Some time ago I published a post with a text from Johannis de Capua’s Directorium humanae vitae alias parabola antiquorum sapientum. Going through piles of books in my far too small combined study- and living room, I found again the copy of this text. Johannis de Capua (1250-1310) was a Jew who converted to Christianity. He translated a Hebrew translation of the Kalīla wa Dimna into Latin. The Kalīla wa Dimna is an Arabic translation of a Persian text, which in its turn is an adaptation of the Sanskrit collection of fables of the Panchatantra. With such a train of translations and adaptations, things are bound to go lost. Not only details changed, but the social world of Hinduism of the Panchatantra was not understood either and those elements were eliminated. For instance in the original the heremita was a Brahmin practicing severe yoga, as can be seen in the way he is depicted in the original, but this somewhere got lost in translation. What also got lost is the delightful mixture of prose and poetry. Nevertheless this translation proved to be an instant success and various translations in vernacular languages appeared.
In the following story a thief wants to steal a cow from a hermit but on his way he meets a demon, who wants the kill the man. They reach the house, but the thief is afraid that the hermit will wake up when and scream when the demon tries to kill him and so arouse the neighbours. He proposes to steal the cow first, but the demon is not willing to let him do this and so they start a quarrel. The hermit awakes and is warned by the thief. The moral of this story is that one must trust on animosity between one’s enemies.
The Latin is not difficult, but far from classical.
Johannis de Capua, Directorium, 5.5
Dicitur fuisse heremita, cui data fuit vacca una; et cum duceret eam ad domum suam, quidam fur vidit illam, et furandi curam adhibuit. Ibat autem fur post eum usque ad domum heremitae; et cum esset in via, obviavit ei daemon in figura hominis. Cui dixit fur: Quis es tu? aut quid intendis? At ille respondit: Ego quidem sum daemon, et intendo nocte ista suffocare heremitam; et nunc sequor eum, donec homines sint in somno; tunc exurgam contra ipsum et interficiam eum. Et ait ei fur: Ego similiter intendo ire ad domum suam et furari vaccam suam. Et euntes iverunt pariter ad domum heremitae. Ingrediens autem heremita domum introduxit vaccam et comedit et intravit suum cubiculum ad dormiendum. Et cogitans fur dixit in corde suo: Dubito ne forte quando accedens hic daemon ad suffocandum heremitam, clamabit ipse, et succurrent ei homines, et non potero capere vaccam, sed me videntes capient et interficient me. Dixit ergo fur daemoni: Sile parum, et dimitte me capere vaccam prius quam tuam adimplebis voluntatem. Cui respondit daemon: Nequaquam hoc faciam, sed prius ipsum volo interficere, et postea facias quod intendis. Ab ille dicebat: Nequaquam, sed ego incipiam. Et orta discordia inter ipsos, fortiter inceperunt pugnare et rixari ad invicem, donec fur vocaret heremitam dicens ei: Surge, quia iste daemon vult te suffocare. Et excitatus heremita et sua familia, fugierunt fur et daemon, et sic evasit heremita a periculo mortis.
fur furis (m.): thief
furandi curam adhibuit: `took the plan of stealing’
suffoco: to throttle, suffocate
exurgam = exsurgam (exsurgo: to rise up)
comedo: to eat
quando accedens: when approaching
sile parum: wait for a moment
dimitte me: allow me
adimpleo: to fulfil
nequaquam: not at all
succurro: to come to help
rixor: to quarrel
Here is a translation from the Sanskrit by the American indologist Arthur W. Ryder (1877-1939). Note the differences with the Latin story.
The Brahman, the Thief, and the Ghost
There was once a poor Brahman in a certain place. He lived on presents, and always did without such luxuries as fine clothes and ointments and perfumes and garlands and gems and betel-gum. His beard and his nails were long, and so was the hair that covered his head and his body. Heat, cold, rain, and the like had dried him up. [344}
Then someone pitied him and gave him two calves. And the Brahman began when they were little and fed them on butter and oil and fodder and other things that he begged. So he made them very plump. Then a thief saw them and the idea came to him at once: "I will steal these two cows from this Brahman."
So he took a rope and set out at night. But on the way he met a fellow with a row of sharp teeth set far apart, with a high-bridged nose and uneven eyes, with limbs covered with knotty muscles, with hollow cheeks, with beard and body as yellow as a fire with much butter in it.
And when the thief saw him, he started with acute fear and said: "Who are you, sir?"
The other said: "I am a ghost named Truthful. It is now your turn to explain yourself."
The thief said: "I am a thief, and my acts are cruel. I am on my way to steal two cows from a poor Brahman."
Then the ghost felt relieved and said: "My dear sir, I take one meal every three days. So I will just eat this Brahman today. It is delightful that you and I are on the same errand."
So together they went there and hid, waiting for the proper moment. And when 'the Brahman went to sleep, the ghost started forward to eat him. But the thief saw him and said: "My dear sir, this is not right. You are not to eat the Brahman until I have stolen his two cows." [345}
The ghost said: "The racket would most likely wake the Brahman. In that case all my trouble would be vain." "But, on the other hand," said the thief, "if any hindrance arises when you start to eat him, then I cannot steal the two cows either. First I will steal the two cows, then you may eat the Brahman."
So they disputed, each crying "Me first! Me first!" And when they became heated, the hubbub waked the Brahman.
Then the thief said: "Brahman, this is a ghost who wishes to eat you."
And the ghost said: "Brahman, this is a thief who wishes to steal your two cows."
When the Brahman heard this, he stood up and took a good look. And by remembering a prayer to his favourite god, he saved his life from the ghost, then lifted a club and saved his two cows from the thief.