Kalila and Dimna or The Panchatantra (also known in Europe since 1483 as The Fables of Bidpai) is a multi-layered yet inter-connected arrangement of animal stories, one leading into another, sometimes three or four deep.
These arrangements have contributed to world literature for over 2000 years, migrating across ancient cultures in a multitude of written and oral formats. Humanity’s beast fables from Aesop and the Buddhist Jataka Tales through to La Fontaine and Uncle Remus owe this strange, shape-shifting ‘book’ a huge debt.
In its original Arabic format, Kalila and Dimna (The Panchatantra being its Sanskrit precursor) constitutes a handbook for rulers, a so-called ‘Mirror for Princes’ illustrating indirectly, through a cascade of teaching stories and verse, how to (and how not to!) run the kingdom of your life. In their sly grasp of human nature at its worst these animal fables indirectly serve up wise counsel while avoiding overt moral criticism.
Based on a collation of scholarly translations from key Sanskrit, Syriac, Arabic and Persian texts — as well as the 1570 English rendition by Sir Thomas North, this is the first modern re-telling in either the East or West for over 400 years.
This first volume covers deceit, political skullduggery, murder, enemies, kings, dervishes, monkeys, lions, jackals, turtles, crows and how we all live and die together in peace or conflict. It’s a book full of outrageously behaved animals and humans doing the most delightfully awful (or sometimes gentle) things to each other. Here are joyous, sad, amusing and sometimes brutal stories — their instrumentality being to educate both king and commoner alike to the ways of the world, the harsh realities that sometimes lurk beneath the surface of cozy, everyday subjectivity.
These stories have found their way in one form or another into the folklore of every major culture and tradition. What links them is a core message about managing power, incuding the advantages of wise leadership and the value of true friendship.
‘Racy, funny, vigorous, contemporary.’
‘Wood’s superb stories should be set aside Italo Calvino’s retelling of the folktales of Italy.’
— CARLOS FUENTES
‘Stories as closely interfolded as the petals of a rose.’
— URSULA LE GUIN