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The Laughable Stories of Bar-Hebraeus, by Bar-Hebraeus, tr. E.A.W. Budge, [1897], at

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The First Chapter


I. A certain disciple of Socrates said unto him, "How is it that I see in thee no sign of sorrow?" Socrates replied, "Because I possess nothing for which I should sorrow if it perished."

II. Another [disciple] said unto him, "If the vessel wherein thou hidest were to be broken, what wouldst thou do?" Socrates replied, "Even if the vessel were to be broken, the place in which it is would not be broken."

III. To Socrates the wife of a certain man said, "How ugly is thy face, O Socrates!" And Socrates replied unto her, saying, "If thou thyself hadst been a clean mirror I should have been distressed [by thy words]; but since thou art a dirty one my beauty is not reflected by thee. I do not, however, blame thee because of it."

IV. Socrates saw a woman who had hanged herself on a tree, and he said, "Would that all trees bore such fruit as this!"

V. A certain woman saw Socrates as they were carrying him along to crucify 1 him, and she wept and said, "Woe is me, for they are about to slay thee without having committed any offence." And Socrates

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made answer unto her, saying, "O foolish woman, wouldst thou have me also commit some crime that I might be punished like a criminal?"

VI. A certain philosopher had a daughter, and two men came [to him] wishing to take her to wife; one of them was poor and the other was rich. To the rich man he said, "I will not give my daughter unto thee," and he gave her to the poor man. And when the folk asked him, "Why hast thou acted in this manner?" he made answer unto them, saying, "The rich man is a fool, and I was afraid lest he would come to poverty; but the poor man is wise, and therefore I hope and believe that he will gain riches and wealth."

VII. Certain men asked another philosopher, "What thing would benefit the majority of mankind?" And he replied, "The death of a wicked governor."

VIII. To another philosopher it was said, "Wherein dost thou differ from the king?" And he replied, "The king is a slave to his lusts, whilst my passion is subservient unto me."

IX. Certain men asked Plato, "With what shall a man console himself when he falleth into temptation?" And Plato made answer unto him, saying, "The wise man consoleth himself because he knoweth that that which hath come to pass must necessarily have happened; but the fool consoleth himself [by thinking] that that which hath happened unto himself hath also happened unto other men."

X. Aristotle commanded Alexander [the Great], saying, "Do not reveal thy secret unto two men lest, if it be revealed, thou be unable to be certain which of the two hath made it public, and if thou punishest both of them thou wilt then certainly inflict an injury

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upon him that revealed it not, and if thou forgivest both of them thou wilt not do even an act of grace because of him who revealed it not."

XI. To another philosopher it was said, "What man is happy?" And he replied, "He whose expectations are, for the most part, realised."

XII. Aristotle said, "One wise man agreeth with another wise man, but a fool neither agreeth with a wise man nor a fool. For, behold, all the parts of one straight line coincide with all the parts of another straight line, but the parts of crooked lines neither coincide with those of a straight line, nor with those of a crooked line."

XIII. It was said to Diogenes, "Why dost thou eat in the market-place?" He replied, "Because I am I hungry in the market-place."

XIV. Diogenes saw a harlot's child throwing stones at people, and he said to him, "Throw not stones, lest thou smite thine own father without knowing it."

XV. Another philosopher saw a certain man giving instruction to a certain maiden, and he said unto him, "Add not wickedness to wickedness. Why dost thou poison that which is right and proper by dipping it in poison, whereby she shall be the more able to slay the children of men and to lead captive their minds?"

XVI. Another philosopher saw a damsel carrying fire, and he said, "Behold fire upon fire, but the bearer is stronger than the burden."

XVII. Another philosopher saw a woman in the theatre looking on as a spectator, and he said [to her], "Thou hast not come out to see, but to be seen."

XVIII. [To him also] it was said, "Why doth not the king love thee?" He replied, "It is the peculiar characteristic

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of kings to love not him that is greater than they."

XIX. Another philosopher said, "Take heed of the two-legged lion," thereby referring to the king.

XX. To another philosopher it was said, "Why do we eat the outside of the date, and the inside of the nut?" He replied, "The Divine Providence of the Creator concerneth not itself with how that which hath been created shall be eaten, but with the matter of how the species thereof shall be preserved in perpetuity; thus that whereby the species is preserved is inside both, even though the kernel of the nut is edible and the stone of the date is not."

XXI. Alexander [the Great] saw among the soldiers of his army a man called Alexander who continually took to flight in the time of war, and he said to him, "Either be strong in battle or change thy name, so that listeners be not deceived by the similarity of our names."

XXII. Another philosopher saw a city with a mighty wall round about it, and he said, "This is a dwelling-place for women and befitteth not men."

XXIII. A certain philosopher, who was a cynic from Alexandria, asked the king for a mathḳâl 1 of gold, and the king made answer to him, saying, "This is not of the gifts which kings are wont to give." The philosopher then asked him for a talent [of gold] 2, and the king replied, "This is not a request which should be made by a cynic."

XXIV. Aristotle was asked, "Why have the envious always sad and gloomy faces?" He replied, "Because

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they are not only grieved over their own wickednesses, but also over the virtues of others."

XXV. Another philosopher was asked, "What is the occupation of orators?" 1 He replied, "To magnify those who are little and to belittle him that is great."

XXVI. Dixit philosophus alius quidam, "Quatuor sunt genera corporalium voluptatum: quorum primum momento temporis durat ut coitu frueris; alterum per diem ut masculinâ prole gaudes usque dum nimium flere coepit; tertium per mensem ut novâ nuptâ usque dum ventrem fert; quartum tamen omnem per aevum ut divitiarum abundantiâ."

XXVII. Plato said, "The fool is known by two things: by his much speaking about that which benefiteth him not, and by his giving answers about subjects concerning which men ask him not."

XXVIII. Another philosopher was asked, "Which is the greatest fool of all?" He replied, "He who is "tripped up twice."

XXIX. It is said that upon the ring of Pythagoras there was written, "The evil which is not perpetual is better than the good which is not perpetual."

XXX. Another philosopher said, "The wise man recogniseth the fool because he himself was formerly a fool; but the fool never recogniseth the wise man, there never having been a time when he was wise."

XXXI. Another philosopher said, "About man there is nothing more marvellous than the fact that he spendeth his riches and is sad, but though his days pass away he is not grieved."

XXXII. A certain man saw Socrates gnawing the

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root of a tree, and he said to him, "If thou wert a servant of the king thou wouldst have no need to eat such food as this." And Socrates replied, saying, "If thou also didst eat such food as this thou wouldst have no need to serve the king."

XXXIII. It is said that when Alexander [the Great] had been poisoned 1 and was nigh unto death, he wrote to his mother and said unto her, "When thou hast read this letter make ready much meat and make a feast for [thy] people, but do not allow to eat those who have not lost some relative by death." Now he did this so that when she considered and saw that no man had escaped this calamity she might be consoled and not be sad 2.

XXXIV. To another philosopher it was said, "How "is it that thou dost condescend to learn from every "man?" He replied, "Because I know that learning is a "profitable thing come it from whatsoever source it may."

XXXV. Another philosopher whilst teaching his disciple said to him, "Dost thou understand?" and he replied, "Yes." The philosopher then said, "Thou liest, "for the mark of intelligence is the joy which sheweth itself in the disciple's face, and not his answer "'Yes'."

XXXVI. It was said to Diogenes, "Dost thou possess anywhere a house wherein to rest?" And he replied, "Wheresoever I rest there is my house."

XXXVII. Alius quidam in foro Venerem palam exercebat: qui interrogatus, "Nonne tui pudet? Quid facis?"

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[paragraph continues] Respondit, "Cur mei pudere decet: virum enim condo, si adolescere valet."

XXXVIII. It was said to Socrates, "Which of the irrational animals is not beautiful?" And he replied, "Woman," referring to her folly.

XXXIX. One day Diogenes went up to a high place and cried out for men to come unto him; and a large number of people were gathered together round about him. And he said unto them, "I did not call you but men," indicating the philosophers by the word "men".

XL. He was also asked, "What thing is the most difficult for a man [to do]?" And he replied, "To know himself and to conceal his secret."

XLI. A certain friend of Socrates 1 took counsel with him concerning the marrying a wife, and he replied, "Take heed that there happen not unto thee that which befel the fish in the matter of the net; those which were inside longed to go out, and those which were outside were eager to go in."

XLII. Certain folk enquired of him concerning the proper time for [eating] food, and he replied, "Let him that hath food eat when he is hungry, and let him that hath it not eat when he can."

XLIII. Aristotle wrote to Alexander advising him, saying, "Take good heed that thy soldiers think no evil concerning thee, for to him who can think easily it is easy to speak, and to him who can speak easily it is easy to act"; now he said this that Alexander might do good unto every man.

XLIV. Another philosopher said, "Whatsoever thou hidest from thine enemy that reveal not to thy friend,

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for thou knowest not whether he may become thine enemy."

XLV. Diogenes was asked concerning a certain wealthy man, "Is he rich?" And he replied, "I know not whether he is rich [or not], but I do know that he possesseth much money." Now he meant by these words that the man who hankereth not to possess anything more is a rich man, because everyone who longeth for more than he hath is poor in comparison with that which he possesseth not.

XLVI. A king asked Diogenes, "Where are thy wealth and possessions?" And he pointed to his disciples and said, "With them," referring thereby to the wisdom [which he had taught them].

XLVII. To another philosopher it was said, "It is hard that that which a man seeketh not should come to him." And he replied, "Much harder than this is it that a man should seek that which cometh not to him."

XLVIII. Plato the philosopher was once rebuked because he possessed not riches, and he replied, "How can I possess that which avarice and greediness guard and which liberality and benevolence destroy?"

XLIX. Gifts of certain vessels of glass were given to Alexander, and though they pleased him very much he ordered them to be broken. And when he was asked the reason he replied, "I know that they would be broken one after the other by the servant's hands, and that thereby anger would be always stirred up in me; for this reason it is that with one burst of wrath I have driven away many storms of rage."

L. Plato was asked, "Why are not wisdom and anger found together?" And he replied, "Because no man can be found who is perfect in everything."

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LI. Aristotle said, "The fool perceiveth not the sickness of his mind any more than doth the drunkard the thorn which hath entered into his hand."

LII. To Aristotle it was said, "Wherein art thou better than other men?" And he replied, "Because they live that they may eat, but I eat that I may live."

LIII. Another philosopher married a small and thin wife, and when he was asked why he had done so replied, "I chose the lesser evil."

LIV. It was reported to Alexander that the daughters of Darius were exceedingly beautiful, and he replied, "It would be a most shameful thing for us to be conquered by the men [of any nation whatsoever], [how much more 1 then would it be a disgrace to us] if their women were to do so?"

LV. It happened to Socrates that he became once a fellow-traveller on the road with a rich man, and the report reached them that there were gangs of robbers and highwaymen on the road. And the rich man began to say, "Woe is me if they recognize me." But Socrates made answer to him, saying, "I am not of this opinion at all, woe be to them if they do not recognize me."

LVI. A certain rich man wrote above his door, "No evil thing shall enter in through thee." When Diogenes met him, he said unto him, "How, then, will thy wife enter the house?"

LVII. It was said to a certain philosopher while he was soaking dry bread in water to eat, "How canst

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thou desire to eat such [food] as this?" And he replied, "I leave it until I do desire to eat it."

LVIII. When Alexander was going to wage war against the Amazons he said, "If we conquer this race it will not be a matter of boasting for us, and if they vanquish me it will be a great disgrace." 1

LIX. Hippocrates said, "Whosoever injureth himself in order to do his neighbour any good whatsoever is a fool."

LX. Dixit idem philosophus, "Duobus tantum commiscere fas est feminae—conjugi scilicet et pulveri sepulchri." 2

LXI. It was to him that his wife said, "Behold thy son doth not resemble thee in any way." He replied, "I gave thee the shapeless matter for his physical form only, and it is others who have given it shape," meaning by "others" the various natural formative forces which fashion the child in the womb.

LXII. It was he who said also, "It is meet for the wise man to look at his face in a mirror. If his countenance be ugly let him not add foulness of deeds

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thereunto; and if it be fair, let him not defile it by "corrupt deeds and actions."

LXIII. Another philosopher was asked, "Which is the best doctrine?" And he replied, "That which fools hate."

LXIV. As a certain philosopher was passing through a city he there saw the captain of a host who had not succeeded at all in warfare, together with a certain physician, and he said to the people of that city, "Would that this physician were the captain of your host, for he hath far more experience in the slaughter of men [than the captain of the host], and would that the captain of your host were your physician, because he is far more careful about killing men than the physician."

LXV. Plato said, "It is a very great disgrace 1 indeed for a man to be both ignorant and not anxious to gain instruction, for two vices are gathered together in him."

LXVI. It was said to Socrates by a certain man, "I am deeply pained for thee because thou art so poor." And he replied, "If thou couldst only attain unto the pleasure of poverty, whereof thou art [now] deprived thou wouldst be sorry for thyself and not for me."

LXVII. To Socrates also a certain man said, "The words which thou hast spoken have not been [well] received." And he replied, "I grieve not at all that they have not been [well] received, but I should grieve if they had not been well delivered."


7:1 See the note to story No. XCIII.

10:1 A gold coin equal in value to about nine shillings of our money.

10:2 I.e., about £4,217 sterling.

11:1 Read ###.

12:1 See my Life and Exploits of Alexander the Great, pp. 339, 373, 427 and 430.

12:2 Compare Historia Compendiosa Dynastiarum, ed. Pococke, Arabic text, p. 96; and Contextio Gemmarum, ed. Pococke, p. 287.

13:1 Variant, Diogenes.

15:1 Compare ###. Pseudo-Callisthenes, ed. Milner, p. 74, col. 2.

16:1 Compare the words of the Amazons to Alexander:—### See my History of Alexander, Syr. text, p. 229.

16:2 Or, "Duo tantum lecti ascendendi sunt feminae—genialis scilicet et funebris.

17:1 On p. 16 of the Syr. text, l. 12, for ### read ###.

Next: The Second Chapter: Profitable Sayings of the Persian Sages