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The Laughable Stories of Bar-Hebraeus, by Bar-Hebraeus, tr. E.A.W. Budge, [1897], at

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The Second Chapter


LXVIII. Cyrus wrote to Hormizd the sage, saying, "If kings only knew their need of wise men, [and wise men knew] their need of kings, kings would never marvel if they stood continually at the doors of the wise; for the need of kings for wise men is greater than that of wise men for kings."

LXIX. Bazarjamhir 1 said, "It is better for a man to

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humble himself that he may overcome than to conquer that he may humble himself," that is to say, we must not be deceived by the man who humbleth himself to us for a time and afterwards ruleth over us tyrannically.

LXX. This same Bazarjamhir was asked, "What is the wealth which is not destroyed when cast away?" He replied, "Humility."

LXXI. This same Bazarjamhir said, "How beautiful

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patience would be if it were not that life is [so] short."

LXXII. Another sage was asked, "Is it indeed true that any speech of truth can be hated?" He replied, "Yes, by the Calumniator."

LXXIII. Another sage said, "I hold every man who saith that he hateth riches to be a liar until he establisheth a sure proof thereof from what he hath gathered together, and having established his belief it is, at the same time, quite certain that he is a fool!"

LXXIV. Another sage was enquired of concerning a means of subsistence, and he replied, "If it is ordained for thee hasten not, for it will come unto thee; and if it be not ordained go not in after it, for it will not come unto thee."

LXV. Another sage said, "He that doeth good to a fool is like him who decketh a pig with rich and heavy jewellery and who feedeth a serpent upon honey."

LXXVI. Another sage said, "He who is mighty in the fulfilling and keeping of the laws shall become mighty, and he who is mighty in transgressing the commandment and in [doing] illegal things shall become feeble."

LXXVII. Another sage used to say, "The wise man goeth round about [seeking] for a means of subsistence, but the fool [stayeth] in the place of his father who begot him."

LXXVIII. Once upon a time Anôsharwân 1 the king ordered that no man should either eat of the same kind of food as that of which he ate, or drink of the same kind of

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drink as that of which he drank. Now a certain prince having made ready royal food sent and invited one of the nobles to sit at meat with him. And when he had eaten his meal and had gone forth he wrote to the king, saying, "Such and such an one maketh use of the royal food. I myself have seen it and I cannot hide it from thee." And the king wrote on the back of the letter, "We praise thee for fidelity and for the covenant which thou hast kept with us, but we blame him that made use of the food because he did not know how to keep his secret and revealed it unto such as thou."

LXXIX. Khusrau 1 was asked, "Which of thy sons is [most] beloved by thee?" He replied, "He that loveth correction and feareth disgrace, and longeth for a rank higher than his own."

LXXX. Bazarjamhir said, "The defect of this world is that it never giveth to a man that of which he is deserving. For it either giveth to him more than that of which he is worthy, or it giveth to him less than that of which he is worthy."

LXXXI. Ardashîr 2 said, "It is meet that the wrath of kings should be made manifest in shewing mercy upon those who provoke to wrath and not in depriving them of that which they need."

LXXXII. [Ardashîr] 3 said that "the foundation of

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a nation is religion, and that the government is the protector thereof. Every building which possesseth not a sound foundation is quickly overthrown, and every house which possesseth no keeper is speedily despoiled."

LXXXIII. It is said that in the days of Khusrau 1 the king a certain man went round about crying, "Who will buy three wise maxims for a thousand dînârs?" When the king heard [these words] he called him, and said unto him, "What are the sayings?" And the man ordered that the dînârs of which he had spoken should be made ready, and when they were ready he said, "This is the first saying:—There is no good in any man whatsoever. And the second is:—Although all men are thus nothing rational is to be obtained from them. And the third is:—It is necessary for the king to know the extent of the wickedness of every man and to expose him according to his wickedness so that he may escape from him." When the king heard these words he praised them and ordered the man to take the gold; but he would not do so. And the king said to him, "Why then didst thou ask for it?" The man replied, "I wished to ascertain if ever any man would be willing to buy wisdom with gold, or not."

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LXXXIV. Anôshârwân said, "Idleness exciteth the thoughts, and the thoughts provoke sadness."

LXXXV. Another king commanded his son, saying, "When thou art king do not add unto the riches of thy soldiers, lest they cease from thy service through having no need of thee; neither do thou reduce them to poverty, lest they hate thee. But give thou unto every man that which is meet for him in his own capacity, and act in such a way that their hope in thee may be ever more and more increased even though thy gifts to them be not multiplied."

LXXXVI. Bazarjamhir said, "Of the supporters of a king some are like spears which can only be used by those who guard [him] at a distance; and some are like arrows which are shot away and return not; and some are like swords for which it is not meet that they should turn away from him."

LXXXVII. Khusrau said, "Do not show hatred to one whom thou art unable to remove from thee."

LXXXVIII. Bazarjamhir was asked, "Why do friends so easily turn into enemies, for with much more difficulty do enemies become friends?" And he replied, "Even in the same way that to overthrow a house is easier than to build it up, and the breaking of a vessel is easier than the making of it, and the spending of money is easier than the acquisition of it."

LXXXIX. Bazarjamhir also said, "In the season of Teshrîn 1 months the crops are beautiful, and in the time of the month Nîsân 2 [we] have the flowers.

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[paragraph continues] [Even so] in the maiden [we should have] beauty, and in the youth strenuous action [of the limbs], and in the stranger humility of mind."

XC. It was said to Khusrau, "What [class of] men dost thou wish to become wise?" He replied, "My enemies, because wise men are not easily made to work wickedness, but fools cannot by any means whatsoever keep themselves away from it."

XCI. When Bazarjamhir was imprisoned by the king 1 his friends asked him, "With what, now, dost thou console thyself?" He replied, "With four sayings. In the first I say to myself, Everything is decreed and fixed by fate, and escape from wrath is impossible; in the second I say, If I cannot endure suffering patiently what can I do?; in the third [I say], It were possible for me to fall into a worse plight than this; and in the fourth I say, Perhaps respite is nigh although I know it not."

XCII. Bazarjamhir also exhorted a certain king who was ruling over a country to act as a friend towards honest folk, and as a judge towards those who were neither good nor bad, and as a tyrant towards the wicked 2.

XCIII. When the king was angry with this same Bazarjamhir and crucified 3 him, his daughter heard

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[paragraph continues] [about it] and ran out among the men having her head uncovered, but when she came to her father on the cross she covered it. And when the king asked her concerning what she had done, she replied, "He was the only man [there] before whom it was meet to be ashamed [at being uncovered]."

XCIV. Sapor 1 said, "The ornaments of a city are these:—A victorious king, a righteous judge, a market [full] of merchandize, a skilful physician and a flowing river."

XCV. Khusrau (II) asked one of his wise men, "Which are the more numerous, men or devils?" And he replied, "If thou considerest the Kurds and the common folk of the bazaars men, men are the more numerous."

XCVI. Bazarjamhir said, "Whosoever loveth thee will keep thee from thine anger, but whosoever hateth thee will stir thee up thereunto."

XCVII. To this same Bazarjamhir it was said, "Who is he that hath no defect in him?" And he replied, "He that dieth not."

XCVIII. Bazarjamhir's wife asked him a certain question and he replied, "I know not the answer." Thereupon she said unto him, "Dost thou take such large wages from the king [for thy wisdom] and yet not know the answer to my question?" And he replied, "I receive my wages for what I know, and it is not payment for what I know not. If I were to receive wages for that which I know not all the king's treasures would be insufficient to reward me, for the things which I know not are exceedingly many."

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XCIX. Ispandahar 1 said, "The horse, even though he be exceedingly swift, hath need of the whip, and a woman, though she be chaste, yet hath need of a man, and a man, even though he be wise, hath need to receive counsel from others."

C. Khusrau said, "Wine washeth from the heart trouble and grief."

CI. When Kîkôbâd (Kaiḳubād) 2 the king died, one of his wise men said, "Yesterday the king spake volubly, but to-day he being silent admonisheth [us] with greater effect." 3

CII. This same wise man said, "Hearts have need to be reared on wisdom, even as men's bodies have need of food whereon to grow."

CIII. Sapor said, "On many occasions matters come to fools on the right hand, and to wise men on the left, and I recognize that the Governor of affairs is a Being quite distinct from them."

CIV. Ardashîr 4 said, "Occupy thyself with the things

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which are seemly, in order that thou mayest be kept from the things which are unseemly."

CV. Bazarjamhir said, "When thou dost not know which of two things is the better for thee [to do], take counsel with thy wife and do the opposite of that which she saith, for she will only counsel [thee to do] the things which are injurious to thee."

CVI. Merâdwîkh 1 was asked, "Wherein doth trouble differ from wrath?" And he replied, "When a man is injured by some great thing he is troubled, but when by some small matter he is enraged."

CVII. One day while Khusrau was sitting down, a man mean of stature drew nigh to him and began to weep and cry, saying, "Avenge me upon him that hath oppressed me;" but Khusrau took no notice of him. And when one of his noblemen asked him, "Why dost thou not hearken unto his voice?" he said, "The man mean of stature cannot be oppressed." And the mean man understood and cried out, "Master, he that hath oppressed me is meaner than I;" and when the king heard [this] he laughed and avenged his cause.


18:1 I.e., Buzurjumihr, the son of Bakhtagân, ### *, a famous Persian sage who flourished during the reign of Khusrau Anôsharwân, A.D. 531-579. According to Mas‘ûdî (ii. p. 205) this king one day assembled his wise men and asked them to give him such advice as would be to the benefit of both himself and his people. When all had spoken except Buzurjumihr this sage said, "O king, all that thou desirest to hear I can say in twelve sentences," and when ordered to speak on he said that his counsel was:—1. "When a king is about to fall into lust, or covetousness, or laziness, or anger, or love, to fear God, and to dread in the consequences of these passions not man, but God. 2. To be sincere in word and faithful in performing engagements; to carry out what has been agreed upon, and bonds and treaties. 3. To accept the counsel of the sages in every matter. 4. To honour the learned, the nobles, the governors of frontiers, officers, secretaries and officials each in his grade. 5. To watch p. 19 the judges and to control the accounts of the taxgatherers; to reward faithful service and to punish dishonest service. 6. To visit often those in prison so as to learn their condition, in order to be able to double the watch over the guilty and to set free the innocent. 7. To safeguard roads and places of dealing, and to facilitate trade and the business of the merchant. 8. To punish the guilty according to their deserts, and to keep the people loyal. 9. To keep up a supply of arms and the munitions of war. 10. To honour his family, and children, and neighbours, and to watch over their interests. 11. To watch keenly over the frontier defence so as to perceive when danger is about to come and to take steps to ward it off. 12. To keep a watch upon the ministers and officials, and to recall those who are notoriously disloyal or incapable." Several other wise sayings are attributed to him, and this distinguished Persian seems, as Nöldeke says (Geschichte der Perser and Araber, p. 251) to have been the ideal of an Oriental Minister; the above twelve maxims were thought so highly of that the king ordered them to be written in letters of gold. A full account of Buzurjumihr and of his interpretation of the King's dream may be found in Mohl, Le Livre des Rois par Abou’l-kasim Firdousi, tom. vi. p. 192 ff. A copy of his moral teachings in the shape of question and answer, the interlocutors being the sage and his master, exists in Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 8994, fol. 84b-99b; see Rieu, Catalogue of the Persian MSS. in the British Museum, p. 52, col. 2. The work is stated to have been written at the request of his master, King Anôsharwân, and it was called Zafar-Nāmah.

18:* For this form of the name see Tornberg, Ibn-el-Athiri, tom. ii. p. 368, l. 14.

20:1 He reigned from A.D. 531 to 579.

21:1 Probably Khusrau Anôsharwân.

21:2 Probably Ardashîr I, who began to reign A.D. 226, is here referred to. He was the author of several maxims and wise sayings.

21:3 Surely Bar-Hebraeus must here have a version of a piece of advice which Ardashîr is said to have given to his son Shâpûr. "O my son, behold, religion and sovereignty are sisters, neither p. 22 one of which can exist without the other. For religion is the foundation of sovereignty, and sovereignty is the protector of religion. "Every building which is without foundation falleth down, and whatsoever is unprotected perisheth." ###. See Mas‘ûdî (ed. B. de Meynard) tom. ii. p. 162.

22:1 Probably Khusrau Anôsharwân.

23:1 The first and second Teshrîn months correspond roughly to our October and November.

23:2 Nîsân corresponds roughly to our April.

24:1 He was thrown into prison by Khusrau II Parwêz (A.D. 590-628), who is said to have suspected him of having joined the atheists, ###; whilst there the king wrote insulting letters to him, and was so enraged at the sage's replies that he had his head cut off. See Mas‘ûdî, op. cit., tom. ii. pp. 224. 225.

24:2 The text of the first line of this saying appears to be corrupt. The saying itself echoes the general sense of Buzurjumihr's fifth maxim; see the note to story No. LXIX.

24:3 As a matter of fact his head was cut off; see the note to story No. XCI. In story No. V Bar-Hebraeus used the root ### in the same loose way, for Socrates died by drinking poison.

25:1 Shâpûr I began to reign A.D. 272, Shâpûr II A.D. 621, and Shâpûr III A.D. 695.

26:1 Probably Ispandahar, the son of Gushtasp; see Malcolm, History of Persia, Vol. I. p. 46 ff.; and Mohl, Le Livre des Rois, tom. IV. p. 451.

26:2 The founder of the Kaianian dynasty is here referred to; see Malcolm, History of Persia, vol. I. p. 23 ff.; Mohl, Le Livre des Rois, tom. I. p. 367.

26:3 This saying is also attributed to Diogenes, who is said to have uttered it over Alexander's dead body. In Mas‘ûdî (op. cit. tom. vii. p. 186) it runs "Alexander was less talkative yesterday than he is to-day; but to-day he teacheth us more than he did yesterday." Another version is, "Of all teachings which thou hast bestowed upon us the most eloquent is thy death." Mas‘ûdî (op. cit., tom. ii. p. 253).

26:4 Probably Ardashîr I, who began to reign A.D. 226.

27:1 Probably Mardawîj, ###, the king who was slain by his Turkish bodyguard while enjoying a bath in the palace of Ahmed ibn ‘Abd el-Azîz, A.H. 323.

Next: The Third Chapter: Profitable Sayings of the Indian Sages