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Fantastic Beasts: Fabulous illustrations from classic Persian book of fables
09:47 am

Once upon a time, in the land of Persia, there lived a very wise old King called Anushirvan who had heard of an ancient book of tales told by animals and reptiles and the birds of the air. The King he decided he would very much like to read this book as he had read all of the other books in his library and he desperately wanted something new to read at bedtime so he could completely relax after his wearisome day ruling and begetting stuff and doing kingly things. The King asked his doctor, Burzuyah, who was the smartest man he knew, to go off in search of this book and bring it back to him. One bright early morning before the birds started singing, Burzuyah left the King’s palace and went off in search of this fantastic book of tales.

The book is called Anvār-i Suhaylī or Lights of Canopus and that is how our story begins. It sets the frame within which we are told a series of inter-related fables mostly involving animals that are intended to offer good counsel to the reader.

For example, one story (which sounds a bit like The Gruffalo) tells of a big, greedy, ferocious lion and a smart, little hare. When the lion meets the hare, he asks him why he is so late as he was due to be the lion’s dinner hours ago. The hare is most apologetic and tells the lion he is ever so sorry for being late but an even bigger, greedier, far more ferocious lion had stopped him on his way and tried to eat him. Thankfully, the hare escaped otherwise he would never have been in time for his dinner appointment. The lion thinks he’s got a rival so asks the hare to lead him to this other lion. The hare does so, taking the lion to the still of a pond where he points to the lion’s reflection on the surface of the water. The lion is so enraged by the look of this other ferocious beast that he jumps straight into the water and drowns.

Another tale recounts how a cat is caught in the net of a hunter’s trap. The rat the cat had been chasing is happy to see his old adversary caught. But then the rat realizes that without the cat’s protection, he is vulnerable to attack from some of the cat’s other prey like the owl and the weasel. Knowing the cat is trapped, the owl circles the sky looking for the rat to feast on. While the weasel sneaks behind a tree waiting for the rat to return home, so he can have him for his dinner. The rat decides it would be best to free the cat and begins to gnaw through the ropes that hold him. All the while, the rat implores the cat not to eat when he is free. The cat agrees but somehow his words never quite reassure the rat. So the rat decides to set the cat free at the very last moment when the hunter returns. The hunter returns. The owl flies away. The weasel runs home. The rat bites through the last rope. The cat flees from the trap and hides up a tree. And the rat goes back to his home knowing he is safe once again.

You get the drift.

And so the stories go with one tale setting up the next and so on. The idea is that the reader will learn something from these stories about human nature and perhaps about themselves…
More fabulous illustrations, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
09:47 am
Happy Silence Day!

Meher Baba at Paramount Film Studio, London, April 1932
Funny thing about silence. Humorist Josh Billings called it “one of the hardest arguments to refute” and the Slits called it a rhythm, while Francis Bacon called it “the virtue of fools” and six gay activists in New York in 1987 equated it with death. John Cage wrote a famous composition about it to show how much noise can be made at a concert with nobody playing their instruments.

Followers of Meher Baba have made a holiday out of it. On this day 85 years ago, the Indian-born mystic Baba went voluntarily silent at the age of 31. He would stay that way for 42 years, until he died in 1969. Funnily enough, no-one saw it coming. Born in the cosmopolitan Indian city of Pune to part-Zoroastrian-part-Sufi Persian parents, Baba seemed to have had it going on before his transformation to mysticism, according to Wiki:

His schoolmates nicknamed him “Electricity”. As a boy he formed The Cosmopolitan Club dedicated to remaining informed in world affairs and giving money to charity — money often raised by the boys betting at the horse races. He had an excellent singing voice and was a multi-instrumentalist and poet. Fluent in several languages, he was especially fond of Hafez’s Persian poetry, but also of Shakespeare and Shelley.

Baba’s persona, work and metaphysics enrapture lots of folks in the West, many of whom celebrities ranging from Gary Cooper to Pete Townshend. As you can see below, though a silent man for most of his life, Baba was a chatty bastard.


Posted by Ron Nachmann
05:08 pm