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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Vishnu Sharma (Pilpay) (c. 1000 B.C.?)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Charles Rockwell Lanman (1850–1941)
 
WHEN we consider the wonderful history of ‘Pilpay’s Fables,’ their fame, and their charm, we naturally invest their supposititious author with a personality and a name, in fact, however, “Pilpay” is probably a changed form of an Indian word for “court-scholar,” misunderstood as a proper name, and implying therefore neither personality nor specific date. In India, from early times the parable or “example” has been the recognized method of conveying moral instruction. In the didactic literature, some general truth or some rule of life is stated in the form of a maxim, and a beast fable or other story is then added as a concrete instance or “example.” This is well illustrated by ‘The Lion-Makers’ below. The folk-lore of which these tales are a reflex is not the exclusive property of any of the great religions of ancient India, but is common to Buddhism, Jainism, and Brahmanism alike. The sculptured representations of the stories upon the great Buddhist monuments of 250 B.C. make it certain that the stories themselves were familiar to the common people at that early date; and it is hardly less certain that they were so known long before that time.  1
  The oldest and most important collection of Indian folk-lore is the Buddhist one called ‘Jataka,’—that is, ‘Birth-stories,’ or stories of Gotama Buddha in his previous births: it consists of five hundred and fifty tales, each containing a moral; each is placed in the mouth of the Buddha, and in each the Buddha plays the best and most important part. It is this device of a framework or setting for the folk-tales that constitutes the principal essentially literary element of the collection. Next in importance to the Buddhist ‘Jataka’ stands the Brahmanical ‘Panchatantra.’ Here the material is not essentially different in kind from that of the ‘Jataka’; but again it is the setting of the material which gives the work its distinctive literary character. It is a kind of ‘Mirror for Magistrates.’ Both the ‘Jataka,’ written in Pali, and the ‘Panchatantra,’ in Sanskrit, are still extant, and contain many of the stories which in translations of translations attained great currency and celebrity in mediæval literature.  2
  The precise Indian original of these translations is lost; but we know that it was translated into the literary language of Persia (the Pehlevi), by command of the Sassanian king Khosru the Just, about 550 A.D. From the Pehlevi came two notable versions: one is the Old Syriac, called ‘Kalilag and Damnag,’ after the two jackals, Karataka and Damanaka, who figured prominently in the framework of the Sanskrit original; and the other is the Arabic version, called ‘Kalilah and Dimnah,’ or ‘Fables of Pilpay,’ made about 750 A.D. by Abd-allah ibn al-Moqaffa, a Persian convert to Islam under the Caliph al-Mansor.  3
  According to the Arabic introduction, Dabshelim was the first king of the Indian Restoration, after the fall of the governor appointed by Alexander at the close of his campaign in the Panjab, B.C. 326. When firmly established, Dabshelim gave himself over to every wickedness. To reclaim the King, a Brahman philosopher takes up his parable, as did Nathan before David, and at last wins him back to virtue. The wise man is called in Arabic bid-bah, and in Syriac bid-vag. These words are traced through the Pehlevi to the Sanskrit vidya-pati, “master of sciences.” Accordingly bidbah, which has become Bidpai or Pilpay in our modern books, is not really a proper name, but an appellative, applied to a “chief pandit” or “court-scholar” of an Indian prince.  4
  From the Arabic are descended, in the fourth generation from the original, a dozen or more versions, of which three may be mentioned as noteworthy links in the chain of tradition: the Greek one, made about 1080 by Symeon Seth, a Jewish physician; the Persian, made some fifty years later, by Nasr Allah of Ghazni; and the Hebrew, ascribed to Rabbi Joel, and probably made before 1250.  5
  Of the descendants in the fifth degree from the original, the ‘Directorium Humanæ Vitæ,’ made about 1270 by John of Capua from the Hebrew, is distinctly the most celebrated, because it gave rise in turn to Danish, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, and French, and above all to the famous German and English versions mentioned below. But besides the ‘Directorium,’ we must notice the ‘Specimen of the Wisdom of the Ancient Hindus,’ a version into Latin from the Greek of Symeon, made by the Jesuit father Petrus Possinus (1666); and the ‘Anvár-i Suhailí’ or ‘Lights of Canopus,’ a simplified recast of Nasr Allah’s. In the second edition of his fables, La Fontaine tells us that he owes the largest part of his new material to “Pilpay, the Indian sage.” Pierre Poussin’s ‘Specimen’ was the one embodiment of his shadowy Oriental fabulist, and a French version of the ‘Lights’ was the other.  6
  Two offshoots of the ‘Directorium’ are of unrivaled interest to the student of the beast fable. The one is the ‘Book of Examples of the Ancient Sages’; and the other is Doni’s ‘La Moral Filosophia.’ The ‘Book of Examples’ was made at the instance of Duke Eberhard im Bart, whose name and motto, “Eberhart Graf z(u) Wirtenberg Attempto,” appear as an acrostic in the initials of the first sections. It was first printed about 1481, and has since been admirably edited by W. L. Holland (Stuttgart, 1860). Holland used, besides three manuscripts, two printed editions without place and year, and enumerates seventeen dated editions that appeared between 1483 and 1592. Four dated editions appeared at Ulm between 1483 and 1485! The great number of editions of the work, and their rapid succession, are the best proof of its importance as a means of instruction and amusement at the beginning of the age of printing. The examples themselves had doubtless pointed the moral of many an ancient homily long before the days of Gutenberg: but the language of the old German version of them is so remarkable for its simplicity, dignity, strength, and beauty, that we cannot wonder at its immense popularity; and to this version, more than to any other, is Europe indebted for the widespread knowledge of this cycle of literature from the last part of the fifteenth to the middle of the seventeenth century.  7
  The other offshoot of the ‘Directorium’—namely, ‘The morall philosophie of Doni: drawne out of the auncient writers. A worke first compiled in the Indian tongue, and afterwardes reduced into divers other languages: and now lastly Englished out of Italian by Thomas North’ (London, 1570)—is most interesting to us as English-speaking people because it is “the first literary link between India and England, written in racy Elizabethan,” a piece of “Tudor prose at its best,” a veritable English classic.  8
  A translation of the ‘Jataka’ is now issuing from the University Press of Cambridge, England, under the editorship of Professor Cowell, three volumes of which have thus far appeared: one by Robert Chalmers of Oriel College, Oxford; a second by W. H. D. Rouse of Rugby School; and a third by H. T. Francis and R. A. Neil of Cambridge. A charming reprint of North’s Doni was edited by Joseph Jacobs (London, 1888). An account of the literary history of the fables of Pilpay may be found in Jacobs’s book, or in Keith Falconer’s ‘Kalilah and Dimnah’ (Cambridge, 1885), or in the present writer’s ‘Sanskrit Reader’ (Boston, 1888).  9
  [The edition of the ‘Jataka’ from which the selections are taken is that of Professor Cowell, referred to in the essay.]  10
 
 
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