Popular Tales From the Norse
are we to say of such a remarkable resemblance as this?--
"The noble King Putraka fled into the Vindhya mountains in order to live apart from his unkind kinsfolk; and as he wandered about there he met two men who wrestled and fought with one another. 'Who are you?' he asked. 'We are the sons of Mayâsara, and here lie our riches; this bowl, this staff, and these shoes; these are what we are fighting for, and whichever is stronger is to have them for his own.'
"So when Putraka had heard that, he asked them with a laugh, 'Why, what's the good of owning these things?'
"Then they answered, 'Whoever puts on these shoes gets the power to fly; whatever is pointed at with this staff rises up at once; and whatever food one wishes for in this bowl, it comes at once.'
"So when Putraka had heard that he said, 'Why fight about it? Let this be the prize; whoever beats the other in a race, let him have them all.'
"'So be it,' said the two fools, and set off running, but Putraka put on the shoes at once, and flew away with the staff and bowl up into the clouds."
Well, this is a story neither in the Pantcha-Tantra nor the Hitopadesa, the Sanscrit originals of Calila and Dimna. It is not in the Directorium Humanæ Vitæ, and has not passed west by that way. Nor is it in the Book of Sendabad, and thence come west in the "History of the Seven Sages." Both these paths are stopped. it comes from the Katha Sarit Sagara, the "Sea of Streams of Story" of Somadeva Bhatta of Cashmere, who, in the middle of the twelfth century of our era, worked up the tales found in an earlier collection, called the Vrikat
Katha, "the lengthened story," in order to amuse his mistress, the Queen of Cashmere. Somadeva's collection has only been recently known and translated. But west the story certainly came long before, and in the extreme north-west we still find it in these Norse Tales in "The Three Princesses of Whiteland," p. 181.
"'Well!' said the man, 'as this is so, I'll give you a bit of advice. Hereabouts, on a moor, stand three brothers, and there they have stood these hundred years, fighting about a bat, a cloak, and a pair of boots. If any one has these three things, he can make himself invisible, and wish himself anywhere he pleases. You can tell them you wish to try the things, and after that, you'll pass judgment between them, whose they shall be.'
"Yes! the king thanked the man, and went and did as he told him.
"'What's all this?' he said to the brothers. 'Why do you stand here fighting for ever and a day? Just lot me try these things, and I'll give judgment whose they shall be.'
"They were very willing to do this; but as soon as he had got the hat, cloak, and boots, he said--
"'When we meet next time I'll tell you my judgment;' and with these words he wished himself away."
Nor in the Norse Tales alone. Other collections shew bow thoroughly at home this story was in the East. In the Relations of Ssidi K'ur, a Tartar tale, a Chan's son first gets possession of a cloak which two children stand and fight for, which has the gift of making the wearer invisible, and afterwards of a pair of boots, with which one can wish one's-self to whatever place one chooses. Again, in a Wallachian tale, we read of three devils who
fight for their inheritance--a club which turns everything to stone, a hat which makes the wearer invisible, and a cloak by help of which one can wish one's-self whithersoever one pleases. Again, in a Mongolian tale, the Chan's son comes upon a group of children who fight for a hood which makes the wearer invisible; he is to be judge between. them, makes them run a race for it, but meanwhile puts it on and vanishes from their sight. A little further on he meets another group, who are quarrelling for a pair of boots, the wearer of which can wish himself whithersoever he pleases, and gains possession of them in the same way. 1
Nor in one Norse tale alone, but in many, we find traces of these three wonderful
things, or of things like them. They are very like the cloth, the ram, and the
stick, which the lad got from the North Wind instead of his meal. Very like,
too, the cloth, the scissors, and the tap, which will be found in p.
252, "The Best Wish." If we drop the number three, we find the
Boots again in "Soria Moria Castle," p. 396. Leaving
the Norse Tales, we see at once that they are the seven-league boots of Jack
the Giant Killer. In the Nibelungen Lied, when Siegfried finds Schilbung and
Niblung, the weird heirs of the famous "Hoard," striving for the possession
of that heap of red gold and gleaming stones; when they beg him to share it
for them, promising him, as his meed, Balmung, best of swords; when he shares
it, when they are discontent, and when in the struggle which ensues he gets
possession of he tarnhut, the "cloak of darkness," which gave
1. Moe: Introd. xxxii.-iii.
wearer the strength of twelve men, and enabled him to go where he would unseen, and which was the great prize among the treasures of the dwarfs; 1 who is there that does not see the broken fragments of that old Eastern story of the heirs struggling for their inheritance, and calling in the aid of some one of better wit or strength, who ends by making the very prize for which they fight his own?
And now to return for a moment to Calila and Dimna, and "The
Seven Sages." Since we have seen that there are other stories, and many
of them, for this is by no means the only resemblance to be found in Somadeva's book 2 which are common to the Eastern and
1. The account in the Nibelungen respecting the tarnhut is confused, and the text probably corrupt; but so much is plain, that Siegfried got it from Elberich in the struggle which ensued with Schilbung and Niblung, after he had shared the Hoard.
2. Thus we find in it the originals or the parallels of Grendel in Beowulf, of Rumpelstiltskin, of the recovery of the Bride by the ring dropped into the cup, as related in Soria Moria Castle, and other tales; of the "wishing ram," which in the Indian story becomes a "wishing cow," and thus reminds us of the bull in one of these Norse Tales, out of whose ear came a "wishing cloth"; of the lucky child, who finds a purse of gold under his pillow every morning; and of the red lappet sown on the sleeping lover, as on Siegfried in the Nibelungen. The devices of Upakosa, the faithful wife, remind us at once of "The Mastermaid," and the whole of the stories of Saktideva and the Golden City, and of Viduschaka, King Adityasena's daughter, are the same in groundwork and in many of their incidents as "East o' the Sun, and West o' p. lxxiv the Moon," "The Three Princesses of Whiteland," and "Soria Moria Castle."
Western Aryans, but which did not travel to Europe by translation; let us go on to say that it is by no means certain, even when some Western story or fable is found in these Sanscrit originals and their translations, that that was the only way by which they came to Europe. A single question will prove this. How did the fables and apologues which are found in Æsop, and which are also found in the Pantcha-Tantra and the Hitopadesa come West? That they came from the East is certain; but by what way?--certainly not by translation or copying, for they had travelled west long before translations were thought of. How was it that Themistius, a Greek orator of the fourth century, 1 had heard of that fable of the lion, fox, and bull, which is in substance the same as that of the lion, the bull, and the two jackals in the Pantcha-Tantra and the Hitopadesa? How, but along the path of that primeval Aryan migration, and by that deep ground-tone of tradition by which man speaks to man, nation to nation, and age to age; along which comparative philology has, in these last days, travelled back thither, listened to the accents spoken, and so found in the East the cradle of a common language and common belief.
And now having, as we hope, finally established this Indian affinity, and
disposed of mere Indian copying, let us lift our eyes and see if something more
is not to be discerned on the wide horizon now open on our view. The most interesting
problem for man to solve is the origin of his race. Of late years comparative
1. J. Grimm: Reinhart Fuchs, cclxiii. Intr.
having accomplished her task in proving the affinity of language between Europe
and the East, and so taken a mighty step towards fixing the first seat of the
greatest--greatest in wit and wisdom, if not in actual numbers--portion of the
human race, has pursued her inquiries into the languages of the Turanian, the
Semitic, and the Chamitic or African races, with more or less successful results.
In a few more years, when the African languages are better known, and the roots
of Egyptian and Chinese words are more accurately detected, Science will be
better able to speak as to the common affinity of all the tribes that throng
the earth. In the meantime, let the testimony of tradition and popular tales
be heard, which in this case have outstripped comparative philology, and lead
instead of following her. It is beyond the scope of this essay, which aims at
being popular and readable rather than learned and lengthy, to go over a prolonged
scientific investigation step by step. We repeat it: the reader must have faith
in the writer, and believe the words now written are the results of an inquiry,
and not ask for the inquiry itself. In all mythologies and traditions, then,
there are what may be called natural resemblances, parallelisms suggested to
the senses of each race by natural objects and every-day events, and these might
spring up spontaneously all over the earth as home growths, neither derived
by imitation from other tribes, nor from seeds of common tradition shed from
a common stock. Such resemblances have been well compared by William Grimm 1 to
1. Kinder- und Hausmärchen, vol. iii., 3d ed., Göttingen, 1856; a volume worthy of the utmost attention.
those words which are found in all languages derived from the imitation of
natural sounds, or, we may add, from the first lisping accents of infancy. But
the case is very different when this or that object which strikes the senses
is accounted for in a way so extraordinary and peculiar, as to stamp the tradition
with a character of its own. Then arises a like impression on the mind, if we
find the same tradition in two tribes at the opposite ends of the earth, as
is produced by meeting twin brothers, one in Africa and the other in Asia; we
say at once, "I know you are so-and-so's brother, you are so like him."
Take an instance: In these Norse Tales, p. 172, we are told how
it was the bear came to have a stumpy tail, and in an African tale 1 we find how it was the hyæna became tailless and earless. Now, the tailless
condition both of the bear and the hyæna could scarcely fail to attract
attention in a race of hunters, and we might expect that popular tradition would
attempt to account for both; but how are we to explain the fact, that both Norseman
and African account for it in the same way--that both owe their loss to the
superior cunning of another animal? In Europe the fox bears away the palm for
wit from all other animals, so he it is that persuades the bear in the Norse
Tales to sit with his tail in a hole in the ice till it is fast frozen in, and
snaps short off when he tries to tug it out. In Bornou, in the heart of Africa,
1. Kölle: Kanuri Proverbs and Fables, London Church Missionary House, 1854. A book of great philological interest, and one which reflects great credit on the religious society by which it was published.
it is the weasel who is the wisest of beasts, and who, having got some meat in common with the hyæna, put it into a hole, and said,--
"'Behold two men came out of the forest, took the meat, and put it into a hole: stop, I will go into the hole, and then thou mayst stretch out thy tail to me, and I will tie the meat to thy tail for thee to draw it out.' So the weasel went into the hole, the hyæna stretched its tail out to it, but the weasel took the hyæna's tail, fastened a stick, and tied the hyæna's tail to the stick, and then said to the hyæna, 'I have tied the meat to thy tail; draw, and pull it out.' The hyæna was a fool, it did not know the weasel surpassed it in subtlety; it thought the meat was tied; but when it tried to draw out its tail, it was fast. When the weasel said again to it, 'Pull,' it pulled, but could not draw it out; so it became vexed, and on pulling with force, its tail broke. The tail being torn out, the weasel was no more seen by the hyæna: the weasel was hidden in the hole with its meat, and the hyæna saw it not." 1
Here we have a fact in natural history accounted for, but accounted for in
such a peculiar way as shews that the races among which they are current must
have derived them from some common tradition. The mode by which the tail is
lost is different indeed; but the manner in which the common ground-work is
suited in one case to the cold of the North, and the way in which fish are commonly
caught at holes in the ice as they rise to breathe; and in the other to Africa
and her pit-falls for wild beasts, is only another proof of the oldness of the
tradition, and that it is not merely a copy.
1. Kanuri Proverbs, p. 167.
Take another instance. Every one knows the story in the Arabian Nights, where the man who knows the speech of beasts laughs at something said by an ox to an ass. His wife wants to know why he laughs, and persists, though he tells her it will cost him his life if he tells her. As he doubts what to do, he hears the cock say to the house-dog, "Our master is not wise; I have fifty hens who obey me; if he followed my advice, he'd just take a good stick, shut up his wife in a room with him, and give her a good cudgelling." The same story is told in Straparola 1 with so many variations as to show it is no copy; it is also told in a Servian popular tale, with variations of its own; and now here we find it in Bornou, as told by Kölle.
"There was a servant of God who had one wife and one horse; but his wife
was one-eyed, and they lived in their house. Now this servant of God understood
the language of the beasts of the forest when they spoke, and of the birds of
the air when they talked as they flew by. This servant of God also understood
the cry of the hyæna when it arose at night in the forest, and came to
the houses and cried near them; so, likewise, when his horse was hungry and
neighed, he understood what it neighed, rose up, brought the horse grass, and
then returned and sat down. It happened one day that birds had their talk as
they wore flying by above, and the servant of God understood what they talked.
This caused him to laugh, whereupon his wife said to him, 'What dost thou hear
1. Notte Duodecima. Favola terza. "Federigo da Pozzuolo che intendeva il linguaggio de gli animali, astretto dalla moglie dirle un segreto, quella stranamente battè."