What always fascinated me is the fact that while some folktales are completely endemic, some motifs but also whole folktales are apparently almost universal in their appeal – either forming in different places at once or being easily transferred across cultural borders. Or: Going global before that became a buzz word.
Let’s follow one such an example. Namely the animal tale of The Fox and the Stork (or The Fox and the Crane in some versions). If you look at its adaptation in the arts alone, you’ll be dazzled…
|Tile, Museum Vleeshuis||Danish Curch Wall Painting||Ebstorfer Medaillonlaken|
But of course, it’s spread even more in it textual/oral form. Today this fable/animal tale can be found all over Europe – I have found ones in Germany, France, England, Sweden, Turkey, Greece and also in Estonia and Russia and I’m sure you’d find many more if you’d take a harder look. Well yes, you might say, no wonder as it all comes from the fable by Aesop and it’s well-known by now that his fables had a huge impact on European folklore. Right you are. But what then about the same fable also existing in India and in Mongolia? Let’s have a look…
To begin with, here be the version of the fable as it was told by Aesop or whoever wrote under that name anyway.
The Fox and the Stork
A fox had invited the stork to be his guest and he served him the most delicious food but only in a flat bowl out of which the stork with his long beak could not eat. Greedily the fox had it all by himself even though he constantly asked the stork to please help himself.The stork felt betrayed but he stayed cheerful, praised the hospitality of the fox and asked his friend to be his guest the next day. The fox might have guessed that the fox would take revenge and he declined the invitation. But the stork did not stop asking him and so the fox finally agreed to come.
When he came tot he stork’s home the next day, he found a great variety of delicious dishes but all of them were served in narrow, long-necked vessels. “Follow my example”, said the stork, “please feel perfectly at home.” And he with his beak he also slurped it all by himself, while the fox in his anger could only lick along the neck of the vessel’s and was left with only ever smelling the food.
Still hungry he got up from the table and admitted that the stork had sufficiently punished him for mischief.
What you do not want others to do unto you,
That do not do unto others.
And here be the classical Indian version of it, taken from the Panchatantra:
The Fox and the Crane
Do unto others as you would want others do unto you!
One day a fox decided to have some fun with the crane. And so he invited the crane for dinner to his house. “Thank you for your kind invitation,” said the crane, “I will be very pleased to come.”So that evening, the crane went to the fox’s house where the fox served a delicious soup in two flat plates. It was very easy for the fox to eat and he lapped up the soup. The poor crane, though, was very embarrassed and could not eat anything at all. For no matter how hard he tried, he could not drink the soup from the flat plate. Quickly, the crane realised that the fox had deceived him. “I hope you liked your dinner,” said the fox, snickering. With a smile on his face, the crane replied: “Oh yes.”
But he was so very angry with the fox for playing this trick on him that he decided to teach him a lesson. And so he invited the fox for dinner on the next day. The fox happily accepted the invitation.
The crane was so very angry at the fox for playing such a trick that it decided to teach the fox a lesson. The crane then invited the fox to dinner after a couple of days. The fox is confused but pleased at the invitation. When the fox comes over to dinner the crane plays the same trick and serves the fox a delicious smelling soup in a tall jug. The fox realizes his misfortune and walks back home hungrily.
And then, the Mongolian adaptation of this text:
Fox and Crane
When fox with her pointed muzzle and bushy tail one day came back from hunting, she met crane with her long legs and narrow, long beak. “Dear Mrs. Crane, what are you searching for that you are bending down again and again?” asked fox.
„I turn the sky into my horse, the steppe into my ger and search for insects to turn them into food to fill my belly. Fox, dear old madam, what are you searching for sniffling along?” replied crane.
„I’m on the hunt, too, and when my muzzle and my nose have become greasy, I will head home. You who I have just met in the steppes and thus come to know, please honor me with a visit,” said fox and after thus inviting crane, she went on.
On the next day, the long-legged, narrow-beaked crane happily came to the pointy-muzzled, bushy-tailed one.
„Ah, my friend, the way here surely has tired you,“ said fox and led crane into her ger where she served a thin, steaming hot soup on a flat plate. “Please enjoy!” said fox and gave her the plate.
Crane with her long, narrow beak and her long legs could not find a way to eat the hot, thin soup from the flat plate; she circled the plate, her beak watering to no avail. Fox saw this and asked: “What are you examining? Don’t be shy, eat, eat!” Fox had slurped her soup all up and was licking the plate clean, so people say. Crane, though, could not eat anything and so she got up and went home with her belly still empty.
“Dear madam fox, please pay me a visit tomorrow,” crane invited her.
And so on the next day, fox came with her pointed muzzle and the bushy tail, all dressed up, to the long-legged, narrow-beaked one.
„Ah, my friend, the way here surely has tired you,“ said crane and led fox into her ger where she served fragrant rice in a narrow-necked vase. “Please enjoy!” said crane and gave her the vase.
But even though fox pushed her pointed muzzle into the vase, her tongue could not reach the rice. Since she could not, she circled the vase, licking here and there. Crane saw this and said: “My food is good, is it not? Why are you so shy?” She had already picked up and eaten her own rice, so it is told.
Fox, though, could not eat a single, tiny grain of rice and so she went home with her belly still empty, so it is told.
It’s interesting how very similar the fable by Aesop and the one from the Panchatantra are – and how dissimilar the Mongolian animal tales is in comparison. Of course, it’s not really possible to say which one was the egg and which one the hen between the two classical versions here.
What I find most fascinating is one particular change in the Mongolian version – it’s no longer clear that the fox deliberately tricks the crane. Instead it seems more like a metaphor for the difficulties encountered in all cross-cultural relations.
What do you think?
Copyright for translations and narrations: TaleTellerin
Copyright for images: The Aesop for Children @ Project Gutenberg