We have previously discussed the Book of Kalila and Dimna in these pages. Its source material can be traced to the Indian classic The Panchatantra of Vishnu Sarma. And it is from this book that the following fable originates.
The birthdate of the philologist and grammarian Yacub Ibn Al-Sikkit (ابو يوسف يعقوب ابن السكيت) is not known with certainty, but 800 A.D. is a reliable estimate. His father enjoyed notoriety and prestige in court circles, and may have conferred on his son some access to the corridors of power. The sobriquet “Al-Sikkit” was given to him because of his taciturnity, for the Arabic verb sakata (سكت) means “to be silent.” However, as the reader will soon discover, he was evidently not silent enough.
One of Herodotus’s charms is that he is always willing to share a good tale. Some of these stories he apparently believes; others strike him as dubious. Either way, he considers them imporant, and dutifully records their details. “Those who find such things credible,” he warns us, “must make what use of them they will of the stories of the Egyptians. My own responsibility, however, as it has been throughout my writing of this entire narrative, is simply to record whatever I may be told by my sources [II.123].”
We all know that the ability to think on one’s feet is an important skill. There may even be times when this ability makes the difference between survival and execution. The amusing anecdote that follows appears in Ibn Khallikan’s biographical sketch (IV.200) of a government official and administrator (مولى) named Yazid Ibn Abi Muslim, who served under an Umayyad governor of Iraq named Al-Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf (c. 661—714 A.D.).
The Latin poet Claudian lived from about 370 to 404 A.D. He was born in Egypt but as an adult associated himself with the imperial court at Rome. One of his more famous works is the unfinished epic “The Rape of Proserpina” (De Raptu Proserpinae). The poem contains a short prologue which I have translated as follows:
David Nasaw’s The Patriarch is a comprehensive account of the life and times of the founder of the Kennedy family dynasty, Joseph P. Kennedy. In many ways he remains the least understood Kennedy; his name has been subject to rumor, surrounded by myth, and maligned in whispers. Even during his life he remained a divisive, controversial figure: at once irascible, overbearing, frustratingly obdurate, and cunning, as well as loyal, devoted, conscientious, and steadfast.
As I have gotten older I find that reading plays brings more enjoyment than it did in earlier years. Tragedies especially: the unformed mind has not yet been sufficiently battered by the winds and waves of fortune against the rocks, and is equipped with a merciful immunity to the pathos of existence. And yet, as the years roll on, beards and barnacles begin to replace the smooth, supple surfaces of youth; scars and aches accumulate; and the omnipresence of tragedy dawns on the maturing mind with a startling rapidity. The mind then calls for a tonic: it requires the writer to make sense of all this chaos, all this pain, and all this suffering. The struggle must be dignified with a sense of universal justice, and an ethic of enduring goodness. So the tragedian steps forward, and with his stylus attempts to perform this task.