Indian Fairy Tales | Annotated Tale

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Lion and the Crane, The

THE Bodhisatta was at one time born in the region of Himavanta as a white crane; now Brahmadatta was at that time reigning in Benares. Now it chanced that as a lion was eating meat a bone stuck in his throat. The throat became swollen, he could not take food, his suffering was terrible. The crane seeing him, as he was perched on a tree looking for food, asked, "What ails thee, friend?" He told him why. "I could free thee from that bone, friend, but dare not enter thy mouth for fear thou mightest eat me." "Don't be afraid, friend, I'll not eat thee; only save my life." "Very well," says he, and caused him to lie down on his left side. But thinking to himself, "Who knows what this fellow will do," he placed a small stick upright between his two jaws that he could not close his mouth, and inserting his head inside his mouth struck one end of the bone with his beak. Whereupon the bone dropped and fell out. As soon as he had caused the bone to fall, he got out of the lion's mouth, striking the stick with his beak so that it fell out, and then settled on a branch. The lion gets well, and one day was eating a buffalo he had killed. The crane thinking "I will sound him," settled on a branch just over him, and in conversation spoke this first verse:

"A service have we done thee
     To the best of our ability,
King of the Beasts! Your Majesty!
     What return shall we get from thee?"

               In reply the Lion spoke the second verse:

"As I feed on blood,       
     And always hunt for prey,   
'Tis much that thou art still alive       
     Having once been between my teeth."

               Then in reply the crane said the two other verses:

"Ungrateful, doing no good,       
     Not doing as he would be done by,    
In him there is no gratitude,      
     To serve him is useless.

"His friendship is not won       
     By the clearest good deed.    
Better softly withdraw from him,       
     Neither envying nor abusing."

               And having thus spoken the crane flew away.

               And when the great Teacher, Gautama the Buddha, told this tale, he used to add: "Now at that time the lion was Devadatta the Traitor, but the white crane was I myself."


SOURCE: V. Fausböll, Five Jātakas, Copenhagen, 1861, pp. 35-8, text and translation of the Jāvasakuna Jātaka. I have ventured to English Prof. Fausböll's version, which was only intended as a "crib" to the Pali. For the omitted Introduction, see supra.

PARALLELS: I have given a rather full collection of parallels, running to about a hundred numbers, in my Æsop, pp. 232-4. The chief of these are: (1) for the East, the Midrashic version ("Lion and Egyptian Partridge"), in the great Rabbinic commentary on Genesis (Bereshith-rabba, c. 64); (2) in classical antiquity, Phædrus, i. 8 ("Wolf and Crane"), and Babrius, 94 ("Wolf and Heron"), and the Greek proverb Suidas, ii. 248 ("Out of the Wolf's Mouth"); (3) in the Middle Ages, the so-called Greek Æsop, ed. Halm, 276 b, really prose versions of Babrius and "Romulus," or prose of Phædrus, i. 8, also the Romulus of Ademar (fl. 1030), 64; it occurs also on the Bayeux Tapestry, in Marie de France, 7, and in Benedict of Oxford's Mishle Shualim (Heb.), 8; (4) Stainhöwel took it from the "Romulus" into his German Æsop (1480), whence all the modern European Æsops are derived.

REMARKS: I have selected The Wolf and the Crane as my typical example in my "History of the Æsopic Fable," and can only give here a rough summary of the results I there arrived at concerning the fable, merely premising that these results are at present no more than hypotheses. The similarity of the Jataka form with that familiar to us, and derived by us in the last resort from Phædrus, is so striking that few will deny some historical relation between them. I conjecture that the Fable originated in India, and came West by two different routes. First, it came by oral tradition to Egypt, as one of the Libyan Fables which the ancients themselves distinguished from the Æsopic Fables. It was, however, included by Demetrius Phalereus, tyrant of Athens, and founder of the Alexandrian library c. 300 B.C., in his Assemblies of Æsopic Fables, which I have shown to be the source of Phædrus' Fables c. 30 A.D. Besides this, it came from Ceylon in the Fables of Kybises--i.e., Kasyapa the Buddha--c. 50 A.D., was adapted into Hebrew, and used for political purposes, by Rabbi Joshua ben Chananyah in a harangue to the Jews c. 120 A.D., begging them to be patient while within the jaws of Rome. The Hebrew form uses the lion, not the wolf, as the ingrate, which enables us to decide on the Indian provenance of the Midrashic version. It may be remarked that the use of the lion in this and other Jatakas is indirectly a testimony to their great age, as the lion has become rarer and rarer in India during historic times, and is now confined to the Gir forest of Kathiáwar, where only a dozen specimens exist, and are strictly preserved.

                The verses at the end are the earliest parts of the Jataka, being in more archaic Pali than the rest: the story is told by the commentator (c. 400 A.D.) to illustrate them. It is probable that they were brought over on the first introduction of Buddhism into Ceylon, c. 241 B.C. This would give them an age of over two thousand years, nearly three hundred years earlier than Phædrus, from whom comes our Wolf and Crane.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Lion and the Crane, The
Tale Author/Editor: Jacobs, Joseph
Book Title: Indian Fairy Tales
Book Author/Editor: Jacobs, Joseph
Publisher: David Nutt
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1912
Country of Origin: India
Classification: ATU 76: The Wolf and the Crane

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