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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 Thirteenth Chapter


CCCCXXIX. A poet said unto a certain avaricious man, "Why dost thou never bid me to a feast with thee?" He replied to him, "Because thou eatest very heartily indeed, besides thou swallowest so hurriedly; and whilst thou art still eating one morsel thou art getting ready for the next." The poet said to him, "What wouldst thou have then? Wouldst thou have me whilst I am eating one morsel to stand up and bow the knee, and then take another?"

CCCCXXX. While a certain miserly man was eating bread with his wife a man came to visit them, and they said unto him, "Command [us]." And he said unto them, "I am quite undone," that is to say, "I am exhausted." And when the miser heard these words he said to his wife, "Doth he mean to say 'I have had my meal 1,' that is to say, 'I have eaten,' but doth not know [how to speak] after the manner of books? "Let us not press him, then, lest he lay in food upon food, and he suffer pain and blame us for urging him [to eat]."

CCCCXXXI. Whilst a certain miser was eating figs a man came to visit him, and immediately he saw him

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he hid the figs in the skirts of his garments. Then he drew his head inside the body of his garment and cried out to the man from within, saying, "I am fumigating myself from below because I have taken cold; therefore stay outside for a little until I can stand up, and blame [me] not."

CCCCXXXII. Another man relates the following:—"I was sitting at the table of a certain miser when he took a bread-cake in his hand, and said, 'People complain that my bread-cakes are small; now what son of a whore is able to eat the whole of one of these bread-cakes?'"

CCCCXXXIII. Another miser used to say, "If we were to gratify the lust of the poor by granting their requests, we should be worse than they."

CCCCXXXIV. The noblemen of a certain miserly king said unto him, "If thou wishest, be pleased to make a certain sign to us, so that when we see it we may depart from thy presence that thou mayest have rest. Thy father had a sign which consisted in his saying, 'Whenever ye please,' and as soon as the nobles heard these words they departed, and thine ancestor straightway threw the sceptre out of his hand. But now what sign wilt thou give us? He said to them, My sign is this:—When I ask the cooks, saying, 'What have ye prepared?' let no man prolong his sitting in my presence."

CCCCXXXV. When the friend of a certain miser went to visit him he brought him some dates, and they began to eat; and every time that the master of the house ate one the friend ate one also. And when the master of the house saw that the dates were coming to an end, he said to his friend, "O thou man of

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understanding, if every time I eat a date thou doest likewise, where is the reward of my labours? Or perhaps thou dost imagine that I gained these without any exertion?"

CCCCXXXVI. When a number of folk were sitting at table with another miser and he wished to keep them from eating, he said to them, "This is not the kind of food for a man to eat if he wisheth to make a supper."

CCCCXXXVII. Avarus alius quidam aegrotans oleum, medicis jubentibus, hausit: ubi alvum autem pergâsset, servis, "Ite," clamat, "oleum e stercore meo colligite quo ad lucernas incendendo uti possimus."

CCCCXXXVIII. When a certain miser was dying he commanded his son, saying, "In thy dealings with men be thou like unto those who play chess, and who are most careful to keep what is their own, and to take what belongs to others both by skill and craft."

CCCCXXXIX. When a certain miser heard that there lived in the city another miser who was more crafty in miserly acts than himself he went to see him. And when he had gone into his house and had saluted him, the master thereof rose up and went to the market to buy oil to bring in to his guest to eat with the bread; and having drawn nigh to one of the shopmen, the shopman said to him, "I have some oil which is as clear as water." Then the miser said, "I have whole skins full of water in the house," and he quickly returned thereto. And he filled a dish with water and setting it before his guest said unto him, "I went out to buy some oil to bring thee, and I saw that wishing to praise the oil they compared it unto water.

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[paragraph continues] Now unless water had been better than oil, they would not have compared it therewith." And when the traveller heard these words he said, "Verily there hath never been in our time a more clever miser than thou."

CCCCXL. A certain miser used to rise up during the night whilst his children were asleep, and if he saw any of them lying upon his right side he turned him over upon his left, saying, "[I do this] that the food in them may not be too quickly digested, so that they may not wake up in the early hours of the morning and ask for something to eat before anything is ready for them."

CCCCXLI. A certain miser observed that his son was wont to take bread and to place it on the window near which he went out, after which he ate it; and he asked him why he did so. His son said to him, "I can inhale the smell of the baking which cometh out from the windows, therefore I set the bread there that the steam of the smoking meat may pass through it; and then I eat it." Theft his father smote him and said to him, "O son that murmurest, henceforward thou shalt be in the habit of eating bread only."

CCCCXLII. A certain miserly woman was wrangling with a man who was selling flour to her, and she said, "I have taken from thee a rîṭlâ 1 of flour, and only ninety bread-cakes can be made therefrom." The man said to her, "O woman, whose womanly character hath fled, if thou art wont to make every bread-cake of the size of a mill-stone, wherein have I offended?"

CCCCXLIII. Another man saw the daughter of a

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certain man saying to a shopman, "My mother saith to thee, 'Take back this loaf and give me a smaller one, but give me some carrots besides.'"

CCCCXLIV. A certain butcher once, when he had no work in the city, went out to one of the villages, and bought a sheep and killed it; and he skinned it as if he were about to sell it. And having waited from morning until evening and nothing had been bought, a certain old woman came to him with a basket of bran and said unto him, "Give me some flesh for this bran, only let it be from a fatty part." Then the butcher being enraged said, "May the village perish in which flesh can be bought for bran." The old woman said to him, "Woe is me, for thou art a man of the city with heavy teeth; wilt thou only sell flesh for date-stones?" And it came to pass that when the butcher heard that people could buy meat there with date-stones, he took his dead beast and went back to the city.

CCCCXLV. Another man in going through a certain city wanted some fine wheat flour, and when he asked where it could be bought they said to him, "Here thou wilt only find fine wheat flour at the scent merchants, who sell it for [laying upon] sores."

CCCCXLVI. Another miser said to a dealer, "Give me a piece of cheese for a halfpenny," and the dealer said to him, "For a halfpenny all that thou wilt get of the cheese is a sniff of it."

CCCCXLVII. When a traveller visited a certain miser he said to his handmaiden, "Make ready the sweetmeats that our guest may eat." And she said to him, "We have no honey," and he said to her, "Prepare the silk covered couch for him to recline

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upon, and sit thou beside him, and chafe and rub his feet."

CCCCXLVIII. Another miser whilst quarrelling violently with his neighbour was asked by a certain man, "Why art thou fighting with him?" He replied to him, "I had eaten a roasted head, and I threw the bones outside my door, so that my friends might rejoice and mine enemies be sorry when they saw in what a luxurious manner I was living; and this fellow rose up and took the bones and threw them before his own door."

CCCCXLIX. Whilst the wife and son of another miser were eating with him at table he said, "Laziness is accursed at the table." His son said to him, "Dost thou now speak concerning me, O my father?" And his father said to him, "Wouldst thou then have thy mother to understand that she was to go out and labour, and then eat?"

CCCCL. Three misers hired a house and dwelt therein together, and they bought the oil for the lamp from a common fund; and they bound up in a napkin the eyes of him that had nothing to contribute to the price of the oil, until they went to sleep and had hung up the lamp.

CCCCLI. A certain author composed a tract wherein he praised miserly conduct, and he brought it unto a king who was a miser. And it came to pass that when the king had read it, he sent to the author, and said unto him, "We do not wish to give thee any money so that it may not be we who shall destroy thy good and excellent counsels;" thus was the author put to shame by that which he himself had written.

CCCCLII. Another miser having taken a hireling said

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unto him, "On what terms wilt thou work for me?" and the hireling said, "For the food of my mouth." The miser said to him, "Nay; thou must come down very, very much lower than this [in terms]." And the hireling said to him, "I do not know any way of reducing them lower than this except by fasting the whole of Wednesday, and the whole of Friday until the next day."

CCCCLIII. Another poet was questioned by a man concerning a certain miser, saying, "Who eateth with him at his table?" and the poet replied, "Flies."

CCCCLIV. Another miser said, "That no man may ever say to the angels, Give me some money," or, "Give me something to eat," or, "Give me something to put on," is an abundant gratification for them."

CCCCLV. Unto another miser it was said, "How beautiful the hands look on the table!" and he said, "Only when they are empty."

CCCCLVI. Whilst a certain poor man was sitting by the side of a very rich but mean man, the rich man asked him, "How many persons are there in thy house?" The poor man said to him. "Three daughters and our handmaidens." And when the rich man heard this he wagged his head and bent it down before him, and the poor man thought that he was going to have pity upon him and to give him something. But straightway the rich man lifted up his head and said to him, "I was calculating how much four people could weave; the man who hath four spinning-wheels at work in his house is not a poor man."

CCCCLVII. Another nobleman who was very miserly, while going on a journey to the king, passed through a certain village, and he stayed the night at the house

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of a certain widow; and [on his departure] he said to her, "This time, if the king giveth me a thousand dînârs, I will give thee one dînâr." And having gone to the king he gave him five hundred dînârs, and on his return the nobleman saw the woman and gave her half a dînâr, saying, "Even this half a dînâr ought not to come to thee by right, for I did not say to thee, 'If he giveth me five hundred,' and the promise was made in respect of the thousand dînârs only."

CCCCLVIII. When a certain man went to the house of a miser he gave him old wine to drink on an empty stomach; and when he had taken the cup he said "Ugh!" And they said unto him, "What is it? Why dost thou not speak?" He replied, "If I were to speak the master of the house would die when he heard of it, for I want something to eat; and if I am silent I shall die by reason of the strength of this wine."

CCCCLIX. A certain miser was in the habit of not eating except at midnight, and when he was asked why he behaved thus, he replied, "At this time the flies have all settled to rest, and a man may remain undisturbed by him that knocketh at the door [begging]."

CCCCLX. A certain philosopher said unto a miser, "Thou imaginest that thou art a miser and a skinflint, but behold, thou art the most liberal of men. For after a short time thou wilt distribute thy wealth among thy heirs who have pleased thee, and also among those who have not pleased thee."

CCCCLXI. A certain miser fell sick, and the day of the crisis of the disease came and he did not sweat.

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[paragraph continues] And straightway his servants said to the physician, "Why is this?" The physician said to them, "Go ye and eat of the bread of which he himself is wont to eat, and when he sees you [eating], the sweat will soon break out upon him."

CCCCLXII. Another miser having found a zûzâ (i.e., sixpence) in the market, took [it] and threw it into his purse, saying, "It may now be hoped, O zûzâ, that thou wilt henceforth have some rest, and that soldiers will not fight and slay each other in war, and that merchants will not act like highwaymen in the roads, and that the daughters of noblemen will not fall into wantonness on thy account."

CCCCLXIII. It is said that certain miserly merchants joined together and set up a common cooking-pot, and each of them passed a different coloured thread through the piece of meat which belonged to him. And when it was cooked each took hold of the thread and brought out his meat, but they divided the broth among them equally.

CCCCLXIV. Once when a zûzâ fell into the hands of a certain miser he kissed it and hugged it lovingly and said, "Thou art my father, and my mother, and my brother, and my friend. Through what a number of cities hast thou circulated! What a number of seas hast thou passed through! How very many rich men hast thou brought to poverty! How very many needy ones hast thou enriched! How very many virgins hast thou corrupted and brought to misery! And how very many daughters of noblemen 1 (?) hast thou called to wantonness!" And as he threw the coin

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into his purse he said, "Go into the place wherefrom thou shalt never again emerge to be troubled."

CCCCLXV. Another miser said to his servant, "Bring hither the table and shut the door," and the servant said, "This is not right. I will first of all shut the door and then I will bring the table, lest, peradventure, while I am putting the table in its place some one will enter before I can shut the door." His master said unto him, "Henceforward, by reason of thine understanding, thou shalt be a free man and not a slave, for thou behavest like a nobleman."

CCCCLXVI. Another man relates the following:—"Once when I was eating a spoonful of food out of a dish with a certain miserly merchant, I saw that the bread which was spread out on his side of the dish was made of fine flour, whilst that which was on my side was made of coarse meal."

CCCCLXVII. Another man relates the following:" Once when I was eating in the company of a rich but miserly man, a cat came up, and I wanted to take a little piece of bread to throw to her; and he said to me, 'Put it down, for this doth not belong to us but to the neighbours.'"

CCCCLXVIII. Another miser had a very beautiful wife, but because he did not provide her with all that she wanted, they were continually falling out. And it came to pass on a certain day, the man being angry with her, that he obtained a separation from her legally, and he gave her her dowry and expelled her from his house. Now the rumour of her and of her beauty spread abroad and reached the king, and he lusted for her, and sent to her to take her to wife. But the woman said that she would not consent to his wish

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until after he had commanded that she should sit on a chariot, and that her former husband should draw her along in it; and the king commanded that it should be thus. And as they were travelling along the road, she took out a dînâr and threw it on the ground, and said to him that had formerly been her husband and was now drawing her chariot, "Hand me up the zûzâ which I have dropped;" and when he looked on the ground he found the dînâr. And he said to her, "This is not a zûzâ, but a dînâr." She said to him, "Blessed be the Lord who hath prepared a dînâr for me to find, seeing that I have lost a zûzâ." By the zûzâ she referred to the man whom she had lost, and by the dînâr to the king whom she had found.


111:1 The pun is, of course, on the words ###, and ###.

114:1 The Arabic ###, a weight of about a pound.

119:1 The exact meaning of ### is unknown to me.

Next: The Fourteenth Chapter: Stories of Men Who Followed Despised Handicrafts