The king asks the philosopher what is the import of community, how can people who come from different backgrounds learn to trust one another. The philosopher illustrates his answer with the tale of talking animals: a crow, a gazelle, a tortoise, and a mouse.
Doves have fallen into a snare; encased in the net, they manage to fly away in unison just as the hunter approaches. The doves land next to a burrow of a mouse, a friend of their ringdove leader. The mouse gnaws through the net and releases the birds, and with this action he’s impressed a crow who’s been observing the camaraderie between the two species. The crow shouts to the mouse that he too would like to be friends. The mouse, well aware that crows are his natural enemy, believes however the crow is sincere. The crow suggests he and the mouse move to a safer place, distant from the homes of men, near to a pond of a tortoise. The mouse and the crow and the tortoise spend their days enjoying one another’s company and the tranquility of the secluded area. One day a gazelle wanders by, scaring them until they realize the gazelle is only looking for water; they soon become a happy foursome. But on another day the gazelle disappears into the hunter’s trap. As with the doves before, the mouse chews through the ropes. The gazelle then asks, what happens when the hunter comes back? He says, while he and the mouse and the crow could flee, their hard-shell pal is much too slow to run. As they discuss their quandary, the hunter shows up and captures the tortoise, ties him upside down to a stick. The other three devise a rescue plan. The gazelle would feign injury and lie in the middle of the hunter’s path; the crow would pretend to lick his pretend wound to make the scene all the more convincing. When the hunter arrives, the gazelle would leap up and lure him away so that the mouse could free their tortoise friend. Their plan is a great success. The hunter, having lost both his ‘catch,’ has become suspicious of the area and decides to move away. The mouse, the crow, the gazelle and the tortoise embrace and kiss one another. “[N]ow they could live in complete peace and happiness.”
“The Ringdove” is found in the literary classic Kalila wa Dimna, a collection of fables based on the Panchatantra that Ibn al-Muqaffa—“one of the most brilliant exponents of the classical age of Arabic literature”—translated into Arabic in the eighth century from the Sanskrit original via a Persian version. The philosopher tells the king, and tells us today, twelve centuries later, community is everything—especially when times are tough. He might also be saying, don’t hang out with tortoises; they can cause you trouble.
Source: Esin Atil, Kalila wa Dimna: Tales from a Fourteenth-Century Arabic Manuscript, Smithsonian Institution, 1981.
(Image: “The Mouse Gnawing the Net Imprisoning the Doves” from the Kalilah wa-Dimnah, illustrated manuscript, completed in 1354, artist unknown, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, reproduced for non-commercial use only.)