Fables from India to Spain and Beyond

Indian fables passed into Arabic literature, then to medieval Hebrew and Spanish writings, and from these into every European language. Jewish translators played an important role in the transmission of the genre in Europe.


KALILA AND DIMNA, IN ARABIC

Syria?, 1354, 14 1/2 x 8 3/4 in. (36.8 x 22.2 cm), MS. Pococke 400, fol. 75b

In the eighth century the "Panchatantra," a collection of Indian fables, was translated into Arabic by the Persian Ibn al-Muqaffa. He titled it "Kalila wa-Dimna" after the two jackals featured in some of the stories. This rendition spread throughout the Muslim world, including the Iberian Peninsula, where it was translated into Hebrew and Castilian. These versions in turn served as sources for Latin translations, which helped to transmit the tales to the rest of Europe. Here, Dimna the Jackal has plotted to kill Bull, the Lion King’s faithful servant and must face the Leopard Judge. Moral: crime doesn’t pay

Comments

Luisa Sigol
September 19, 2012

An extraordinay exhibition. I hope to be able to see it In person.

View All Comments


KALILA AND DIMNA, IN HEBREW

15th century, 8 5/8 x 6 1/8 in. (21.9 x 15.6 cm), MS. Opp. Add. 4° 101, fol. 44b

Jacob ben Eleazar of Toledo translated "Kalila and Dimna" from the Arabic in the early thirteenth century, introducing rhymed prose into Hebrew literature. The complexity of his language points to the existence of a sophisticated public capable of appreciating its subtlety. This copy was made some two hundred years later. The drawing shows a jackal, one of the main characters of the fable collection.



JOHANNES DE CAPUA, DIRECTORIUM HUMANAE VITAE (THE GUIDE OF HUMAN LIFE)

Strasbourg, printed by Johann Prüss, c. 1489 , 11 1/4 x 7 7/8 in. (28.6 x 20 cm) , Douce 193, fol. [23r]

This is a printed edition of a book originally produced in manuscript around 1263–78. It is a Latin translation made by a Jewish apostate, Johannes de Capua, of Rabbi Joel’s early Hebrew version of "Kalila and Dimna." That Hebrew text was closer to the Arabic original than Jacob ben Eleazar’s later version. These multiple copies and editions show the sustained popularity of the work in Europe, where it helped to shape the development of fiction.



ISAAC BEN SOLOMON IBN SAHULA, MESHAL HA-QADMONI (THE FABLE OF THE ANCIENT)

Germany?, 1450, 11 1/2 x 7 1/4 in. (29.2 x 18.4 cm), MS. Opp. 154, fols. 49b–50a

Written in Spain c. 1281, this collection of tales in rhymed prose, with added didactic material, was designed to replace translated works, such as "Kalila and Dimna," with original Hebrew stories. It is thus part of the process by which Arabic genres were adapted to Jewish literature, enlarging its range. As was not uncommon at the time, the illustrations draw upon Christian models, and their high quality suggests an affluent, cultured audience.