Sagas from the Far East; or, Kalmouk and Mongolian Traditionary Tales | Annotated Tale

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Biting Corpse, The


When the Well-and-wise-walking Khan found that the Siddhî-kür had once more escaped, he went forth yet another time to the cool grove, and sought him out as before; and having been solicited by him to give the sign of consent to his telling a tale, the Siddhî-kür commenced after the following manner:--


LONG ages ago, there lived two brothers who had married two sisters. Nevertheless, from some cause, the hearts of the two brothers were estranged from each other. Moreover, the elder brother was exceeding miserly and morose of disposition. The elder brother also had amassed great riches; but he gave no portion of them unto his younger brother. One day the elder brother made preparations for a great feast, and invited to it all the inhabitants of the neighbourhood. The younger brother said privately to his wife on this occasion, "Although my brother has never behaved as a brother unto us, yet surely now that he is going to have such a great gathering of neighbours and acquaintances, it beseemeth not that he should fail to invite also his own flesh and blood."

               Nevertheless he invited him not. The next day, however, he said again to his wife, "Though he invited us not yesterday, yet surely this second day of the feast he will not fail to send and call us."

               Nevertheless he invited him not. Yet the third day likewise he expected that he should have sent and called him; but he invited him not the third day either. When he saw that he invited him not the third day either, he grew angry, and said within himself, "Since he has not invited me, I will even go and steal my portion of the feast."

               As soon as it was dark, therefore--when all the people of his brother's house, having well drunk of the brandy he had provided, were deeply sunk in slumber,--the younger brother glided stealthily into his brother's house, and hid himself in the store-chamber. But it was so, that the elder brother, having himself well drank of the brandy, and being overcome with sound slumbers (1), his wife supported him along, and then put herself to sleep with him in the store-chamber. After a while, however, she rose up again, chose of the best meat and dainties, cooked them with great care, and went out, taking with her what she had prepared. When the brother saw this, he was astonished, and, abandoning for the moment his intention of possessing himself of a share of the good things, went out, that he might follow his brother's wife. Behind the house was a steep rock, and on the other side of the rock a dismal, dreary burying-place. Hither it was that she betook herself. In the midst of a patch of grass in this burying-place was a piece of paved floor; on this lay the body of a man, withered and dried--it was the body of her former husband (2); to him, therefore, she brought all these good dishes. After kissing and hugging him, and calling upon him by name, she opened his mouth, and tried to put the food into it. Then, see! suddenly the dead man's mouth was jerked to again, breaking the copper spoon in two. And when she had opened it again, trying once more to feed him, it closed again as violently as before, this time snapping off the tip of the woman's nose. After this, she gathered her dishes together, and went home, and went to bed again. Presently she made as though she had woke up, with a lamentable cry, and accused her husband of having bitten off her nose in his sleep. The man declared he had never done any such thing; but as the woman had to account for the damage to her nose, she felt bound to go on asseverating that he had done it. The dispute grew more and more violent between them, and the woman in the morning took the case before the Khan, accusing her husband of having bitten off the tip of her nose. As all the neighbours bore witness that the nose was quite right on the previous night, and the tip was now certainly bitten off, the Khan had no alternative but to decide in favour of the woman; and the husband was accordingly condemned to the stake for the wilful and malicious injury.

               Before many hours it reached the ears of the younger brother that his elder brother had been condemned to the stake; and when he had heard the whole matter, in spite of his former ill-treatment of him, he ran forthwith before the Khan, and gave information of how the woman had really come by the injury, and how that his brother had no fault in the matter.

               Then said the Khan, "That thou shouldst seek to save the life of thy brother is well; but this story that thou hast brought before us, who shall believe? Do dead men gnash their teeth and bite the living? Therefore in that thou hast brought false testimony against the woman, behold, thou also hast fallen into the jaws of punishment." And he gave sentence that all that he possessed should be confiscated, and that he should be a beggar at the gate of his enemies (3), with his head shorn (4). "Let it be permitted to me to speak again," said the younger brother, "and I will prove to the Khan the truth of what I have advanced." And the Khan having given him permission to speak, he said, "Let the Khan now send to the burying-place on the other side of the rock, and there in the mouth of the corpse shall be found the tip of this woman's nose." Then the Khan sent, and found it was even as he had said. So he ordered both brothers to be set at liberty, and the woman to be tied to the stake.

               "It were well if a Khan had always such good proof to guide his judgments," exclaimed the Well-and-wise-walking Khan.

               And as he let these words escape him, the Siddhî-kür replied, "Forgetting his health, the Well-and-wise-walking Khan hath opened his lips." And with the cry, "To escape out of this world is good," he sped him through the air, swift out of sight.


(1) That the Indians were apt to yield to the temptation of drink is asserted by the Greek writers on India, who also mention that, in spite of the prohibition of their religion, wine was an article of their import trade. See Lassen, ii. 606; iii. 50, and 345, 346.

(2) That the wife should give herself to be burned with the body of her husband was a very ancient custom, as it is alluded to as such by the Greek writers on India. Nevertheless it was far from universal.

(3) Comp. Mânu, dh. sh. viii. 29, concerning the punishment of the false witness.

(4) Shaving off the hair was reckoned the most degrading of punishments. (Lassen, vi. 344.)

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Biting Corpse, The
Tale Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Book Title: Sagas from the Far East; or, Kalmouk and Mongolian Traditionary Tales
Book Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Publisher: Griffith and Farran
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1873
Country of Origin: Mongolia & Russia
Classification: unclassified

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