The Laughable Stories of Bar-Hebraeus, by Bar-Hebraeus, tr. E.A.W. Budge, , at sacred-texts.com
CCXII. A certain king was asked by one of his nobles, "Who was the founder of thy race?" And he replied, "Ill luck brought it upon them that I should be the founder."
CCXIII. Another of the sages said, "The members of a man's household are the moth of his money."
CCXIV. Another of the kings was asked, "How is the peaceable condition of thy kingdom maintained?" And he replied, "When I fly, my nobles alight; and when they fly, I alight; that is to say, when I am in a rage they pacify me, and when they are enraged I pacify them."
CCXV. Another king was asked by his sages, "To what limit hath thine understanding reached?" And he replied, "To the extent that I believe no man, neither do I put any confidence in any man whatsoever."
CCXVI. One of the kings when he was young and was learning from his master made a mistake in a word, and when his teacher rebuked him the boy said to him, "What is that to thee? The very best horses stumble sometimes." The teacher replied, "Very true, but they are beaten and corrected for it." And the
boy said, "Yes, but they break the nose of him that beateth them."
CCXVII. Another king said to one of his sages, "There are three attributes which I yearn greatly to possess. The first is that no man should be able to commit any sin against me which I should not have the power to forgive. The second is that none of those who ask boons from me should have any want which I should not be able to satisfy. And the third is that there should be no time longer than mine own." When the wise man heard these words he laughed. And the king said, "Why dost thou laugh?" He replied, "How can I help laughing, for behold thou lustest for the attributes which are only found with God." The king said, "I know it. Hide, then, my words, and let them be as a secret unto thee, lest every one who heareth of them shall laugh at me also."
CCXVIII. Another king ordered his son, saying, "Strengthen thy kingdom with righteousness, for that is a wall which cannot be breached."
CCXIX. Another of the sages said, "There are four things which a man need not be afraid [to serve]:—"The king, a child, the road, and an animal."
CCXX. Another of the sages said, "It is meet that those kings who heap up money should have the minds of those who are going to live for ever, and that those who scatter gifts should have the minds of those who are going to die to-morrow;" that is to say they should spare nothing, for thus will their kingdom stand.
CCXXI. Another of the sages said, "Guard ye carefully your women against singing and music, for they overthrow chastity, and build up lust, and invite wantonness
and the drunkenness which is worse than that of wine."
CCXXII. Another of the sages said, "The Greeks are the more skilful, but the Persians are the more intelligent "
CCXXIII. Another king never permitted any man to kiss his hand, "For," said he, "the kissing of the hand is the proof [of the friendship] of friends and of the flattery of foes."
CCXXIV. Another king was besought by a certain man who professed to lead an ascetic life to give him the office of governor in a certain place, and he said to him, "If the ascetic life wherein thou art occupied is of God, it is not meet for us to destroy it by giving thee a governorship whereby sin would be provoked; and if it be merely hypocrisy it is not meet for us to make a hypocrite a governor." Thus he dismissed him.
CCXXV. Another of the wise men used to say, "The power of being able to [gratify a passion] destroyeth lust, even as water quencheth fire."
CCXXVI. One of the nobles of a certain king was about to rebel against him, and although the king wished to slay him he would not do this thing without taking counsel of one of his sages. And having called a certain wise man he asked him concerning it; and he made answer to him, saying, "There is nothing [left] for thee to do but to remove him from the earth; if thou doest not this thy kingdom will not stand." When the king heard this he was mightily angry, and he said to the sage, "Wouldst thou counsel me to slay the man who is my right arm and upon whom I lean?" and he thrust out the wise man and drove him away.
[paragraph continues] And it came to pass after a few days that the king devised means and cut off the head of him that wished to rebel, and he called the wise man and said unto him, "Dost thou remember the day wherein I took counsel with thee?" He replied, "How can I ever forget the day wherein I tasted death through fear of thee?" And the king said to him, "What thou didst counsel was right, and I had intended in my mind to do it, but I was afraid lest when thou hadst confirmed my own intention this secret would become revealed and the noble would slip out of my hands."
CCXXVII. To another king a certain man brought a pair of shoes, saying, "These are the shoes of the Prophet;" and the king received them and he gave him much money. And it came to pass that when the man had gone forth he said to those who were round about him, "I know that these shoes are not those of the Prophet, for the man who owned them was not one of those who could have inherited them, and that he either bought them or that they were given to him as a gift. Only I was afraid lest it should be reported concerning me that the shoes of the Prophet had come to me and that I had not made rejoicings over them, and lest I should be judged as one of little faith by men."
CCXXVIII. Another king (Hârûn al-Rashîd 1) had
two sons, the one (El-Amîn 1) by the Queen (Zubêdah 2) and the other (Al-Ma‘mûn 3) by a handmaiden 4, and because he wished the son of the handmaiden to be king after him the Queen was loud in her reproaches of the king. Thereupon the king said to her, "Let us make a trial of the intelligence of both of them, and whichever is the wiser shall reign;" and he then sent one trusty man to the one son, and another to the other to ask each of them what he would do for him when he became king. When the trusty man asked him that was the son of the Queen, he promised to make him his counsellor and to give him dominion over countries. But when the trusty man asked him that was the son of the handmaiden he took up the ink-pot which was in front of him and smote him on the head therewith and said, "O fool, wouldst thou demand a gift from me if the king died? Now as for me I would rather that we all should die, and that the king should live, because he would not miss such people as we, but where could we find another like him?" And when the Queen heard these things she agreed that the son of the handmaiden should become king and not her own son.
CCXXIX. One of the kings used to hate a certain member of his bodyguard, and he said to one of his nobles, "Hast thou not with thee someone who could slay such and such an one?" And he replied, "I will straightway slay him." And the king said to him, "I do not require the matter performed thus, for I want, when he is killed, to be able to pass judgment upon him that slew him and to kill him according to justice."
CCXXX. The handmaiden of a certain prince died, and he was so sorely grieved about her that he used to go out to the cemetery at night and weep. When his father heard this he wrote to him, saying, "How canst thou expect me to give thee dominion over a nation when thou sufferest thus for the sake of a handmaiden?" The son answered, "It is not about her price that I grieve, but because of the manner of woman that she was."
CCXXXI. Another king said, "Do not praise the kings who were before us, for this will lead the soldiers of our army to despise us."
CCXXXII. When another king was dying he ordered that after his eldest son the younger should be king, and when the son heard these words he said, "Thy will shall be fulfilled, my lord. But give orders that my young brother reign before me and I after him, so that the kingdom shall remain for my seed after my death, and thus the universal custom shall not be abrogated."
CCXXXIII. Another king said to his wise man, "We are much more intelligent than thou art, but thou art much more learned than we are. Therefore do not attempt to teach us in public, and do not say anything whatsoever to us unless we ask thee. When thou
answerest do not go on to repeat some other matter, and to instruct us in learned doctrines, but only such learning as is necessary for our kingdom. Furthermore do not feign to be greatly struck with wonder at the things which are spoken by us, for if thou doest this thou wilt show contempt for us. If thou doest these things thy position with us shall be exalted, and thou wilt be beloved by us."
CCXXXIV. There was a certain young prince who was requested by his father to come to him one morning, and when he went in to him the king thought that he had just been eating something. And he said unto him, "Dost thou eat so much as this early in the morning?" and the son denied that he had eaten anything. Now when the king asked those who were rearing him [whether his son had eaten or not], they confessed that he had, saying, "Every morning he asks for some food and eats it in this manner." And the king ordered them to rub down his teeth with a file in order to cause him pain [when he ate], and when they had filed away those in the upper jaw, he wept and said to the king, "Leave the teeth in the lower jaw until another time when thou art angry;" so the king laughed and sent him away.
CCXXXV. Another king when the table was removed used to say, "How manifold are thy mercies, O Lord, Who hast prepared for us more than we need."
CCXXXVI. One of the sages used to say, "The men in the market are despicable, and the handicraftsmen are rude, and the merchants are avaricious, but it is the lawyers who are the kings of the people."
CCXXXVII. A young prince said to his servant, "Go into the market and buy me of fine dates the
value of half a zûzâ." When his father heard of it, he said to him, "Having now understood that a zûzâ may be halved thou mayest also understand that thou art not able to prosper."
CCXXXVIII. Another king said, "If men only knew how pleasant to me it is to forgive faults there is not one of them who would not commit them."
CCXXXIX. A certain prince had a little servant who used to learn with him in school, and who suddenly sickened and died. And when the king said to him, "My son, thy servant is dead," he replied, "Yes, he is dead, and he hath escaped from the school."
CCXL. A certain Byzantine king wrote a letter to one of the Arab kings using threatening words, and the Arab king wrote back, saying, "Our complete answer to that which thou hast written will be something which can be seen and not read," that is to say, "We will come in person to meet thee."
CCXLI. Another Arab king was pleased in his mind because they had brought to him certain baked meats which he loved. And having begun to eat he found therein a fly; and when he had thrown it away and had eaten a little more, he found another fly and yet another; and when he had eaten and they had taken away the table, he said, "Let them cook for me only a portion of this meat to-morrow, so that there may be fewer of flies therein."
CCXLII. Another sage said, "The gratification which ariseth from forgiveness is very much better than that which ariseth from vengeance, because to forgiveness praise appertaineth, and to vengeance repentance."
CCXLIII. Another sage said, "Do not speak too freely and openly with him that is thy superior, lest he be
angry with thee; neither do thou thus with him that is thy inferior, lest he presume overmuch before thee."
CCXLIV. When the father of a certain young prince died a man asked him, "Whom did the king order to take care of thee?" And he replied, "The king ordered me to take care of those who should care for me."
CCXLV. Another king commanded his sons’ teacher, saying, "First of all order thine own doings and then those of my sons, for upon thee are their eyes set. Teach them from books, from the Divine Scriptures, and from the histories of the righteous kings and prophets. Do not threaten them in my name, for when they have learnt by experience that thou art not able to reprove them, they will despise thee. Be not harsh with them, and drive them not overmuch lest they hate instruction; and be not slack with them lest they love idleness."
CCXLVI. Another of the sages used to say, "Shamefacedness is destroyed by two things, by a man seeking his own desire, and by converse with fools."
CCXLVII. When another king was admonishing the soldiers of his bodyguard and they were paying no heed unto him, he said to them, "Ye need a king who will do more unto you than admonish, ye need a king who will beat you."
CCXLVIII. Another of the sages was asked, "How is that thy mercy is so abundant?" And he replied, "I have never inflicted punishment on a man without leaving room for reconciliation."
CCXLIX. Another of the sages said, "The crime of him that slayeth a prophet is not greater than that of him whom a prophet slayeth, that is to say, he that slayeth a prophet certainly committeth sin, but unless
the sin of him that is slain by a prophet be not very great he will not be slain."
CCL. Another of the kings said, "He that will not condescend to ask a gift of me is not worthy of a gift, whereupon a sage who was ready-witted said, He that asketh and receiveth lacketh more than what he gaineth, but a truly graceful act on thy part would be to give before thou art asked."
CCLI. A certain sage asked the Queen, saying, Persuade the king to fulfil a certain thing [for me]. And the Queen said, "Instead of asking me to persuade the king thou shouldst try to persuade him thyself, and let him make answer to thy petition." The sage said, "Nay my lady, when the tops of the branches of a tree which are laden with fruit are high and out of reach it is meet for a man to lay hold upon the lower parts of the branches and to pull them down [to him], so that he can easily pluck the fruit and eat thereof," whereby he gave it to be understood that the head of a woman is man.
59:1 This famous man was proclaimed Khalîfa at Bagdad on Friday, the XIIth day before the end of Rebî‘ I. A.H. 170; he died at Sanâbâdh near Ṭûs on Saturday the IVth day of Jumada II. A.H. 193. He reigned twenty-three years and six months, and died aged forty-four years and four months, A.D. 808.
60:1 I.e., ###, who was murdered on the XXVth day of the month Muharram, A.H. 198=A.D. 813; his head was cut off and sent to his brother Al-Ma‘mûn.
60:2 I.e., ### daughter of Ja‘far, the son of the Khalîfa Manṣûr, and wife of Hârûn al-Rashîd.
60:3 I.e., ## was proclaimed Khalîfa at Bagdad when he was twenty-eight years and two months old. He died at Podendon, and his body was taken to Tarsus where it was buried A.H. 218 =A.D. 833. He reigned twenty-one years, and was forty-nine years old when he died.
60:4 I.e., Merâjil, ###, a native of ###.