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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 Story of Saladin and the Jew Usurer
By Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375)
 
SALADIN, whose valor was so great that he not only became from an insignificant man Sultan of Babylon, but also gained many victories over the Saracen and Christian kings, having in many wars and in his great magnificence spent all his treasure, and on account of some trouble having need of a great quantity of money, nor seeing where he should get it quickly as he had need to, was reminded of a rich Jew whose name was Melchisedech, who loaned at interest at Alexandria; and thinking to make use of him if he could, though he was so avaricious that of his own good-will he would do nothing, the Sultan, not wishing to compel him, but driven by necessity, set himself to devise means by which the Jew should satisfy him, and to find some manner of compelling him to do so with a good pretext. Thus thinking, he called him, and receiving him familiarly, said to him: “My good man, I hear from many here that you are the wisest and in divine affairs the most profound of men, and on that account I would like to know from you which of the three good religions you consider the true one: the Jewish, the Saracenic, or the Christian?” The Jew, who really was a wise man, saw too clearly that the Sultan desired to catch him in his words in order to raise against him some question, and decided not to praise any one of the religions more than the other, so that the Sultan should not accomplish his purpose; on account of which, as one who seemed to have need of a reply as to which there could not be any reasoning, and his wits being sharpened, there quickly came to him what he ought to say, and he said:—  1
  “My lord, the question which you have put to me is important, and in order to explain to you what I think, it is necessary to tell you a fable which you will hear. If I do not mistake, I have heard tell many times of a great and rich man who lived once, and who amongst other jewels had a beautiful and valuable ring, the most precious in his treasury, which on account of its value and its beauty he desired to honor and to leave in perpetuity to his descendants; and he ordered that that one of his sons to whom this ring should be left, as it had been to him, should be considered his heir and be by all the others honored and reverenced. The one to whom this ring should be left should give a similar order to his descendants, and do as had done his predecessor. In short, this ring went from hand to hand to many successors, and finally came to the hands of one who had three sons, honest men, virtuous and all obedient to their father, on which account he loved all three equally; and the young men, who knew the custom of the ring, as each one desired to be the most honored amongst them, each one to the utmost of his power urged the father to leave the ring to him when death should take him. The worthy man, who loved them all alike, not knowing himself how to choose to whom he should leave it, decided, having promised each one, to satisfy all three: and secretly ordered from a good workman two others, which were so similar to the first that he himself who had made them could scarcely tell which was the true one; and death approaching, he secretly gave to each one of his sons his ring. After the death of the father, each one wishing to enjoy the heritage and denying it to the others, each produced a ring in evidence of his rights, and finding them so similar that no one could tell which was the true one, the question which was the real heir of the father remained undecided, and it is still undecided. And so I say to you, my lord, of the three religions given to the three people by God the Father, concerning which you put me this question, that each one believes that he has as his heritage the true law; but as it is with the three rings, the question is still quite undecided.”  2
  Saladin, recognizing how this man had most cleverly escaped from the trap which had been set before his feet, decided on that account to expose to him his necessities and see if he was willing to help him; and so he did, saying that which he had intended to say if the Jew had not replied so wisely as he had done. The Jew freely accorded to Saladin whatever he asked, and Saladin gave him entire security, and besides that he gave him great gifts and retained him always as his friend, and kept him in excellent and honorable condition always near to himself.  3
 
 
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