A.M.'s Myth and Folklore Blog

Myth and Folklore ML-3043-996

Category: Week 6

Week 6 Reading: Panchatantra, Part B

Source: The Panchatantra of Vishnu Sharma, translated by Arthur W. Ryder. Text from the course UnTextbook.

  • For this reading notes post I chose the story-within-a-story of the Mice that Ate Iron, a fable about lying and greed.
  • The story features Naduk, a merchant who has hit on hard times and goes abroad to restore his fortune.
  • To fund his travels and towards his hopes of restoring his fortune, he pawns an balance-beam of pure heavy iron that he inherited from his forefathers to a merchant named Lakshman.
  • Naduk travels far and wide to restore his fortunes, and eventually returns home. Upon returning, he goes to Lakshman to repay his debt and retrieve the balance bar.
  • Lakshman tells him that, unfortunately, he cannot return the iron balance bar since it has been eaten by mice.
  • Naduk is aware that this is ridiculous, but plays along for the sake of revenge. He asks that Lakshman’s son assist him in carrying his belongings down to the river, where he wishes to bathe.
  • They go down to the river, but instead of bathing, Naduk traps Lakshman’s son in a cave. Returning to town, he tells Lakshman that his son was, regrettably, carried off by a hawk.
  • Lakshman cries out that this is impossible, and how could a hawk carry off a man of his son’s stature? but Naduk counters, asking how a mouse could possibly gnaw away a beam of iron.
  • They go to the town magistrate, who hears out both sides of the story and laughs, finally ordering a return of son and balance bar alike to the appropriate men.
  • Stylistically, as with all other stories in this collection, narration is interspersed with bits of philosophy and anecdotes done out in verse that serve to underscore and repeat the morals told by the main story. (I really like the effect it gives.)
Teeth of diamond? (Image of a house mouse from Wikipedia.)

Week 6 Reading: Panchatantra, Part A

Source: The Panchatantra of Vishnu Sharma, translated by Arthur W. Ryder. Text from the course UnTextbook.

  • What a great sentence: “This king had three sons. Their names were Rich-Power, Fierce-Power, Endless-Power, and they were supreme blockheads.”
  • For these reading notes I chose the story of Numskull.
  • I have to wonder whether the name numskull was chosen given the lion’s foolishness or whether this story is the origin of the term numskull…
  • A foolish, greedy lion is king in part of the forest. He kills the other animals without pause or restraint.
  • The animals, unable to bear this continued onslaught, strike a deal with Numskull that each day they will send him one animal for his insatiable appetite and that, in return, he will cease to slaughter without pause or reason.
  • The lion agrees to these terms, but threatens that if an animal is not found at his den every day, he will kill and eat all the animals.
  • The agreement works for a time, but eventually it comes to the day when the rabbit is sent to the lion for dinner. The rabbit, clever and strong-willed, does not want to accept his fate and ponders how he can end the lion’s reign of terror.
  • Arriving late at the lion’s den, the rabbit is the target of Numskull’s ire, and insists that he will now kill all the animals.
  • The rabbit, a quick thinker, comes up with both a plan and an excuse: he tells Numskull that, en route, he was accosted by another lion who disputes Numskull’s dominance of the forest.
  • Numskull insists on being taken to this challenger and spares the rabbit for this purpose; the clever rabbit can now enact his plan. He leads Numskull to a deep pool of water and, showing Numskull his own reflection, declares that this is his challenger.
  • Numskull, seeing a very fearsome challenger indeed, roars but sees his reflection roaring with equal anger. He then decides that this must not stand, and jumps into the water to fight his opponent. He then drowns, freeing the animals of the forest from his tyranny.
The lion and his reflection. (Image from the Kalila-wa-Dimna manuscript, via the course blog.)