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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
An “Example” of the Evils of Rashness
By Vishnu Sharma (Pilpay) (c. 1000 B.C.?)
 
        [This “example,” which points a warning against rash action, we give in three versions; partly for their intrinsic interest, and partly to show the surprising diversity in style and in details of treatment of what is essentially one motif. The first is from the Sanskrit of the ‘Hitopadeça,’ an offshoot of the Panchatantra. The second is from E. B. Eastwick’s translation of the Persian ‘Lights of Canopus.’ If this is a “simplified recast of Nasr Allah’s version,” what must that have been! The third is from G. L. Gomme’s reprint (London, 1885) of the British Museum chap-book entitled ‘The Seven Wise Masters of Rome,’ printed in 1520 by Wynkyn de Worde. The sources and imitations of this tale are given by Edouard Lancereau in his French translation of the ‘Panchatantra’ (Paris, 1871), page 384. The story is the same as that told of Llewellyn the Great and his faithful hound Gellert, and familiar to English readers through the well-known ballad of William R. Spencer. The hound, which is the European representative of the plucky little Indian ichneumon, has become a martyr and a patron saint of little children in the popular belief of the South of France, and is invoked by mothers under the name of St. Guinefort.]

First Version

The Brahman and his Faithful Ichneumon
From the ‘Hitopadeça’: Translation of Charles Rockwell Lanman

IN Ujjain lived a brahman named Madhava, whose wife once left him in charge of their little child and went to bathe. Now an invitation came from the King for the brahman to perform a funeral oblation and partake of the funeral meal. At which news the poor fellow bethought himself: “If I go not quickly, then some one else will receive the funeral meal. For ’tis said:—
  ‘Hast aught to give, or aught to take or do,
  Give, take it, do it, quickly, ere the morrow rise;
Or else thy sloth full bitter shalt thou rue,
  And ruthless Time shall suck the juice from thy emprise.’
But there is no one here to take care of the child. What then shall I do? Hold! I have here an ichneumon, which I have kept this long time and cared for as if he were my son: I will leave him to take care of the babe, and go.” And so doing, he went.
  1
  Meantime there came near the child a black cobra; which when the ichneumon saw, he killed it and tore it in pieces. Then, with blood-smeared snout and paws, he ran to meet the brahman as he was returning home, and fawned at his feet. But the brahman, seeing the ichneumon in that plight, came rashly to the conclusion that the beast had eaten his child; and forthwith killed the ichneumon. Then when he came nigh and looked, behold, his child was asleep and the cobra slain. Then he saw that the ichneumon had done him a service, and sorrowfully recognizing the rashness of his deed, he was filled with despair.  2
 
Second Version

The Results of Precipitation
From the ‘Anvár-i Suhailí’ or ‘Lights of Canopus,’ a Persian rendering of Pilpay

  
COUPLET
WHO dares to act without due thought and care,
Will sink at last in sorrow and despair.

  And there are many anecdotes and innumerable stories apropos of this subject which are written and commemorated in the pages of nocturnal conversations and elegant annals, and among these is the story of the Holy Man who rashly stepped into the plain of precipitate action, and staining his hands with innocent blood, destroyed the unfortunate ichneumon; which displays the ill effects of this precipitation.
  3
  The King asked, “How was that?”  4
  He said:  5
  They have related that a Devotee after long celibacy desired to put in practice the injunction, “Matrimony is my commandment; therefore he who turns away from my commandment is none of mine.” After extensive inquiry and infinite pains, the Devotee, through the aid of his lofty fortune and the help of his noble spirit, obtained a wife of a great family and an illustrious stock. The reflection of her countenance gave radiance to the morn, and the hue of her curling ringlets aided the perfumer of evening in intensifying his gloom. The azure sky had never beheld her equal, save in the mirror of the sun; and the swift-sighted limner of the imagination had ne’er looked on the like of her lovely semblance, save in the world of dreams.

  
VERSE
The glories of thy sunny cheek the world of beauty warmly kiss;
  Like the full moon, thou hast arisen amid the sky of loveliness;
Thy countenance the brightest rose, thy form the fairest cypress is,
  That ever grew in beauty’s bower, or ’mid the flowers of comeliness.
  6
 
  And together with this beauty of form, she was adorned with excellence of disposition, and the graces of her body were set off by those of her mind. The Devotee, in his daily prayers, returned thanks for such a blessing; and having thus commenced his intercourse with that partner whose face resembled the beauties of Eden, he desired to beget a son. And no wise person bases his desire for children on mere sensual appetite, nor yields his body to the task save in quest of a virtuous son, who, in procuring the blessings asked for by prayer, is equivalent to the perpetual offering of alms.  7
  And a son of fair visage and lovely form was born, such that the tokens of beauty and accomplishments bespoke his perfection, and the signs of admirable gifts shone and gleamed on the forehead of his condition. The Devotee beheld the morn of hope begin to smile from the dawning-place of desire, and the nightingale of his pleasure commenced singing on the rose-shrub of joy.

  
COUPLET
A fair gem from the boundless sea of Grace, was brought to light;
Upon the sky of Law divine a new star glittered bright.
  8
 
  The Devotee indulged in raptures at the beauty of his son, and fulfilled a variety of vows which he had made; and girding up his loins in attendance on his son’s cradle night and day, drew through other matters the pen of oblivion, and expended all his energies in [promoting] his growth and strength, and grace and freshness and vigor.

  
COUPLET
How long shall I on thee bestow my breath like morn’s young breeze,
That thou mayst blossom like a rose, to gladden and to please?
  9
 
  One day the mother of the child desiring to take a warm bath, committed him, with many injunctions, to the care of his father, who besides had nothing else then to do. Some time passed, and a confidential person, sent by the king of the country, came to request his attendance, and there was no possibility of delay. He was of necessity compelled to go out of the house. Now they had an ichneumon, in whose charge they left the house, and through him their minds were altogether set at ease; and he used to display the utmost exertion in ridding them of noxious reptiles, and beasts that bite or sting. The Devotee came out and left the ichneumon with his son. To be short, no sooner had he left the house than a large snake showed itself near the cradle. When the ichneumon saw that dart-like, armor-wearing snake,—that malignant creature swift to wrath, which when quiescent assumes the shape of a circle,—that arrowy-paced reptile, which at times, like a curved bow, joins its extremities,—

  
STANZA
Straight as a dart, anon, like buckler, round;
  Anon in noose-like circles flows its form;
No cloud within, two lightnings forked are found,
  No sea, but waves roll there—a mimic storm,—

making for the cradle, and intending to kill the child, it leapt up, and seizing his throat, imprisoned him in the ring of the noose of death; and by the blessed influence of its defense, the boy escaped from that whirlpool of destruction. Shortly after, the Devotee returned; and the ichneumon, smeared with blood, ran to meet him, in exultation at having done a good deed. The Devotee imagined that it had killed his son, and that these stains were from his blood. The fire of wrath was kindled in the stove of his heart, and the smoke of precipitation entered the aperture of his brain; and his reason, through the murkiness of the fumes of rashness,—which, like the cloud of tyranny, is the cause of darkening the world,—covered its face with the veil of concealment. Before inquiring into the matter, or examining into the real state of the case, he smote down his staff on the ichneumon, and broke the vertebræ of its back, and knocked its head into the casket of its chest. But when he entered the house he beheld the child sleeping in safety in the cradle, and a huge serpent lying there torn in pieces. Then the smoke of remorse ascended from his heart, and he began to smite his breast with the stone of regret, and complaining and lamenting said:—

  
COUPLET
“Hereafter, I and grief are one; and every man this well must see,—
For me to have a cheerful heart, impossible and strange would be.

Alas! that the fire of this distressing accident cannot be extinguished by the water of excuses, and that the dart of the shame of this troublous transaction will not be repelled by the shield of extenuation. What unjust action is this that I have committed! and what unsuitable act is this that my hands have done!

  
COUPLET
’Tis right that I my blood should drink, in shame for this distress;
’Tis fit that I my life resign for this unhappiness.

Would to God that this son had never come into existence from nonentity, and that I had not set my love and affections upon him! so that this innocent blood would not have been shed on this account, and I should not have happened to embark in this unholy business. And what answer shall I give to my Creator for this, that I have causelessly destroyed one that dwelt in the same house with me; and have slain the guardian of my home, and the protector of my beloved son, without reason? And what excuse can I offer to my fellow-creatures for this? And hereafter the chain of censure will not be removed from my neck, and the writing of infamy will never be obliterated from the page of my affairs.”
  10
 
Third Version

The Example of the First Master
From ‘The Seven Wise Masters of Rome’: Printed from the edition of Wynkyn de Worde, 1520, and edited, with an introduction, by George Laurence Gomme, F. S. A. London: printed for the Villon Society, 1885.

THERE was a valiant knight which had only one son as ye have. The which he loved so much that he ordained for his keeping three nurses: the first should give him suck and feed him, the second should wash him and keep him clean, the third should bring him to sleep and to rest. This knight had also a greyhound and a falcon that he also loved right well. The greyhound was so good that he never ran to no game but he took it and held it till his master came. And if his master disposed him to go to battle, if he should not speed in the battle, anon as he should mount upon his horse the greyhound would take the horse’s tail in his mouth and draw backward, and would also cry and howl marvelously loud. By these signs the knight understood if that he should speed in his journey or not. The falcon was so gentle and so hardy that he was never cast off to his prey but he took it. This same knight had great pleasure in jousting and tourneying, so that upon a time under his castle he let proclaim a tournament to the which came many good lords and knights. The knight entered into the tourney, and his lady went with her maidens to see it. And as they went out, after went the nurses, and left the child lying alone in the cradle in the hall, where the greyhound lay nigh the wall, and the hawk or falcon standing upon a perch. In this hall there was a serpent lurking or hid in a hole, to all them of the castle unknown. The which when he felt that they were all absent, he put out his head of his hole. And as he no man saw, but the child lying in the cradle, he went out of his cavern towards the cradle for the child to have slain. The noble falcon seeing that, beheld the greyhound that was sleeping; she made such a noise and rustling with her wings or feathers that the greyhound awoke and rose up. And when he saw the serpent nigh the child, anon against him he leapt, and they both fought so long together till that the serpent had grievously hurted and wounded the greyhound that he bled sore, so that the earth about the cradle was all bebled with the blood of the greyhound. The greyhound, when that he felt himself so grievously hurted and wounded, started fiercely upon the serpent, and fought sore together and so eagerly, so that between them the cradle was overturned with the child. And because that the cradle had four pommels or feet, they saved the child’s visage and his life from any hurtful falling towards the earth. And what shall I say more? Incontinent thereafter with great pain the greyhound overcame and slew the serpent, and went and laid him down again in his place and licked his wounds. And anon after, as the jousts and tourney was done, the nurses were the first that came into the castle. And as they saw the cradle reversed, with blood upon the earth environed, and that the greyhound was also bloody, they thought and said amongst themselves that the greyhound had slain the child, and they were not so wise as to turn up again the cradle with the child for to have seen what was thereof befallen. But they said, Let us flee or run away, lest that our master put or lay the blame upon us and slay us. And as they were thus away running, they met with the knight’s wife, and she said to them, Wherefore make ye this sorrow, and whither will ye run? And they said, O lady, woe and sorrow be to us and to you. Why, what is there happened? show me. The greyhound, they said, that our lord and master loveth so much, hath devoured and slain your son, and lieth by the wall all full of the blood. As the lady this heard, she fell to the earth and began to weep and cry piteously; and said, Alas, O my dear son, be ye thus slain and dead? what shall I now make, that I have my only son thus lost?
  11
  Herewithal came in the knight from the tourney, and beholding his lady thus crying and making sorrow, he demanded her wherefore that she made so great sorrow and lamentation. She answered him, O my lord, your greyhound that ye love so much hath slain your only son, and lieth by the wall satiate with blood of the child. The knight hugely angered went in to the hall, and the greyhound went to him to meet and to fawn as he was wont to do. And the knight drew out his sword and with one stroke smote off the hound’s head, and went to the cradle and found his son all whole, and by the cradle the serpent slain. And by divers signs perceived that the hound had fought against the serpent for the salvation of the child. Then with great sorrow and weeping he tare his hair and said, Woe be to me that for the words of my wife I have slain my good greyhound, the which hath saved my child’s life and hath slain the serpent. Herefore I will put myself to penance. And brake his sword in three pieces, and went towards the Holy Land, and abode there all the days of his life.  12
  Then said the Master to the Emperor, Lord, understand ye what I have said? And he answered and said, Right well. The Master said: If that ye do your son to death for the words of your wife, it shall come to you worse than it did to the knight for his greyhound. The Emperor said, Ye have showed me a fair example, and without doubt this day shall not my son die. Then said the Master, If ye do so, ye do wisely; but I thank you that ye have him spared this day for my sake.  13
 
 
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