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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Man in the Pit
By Vishnu Sharma (Pilpay) (c. 1000 B.C.?)
 
        
From the ‘Maha-Bharata’
  
  [This is one of the most famous parables of antiquity and the Middle Ages, and has served alike for the edification of Brahmans, Jains, Buddhists, Mohammedans, Jews, and Christians. The text of this passage of the ‘Maha-Bharata’ (Book xi., Sections 5, 6) is corrupt, and the version therefore free. The history of the parable forms the subject of a charming essay by Ernst Kuhn, in ‘Festgruss an Otto von Böhtlingk’ (Stuttgart, 1888).]

The Parable

A CERTAIN brahman, it is said, once came into a vast and impassable jungle filled with beasts of prey, and so beset on every hand with horribly roaring lions, tigers, and elephants that even the God of Death would quake at the sight. The brahman’s heart was sore affrighted, and his hair stood on end. He ran hither and yonder, searching in every quarter for some place of refuge, but in vain. And as he ran, he saw that the horrible jungle was encompassed with a net which was held by a woman of most horrible aspect.  1
  Now in the midst of the jungle was an overgrown pit, whose mouth was covered with creepers and tough grasses. The brahman fell into this hidden well, but caught himself in the tangled creepers and hung there, feet upwards, head downwards.  2
  Meantime new troubles came upon him: for within the pit he beheld a huge and mighty serpent; and hard by the mouth of it, an enormous black elephant with six faces and twelve feet, gradually approaching. Many terrible bees swarmed about the branches of the tree that stood over the pit, eager for the honey which continually dripped down from the twigs.  3
  The man, in spite of his dreadful strait as he hung in the pit, sipped the honey as it dripped: but as he sipped, his thirst did not abate; and ever insatiate, he longed for more and more. Mice, some white and some black, gnawed the roots of the plants on which he held fast. There was danger from the beasts, from the horrible woman, from the serpent at the bottom, and from the elephant at the mouth of the pit; danger from the mice and from the giving way of the plants; and danger from the bees.  4
  Yet even so, he let not go his hope and wish for life.  5
 
The Interpretation of the Parable

  THE IMPASSABLE jungle is life. The beasts are diseases. The monstrous woman is old age, that robs us of youth and beauty. The pit is our mortal body. The mighty serpent within it is time (or death), the ender of all creatures. The creeper on whose tendrils the man hangs in the pit is the hope of life. The elephant is the year: his six faces are the six seasons, and his twelve feet are the twelve months. And the white and black mice that are gnawing away the roots of the plant are the days and nights. The bees are the desires; and the honey, the pleasures of sense.
  6
 
 
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