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From Count Lucanor; of the Fifty Pleasant Stories of Patronio, written by the Prince Don Juan Manuel and first done into English by James York, M. D., 1868;; Gibbings & Company, Limited; London; 1899; pp. 142-164.

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What happened to the Swallow, with the other birds, when he saw the flax sown.

manuscript letter C OUNT LUCANOR, conversing one day with Patronio, spoke thus: —

“Patronio, they tell me that my more powerful neighbors are plotting together and using all their influence to deceive and injure me. I do not however, myself believe it. Still, knowing your prudence, I wish to ask you what you think I ought to do in this matter.”

“My lord,” said Patronio, “in order that you may better understand your duty in this case, permit me to relate to you what happened to the swallow and the other birds.”

The Count requested to be informed what that was; and Patronio spoke thus: —

“My lord, a swallow one day saw a man sowing flax, and perceived that if the flax grew up men would be enabled with the thread produced therefrom to make nets wherewith to catch birds; so when the sowing was completed, this swallow assembled all the other birds and informed them how 143 the man had sown the flax, also telling them that when the seed came to perfection it would probably be used to injure them.

“Now his advice was, that before the seed commenced growing, and while it was not attached to the earth, they should root it up, and destroy it, as it would be very difficult to do so afterwards.

“The birds thought but little of this advice, although he urged it many times, and were not disposed to act. Now the flax so grew that the birds could not uproot it either with their claws or their bills. When the birds found this to be the case, they regretted not having taken the advice of the swallow to avert the injury now inevitable; but, alas! it was too late.

“Now when the swallow saw the birds would not assist him to avert the common danger, he went to the man, and, placing himself under his protection, obtained from him, for himself and his progeny, a promise of future security; and since that time we see that the swallows are safe with men, whilst the other birds are daily caught in nets.

“And you, my lord, if you wish to avert the danger which you think threatens you, remember the saying of the wise man, “when you perceive a threatened danger use every precaution to avert it, for he is not a sensible man who only sees the danger after it has come upon him; but wise is he who by a slight sign or movement foresees the approaching evil, and provides against it.’”


The Count was much pleased with this narrative of Patronio’s, and, acting according to his advice, found it prosperous.

And as Don Juan approved of this example, he ordered it to be written in this book, and composed the following lines, which say: —

Wouldst thou make sure from danger to escape,
Then wait not till it takes a threatening shape.


This tale is found in Æsop, and La Fontaine has made it the subject of one of his prettiest fables. But there is a point in the prose apologue of Don Manuel, and in an apologue in verse by his contemporary, Juan Ruiz de Hita, which La Fontaine has missed. This lies in the decision of the swallow to seek the protection of men and frequent their dwellings.


Relates what happened to a Man who carried a very precious Treasure hung round his neck, and who had to pass a River.

manuscript letter O ONE day Count Lucanor said to Patronio, “It is requisite that I should visit a distant part of the country, where I have to receive a large sum of money, which I can employ advantageously here, 145 and having great fear that in returning I may be exposed to much personal danger, I ask for your advice how to act.”

“My lord,” said Patronio, “in order that you may better understand how to act in this emergency, allow me to tell you what happened to a man who had to convey a treasure across a river, and which he carried round his neck.”

The Count desired him to proceed, which Patronio did in the following manner: —

“My lord, this man had to pass a very wide and muddy river; and there was no alternative, there being neither bridge, nor boat, nor any other means of transit, but that of passing through the water. So, taking off his shoes, he found that with their weight and that of the treasure which he carried it was difficult to avoid sinking, the mud increasing as he reached the centre of the river.

“The king, and an attendant who stood on the opposite bank, called out to him in a loud voice to throw away the load which he carried, otherwise he would be lost.

“The foolish man, little thinking that if he sank he would lose not only his treasure but his own life also, would not follow the advice given him by the king who stood on the opposite shore. As the current was very strong and the mud became deeper, the man gradually sank until the water reached his neck. Endeavouring now to free his feet from the mud, he found it impossible; for, with the weight 146 which he carried, he rolled over, sank, and was suffocated.

“Thus, from a miserly feeling, he would not follow the good advice given him by the king, and so lost his own life and the treasure which he carried.

“Now I advise you, Count Lucanor, let the sum be what it may, and the use of it here be ever so tempting, take care that avarice does not lead you astray, inducing you to risk you own life; for whoever should do so, setting his own life at small value, will certainly not receive the esteem of his fellow-men; unless, indeed, his honour is concerned thereby. For a man who sets small value upon his own life, and has not self-respect, cannot receive the respect of others. For it is certain that a man who properly respects himself will never risk his life through avarice or trifling causes, but only in defence of his honour.”

And the Count, liking this advice, followed it. And Don Juan, admiring the precept, had it written in this book, and composed the following verses: —

Who risks his life for greed of pelf
Can hardly hope to enrich himself.


We believe this fable to be original, as we do not recollect having seen it in any collection. But, whatever may be its origin, or the changes that have been rung on it, the moral application which follows Patronio’s recital assured to Don Manuel’s production the most distinguished place.



Of what happened to a woman called Truhana.

manuscript letter C OUNT LUCANOR said to Patronio, “A man has unfolded to me a scheme, and has shown me the manner in which it can be carried out. And I assure you that it is in so many ways admirable and worthy of approval, that, if heaven blessed me with the success it promises, it would be much to my advantage; for so many things spring out of it, the one from the other, that in the end it would be a very great and noble achievement.” He then informed Patronio of all the particulars. Who, after he had heard the Count’s arguments, answered him thus: —

“My lord, I have always understood that it is wisest to adhere to the things which are certain, and not be ever running after shadows and vain things, lest it happen to you as it did to Truhana.”

The Count desired him to relate this story, which Patronio did as follows: —

“A woman named Truhana, who was not very rich, went one day to market, carrying on her head a jar of honey. Along the road she was calculating how she could sell the honey and buy eggs, these 148 eggs would produce chickens, and with the produce of the sale of these latter she would buy lambs; and in this way was calculating how she would become richer than her neighbours, and looked forward with anxiety to well marrying her sons and daughters, and how she would go through the streets, accompanied by her sons and daughters-in-law, and how the people would say what a fortunate woman she was to become so rich, having been so very poor. Under the influence of these pleasurable thoughts, she laughed heartily; when, suddenly striking the jar with her hand, if fell to the ground and was broken. Seeing this, she was in great grief at being so suddenly deprived of all her flattering anticipations; for, having fixed all her thoughts upon an illusion, she lost that which was real.

“And you, my lord, if you allow yourself to listen to everything that is proposed to you, so as to lose sight of the real and good, you can only blame yourself for your failure.”

The Count was much pleased, and followed this good advice. And Don Juan, liking the moral, wrote, and ordered to be put in this book the following lines: —

Confine your thoughts to what is real,
And cease to nurse a vain ideal.


There is scarcely a language in which this fable does not appear under some form. It is, however, evidently of Eastern 149 origin, as we find in the “Arabian Nights” a tale very similar — “Alnaschar, the Barber’s Brother.” The earliest version is in the fifth part of the Pantcha Tantra, entitled “Aparickchita Kariteva,” or, “Inconsiderate Conduct,” the object of which is to show the danger of precipitation, and runs as follows: —

An avaricious brahmin, named Soma Sarma, had gathered, in charitable offerings, a large jar full of flour. On entering his home, he hung the jar upon a nail immediately opposite the foot of his bed, so as not to lose sight of it. During the night he awakened, and abandoned himself to the pleasurable reflections of gain, saying, “Now this jar of flour, in case of a scarcity, I can sell for at least one hundred pieces of money, and with this sum I can buy a ram and a goat; these will produce kids, and, selling these, I will purchase a couple of cows; after the sale of the calves I will procure a herd of buffaloes, which will turn out very advantageous and bring me considerable sums of money; then I shall have a stud, and will sell my horses to great advantage. I will build a fine house and become a man of consequence, when some rich and honourable man will give me his daughter in marriage, with a princely fortune. As I probably shall have a son I will call him by my own name, Soma Sarma; as soon as he can totter I will take him on horseback before me on the saddle, so that as soon as he sees me he will quit his mother’s apron strings and come running towards me. I will call his mother to come and take him away from me: she, being occupied with the household affairs, will not attend to my summons, when I will give him a kick.” Saying these words, he stretched out his foot so violently as to break the jar and upset all the flour about the place, where it mingled with the dust and was totally lost; and with it vanished the bright and flattering illusions of Soma Sarma.

The name of Truhana in the tale is equivalent to our Gertrude.



Of that which happened to a Man who was suffering from a malady and whose liver had to be cleansed.

manuscript letter A NOTHER time, Count Lucanor spoke thus to Patronio, saying, “Although God has been very bountiful to me in many ways, yet I am just now in great want of money; and, although I would almost prefer dying to doing it, yet I feel I must be compelled to sell one of my estates, to which I am much attached, or have recourse to some other equally ruinous means to free myself from my present embarrassments. I am daily pressed by creditors who could well afford to wait. Now, knowing your good understanding, I pray you to tell me how I had best act under these pressing circumstances.”

“My lord,” said Patronio, “you are in much the same position with these men as the man was who was suffering from a malady.”

“How was that?” said the Count.

“Count,” said Patronio, “a man was in great pain from a disease and was informed by the doctors that there was no other remedy than making an opening in his side and taking out his liver and washing it in certain medicated waters, as it was in 151 a very bad state. While he was suffering under this operation, and the doctor held the liver in his hand, another man who was there demanded a piece of the liver for his cat.

“And you, Count Lucanor, if you desire to procure money at a serious injury to yourself to give to those who can afford to wait for it, you are certainly at liberty to do so if you wish, but you will never do it by my advice.”

The Count, being very much pleased by what Patronio said, took care to profit by it; and Don Juan, liking the moral of the story, requested it should be written in this book, and composed these lines, which say as follows: —

Know when to give and when withhold
Or you may come to want untold.


Of what happened to a man who through poverty and lack of other food, was reduced to eat some peas.

manuscript letter C OUNT LUCANOR, speaking one day to Patronio, said, “God has been very bountiful to me, in granting me much more than I can individually enjoy; yet it sometimes happens that I am so pressed for 152 money, that my life is a burden to me. I beg of you to direct me in this trouble.”

“My lord,” said Patronio, “in order that you may better understand how to act under such circumstances, I will, with your permission, illustrate your position by relating what happened to two rich men.”

The Count begged he would do so.

“My lord,” said Patronio, “it is said that one of these two men became so destitute that he could not even procure bread to eat. After begging from door to door, until wearied out, all he could procure was a handful of dried peas, very hard and bitter. Remembering his former opulence, and seeing himself now reduced through hunger to eat these peas, he began to cry bitterly. As he ate he threw away the pods, when he perceived another man behind him eating them. And this is the point to which I wish to draw your attention. When he saw the man eating the pods, he asked him why he did so. ‘Because,’ said this latter, ‘though I was once richer than you ever were, yet I am now reduced to so great a state of poverty and hunger that I am glad to eat the pods which you are throwing away.’

“When the former man saw this, he found there was yet another more destitute than himself, and less deserving to be so. Seeing this, he directed his heart to God and prayed that he might be shown how to escape from so much poverty. His prayers were heard, and he prospered ever after.


“And you, my lord, should know such is the world, and it is ordained that no condition admits of unalloyed happiness. If at any time, as it appears, you are distressed for money, do not let discontent enter your heart; but reflect how many men there are at the same moment, who have been both richer and more honoured than yourself, who would be only too glad to occupy what you consider an unfortunate position.”

The Count was much pleased with what Patronio told him, exerted himself, and God helped him well out of his difficulties.

And Don Juan, liking the example, had it written in this book, and wrote the following lines: —

Let not poverty dismay your mind,
Since others poorer than yourself you find.


Without depriving the story of any part of its originality, we think the idea was taken from the “Gulistan,” of Saadi, chapter the 19th, on the excellence of contentment. It also reminds us of an excellent Italian saying: — “A man is never so well as not to feel he can be better, nor so ill that he cannot be worse.”



What happened to a Cock and a Fox.

manuscript letter A T another time Count Lucanor was conversing with Patronio, when he said, “You know, thanks be to God, my lands are very large, but are not all united, so that I have many places which are very strong and some which are not so — places which are separated a long way from the rest of my estate where my power is greatest. And, when I have any contention with the neighbouring nobles who are more powerful then myself, many who give themselves out for my friends, and others who volunteer their counsels, endeavour to terrify me on this score, and advise me on no account to go to those distant territories, and to keep within my own defences. Knowing your loyalty and superior judgment, I beg you to advise me how to act in this case.”

“My lord,” said Patronio, “it is difficult to advise in great and perilous undertakings, as no man can be certain of the results; for how often when we think we are acting for the best, things turn out unfortunately; while, again, what at another time appears to us the greatest misfortune, turns out to our best advantage. So a man, even with the best intentions, may give advice which may produce 155 effects contrary to his previsions. If the advice is productive of no good, shame is his portion. In asking me to give you advice in so doubtful and perilous a position, I must beg you to allow me to relate to you what happened to a cock with a fox.

“My lord,” said Patronio, “a good man had a house in the mountains, and among other things reared a great number of fowls.

“It happened upon once occasion, that a cock, wandering a long way from the house, met a fox, whom he no sooner observed than, fearing to become his prey, he flew up into a tree. The fox, seeing the cock in safety, felt very much annoyed at having missed his aim. He immediately began to consider how he could induce the cock to descend. he commenced by begging he would come down and continue his country walk. The cock abruptly refused him, when the fox, seeing he could not persuade him, began to threaten him, saying, that, as he could not trust him, he would find some means to catch him. The cock, finding himself in safety, laughed equally at his threats and promises. The fox, seeing that he could not intimidate the cock, began gnawing the tree and striking it with his tail. The captive cock, being frightened without reason, flew to another tree. The fox, seeing that he had alarmed him, continued pursuing him form tree to tree, each one taking him father from home, until at last he caught him and ate him.


“And you, my lord, in your critical position, do not let yourself be frightened at imaginary dangers, but at the same time be prepared for real ones, strengthening the defences of your smaller towns as well as the large ones; and believe that no man provided as you are with troops and provisions has anything to fear behind his own walls. If through uncalled-for fears you abandon your most distant villages, they will chase you from one to another until deprived of all. Even if you or yours show the slightest disheartenment it will only serve to strengthen your enemies, who, seeing your weakness, will never lay down their arms while you possess an inch of land; but, if well defended from the beginning, like the cock on the first tree, you have nothing to fear from all the battering-rams and scaling ladders of your enemies. Nay, more, to convince you that I speak the truth, it would be impossible to find an army sufficiently strong to make breaches in, or undermine the walls of so many fortified villages. But, my lord, when after due consideration you have determined and commenced acting, on no account retract. It is always better to face danger than to fly from it, more men being lost in retreat than in the battle-field. Like a little dog attacking a hound; so long as he remains quiet, showing his teeth, he is safe, but once attempt to run away and he is lost.”

And the Count, feeling this to be good advice, followed it, and was safe. And because Don Juan 157 thought this to be a good example, he had it written in this book, and composed the following lines; —

Defend thee like a man in proper season,
But be not frighten‘d when there is not reason.


This fable has nothing in common with that of La Fontaine which bears the same title. In the Æsopian fable, versified by the French poet, the cock does not fall a victim to the designs of the fox. In Don Manuel’s, on the contrary, he becomes, after resisting all compliments, a prey to false alarms and want of confidence when in actual safety. The moral which Don Manuel intended to convey in his fable was not so much to guard against the influence of flattery as against false alarms.


What happened to a Man catching Partridges.

manuscript letter C OUNT LUCANOR, at another time speaking to Patronio, said to him, “Some men of high and low position cause me and my people a great deal of annoyance and injury, but, when appealed to, always excuse themselves by expressing regret, and assuring me that circumstances only compelled them to act in the way they had done, and not their inclination. Desiring to know how to act under these circumstances, I beg you to give me your advice.”

“My lord,” said Patronio, “in order that you 158 should know under these circumstances how best to act, I shall feel pleased at being permitted to relate to you what happened to a man taking partridges.”

“A man who had spread his net to take partridges, as soon as he had caught them, commenced killing them one by one, and, while so occupied, a gust of wind blew so fiercely in his eyes as to cause the tears to flow down his cheeks, when one of the birds that was still alive in the net said to the others, ‘See, my friends, what pain it causes this good man to kill us, for you see it makes him weep.’

“Another partridge, more knowing, and who had avoided falling into the net, replied, ‘My friend, I am very thankful to God for having preserved me from falling into the snares of the fowler, and I will continue to implore Providence that I and my friends may be protected from all those who would injure us, excusing themselves by saying that they acted under the pressure of circumstances and against their inclinations.”

“And you, Count Lucanor, be on your guard against those you see are disposed to injure you under the plea that they are sorry for it. But if the damage be trifling, and evidently to you unintentional, and come from a person who has really been of service to you, I would advise you to shut your eyes and not notice it, unless you clearly see that he is taking an undue advantage of your good nature: it then becomes incumbent on you to defend your fortune and your honour.”


The Count approved of this advice, and Don Juan, considering it a good example, ordered it to be inserted in this book, and wrote the following verses: —

Who does thee ill and feigns regret,
Beware of falling in his net.

And on this matter another verse made by Alfonso, friar of Santiago, which says thus: —

What avail the eyes that water
If the hands are bent on slaughter.


The first germ of this fable appears in Indian collections: witness Lokman, fable 31. But Don Juan imparted to it an entirely new turn and form. The moral with which it winds up is essentially Spanish, and the advice given to Count Lucanor has every appearance of being addressed to the treacherous monarch Alfonso XI.


Related to what happened to a Man with his Friend who had invited him to dinner.

manuscript letter C OUNT LUCANOR, when conversing one day with his counsellor Patronio, said, “A man came to me, proposing to carry out my views in a matter in which I am much interested, but the offer was made 160 with so little apparent eagerness that I am inclined to think he would be glad not to be taken at his word; and although I am anxious to avail myself of it, I am yet disinclined to accept a service so coldly offered. What do you think? Pray give me your opinion.”

“Then allow me, my lord,” said Patronio, “to narrate to you what happened to a man who had been invited to dine with his friend.”

“My lord, a man who had been very rich became so reduced that he was often in want of the necessaries of life, which, however, he was too proud to solicit, preferring to suffer the pangs of hunger to the shame of begging his bread. One day, however, when very sorely pressed by hunger, having fasted very long, he happened to pass the gate of an old friend, who was at dinner, and who, seeing him go by, invited him, but very coldly, to partake of his repast, The hungry man immediately accepted the invitation, washed his hands, and sat down to table, saying, ‘Thanks, my friend; you have invited me in a lucky moment, and so generously that I think it unbecoming to refuse you.’

“As the hungry man gained strength from the repast he gradually lost the feeling of shame, and God enlightened him as to the manner of freeing him from his misery.

“And you, Count Lucanor, will now understand how, as the offer is made and the service required, you should accept your friend’s proffered assistance 161 without hesitation, as it is always better to accept a favour if offered, than to ask one.”

And the Count, following this good advice, profited thereby.

And Don Juan, liking the moral, composed these lines, to be written with it in his book, saying: —

If thou have need, be not too nice;
Nor wait for friends to ask thee twice.


What happened to the Owls and the Crows.

manuscript letter C OUNT LUCANOR, conversing at another time with Patronio, said, “There is a man of considerable influence with whom I am at variance. This man had living with him a relation and his servant, to whom he was very kind. Lately some difference has arisen between this master and his servant; and the latter, considering himself ill-used, came to me, offering his services in my interests, if I would show him how he could be revenged. Having great confidence in your advice, I wish you to tell me how to act.”

“In the first place,” replied Patronio, “believe 162 me, this man seeks only to deceive you; and in order that you may better understand how, I will tell you what happened to the owls and the crows.”

The Count begged him to do so, when Patronio, continuing, said, “My lord, the crows and the owls had a great contention, but the crows had the worst of it; for the owls, whose custom is to rove about at night, and hide themselves in eaves during the day, which made it difficult to find them, came in the night to the trees where the crows lodged, killing many of them and doing much injury.

“Suffering so much in this way, they consulted an old crow who was very knowing, relating to him the injurious treatment they received from the owls, their enemies.

“He suggested to them this plan of revenge: that they should pluck out of him all his feathers, leaving only a few in his wings to enable him to fly a little. In this sad state he went to show himself to the owls, telling them that the crows had thus cruelly treated him, merely because he wished to make peace between them, and offered to show them how they could be revenged on the crows.

“When the owls heard this they were much pleased, and showed him much endearment, telling him all their secrets and intentions. There was one aged owl, however, who did not partake in the general feeling. Seeing the deceitful intentions of the crow, he told his companions not to trust him, as he only sought to discover their secrets, and advised 163 them to turn him out of their society. But the owls, not putting faith in his advice, he left them, and sought for himself another hiding-place, where they could not find him.

“Thus the crow continued to live in confidence with the owls until his feathers were sufficiently grown to enable him to take a long flight. It was then he told the owls he wished to go and see where the crows were, in order that they might go with him and exterminate them. But he never returned until accompanied by all the other crows, whom he had informed of all the projects and hiding-places of the owls.

“In this way, the owls being attacked unprepared, and in the daylight, became easy victims to the vengeance of the crows; all through an unwise confidence in a natural enemy.

“And you, Count Lucanor, must know well that this man, being connected with the household of your enemy, will be naturally interested in its welfare, I would advise you to place no confidence in him, and if you do employ him, let it be only where no trust is required; for, be assured, he will deceive you and play you false the first opportunity favourable to his own interest, and so his proposed treachery to his present master will be turned against you.”

The Count followed this advice, which was successful; and Don Juan, approving of it, had it written in this book, and composed the following lines: — 164

If thou wouldst live securely to the end,
Distrust a foe who would become a friend.


This example appears also to have had an Indian origin. It is found in the third chapter of “Pantcha Tantra,” under the title of “Kàkoloûkika,” or “The War between the Crows and the Owls.” Loiseleur des Longchamps, in his essay on Indian fables, gives the following analysis of this tale: — “The moral of this story is to show the danger of trusting to strangers or enemies who come under the mask of friendship. The king of the crows, jealous of the king of the owls, forms the project of destroying his enemies, and to succeed more securely therein, charges one of his ministers to introduce himself among the owls. He succeeds in his project by a ruse which recalls the history of Zopyrus. Stripped of his plumes and covered with blood, he is found, lying at the foot of a tree, by the owls, who take him to their king. The new-comer gains the confidence of the king of the owls, against the advice of his ministers. He betrays their confidence, and shows the crows how they can destroy their enemies, who are suffocated in the eaves which serve them as a hiding-place.”

Elf.Ed. Possibly, older even than the Indian fable, the same ancient stratagem is first recorded in legends retold of the Trojan War, written by Tryphiodorus, in The Taking of Ilios, which is here on Elfinspell, and by Apollodorus, Q. Smyrnaeus, and Virgil. The Greeks sent one of their men, Sinon, to Troy, after he had volunteered to be beaten to look abused. Then going to the Trojans, he stays with them as a refugee. Later, he signals to the Greek army lying in wait that the Trojan horse was safely inside the walls of Troy, and it was time to attack. See Carlos Parada's discussion of Sinon, a masterpiece of thoroughness.

The reference to Zopyrus, is from Herodotus, that revered historian of Greece. Whether it is fabulous and based on the Indian or Homeric tale, is certainly a curious question.

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