KALILAH WA-DIMNAH (known also as Fables of Bidpai):

Book of Indian fables which has been translated into most of the languages of the Old World. It appears to have been composed in India, about 300 C.E., as a Brahmin rival to the Buddhist fable-books, and includes variants of several of the jatakas, or Buddha birth-stories. It was translated into Pahlavi about 570, and thence traveled westward through Arabic sources. According to Abraham ibn Ezra, quoted by Steinschneider ("Z. D. M. G." xxiv. 327), it was translated directly from the Sanskrit into Arabic by the Jew (Joseph?) who is said to have brought the Indian numerals from India. Whether this be true or not, the passage from Arabic into the European languages was, in each of the three chief channels, conducted by Jewishscholars. The Greek version was done by Simeon Seth, a Jewish physician at the Byzantine court in the eleventh century (see, however, Steinschneider, "Hebr. Uebers." p. 873, No. 148), and from this were derived the Slavonic and the Croat versions. The old Spanish version was probably translated about 1250 by the Jewish translators of Alfonso the Good; this led to a Latin version. But the chief source of the European versions of Bidpai was a Hebrew one made by a certain Rabbi Joel, of which a Latin rendering was made by John of Capua, a converted Jew, under the title "Directorium Vite Humane"; from this were derived Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch, and English versions. In addition to this of Rabbi Joel's, another Hebrew version exists—by Rabbi Eleazar b. Jacob (1283); both these versions have been edited by Joseph Derenbourg (Paris, 1881), who issued also an edition of the "Directorium Vite Humane" (ib. 1887).

It has been claimed that nearly one-tenth of the most popular European folk-tales are derived from one or other of these translations of the "Kalilah wa-Dimnah," among them being the story of Patty and her milk-pail ("La Perrette" in Lafontaine), from which is derived the proverb, "Do not count your chickens before they are hatched." Many of the popular beast-tales and some of the elements of Reynard the Fox also occur in this Indian book of tales. Much learning has been devoted to the investigation of the distribution of these tales throughout European folk-literature, especially by Jewish scholars: by T. Benfey, in the introduction to his translation of the "Pantchatantra," a later Sanskrit edition of the "Kalilah wa-Dimnah"; by M. Landau, in his "Quellen des Decamerone"; by Derenbourg, in his editions of the Latin and Hebrew texts; and by Steinschneider. The Hebrew versions are quoted by Zerahiah ha-Yewani, Kalonymus (in the "Eben Boḥan"), Abraham b. Solomon, Abraham Bibago, and Isaac ibn Zahula (who wrote his "Meshal ha-Ḳadmoni" to wean the Jewish public away from "Kalilah wa-Dimnah").

  • Steinschneider, Hebr. Uebers. pp. 872-883;
  • Jacobs, Fables of Bidpai, Introduction, pp. xxvii.-xxviii., London, 1888.
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