Authors of Kalileh Va Demneh
By: Dr. Freydoon Arbabi



Kalileh and Demneh is one of classic Persian literary masterpieces. It is mainly a translation of an Indian book, Penchatentra (which means five chapters) written in Sanskrit and published some 1500 years ago. It also includes chapters form an Indian national epic book, Mahabahrata. The original translation was done from Sanskrit into Pahlavi by Barzuyeh. Ibn Moghafa’ translated it from Pahlavi to Arabic. Finally Abdollah Monshi, among others, translated it into Persian from Arabic. Each translator has added some text or chapter(s) of his own. 

The Original Sources 

1. Penchatentra

Penchatentra is said to have been written by an Indian sage, Bidpai during the reign of a local ruler, Dabeshlim. Dabeshlim resisted the army of Alexander of Macadonia, but was defeated. Eventually he rose up again and established independence for his land, although as a despot. Bidpai took it upon himself to seek an audience with the king, during which he tried to warn Dabeshlim about his autocratic behavior. By doing this he enraged the king and was therefore thrown in jail. After a while Dabeshlim recognized
the value of Bidpai’s advice, released him form jail and asked him to compile his advice in the form of a book. Bidpai sugar coated his advice by presenting it as stories told by animals.

2.  Pahlavi Version

When Anushirvan, the Sasanid king of Persia, heard that there was a book advising kings he sought someone capable of translating the text. He therefore ordered his aids to find a person who knew Sanskrit as well as Pahlavi, the Persian language of the Sasanid era. A young physician, Barzuyeh, was thus found and was sent to India to obtain a copy of the book and translate it, along with any other books of sociology or scientific value that he could find there. Upon completion of the book Barzuyeh was honored at the palace, and public readings of the book took place at the court. The translation included Penchatentra (the first five chapters of Kalileh and Demneh), as well as parts of the epic book Mahabahrata. It was called Kalileh and Demneh after two jackals who are the main characters of the first story of Penchatentra. It also included a preface by Bozorgmehr, the able prime minister of Anushirvan, and a biography of Barzuyeh.  Anushirvan is a complex historical figure. He had sufficient wisdom to recognize the value of scientific and sociological books. However, he also bears the infamy for ordering the massacre of the followers of Mazdak, a contemporary prophet who was demanding social reform following a major famine. 

3. Arabic Translation

In the eighths century AD Ibn Moghafa’ produced an Arabic translation of Kalileh and Demneh. This is considered a masterpiece of the Arabic literature. Arabs had produced many major poets, most of them before Islam. In fact Moa’laghat, the best poems chosen by competition for hanging in the Ka’bah, the idol temple at Mecca before Islam, attest to this tradition. A well known poet of this era Amara al-Gheis (who died in 565 AD, 80 years before Hejreh) has composed many beautiful poems about love and other earthly pleasures. It is ironic that such brilliant creative people have been dismissed by some Moslems, who have termed the period the Jahilieh (ignorance). In fact the spurt of Persian poetry that started after Islam when Dari language became the common language in Iran may have had its inspiration in the Arabic poetic tradition. Dari had been the language used in the court of the Sasanids at Tisfun. After the Arab invasion of Iran it got mixed with Arabic to produce a rich language for poetry. Many of the early Persian poets seem to have been inspired by the great Arab poets and most meters used in their poems had been those of Arabic poetry. The validity of this statement can be verified by the fact that no major poets
in the Pahlavi language have been known. The majority of these poets were sufis, who did not accept the stigma that some Moslems had attached to poetry and music.

However, in spite of an old poetic tradition, no major work of Arabic prose existed before the eight century AD. For this reason Ibn Moghafa’ is called the founder of the Arabic prose. In fact Kalileh and Demneh is still used as an exemplary book, and as a textbook in many Arabic speaking countries. In addition to the translation of the Pahlavi text Ibn Moghafa’ added some chapters of his own. For example Demneh, who masterminds the destruction of Cow, and innocent figure in the story, by making up stories that he tells the Lion (king), is said to have paid for his mean deed at the end of the story. Ibn Moghafa’ does not find this sufficient and writes a whole chapter, called Demneh Revealed, to do justice to the story.

Abdollah Ibn Moghafa’ was born as Behrooz in a Zoroastrian Persian family. His father, Dazuyeh, was nicknamed Moghafa’ because of his twisted flingers. His fingers had been damaged under torture ordered by the governor of Iraq because Dazuyeh had been advocating education for masses, an idea that was considered subversive.. Ibn Moghafa’ converts to Islam during the reign of Mansur Abbasid. However, this brilliant writer was murdered soon after the publication of Kalileh and Demneh, when he was only thirty six years old. Many reasons have been given for the death of Ibn Moghafa’, including imitating the Quran, and translating blasphemous material to mislead the Moslems. He had produced some eight major works, including translation of the book of Mazdak from Pahlavi into Arabic and Resaleh Sahabeh. The latter seems to be aimed at Mansur, the Caliph, and is the blue print of a revolution.

The common story told about Ibn Moghafa’s death is a letter he wrote on behalf of Abdollah, Mansur’s nephew. Abdollah had led an unsuccessful rebellion against Mansur. His great uncles (uncles of Mansur) intervene on his behalf and Mansur agrees to forgive him. To reassure his uncles Mansur suggests a letter be written, that he would sign, promising not to harm Abdollah. Ibn Moghafa’,  a well known writer at the time, is chosen for the task. To make the case fool proof he puts exaggerated phrases such as, “If Mansur ever harms Abdollah his wives shall be forbidden to him and his subjects would have no obligation to obey him.” This language infuriates Mansur, who orders Ibn Moghafa’s arrest

The task of arresting Ibn Moghafa’ falls on Sofyan, the grand son of Yazid Ummya, and the governor of Basra. There is no love lost between Sofyan and Ibn Moghafa’. Long before this incident Ibn Moghafa’ had declared, in public, that he did not think much of Sofyan, and had called Sofyan a son of a bitch. When Ibn Moghafa’ is arrested and brought to Sofyan the latter swears that if Ibn Moghafa leaves the quarters alive he (Sofyan) is indeed a son of bitch. He further tells Ibn Moghafa’ that he (Sofyan) would not have to answer for this murder, because Ibn Moghafa’ is Zandaghi and in the next world a Muslim imposter. Thus, he has him killed in a savage manner, by having his limbs cut off and burnt before he is finally put to death.

When Mansur’s uncles complain to Mansur about the arrest and disappearance of Ibn Moghafa’, he tells them that their own lives would be in danger should Ibn Moghafa’ appear through the door that is behind them. With this threat the uncles realize that Mansur had been in on the arrest and murder of Ibn Moghafa’ and drop the subject.

4.  Persian Versions

There have been many translations of Kalileh and Demneh into Persian, a number of them from Ibn Moghafa’ s Arabic version. The version commonly used in Iran is a translation by Abdollah Monshi in the thirteenth century AD. This version includes many insertions, by Monshi, of Persian and Arabic poems as well as verses from the Quran. A few years after this translation Mohammad Bokhari produced a verbatim translation of Ibn Moghafa’s text. There has also been a translation by Rudaki, the well known Persian poet of the 9th century AD, in the form of poems. Like most other work of Rudaki unfortunately this book no longer exists.

Monshi’s fate was no better than that of Ibn Moghafa’s. He was first appointed as minister of Khosrow Shah Ghaznavi, and then ordered murdered by the latter. Abdollah Monshi is another brilliant writer who has produced a master piece by translating Ibn Moghafa’s text. After Golestan of Sa’di this work is considered the best piece of Persian literature and has been used as a model by many writers in different periods and as a text book. 

Style of Kalileh and Demneh

Kalileh and Demneh is stories of an animal kingdom with numerous additional tales told to substantiate a statement (story into story) or to highlight important points. It also includes an unusual number of metaphors, parallel construction and numerous words of wisdom.  To present a sample of the writing the writer could not locate an adequate English translation. The samples provided on the Internet by the Indian
Community in the U.S. did not appear to have the elegance of the Persian text of Monshi. Thus, for the sake of completeness the writer endeavored the task of translating a passage from Monshi’s text. He seeks forgiveness of the readers for his lack of ability to convey the music and beauty of that text. The tricky Demneh comes to his confident and wise friend Kalileh complaining how his introduction of the Cow to the Lion has caused his own loss of position near the Lion, as the Lion is now enjoying the company of the Cow. He is thinking of a scheme to change the situation. Kalileh tells the following story which is several examples of how a vicious act can backfire and hurt the schemer himself. 

A Passage of Kalileh and Demneh

A pious man receives a gift of a beautiful robe from a king. A thief sees it and schemes to get it. He tries to become the man’s friend till he finds the opportunity to steal the robe. The pious man realizes what had happened afterwards and goes to the city in search of the thief. On the way he sees two rams fighting each other. They had injured one another and a fox is taking advantage of the situation sucking their blood. The rams charge at each other with their horns. They miss but one of the horns gets the fox and kills him. By the time the pious man gets to the city it is night time.

He starts looking for a place to stay. He cannot find one and in desperation ends up spending the night at a brothel. There he sees a pretty woman accompanied by a man. She is the madam’s best girl but is having a good time with the man without paying attention to other customers. The madam had been mad at her for some time because of her callousness about business. The present sight makes her so furious that she decides to get rid of her that very night. She offers much wine to the girl and her companion till they are completely drunk and pass out. She then puts a small tube in the girl’s bottom trying to blow poison into her. As she puts her mouth to the tube the girl lets out some gas pushing the poison back into the madam’s mouth, killing her instantly. Thus the pious man witnesses a proof of the proverb, “The reward of an ass kisser is a fart.” 

Early morning the man leaves trying to find a better place to stay. He meets a shoemaker who invites him to his house. He asks his wife to make a meal for the guest but apologized that he has an event to attend. The shoemaker’s wife has a lover and a match maker is their go-between. She asks the match maker to tell her lover that her husband is away for the night and to have him come over. The shoemaker comes back drunk and sees the lover at the door. His suspicion justified, he beats up his wife tying her to a post in the house. After the shoemaker falls asleep the match maker comes in complaining to the woman for keeping the lover waiting. “Either go out or tell him to go home,” she tells the woman. “If you untie me and agree to replace me at the post,” replies the woman, “I will go and come back quickly.” The match maker agrees and puts herself at the post. The shoemaker wakes up and starts calling his wife. The match maker does not respond for fear of being discovered. Hearing no response the shoe maker becomes enraged. He takes a knife and cuts off the match maker’s nose. He then puts it in her hand telling her to send it to her lover as a present. He then goes back to sleep.

When the shoe maker’s wife returns, she apologized to the match maker for what had happened. She then releases her and ties herself back to the post. The pious man witnesses all this. The woman stays quiet for a while. Then she starts a loud prayer, begging God to cure her nose if she is innocent. The shoemaker asks her what all this raucous is about. “Get up cruel man and see for yourself how God has given me back my nose, because I am innocent,” she replies. The shoemaker lights a light and sees that his wife is whole. He apologizes promising to repent and never raise his hand on her again without solid proof of wrongdoing.

Meanwhile the match maker goes home all the while trying to come up with an explanation for her situation. She finds the opportunity when her husband wakes up asking for his toilet objects. He has to leave quickly for an important appointment. The match maker hands him his shaving blade only.
The husband gets furious shaking the blade at her for her lack of concern. The match maker throws herself to the floor screaming. The neighbors rush in scolding the husband for having cut his wife’s nose off. The match maker’s relatives arrive later and take the husband to the judge. The judge asks the man why he has cut off his wife’s nose for no good reason. The startled husband cannot give a satisfactory answer. The judge rules to have him punished.

At this point the pious man stands up. “Wait, your honor,” he says. “This man is innocent,  because the thief did not steal my robe and the rams did not kill the fox, and the poison did not kill the madam and the match maker’s husband did not cut off her nose.  As I witnessed all this.”

The judge asked the man to explain himself.   “You see your honor,” he said,  “if I had not been fooled by flattery and would not have believed the thief,  he would not have found the opportunity to steal my robe. And if the fox had not been overcome by greed, and had stopped his blood sucking, he would not have been killed by the rams. If the prostitute had not fallen for the young man she would not have lost her life. And if the match maker had not encouraged lascivious acts she would not have lost her nose.”