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The Parables of Barlaam and Joasaph











[LONDON, 1891]

{Reduced to HTML by Christopher M. Weimer, August 2002}

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ART. X.—The Parables of Barlaam and Joasaph. By ROBERT CHALMERS, B.A., M.R.A.S.



THOUGH declining to pronounce on the origin and history of the fables of "Barlaam and Joasaph" until the Buddhist Játakas have been translated from the Pali, M. Zotenberg has been at pains to collect these fables and to edit them with a revised Greek text as an appendix to his "Notice sur le livre de Barlaam et Joasaph" (Paris, 1886). A translation of his text is here given; and for the convenience of students of comparative folk-lore,1 I have added a translation, from Boissonade's text in "Anecdota Græca," of further passages bearing on the life of Joasaph. The passages in square brackets [   ] are those from Boissonade; the numbers at the head of the remaining sections corresponding to the numbers of the sections of M. Zotenberg's text.

   As regards date and authorship of the book, the conclusions of M. Zotenberg are that it was not written by St. John of Jerusalem, but (as most of the ancient manuscripts state) "a été apporté dans la ville sainte (i.e. Jerusalem) par un moine du convent de St. Saba nommé Jean." As the monastery founded by St. Euthymus was only restored in A.D. 491 by St. Saba, and as no mention of Mahomedanism occurs in the category of faiths mentioned by the author of "Barlaam and Joasaph," the date of the book must be either the sixth or the beginning of the seventh century A.D. On doctrinal and other internal evidence the date is probably about A.D. 630.

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   As regards the origin and history of the book, I venture to think that it is the life of Joasaph (or "Bodisat") which is the important matter, even more than the interpolated fables. In a further paper I propose to consider the life of Joasaph in the light of the several accounts of the life of the Buddha, and to trace the early history of the fables.

   [Now when monasteries commenced to spring up in Egypt and monks to assemble in great numbers, and when the report of their virtue and angelic life began to spread to the ends of the earth and came to the Indians, it aroused these latter also to like zeal, so that many of them, leaving all, took to the wilderness, and, whilst still of mortal mould, showed forth the state of angels.

   Whilst matters fared thus well, and numbers were winging their way to heaven on golden wings (as the saying is), there arose a king in that same land, Abennēr by name, who grew great in wealth and power and in victory over his adversaries, and won glory in war, and was proud of his great stature and beauty of features, revelling in the marvels that are of this world and will fade all too quickly. But great king as he was, be was oppressed in his soul by the direst poverty and vexed by many evils, being of the Greek (i.e. pagan) faction and abject in the error of idol-worship. Now though he lived in great luxury and enjoyment of the joys and pleasures of life, never being thwarted in any of his wishes and desires, there was one thing in which his gladness was marred and his soul filled with cares, namely, the misfortune of being childless. For being without offspring, he was most anxious to be free from such a limitation, and to be called a father of children—an end which most men compass very readily.]

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   Hearing this, that man of God1 made suave but steadfast reply, as follows: "If, sire, it be your wish to confer with me, first remove your enemies from your court, and then I will make answer concerning whatsoever you may seek to learn. For, whilst those enemies are by your side, I have naught to say to your majesty. Saying naught, let me be punished, put to death, and dealt with as you will, 'For unto me,' says my Master, 'the world has been crucified, and I unto the world.'"2 Then when the King asked who these enemies were whom he was to remove, the man of God answered, "Anger and Desire. For as these were originally implanted by the Creator to abet the natural man, even such is their action now too, in the case of all that are governed not according to the Flesh but according to the Spirit. To all such of you as are wholly Flesh and share not in the Spirit, they have proved themselves adversaries, and labour in the cause of your enemies and foes. For Desire, as it excites pleasure when in activity, so it excites Anger when ungratified and inactive. Let these two, therefore, be put from you this day; and let Understanding and Justice preside at the tribunal, to hear and to judge this cause. For, if you will lay aside Anger and Desire, and will substitute for them Understanding and Justice, I will tell you everything as truth dictates."

   [Now, when the ex-Satrap had departed to the wilderness again, the King being still more incensed, set about a fiercer persecution of monasticism, whilst he paid greater honour to the ministers and priests of the idols. And whilst the King was in this fearful error and delusion, a son was born to him, a child of great loveliness, whose infantine beauty foreshadowed the future man. For it was said that never in that country had one been seen so extremely handsome p. 426 and beautiful. Filled with very great joy at the birth of his son, the King named him Joasaph, and went in person to the idols' temples to pay sacrifices, in his senseless folly, to gods even more senseless, and to offer up hymns of thanksgiving, knowing not Who is the Giver of all good things, unto Whom should be offered the sacrifice of the spirit.

   Whilst the festivities over the child's birth were still in progress, they brought to the King some five-and-fifty chosen men, learned in the astrological knowledge of the Chaldeans. And the King, placing them very close to himself, proceeded to ask them to declare each of them what would be the destiny of the son born to him. After much consideration they answered that he would be great, both in riches and in power, and was destined to surpass all the kings before him. But one of the astrologers, the most distinguished of them all, said, "From what the courses of the stars tell me, Sire, the advancement of the child now born to you belongs not to this kingdom of yours, but to another kingdom infinitely superior. And I consider that he will embrace the religion of the Christians whom you are persecuting, nor do I for my part think that he will be foiled of his aim and hope." Thus spake the astrologer, as of old spake Baalam; not because astrology speaks true, but because God was showing the truth by its opposite, so as to rob the ungodly of every excuse.]



   When he heard this, the King was sore distressed at the news; and sorrow began to abate his wonted gladness. Nevertheless, in a quiet retired town, he built a palace of great beauty, with fair chambers richly decorated, wherein he set his son to dwell. Further, the King ordered that the prince was not to set foot outside the palace after his earliest childhood. The tutors and servants whom the King appointed were all young and very handsome, and their mandate from the King was not to allow the prince to see any of the loathly sights of life, such as old-age, p. 427 disease, poverty, and all other sad shows which might abate the prince's gladness. Instead, they were to present to his view all things pleasant and delightful, in order that his mind, taking pleasure and revelling therein, might have no force left to speculate on the future, and that not a syllable about Christ and His creed should reach the ears of the prince. For, beyond everything else, it was the King's peculiar anxiety to keep Christianity a secret from his son, because of his secret dread of the astrologer's prophecy.

   If any of the attendants chanced to fall ill, the King used to order him to be removed from the precincts at once, and replaced him by one who was quite healthy and well,—all to prevent his son from seeing any strange and startling sight.



   Now the king's son, about whom our story set out originally to speak, grew up to adolescence within the palace prepared for him, without ever setting foot outside. He had gone through all the learning of the Æthiopians and Persians, and in soul no less than in body showed perfection and beauty, sense and understanding, and a brilliant array of all good endowments. So profound were the questions touching Nature which he propounded to his teachers that they were astounded at the boy's subtlety and wit, whilst the king, too, marvelled both at the loveliness of his face and the beautiful nature of his soul within. And the King continued to charge those about the prince not to let him come to have the slightest inkling of the loathly things of life or of the doom of all our delights to give place to death. But vain were the hopes on which he leaned—essaying to shoot at the heavens, as the proverb has it. For how could the idea of death have possibly eluded human nature? At any rate, it did not elude this young boy. For he, bringing all his intelligence to bear upon the question, set himself to consider privately the reasons why the King refused to let him ever set foot outside the palace, and did not admit p. 428 all who wished to have access to his son. For of himself the prince knew that all this was by the King's command. Yet be did not like to ask the King, holding that it was impossible that his father aimed at anything but his son's welfare, and arguing that, if this were his father's design; questioning him would fail to elicit the truth. Hence the prince resolved to get his knowledge not from his father, but from others. Now one of his tutors was nearer and dearer to him than all the rest, being treated with closer intimacy and honoured with more costly presents; and from this man the prince set about enquiring what was the King's object in mewing him up within those walls. "Explain this to me," said he, "and you shall be my favourite beyond all others, and I will make a league with you of everlasting friendship." Now the tutor, who was himself, too, a man of sense, and knew the intelligence and perfect understanding of the boy, and was assured that he would be exposed to no peril by his young charge, related the whole story to him from beginning to end, telling the prince of the persecution which the King had waged against the Christians, and particularly against the ascetics, and how they had been driven out and expelled from that country, and what prophecies had been uttered by the astrologers when the prince was born. "In order, therefore," said the tutor, "that you might not hear their teachings and come to prefer their religion to ours, the King was careful that your associates should not be many but definite in number, and he gave us commands not to let any of the loathly things of life come to your knowledge."

   Having heard this, the youth forebore to speak further; but his heart was touched by the Word of Salvation, and the Grace of the Comforter set to work to open the eyes of his mind, leading him by the hand to the true God in order that the Word going before might reveal Him. Very frequently the King, his father, came to see his son, for he loved him with an exceeding affection; and one day his son said, "I wanted to ask you one thing, my lord and master, as to which grief unending and ceaseless care devours my p. 429 heart." Filled with inward grief at the mere words, the King said, "Tell me, my darling son, what the grief is that possesses you, and I will try to change it quickly into joy." The boy answered, "What confinement is this of mine here that you have imprisoned me within walls and gates, and suffer me not to go abroad or to be seen publicly?" Said the father, "I desire, my son, that you should see nothing likely to sadden your heart or abate your gladness. For it is my aim that you should live your whole life lapped in ceaseless delight and joy and pleasure." "Oh, but be well assured, sire," answered the boy, "that this present life of mine is not filled with joy and pleasure to me; nay, rather it is filled with sorrow and tribulation, so that my very meat and drink seem distasteful and bitter. For I yearn to see all that lies outside these gates. If, then, you wish me not to live in pain, give orders that I am to go forth at my pleasure and to gladden my heart with the sight of what has been invisible to me hitherto." Grief filled the King's heart when he heard this, and he began to ponder how, if he were to refuse his son's request, he would bring on the boy still greater harm and sorrow. So he made answer, "I will do what you desire, my son," and gave orders that a special chariot should be at once made ready and a king's escort to attend it. Then he directed that the prince should be at liberty to ride out whenever he wished, and charged the prince's companions not to confront him with anything repulsive, but to point out to the boy everything beautiful and delightful. Companies of minstrels were to dance and sing in harmonious unison along the highways, and plays of great beauty were to be performed, so that his mind might be absorbed therein and filled with pleasure. When he was in the frequent habit of going out thus at random along the roads, the King's son saw one day, through the carelessness of his attendants, two men, of whom the one was maimed and the other blind. Seeing them and being pained at heart by the sight, he said to those with him, "Who are these, and what means their unpleasant appearance?" And his attendants, being unable p. 430 to conceal what had come before his eyes, replied, "These are states of human suffering such as are wont to assail mortals as the result of corrupt substance and an ill-humoured body." Said the boy, "Do all men alike usually come to this?" "No; not all," was the answer; "only those who lose their health because of the malignancy of their humours." So the boy set about questioning them again, saying, "If not all, but only some men come to this, are the individuals known beforehand who will be attacked by these horrors? or is the attack undefined in scope and unforeseen?" Said they, "Who among men can know the secrets of the future and have sure knowledge thereof? For this is too great for man, and has fallen to the lot of the immortal gods alone." Then the prince ceased from his questioning, but pained was his heart at what he had seen; and a change came over his countenance because of the strangeness of the thing.

   Not many days later as he was again passing along, he chanced upon an aged man, very full of years, wizen in face, tottering in the legs, and bent double; he was white with age, his teeth were gone, and his speech was broken and stammering. Amazement, therefore, seized the prince, and, bringing the old man near, he began to ask to know the marvel he saw. Then said those with him, "This man has now reached extreme age; and as his strength kept waning little by little, and as his limbs grew feeble, he passed unawares into the wretched plight you see." "And what," asked the boy, "is the end of this?" Said they, "The next and only change is death." "Pray tell me; does this fate await all men alike," asked the prince, "or only some?" They answered and said, "Unless death anticipate and bear off a man hence, it is impossible, as years roll on, not to come to have experience of this condition." Said the prince, "After how many years then does this come upon a man? And tell me if death is the doom always, and if there is no means of evading it and also of escaping this misery." They answered, "In eighty or a hundred years men glide into this senility, and then p. 431 die, no alternative being given. For death is a natural debt laid on mankind in the beginning, and inexorable is death's coming."

   Now, when the clever and intelligent youth had seen and heard all this, he said, with groanings from the depths of his heart, "Bitter is this life and full of all pain and wretchedness, if this be so. And how shall a man be free from care for thinking of unknowable death, whose coming is not only inexorable but also unknowable, and not to be foretold, as you say?" And he went away turning all this over in his mind, and unceasingly pondering thereon, and reminding himself again and again of death, his life being wedded thenceforth to trouble and despondency, and possessed with ceaseless sorrow. For he said in himself, "Shall I one day fall a prey to death? And who will hold me in remembrance after death, seeing that time hands over all things to oblivion? And if I die, shall I be dissolved into nothingness? or is there any other life, and another and a different world?"



   For it chanced that at that time there was a certain wise monk, who glorified God both in his life and with his mouth, and had passed through all monastic training. Whence he came, and what his lineage was, I cannot say; but he had taken up his abode in a desert of the land of Senaar,1 and had become perfect in the grace of the holy state. Barlaam was the name of this old man.

   He then it was, who, learning about the king's son by a revelation from God, came out of the wilderness to where men dwelt. Changing his own monastic garb for a lay dress, and embarking on a vessel, he came to the kingdom of India. Then in the guise of a merchant he made his way to the city where the palace was of the king's son. After residing there for many days, he made precise enquiries concerning the prince and the people about him. Learning, p. 432 therefore, that beyond all others the aforesaid tutor was near and dear to the prince, he went to him and said privily, "I would have you to know, my lord, that I am a merchant from a far country, and that I have a precious stone the like of which has never been discovered before. Up till now I have shown it to no man, but I disclose it to you (whom I see to be a man of intelligence and sense), in order that you may bring me before the king's son and that I may present it to him. For, unquestionably, nothing can match it for beauty. It has power to give the light of wisdom to the blind in heart, to open the ears of the deaf, to give speech to the dumb, and strength to the sick. The foolish it makes wise, demons it drives out, and furnishes all things good and fair without stint to its possessor." Said the tutor to him, "I was taking you for a man of settled and solid mind. But your words prove you an unmeasured braggart. For, as to stones and pearls of great price and value, how could I recount all I have seen? Yet never did I either see or hear tell of one with such virtues as you say. Nevertheless, show it me, and if it tallies with your description, I will take it in at once to the prince, and you shall have the highest honours and presents at his hands. But before I have fortified myself by the sure witness of my own eyes, I cannot carry this preposterous report about an unseen thing to my prince and master." Barlaam made answer, "Truly did you say that you have never yet either seen or heard tell of such powers and virtues. For what I tell you relates not to an ordinary thing, but to a great marvel. And for that you sought to see this stone, hearken to my words. This precious stone possesses with the aforesaid powers and virtues this further quality, namely, that it cannot be seen, even when straight before him, by any man who has not both strong and healthy vision and a body chaste and wholly undefiled. For if a man who falls short in these two points, gaze unabashed upon this precious stone, of a sooth he shall further lose the vision he has and his senses. Now, I, who am not unversed in physicians' lore, see that your eyes are not p. 433 without blemish, and I fear to rob you even of the sight you have. But I have heard that the king's son is both chaste of life and endowed with perfect eyes of healthy vision. This is why I have not feared to show him this treasure. So go not astray in this matter, and rob not your master of such a treasure."

   To him the tutor replied, "Well, if this be the case, do not show me the stone. For my life has been defiled by many sins, and my sight too, as you say, is not sound. But, being persuaded by your words, I will not shrink from making this known to my lord and master." With these words he went in and related everything point by point to the prince. And when the latter heard the tutor's story, he felt joy and spiritual gladness breathe in upon his heart, and, as though inspired by God, bade the man be brought in at once.

   When, therefore, Barlaam came in and gave him due salutation of peace, the prince allowed him to be seated. Then when the tutor had retired, Joasaph said to the old man, "Show me the precious stone to which my tutor tells me you attribute such great and marvellous properties."

   So Barlaam began his discourse in these words, "It is not right, sire, for me to utter an untrue or ill-considered word before your Highness' exceeding majesty. For all that has been communicated to you from me is true and beyond dispute. Yet, unless I first make proof of your understanding, I am forbidden to reveal the mystery."



   For there was a great and glorious king, and it fell out that, as he was riding along in his gold-studded chariot with a royal escort, he met two men clad in filthy rags with pallid, pinched faces. Now the king recognized that they were wasted away by reason of their contemning the body and mortifying the flesh with asceticism. As soon therefore as he saw them, he leapt down straightway from his chariot p. 434 and fell upon the ground in all reverence. Rising from the ground he embraced them, and gave them a most loving welcome. This shocked his magnates and nobles, who thought the king's action derogatory to his royal majesty. Yet not daring to rebuke their sovereign to his face, they moved his brother-german to tell the king not to degrade his kingly dignity thus. When the brother urged this on the king and took him to task for his ill-advised self-abasement, the king gave him an answer which the brother did not understand. For the king had a custom whenever he was minded to sentence any one to death, to send a herald to the doomed man's gates with a trumpet kept purposely for this service. Its note told all that the man was under doom of death. Accordingly, when evening came on, the king sent the trumpet of death to sound at the gates of his brother's house. So when this latter heard the trumpet of death, he despaired of his life, and spent the whole night in putting his affairs in order. At daybreak he came in black mourning garments with his wife and children to the gates of the royal palace, weeping and wailing. Taking him in and seeing him thus lamenting, the king said, 'Foolish and senseless man, if you were so terrified by the messenger of your own brother of like rank with yourself, towards whom you know yourself to be void of offence, how was it you upbraided me for greeting with humility the messengers of my God, who, more clearly than those trumpet's notes, signify to me death and the dread meeting with my Lord, against whom I know that I have sinned often and sinned deeply? Know that it was to expose your folly that I adopted this stratagem. And in like manner I will convict of folly forthwith those who egged you on to censure me.' With this treatment and marks of his favour the king sent his brother home.

   The king ordered four boxes of wood to be made. Two he cased in gold all over, and, first filling them with the stinking bones of corpses, secured them with golden fastenings. The other two he daubed over with pitch and p. 435 bitumen, and filled them with precious stones and pearls of great price and all fragrances of myrrh and frankincense, tying them up with common cords. Then he summoned the magnates who censured him for his greeting to the two ascetics, and set before them the four boxes that they might estimate the respective value of each pair. And the magnates proceeded to give their opinion that the gold-plated boxes were of infinite value, 'For, maybe,' says one, 'they contain royal tiaras and girdles, whilst those daubed over with pitch and bitumen are of sorry, trifling worth.'

   Said the king to them, 'I know as well as you that you are making these remarks. For you judge the object of sense by the organs of sense. But this is not the right way. Rather you should look with your inward eyes on the worth or worthlessness treasured up within.' Then he ordered the gold-plated boxes to be opened, and awful was the stench that issued from them, and horrible the sight their opening disclosed. Therefore the king said, 'This is a type of those that are clad in rich and glorious raiment, and are puffed up with much glory and dominion, but inwardly are festering corpses and evil doing.' Next, bidding the pitch and bitumen boxes to be disclosed, he gladdened the whole circle by the sheen and fragrance of their contents. And he said to them, 'Know you whom these are like? They are like unto those humble men in poor clothing, whose outward aspect prompted you to think scorn of my prostrating myself to the earth before them. But I, perceiving with the mind's eye the worth and beauty of their souls, was honoured by their touch, and held them to be of greater worth than all crowns and imperial purple.' Thus he put them to shame, and taught them not to be led astray by mere outward appearances, but to concentrate their attention on underlying realities.



   The worshippers of idols are like the fowler who caught one of the small birds, called a nightingale. But as he took p. 436 his knife to kill and eat it, articulate speech was given to the nightingale, and it addressed the fowler as follows: 'What good will my death be to you, man? For I shall not enable you to fill your stomach. Now, if you will free me from this gin, I will impart to you three maxims, rules the observance of which will profit you all your life long.' Astounded at the bird finding speech, he promised, if the bird told him anything new, to set it free from durance. Then the nightingale turned to the man and said, 'Never attempt impossibilities; never fret over the past; never believe the incredible. Observe just these three maxims and it will be well with you.' Marvelling at the terse wisdom of the bird, the fowler loosed it from its bonds and let it fly away. Curious to know if the man grasped the force of its counsel and had profited thereby, the bird said to him as it winged its way through its native air, 'Alack for your folly, man! What a treasure you have lost to-day! Know that in my inwards there is a pearl bigger than an ostrich's egg.' Hearing this, the fowler was overcome with grief, repenting sore that the nightingale had escaped his hand. In an endeavour to catch it again, he said, 'Come into my house, and I will be very kind to you and send you away loaded with honour.' Said the nightingale, 'Now I know you to be a downright fool. Though you listened so intently and heard me so gladly, you derived no profit from what I told you. I told you never to fret over what was past and gone; and here are you overcome with grief, because I am escaped from your hands. This is fretting over the past. Next, I charged you not to attempt impossibilities, and you try to catch me though you cannot reach my airy pathways. Furthermore, I also enjoined you not to believe the incredible. And lo! you believed that in my inwards there was a pearl bigger than my body, and had not the wit to understand that the whole of me is not equal to the size of an ostrich's egg. How then was I able to contain within me so big a pearl?'

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   Therefore, those who are so enslaved to a cruel and wicked tyrant, alienating themselves to their souls' hurt from the good Master who loves men; those who clutch at temporal things and are wedded thereto, never taking thought of things to come; who unceasingly pant after bodily enjoyments and allow their souls to waste away with hunger and be afflicted with countless evils; these men I conceive to be like a man who, fleeing from the presence of a mad unicorn, and being unable to bear the noise of its roaring and its horrible bellowing, has fled headlong to escape falling a prey to the beast, and, as he runs along so hotly, has fallen head over heels into a great pit. But as he fell, he stretched out his arrns, and clutching a tree held tightly on to it. Firmly planting his feet on a foothold, he seemed to be in peace and safety thenceforward. But looking down, he saw two mice, one white and one black, ceaselessly engaged in gnawing through the root of the tree to which he clung, and just on the point of cutting through it. Then casting his eyes down to the bottom of the pit, he saw a dragon of terrible aspect, breathing forth flames and glaring with inconceivable fierceness, yawning horribly with its mouth, and thirsting to swallow him up. And again, as he strained his glance upon the foothold which supported him, he saw four serpents' heads issuing from the wall to which he had clung! Then, looking upward, he saw a little honey trickling down from the branches of the tree. Thereupon, casting from him all thought of the dangers which encompassed him, heedless of how, without, the unicorn in its fell fury sought to devour him, whilst, beneath, the grim dragon had its jaws open to swallow him up; heedless of how the tree which he grasped was all but cut through, and of how his feet rested on a slippery and treacherous support; yes, fondly forgetting all these terrible horrors, his whole attention was bent upon the sweetness of that little honey.

   This is the similitude of those who cleave to the deceits p. 438 of this life, and I will forthwith tell you its interpretation. The unicorn shall be a type of Death, which is ever pursuing and ever straining to catch the race of Adam. The pit is the world, full of all manner of evils and deadly snares. The tree to which the man clung, and which was unceasingly being gnawed through by the two mice, is the race-course whereon each man's life is run, which is spent and expended by the hours of Day and Night, and little by little draws near its final severance. The four serpents symbolize the constitution of the human body as based on four fleeting and unstable elements, the disorder and disorganization of which destroy the constitution of the body. Moreover, the fiery ravening dragon typifies the fearful maw of hell which is all agog to engulf those who prefer temporal pleasures to the blessings to come. And the drip of honey signifies the sweetness of the world's pleasures, that sweetness whereby the world deludes its lovers and debars them from taking forethought for their own salvation.



   Said the old man, "Again, those who love this world's delights and are steeped in its sweets, those who prefer what is fleeting and frail to the secure and abiding bliss to come, are like a certain man who had three friends, two of whom he used exceedingly to honour and cherish as friends, championing them even with his life, and wooing peril for their sake. Whereas to the third he used to bear himself disdainfully, never deeming him worthy of honour or of the love that was his due, but showing him little or no friendship. Now one day he was seized by terrible and lawless soldiers, who proceeded to haul him in all haste before the king to answer for a debt of a thousand talents! In his need he set himself to seek a helper to stand by him in his dreaded reckoning before the king. Running therefore to his first and most intimate friend of all, he said, 'You know, friend, how I have ever exposed my life for you. p. 439 Now, yes this very day, I require help in my pressing need. To what extent do you promise to stand by me now? And what may I hope at your hands, my dearest friend?' Then the other answered and said, 'I am no friend of yours my man. I do not know who you are. I have other friends with whom I must make merry to-day and secure their future friendship. See, I let you have two old coats to take with you on your way, though they will be no earthly good to you. But don't imagine you have any further hopes from me whatsoever. Hearing this and realizing that he had failed to get the help he was hoping for, away he went to the second friend and said, 'You remember, comrade, the honour and goodwill I always paid you. Well, to-day being fallen into distress and very great calamity, I need a supporter. How far can you back me? Let me know at once.' And the other replied, 'I have no time to-day to stand by you; for, like you, I am in trouble and difficulties myseIf, and hard put to it. None the less I will go a little way with you, even though I shall not do you any good. I must soon turn back home again and busy myself with my own personal cares, which absorb the whole of my attention and time.' So returning empty-handed from his second as from his first friend, and knowing not what on earth to do, the man began to bewail the vanity of his expectations from those ungrateful friends, and lamented the unprofitable sacrifices he had undergone for their love. Last of all, he went to the third friend, whom he had never courted or bidden to share his jollity. To him he said with shamefaced and downcast look, 'I cannot open my lips to address you, knowing as I do so well that you have no memory of kindnesses or affection shown you by me. Still, inasmuch as I am beset by the direst calamity, and as I found no hope of saving myself anywhere among the rest of my friends, I am come to you in my importunity, to see if you have power to give me a little assistance. Do not refuse me in indignation at my former lack of kindly feeling towards you.' The other replied, with a cheery and gracious countenance, 'Nay, indeed, I call you my p. 440 most genuine friend, and remembering that small service of yours, will repay it this day with interest. Have no fear or alarm, for I will go on ahead of you and importune the king in your behalf; rest assured that I will never deliver you into the hands of your enemies. Be of good courage, my dearest friend, and give over sorrowing.' Thereon the poor man was pricked to the heart and said with tears, 'Alack! where shall I make beginning of my weeping and of my regrets? Shall I repent me of my infatuation for those ungrateful, thankless, and false friends? Or shall I cry out upon the degraded indifference which I displayed to this true and genuine friend?'" Now Joasaph, who had listened to this story too with wonderment, proceeded to ask its interpretation. And Barlaam said, "The first friend may be taken to be superfluity of riches and love of money-making, for which man plunges into countless dangers and faces manifold hardships. But when the last summons of Death comes, he receives nothing from all these save the worthless rags needed for his burial. The second friend is a name for wife and children and all other relations and intimates, to whom we cling so fondly that we can scarce be torn from them, showing ourselves careless of our very soul and body because of our love for them. Yet no profit did any man ever have of them in the hour of death—save that they barely accompany him to the tomb and then straightway turn back and absorb themselves in their own trouble and difficulties, burying the memory of their whilom dear one as deeply in oblivion as they buried his body in the grave. But the third friend, on the contrary, who was overlooked and held cheap, who was not visited, but avoided and shunned as it were, he is the fellowship of good works, such as faith, hope, love, mercy, loving-kindness, and the rest of the band of the virtues, which can go before us as we are quitting the body and importune the Lord in our behalf, ransoming us from our enemies and from the dread exactors who ply us in the air with the dread summons to pay, and cruelly seek to get mastery over us. This is that amiable and good p. 441 friend who bears faithfully in mind even our modicum of well-doing, and is minded to repay it all to us with interest."



   Hearken to a similitude of this matter also. I have heard of a great city whose citizens had observed from olden times a custom of taking some unknown stranger, perfectly ignorant of the laws and usages of their city, and of setting him up as king over them, with full enjoyment of entire authority and with unfettered power to carry out his own will until the completion of a year's time. Then, all of a sudden, while the man was quite at his ease and unsuspectingly revelling and luxuriating, fancying he would remain king all his life long, it was the practice of the citizens to rise against him, and, stripping him of his royal apparel, to parade him stark naked through the city, ending up with banishing him as an outlaw to a large island afar off. In this island, for lack of supplies of food and raiment, the whilom king suffered anguish from hunger and nakedness, the luxury and delights which had unexpectedly been given him being transformed again to sorrow, contrary to all his hopes and expectations.

   According, therefore, to the native custom of these citizens, a certain man was set up to be king whose judgment was adorned with perfect understanding. He was not carried away by the sudden advancement which had attended him, nor did he vie with the lack of forethought of his royal predecessors now miserably banished; on the contrary, he was always alert and on the watch to see how he could ensure his welfare. Now, by the persistent search for accurate information, he learned through a very wise councillor the custom of the citizens and the place of perpetual exile, and was shown clearly how he ought to safeguard himself. When, therefore, he knew this and learned that the island was on the point of receiving him, p. 442 and that he must leave to other newcomers the throne which he had possessed but which was not his own, he straightway opened the treasuries (of which meantime he had free and unfettered control) and took thence money in abundance and an enormous quantity of gold and silver bullion and precious stones. This he entrusted to devoted slaves and sent them on with the treasure in advance to the island to which he was to be banished. At the close of the appointed year the citizens rose and transported him all naked, like his predecessors before him, to banishment. Wherefore, whilst the rest of the kings, who were stupid and lived but for the day, were starving miserably, this man, thanks to the wealth he had stored up in advance of his coming, lived a life of unbroken ease in the lap of inexhaustible luxury, and, relieved entirely from the fear of the turbulent and wicked citizens, ceased not to congratulate himself on his shrewd wisdom.

   Understand, then, by the city this vain and deceitful world; by the citizens the princes and potentates of the devils, the world-rulers of the darkness of this life, who angle for us with the ease of pleasure and egg us on to regard as incorruptible what is transitory and corruptible as though our enjoyment thereof would last eternally and always be with us. If then we are deceived thus and take no heed concerning the things eternal, neither lay up provision for ourselves against the after life, sudden destruction falls upon us, the destruction of death.



   For I have heard that there was a certain king who ruled his kingdom very righteously, and treated his subjects with gentleness and mildness, but failed solely therein that he was not rich in the enlightenment of knowledge of God, but was misled by the delusion of idols. Now, he had a councillor, a good man, adorned with piety towards God and with all other virtuous wisdom, who, being pained and distressed at the king's errors, desired to bring the truth p. 443 home to him; but he fought shy of carrying out his purpose, fearing lest he should bring trouble both on himself and on the king's friends and put a stop to the benefits many were enjoying at the king's hands. Nevertheless, he kept on the look out for a suitable opportunity to lead the king to the truth. So one night the king said to him, 'Come, let us go out and stroll about in the city to see whether we shall chance to see anything profitable.' And as they were strolling about the city, they saw a light shining out of a chink. Clapping their eyes to the hole, they saw a sort of underground cellar, in the foreground of which sat a man plunged in extreme poverty and clad in sorry rags. By him was standing his wife, mixing wine. And as the man took the cup in his hands, his wife tried to please him by singing a song in a clear voice as she danced to the tune, and by cheering him up with flattering words. In consequence, those with the king, after watching long enough, were astonished that these people, though pinched so sorely by poverty as neither to have decent shelter, or clothing, were such cheerful livers. Then said the king to his prime minister, 'What a marvel, my friend, that you and I never enjoyed our lives, brightened though they are by such dignity and luxury, so heartily as these simple folk enjoy this sorry and miserable existence, and rejoice in this rough and detestable life which seems to them easy and comfortable.' Seizing the favourable opportunity the prime minister said, 'And how, pray, does their condition strike you, sire?' 'As the most unpleasant and the most woful I have ever seen,' said the king; 'I call it abominable and detestable.' Then said his prime minister, 'Even such and far more harsh is the view of our life taken by those gifted with insight, and those who know the mysteries of the everlasting glory and the blessings which pass all understanding. Palaces gleaming with gold and this rich raiment and all the rest of this life's luxuries are less pleasing than dung and ditch-water in the eyes of those who know the unspeakable beauty of the heavenly mansions not built by hands, of God-spun raiment, and of the incorruptible p. 444 diadems which the All-Creator and Lord has prepared for those that love Him. For, as these two people were adjudged foolish by us, much more do we, who are led astray by the world and are self-satisfied in the midst of this false glory and foolish luxury, merit weeping and tears in the eyes of those who have tasted the sweetness of those good things.'



   And the old man answered him as follows: "If you do this, you will be like a certain youth of great intelligence, of whom I have heard that he was the son of rich and noble parents. His father had arranged a marriage for him with a very beautiful girl, the daughter of a gentleman notable for his birth and riches; but when he communicated with his son about the marriage and the arrangements that were being made in the son's behalf, the latter had no sooner heard the project than he thrust it aside as if it were shameful and monstrous, and ran away from his father. On his journey, he received hospitality in the house of a poor old man, as he halted for repose during the heat of the day. Now the old man had an only daughter, a virgin, who, as she sat in the doorway, kept working away with her hands, whilst with her lips she never ceased to praise God, thanking Him from the depths of her heart. Hearing her hymns of praise, the young man said to her, 'What are you engaged in? And what is the reason why you, who are so poor and so badly off, sing hymns of praise and return thanks to the Giver of your sorry lot as heartily as though you had received great gifts at His hands?' She answered him and said, 'Do you not know that, even as a tiny drug oftentimes saves a man from serious ailments, so also thankfulness to God for small things leads to great things? Accordingly, I, though the daughter of a poor old man, nevertheless thank God and bless Him for these small mercies, knowing that He who gives them can give greater things also. So much then for external things that p. 445 are not our own, wherefrom neither the possessors of abundance reap any additional gain (not to speak of the actual loss in many cases), nor do they derive hurt whose portion is smaller—seing that both rich and poor are travelling the same road and pressing on to the same goal. Next, in respect of most necessary and momentous things, I have enjoyed many great blessings from my Lord, blessings without number and beyond compare. For in God's image have I been created, and of His knowledge have I been deemed worthy; I have been endowed with reason beyond all living creatures, and have been summoned from death to life on account of the bowels of compassion of God; I received authority to share in His mysteries, and the door of Paradise has been opened, affording me free and unrestrained entrance, if I will. Therefore, for all these great gifts (which are shared alike by rich and by poor), it is utterly beyond my powers to return thanks sufficient. But if I fail to bring even this little tribute of praise to the Giver, what manner of defence shall I have to plead?'

   Marvelling exceedingly at the girl's great understanding, he called to him her father and said, 'Give me your daughter. For I am enamoured of her understanding and piety.' Said the old man, 'It is impossible for you, who come of a rich family, to take the poor man's daughter to wife.' But the young man rejoined, 'Yes, I will marry her, if you will give your consent. For a daughter of a rich and noble house has been sought in marriage for me, and I put her from me and took to flight. But, as regards your daughter, it is for her piety to God and her sensible understanding that I have fallen in love with her, and am set upon being united to her.' Then said the old man to him, 'I cannot give her to you to take away to your father's house, and to tear her from my embrace, for she is my only child.' 'Nay,' answered the young man, 'I will stop with you and will adopt your way of life.' Therewithal he stripped off his own rich suit and attired himself in clothes which he begged of the old man. After numerous trials, and after manifold tests of his determination, p. 446 the old man was sure that the youth was of steadfast mind, and was not seeking the girl merely out of passion bred of folly, but, on the contrary, that through love of piety he was choosing a life of poverty, preferring such piety to his own estate and nobility. Then, taking the youth by the hand, the old man led him into his treasure chamber, and displayed the great wealth he had stored up and his countless piles of money, more than the youth had ever before set eyes on. 'My son,' said the old man to him, 'all this do I give you because of your deliberate choice to succeed to my lot.' The young man became his heir, and outstripped all the noble and rich of the land.



   A rich man was rearing a young fawn: when it grew big. its natural disposition led it to pine for the wilderness. So, going out one day, it found a herd of gazelles grazing, and, keeping with them, traversed the expanses of cultivated land, returning at evening, but sallying out again at early morn through neglect of the servants, and grazing with the wild gazelles. But as they changed their feeding grounds and moved further off, the fawn, too, travelled along with them. Marking this, the rich man's servants pursued on horseback and captured their own fawn, whom they brought back alive, never letting it go abroad in future. As for the rest of the herd of gazelles, they killed some and maimed others.



   A certain king used to fret over not having a son, a lack which he deplored deeply and accounted a signal misfortune. And while he was like this, a son was born to him, and joy filled the king's heart. But the sagest amongst the physicians told him that, if within twelve years the infant were to see sun or fire, it would lose its sight altogether, as they perceived from the disposition of its eyes. Tradition p. 447 says that the king conseqnently hewed a cave-dwelling out of the solid rock, and there shut up the babe and its nurses, in order not to let it see a single glimmer of light till the twelve years were past and gone. When these years had elapsed, the king took from this dwelling the boy who had never seen anything of the world, and bade everything be paraded before him, each after its kind, for the boy to see. There were men in one place, women in another; gold and silver here; and there pearls and precious stones; rich and gorgeous raiment; beautiful chariots drawn by royal horses with golden bits and purple housings, ridden by men in armour; herds of cattle and flocks of sheep. In brief, they proceeded to show the boy everything in succession. And as he kept asking what each was called, the king's swordsmen and spearsmen failed not to tell him its name. But when he asked the name of the women, the king's Yeoman of the Guard merrily said that they were called 'Demons,' who led men astray. Now the boy's heart was much more captivated by them than by anything else. When, therefore, they took him back to the king at the end of the survey, the king proceeded to ask what he thought he liked best of all he had seen. 'Why, those demons,' replied the boy, 'who lead men astray. For, of all I have seen to-day, my heart went out to nothing save them.' And that king marvelled at the boy's reply, and at the imperious might of man's love for women."

   [The Evil One entered into one of the damsels, who was the fairest of them all, being the daughter of a king, and a captive led away from her own country, and given to the king Abenner as a peerless gift, whom the father of Joasaph had sent to be a snare and a stumbling-block to his son. Into her the Deceiver entered, and inspired her with words abundantly proving the wisdom and intelligence of her understanding. . . . And he inspired the prince with love for the damsel on account of her wit, forsooth, and beauty, and also on account of her having lost, nobly born and royal though she was by descent, at once her country and her state. Further, he suggested arguments to the prince to p. 448 turn her from her idolatry and to make her a Christian. But all this was the craft of the guileful Serpent. . . .

   The King divided into two parts the whole of the territory subject to him, made his son king, crowned him with a diadem, and, adorning him with all royal pomp and state, despatched him with a brilliant train to the kingdom set apart for him.

   Filled with holy zeal, the king Abenner (who had been converted by his son Joasaph) stamped heavily upon the idols of gold and silver which were in his palace, and broke them into fragments, which he distributed among the poor, thus making that useful which before had been useless. And with his son he beset the temples and altars of idols, and razed them to their very foundations. And this they did, not only in the city, but also throughout the whole land, with great zeal. Then was the king Abenner made perfect by baptism. And Joasaph was his sponsor at the font, in this last matter appearing as the parent of his own father, repaying his father in the flesh with spiritual re-birth.

   On the eighth day after his father's death, Joasaph returned to his palace and distributed among the poor all his riches and substance, so that no one was left needy. A few days sufficing to do this service and to empty all his treasuries, in order that the pride of riches might not trammel him in his contemplated passage through the narrow gate,—on the fortieth day after his father's death, erecting a tomb to the latter, he summoned together all those in authority and vested with military command, and a number of the citizens (and told them he was resolved to become a monk, to their great sorrow). . . . By night, unseen of any, he left the palace. But he could not escape them entirely. For at daybreak the news caused uproar and lamentation among the people; and they all set out with great speed to find him, with intent to divert him by every means from his flight. . . . They found him in a ravine with his hands uplifted to heaven, and repeating the prayer of the sixth hour. Seeing him, they gathered round him sorrowing, and upbraiding his flight. "In vain is your p. 449 toil," he answered; "give up all hopes of having me for your king henceforth." . . . Thus did that noble youth yield up his throne with joy, even as when from a far land a man returns to his own country right glad of heart. He was clad outwardly in his usual garments, but underneath in the hair shirt which Barlaam had given him. That night he went into the house of a poor man on his way, and doffing his outer raiment, gave it to the poor man as his last act of benevolence. . . . After many diverse mischances and tribulations he came, after many days, to the wilderness of the land of Senaar, in which Barlaam was dwelling. . . . (After Barlaam's death) Joasaph endured to the end, leading upon the earth a life truly angelic, and subjecting himself to still sterner discipline after the passing of the old man. Five-and-twenty years old was he when he gave up an earthly kingdom and engaged in the ascetic's struggle; five-and-thirty years in the heart of the wilderness did he, angel-like, persevere in an asceticism too rigorous for mortal man.]

Journals Christian Articles


p. 423

1 See the translation of an Arabic version in this Journal, January, 1890.

p. 425

1 He had been the Chief satrap, who, being converted to Christianity, had retired to be a monk in the wilderness, from which was brought back by the king's command.

2 Galatians vi. 14.

p. 431

1 Gen. x. 10; Dan. i. 2.