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A Book of Wisdom and Lies

Prepared by Levan Abramishvili
Tuesday, April 16
As we continue to look through the pages of The Georgian Messenger that was published in the beginning of 20th century, we come across a section called “Georgian Humour” in every issue of the newspaper. The section mostly consists of fables of Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani, a Georgian writer and diplomat from the XVII century. We will tell the magnificent story of Orbeliani’s life and his work for Georgia at a later time. For now let’s enjoy his light-hearted, yet insightful little tales that were published in The Georgian Messenger.

The fables presented here are from Sulkhan-Saba’s “Book of Wisdom and Lies”, which was translated by Oliver Wardrop, whose work we have already featured in the previous issues.

The camel and the ass

A camel and an ass with chared backs became friends, and ran awayfrom their master without his knowledge. They went away far from the haunts of men, found pasture on hill and dale, and grew very sleek. They forgot their leanness and their sore backs. The ass said: “Brother, I want to sing a song, thou must accompany me nicely”. The camel refused, saying: “Nay, brother, dost thou not remember the sad state in which we were? If any men were in the neighbourhood and heard us roaring, they might come, take us away, and treat us worse than before”. The ass would not hearken to him, and began to roar at the top of his voice. Alas! his song was too loud. It happened that near them were travellers whose camelsand mulescould go no further on account of fatigue: when they heard the roaring, they were glad, and said: “Let us go and see, there must be a village or a caravan; perhaps we hire an ass”. When they came up they saw a camel and an ass, both fat without any owner; they took them away and put heavy loads on them.

After travelling a long way, the ass was so tired that he could go no farther. The man tookthe ass and his burden and laid them on the camel. They went on, and came to a narrow road by the side of a great rocky precipice. The camel said to the ass: “I want to dance, and skip, and hop". The ass replied: “This is no place for round dances!” The camel retorted: ,, Dancing here will be something like your singing yonder", and thereupon he angrily stood on his hind legs, threw the ass into the rocky abyss, and killed him.

The tortoise and the scorpion

A tortoise and a scorpion became friends; they set out to travel and came to a river which they must cross. The scorpion was sad because he could not get over, but the tortoise said: “Sit on my back and I shall carry thee across”. So the scorpion got on his back. No sooner had the tortoise begun to swim than the scorpion stung him on the back. The tortoise asked: “Brother why art thou doing this?” The scorpion replied: “How can I help it I do not wish to it, but our nature is such that we must bite both friend and foe". The tortoise dived to the bottom, threw the scorpion into the water, and said: “Brother, I do not wish to thee harm, but my nature is such that if I do not bathe my body after it is stung it swells up and I die.”

The fox and the fleas

The fox is a dumb brute, but it has so much sense, that when fleas swarm on it, knowing that they will annoy it, it takes in its mouth a piece of old leather, and lets its tail down into the water; when the fleas crawl up the tail to the body, it gradually sinks its body; when they move up from the body to the heal, and then to the piece of leather, it dips its heal under water, and lets the piece of old leather with the fleas float away in the stream.

The man with the saucepanhead

I know nothing about hunting, but I can tell you what happened to me when I was surgeon to the King of Armenia. I was one day sitting with the King when a criminal was brought in. The King ordered him to be beheaded. I waited a short time, and then prepared some medicine. When the man's head was off, I poured medicine down his throat, and bound a saucepan on his neck. He did not die, but lived to have three or four children, who were all born with little saucepans in place of heads.

The poor man and the rich man

A certain poor man, as he sat at home, prayed the following prayer: “God, give me five hundred phluris; if there be a single phluri less I will not take the money". A rich man happened to be passing over the flat roof of the house, and when he heard this, he said: “I will bring him what he asks for, and see what the man will do with it”. So he went away, counted out five hundred phluris all but ten, sealed them up, and threw them down to him from the roof. The poor man counted them, and that ten were wanting; he said: “God, blessed me Thou! If Thou hadst given me but a marchili I would have been thankful; far be it from me to refuse this gift”. The rich man came down from the roof and said to him: “This was only to try thee; the money is mine, give it back to me”. But the poor man would have nothing to do with him: “It was not to thee, but to God that I prayed, and He gave me my desire”. They disputed the point, and went to plead before the cadi. The poor man said: “I have nothing on, and thou art well dressed; lend me thy fur-lined coat”. The rich man granted his request. He put on the coat and they proceeded to complain to the cadi. At the end of his pleading, the poor man said: “He is such a pettifogger, that you will see he will even lay claim to this coat of mine!” The rich man rejoined: “Did I not lend it to thee only just now?” At this the cadi lost his temper; the rich man got many stripes and was driven away. Thus was he rewarded for his goodness: “He was despoiled and put to shame!”