On the Migration of Fables, by Max Müller, , at sacred-texts.com
I am enabled to add here a short account of an important discovery made by Professor Benfey with regard to the Syriac translation of our Collection of Fables. Doubts had been expressed by Sylvestre de Sacy and others, as to the existence of this translation, which was mentioned for the first time in Ebedjesu's catalogue of Syriac writers published by Abraham Ecchellensis, and again later by Assemani ("Biblioth. Orient.," tom. iii. part 1, p. 219). M. Renan, on the contrary, had shown that the title of this translation, as transmitted to us, "Kalilag and Damnag," was a guarantee of its historical authenticity. As a final k in Pehlevi becomes h in modern Persian, a title such as "Kalilag and Damnag," answering to "Kalilak and Damnak" in Pehlevi, in Sanskrit "Karataka and Damanaka," could only have been borrowed from the Persian before the Mohammedan era. Now that the interesting researches of Professor Benfey on this subject have been rewarded by the happy discovery of a Syriac translation, there remains but one point to be cleared up, viz., whether this is really the translation made by Bud Periodeutes, and whether this same translation was made, as Ebedjesu affirms, from the Indian text, or, as M. Renan supposes, from a Pehlevi version. I insert the account which Professor Benfey himself gave of his discovery in the Supplement to the "Allgemeine Zeitung" of July 12, 1871, and I may add that both text and translation are nearly ready for publication (1875).
The oldest MS. of the Pantschatantra.
Gottingen, July 6, 1871.
The account I am about to give will recall the novel of our celebrated compatriot Freytag ("Die verlorene Handschrift,"
or "The Lost MS."), but with this essential difference, that we are not here treating of a creation of the imagination, but of a real fact; not of the MS. of a work of which many other copies exist, but of an unique specimen; in short, of the MS. of a work which, on the faith of one single mention, was believed to have been composed thirteen centuries ago. This mention, however, appeared to many critical scholars so untrustworthy, that they looked upon it as the mere result of confusion. Another most important difference is, that this search, which has lasted three years, has been followed by the happiest results: it has brought to light a MS. which, even in this century, rich in important discoveries, deserves to be ranked as of the highest value. We have acquired in this MS. the oldest specimen preserved to our days of a work, which, as translated into various languages, has been more widely disseminated and has had a greater influence on the development of civilization than any other work, excepting the Bible.
But to the point.
Through the researches, which I have published in my edition of the Pantschatantra, 1 it is known that about the sixth century of our era, a work existed in India, which treated of deep political questions under the form of fables, in which the actors were animals. It contained various chapters; but these subdivisions were not, as had been hitherto believed, eleven to thirteen in number, but, as the MS. just found shows most clearly, there were at least twelve, perhaps thirteen or fourteen. This work was afterwards so entirely altered in India, that five of these divisions were separated from the other six or nine, and much enlarged, whilst the remaining ones were entirely set aside. This apparently curtailed, but really enlarged edition
of the old work, is the Sanskrit book so well known as the Pantschatantra, "The Five Books." It soon took the place, on its native soil, of the old work, causing the irreparable loss of the latter in India.
But before this change of the old work had been effected in its own land, it had, in the first half of the sixth century, been carried to Persia, and translated into Pehlevi under King Chosru Nuschirvan (531-579). According to the researches which I have described in my book already quoted, the results of which are fully confirmed by the newly discovered MS., it cannot be doubted that, if this translation had been preserved, we should have in it a faithful reproduction of the original Indian work, from which, by various modifications, the Pantschatantra is derived. But unfortunately this Pehlevi translation, like its Indian original, is irretrievably lost.
But it is known to have been translated into Arabic in the eighth century by a native of Persia, by name Abdallah ibn Almokaffa (d. 760), who had embraced Islamism, and it acquired, partly in this language, partly in translations and retranslations from it (apart from the recensions in India, which penetrated to East, North, and South Asia,) that extensive circulation which has caused it to exercise the greatest influence on civilization in Western Asia, and throughout Europe.
Besides this translation into Pehlevi, there was, according to one account, another, also of the sixth century, in Syriac. This account we owe to a Nestorian writer, who lived in the thirteenth century. He mentions in his catalogue of authors 1 a certain Bud Periodeutes, who probably about 570 had to inspect the Nestorian communities in Persia and India, and who says that, in addition to other books which he names, "he translated the book 'Qalilag and Damnag' from the Indian."
Until three years ago, not the faintest trace of this old
[paragraph continues] Syrian translation was to be found, and the celebrated Orientalist, Silvestre de Sacy, in the historical memoir which he prefixed to his edition of the Arabic translation, "Calila and Dimna" (Paris, 1816), thought himself justified in seeing in this mention a mere confusion between Barzûyeh, the Pehlevi translator, and a Nestorian Monk.
The first trace of this Syriac version was found in May, 1868. Ou the sixth of that month, Professor Bickell of Münster, the diligent promoter of Syrian philology, wrote to tell me that he had heard from a Syrian Archdeacon from Urumia, Jochannân bar Bâbisch, who had visited Münster in the spring to collect alms, and had returned there again in May, that, some time previously, several Chaldæan priests who had been visiting the Christians of St. Thomas in India, had brought back with them some copies of this Syriac translation, and had given them to the Catholic Patriarch in Elkosh (near Mossul). He had received one of these.
Though the news appeared so unbelievable and the character of the Syrian priest little calculated to inspire confidence in his statements, it still seemed to me of sufficient importance for rue to ask my friends to make further inquiries in India, where other copies ought still to be in existence. Even were the result but a decided negative, it would be a gain to science. These inquiries had no effect in proving the truth of the archdeacon's assertions; but, at the same time, they did not disprove them. It would of course have been more natural to make inquiries among the Syrians. But from want of friends and from other causes, which I shall mention further on, I could hardly hope for any certain results, and least of all, that if the MS. really existed, I could obtain it, or a copy of it.
The track thus appeared to be lost, and not possible to be followed up, when, after the lapse of nearly two years, Professor Bickell, in a letter of February 22, 1870, drew my attention to the fact that the Chaldæan Patriarch, Jussuf Audo, who, according to Jochannân bar Bâbisch, was in
possession of that translation, was now in Rome, as member of the Council summoned by the Pope.
Through Dr. Schöll of Weimar, then in Rome, and one Italian savant, Signor Ignazio Guidi, I was put into communication with the Patriarch, and with another Chaldæan priest, Bishop Qajjât, and received communications, the latest of June 11, 1870, which indeed proved the information of Jochannân bar Bâbisch to be entirely untrustworthy; but at the same time pointed to the probable existence of a MS. of the Syriac translation at Mardîn.
I did not wait for the last letters, which might have saved the discoverer much trouble, but might also have frustrated the whole inquiry; but, as soon as I had learnt the place where the MS. might be, I wrote, May 6, 1870, exactly two years after the first trace of the MS. had been brought to light, to my former pupil and friend, Dr. Albert Socin of Basle, who was then in Asia on a scientific expedition, begging him to make the most careful inquiries in Mardîn about this MS., and especially to satisfy himself whether it had been derived from the Arabian translation, or was independent of and older than the latter. We will let Dr. Socin, the discoverer of the MS., tell us himself of his efforts and their results.
"I received your letter of May 6, 1870, a few days ago, by Bagdad and Mossul, at Yacho on the Chabôras. You say that you had heard that the book was in the library at Mardîn. I must own that I doubted seriously the truth of the information, for Oriental Christians always say that they possess every possible book, whilst in reality they have but few. I found this on my journey through the 'Christian Mountain,' the Tûr el’ ‘Abedîn, where I visited many places and monasteries but little known. I only saw Bibles in Estrangelo character, which were of value, nowhere profane books; but the people are so fanatical, and watch their books so closely, that it is very difficult to get sight of any thing; and one has to keep them in good humor. Unless after a long sojourn, and with the aid of bribery, there can
never be any thought of buying anything from a monastic library. Arrived in Mardîn, I set myself to discover the book. I naturally passed by all Moslem libraries, as Syriac books only exist among the Christians. I settled at first that the library in question could only be the Jacobite Cloister, 'Der ez Zàferân,' the most important centre of the Christians of Mardîn. I therefore sent to the Patriarch of Diarbekir for most particular introductions. and started for 'Der ez Zàferân,' which lies in the mountains, 5½ hours from Mardîn. The recommendations opened the library to me. I looked through four hundred volumes, without finding anything; there was not much of any value. On my return to Mardîn, I questioned people right and left; no one knew anything about it. At length I summoned up courage one day, and went to the Chaldæan monastery. The different sects in Mardîn are most bitter against each other, and as I unfortunately lodged in the house of an American missionary, it was very difficult for me to gain access to these Catholics, who were unknown to me. Luckily my servant was a Catholic, and could state that I had no proselytizing schemes. After a time I asked about their books; Missals and Gospels were placed before me; I asked if they had any books of Fables. 'Yes, there was one there.' After a long search in the dust, it was found and brought to me. I opened it, and saw at the first glance, in red letters, 'Qalîlag and Damnag,' with the old termination g, which proved to me that the work was not translated from the Arabic 'Calila ve Dimnah.' You may be certain that I did not show what I felt. I soon laid the book quietly down. I had indeed before asked the monk specially for 'Kalila and Dimna,' and with some persistency, before I inquired generally for books of fables; but he had not the faintest suspicion that the book before him was the one so eagerly sought after. After about a week or ten days, in order to arouse no suspicion, I sent a trustworthy man to borrow the book; but he was asked at once if it were for the 'Fréngi den Prot' (Protestant), and my
confidant was so good as to deny it, 'No, it was for himself.' I then examined the book more carefully. Having it safely in my possession, I was not alarmed at the idea of a little hubbub. I therefore made inquiries, but in all secret, whether they would sell it. 'No, never,' was the answer I expected and received, and the idea that I had borrowed it for myself was revived. I therefore began to have a copy made. But I was obliged to leave Mardîn and even the neighboring Diarbekir, before I received the copy. In Mardîn itself the return of the book was loudly demanded, as soon as they knew I was having it copied. I was indeed delighted when, through the kindness of friends, post tot discrimina rerum I received the book at Aleppo."
So far writes my friend, the fortunate discoverer, who, as early as the 19th of August, 1870, announced in a letter the happy recovery of the book. On April 20, 1871, he kindly sent it to me from Basle.
This is not the place to descant on the high importance of this discovery. It is only necessary to add that there is not the least doubt that it has put us in possession of the old Syriac translation, of which Ebedjesur speaks. There is only one question still to be settled, whether it is derived direct from the Indian, or through the Pehlevi translation? In either case it is the oldest preserved rendering of the original, now lost in India, and therefore of priceless value.
The fuller treatment of this and other questions, which spring from this discovery, will find a place in the edition of the text, with translation and commentary, which Professor Bickell is preparing in concert with Dr. Hoffman and myself.
182:1 Pantschatantra; Fünf Bücher indischer Fabeln. Märchen und Erzählungen. Aus dem Sanskrit übersetzt mit Einleitung and Anmerkungen, 2 Theile, Leipzig, 1859; and particularly in the first part, the introduction, called "Ueber das Indische Grundwerk, and dessen Ausflüsse, so wie über die Quellen and die Verbreitung des Inhalts derselben."
183:1 Cf. Assemani, Biblioth. Orient. iii. 1, 220, and Renan, in the Journal Asiatique, Cinq. Série, t. vii. 1856, p. 251.