his ways by trying to gain rank in the court, but to foreshadow the end that Dimna will have to face. A pious man once let a thief, acting as a student, into his home. The thief befriended him, but then when the timing was right, he stole an expensive gown from him. The pious man tried to chase the man. To make a long story short, the pious man sees many displays of cruelty, like two rams killing a fox, a lady being poisoned, the cobbler’s wife being beaten, and the barber’s wife having her nose cut off. When the barber is falsely accused of cutting his wife’s nose off, the pious man steps forward, explaining that, “We all brought these calamities upon ourselves” (Arberry 88). He let the thief into his home because he wanted to become famous by having students and thus had his gown stolen, the fox was greedily lapping up the rams’ blood during their fight and was thus killed, the woman who was poisoned was trying to poison someone else, etc (Arberry). This story tells Dimna that the friendship between the ox and the lion is an inconvenience he brought on himself. It also foreshadows that Dimna’s eventual downfall will be his own fault.
Not everything is worse once the lion and ox befriend one another. Dimna’s plan succeeded in that he gained the trust of both animals, causing him to become an influential advisor to the both of them. This small success is of course eclipsed by the fact...