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Kalila and Dimna

In: English and Literature

Submitted By ehsen
Words 903
Pages 4
Although the stories of Kalila and Dimna are from an Indian origin, formerly known as the Panchatantra; Ibn al-Muqaffa’s translation of the compilation can be easily applied to the Arab society of his time. The political overtones exhibited in this literary piece are interesting to say the least. One such story demonstrates this quite well and that is “The Tale of the Lion and the Hare”. The story is used by Ibn al-Muqaffa to not only serve as an example for ruling princes, but to also serve as a commentary on eighth century Arab politics and society, specifically the Umayyad and Abbasid Dynasties. Knowledge of historical context is necessary to analyze Ibn Muqaffa’s translation of the compilation of fables. Ibn al-Muqaffa was born sometime in the early eighth century in the Iranian province of Fars. He was raised by a family of notables in the town of Goor, during the Umayyad Dynasty. His father was a state official entrusted with the duty of collecting and safeguarding the city’s taxes. Within a few years he was exposed as a fraud, despite being given the honor of guarding the dynasty’s wealth, Ibn al-Muqaffa’s father was charged and convicted of inappropriately spending the citizen’s tax money. His punishment was immediate destruction of his hand, all that was left was a shriveled, crushed hand, thus the name Muqaffa which means shriveled hand. Despite his dishonorable beginnings and familial foundation, Ibn al-Muqaffa rose through the ranks of the Umayyad Dynasty, serving in several secretarial positions for different governors before escaping persecution during the transition phase between the Umayyad and Abbasid Dynasties. After serving for his first and last Abbasid governor, Ibn al-Muqaffa was executed for relaying a message between two rival statesmen. An inglorious end to the life of a master writer and translator. With this historical context in mind, it becomes apparent why Ibn al-Muqaffa would translate these children’s story with a political agenda in mind, providing proper regal etiquettes for individuals born to significant roles through hereditary. The motive behind his translation of the work could stem from the shame placed on his family name by his father. However, his work did not reach his audience quick enough, perhaps if he completed Kalila and Dimna earlier he could have lived a longer life and produced even more literary works and translations. The story that demonstrates Ibn al-Muqaffa’s view of Abbasid politics is “The Tale of the Lion and the Hare”. Even before the story, in the promethium, Dimna expresses his need to gain the King’s (lion’s) trust by joining his court. Kalila warns against this as it is quite dangerous and the king is not the most trustworthy of characters, but despite this Dimna proceeds. This demonstrates the lengths that individuals will go to to wield any source of power, an issue that has plagued not only the Arab ruling class but governments throughout time and geography.
Dimna attempts to gain the trust of the king by identifying a noise coming from the darkness outside, it turns out to be a bull who ends up becoming the king’s advisor. Dimna then plans on assassinating the bull who had stolen his position in the court. This highlights the corruption found in the Abbasid Dynasty. A renowned professor from Cornell University once spoke of the Abbasid Dynasty:
“The corruption that started from the top filtered down to the provincial governors and the petty officials. The cruelty and ruthlessness of Hajjaj bin Yusuf is proverbial. Instead of promoting officials on the basis of capability and integrity, as was the case during the Caliphate of Omar ibn l Khattab, or on the basis of examination and merit as was the case in the contemporary Tang dynasty of China, the Omayyads chose their governors and officials on the basis of loyalty to the rulers. The brutality of the governors was viewed as an asset in maintaining the conquered territories under control. Damascus, in essence, lost touch with the far-flung provinces, a fact that was exacerbated by the rudimentary communications of the day. So, when a determined challenge to Omayyad rule surfaced in far-away Khorasan, the response from the palaces of Damascus was slow, feeble and disjointed.”

The Tale of the Lion and the Hare exposes these characteristics in the Abbasid Dynasty. The character of Dimna represents figures throughout history that use any means necessary to achieve power and rank. The tale ends however with Dimna not killing the bull; Ibn al-Muqaffa creates this ending to provide an example to follow for young princes who have been given great power without any sort of training.
Kalila and Dimna is a very exciting and interesting compilation of stories. The literary piece manages to appeal to the interest of growing children using simple to understand tales without losing the higher morals meant for important rulers. Each story teaches a lesson about morality, quite similar to the more well known and European Aesop’s fables. Perhaps they were even inspired by Ibn al-Muqaffa’s work.
All of the stories are brilliantly clever and convey their message quite clearly. The emphasis on honesty, honor, and respect, combined with a political agenda, allows it to hold its place as one of the most revered pieces of Arab literature.

Citations:
Ahmed, Nazeer, PhD. "The Abbasid Revolution." History of Islam. HISTORYOFISLAM, 11 Dec. 2009. Web. 05 Apr. 2016. .…...

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