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June 17, 2016

Jackal and the Cave That Talked

Jackal, Panchatantra

Illustration: A Jackal.

There was once a lion in a part of a forest, and his name was Rough-Claw. One day he found nothing whatever to eat in his wanderings, and his throat was pinched by hunger. At sunset he came to a great mountain cave and went in, for he thought: “Surely, some animal will come into this cave during the night. I will hide and wait.”

Presently the owner of the cave, a jackal named Curd-Face, came to the door and began to sing: “Cave ahoy! Cave aho-o-oy!” Then after a moment’s silence, he continued in the same tone: “Hello! Don’t you remember how you and I made an agreement that I was to speak to you when I came back from the world outside, and that you were to sing out to me? But you won’t speak to me today. So I am going off to that other cave, which will return my greeting.”

Now when he heard this, the lion thought: “I see. This cave always calls out a greeting when the fellow returns. But today, from fear of me, it doesn’t say a word. This is natural enough. For

The feet and hands refuse to act
When peril terrifies;
A trembling seizes every limb;
And speech unuttered dies.

“I will myself call out a greeting, which he will follow to its source, so providing me with a dinner.”

The lion thereupon called out a greeting. But the cave so magnified the roar that its echo filled the circuit of the horizon, thus terrifying other forest creatures as well, even those far distant. Meanwhile, the jackal made off into the forest, singing and repeating the stanza:

“Joy comes from knowing what to dread,
And sorrow smites the dunderhead:
A long life through, the woods I’ve walked
But never heard a cave that talked.”

— Tales of Panchatantra. Translator: Arthur William Ryder (Professor of Sanskrit at the University of California, Berkeley).

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