The 1001 Nights
Once Allah endowed a wealthy husbandman with the ability to understand the language of every kind of beast and bird, commanding him, under pain of death, never to divulge this gift. Fearing for his life, the husbandman guarded the secret well.
One day while observing his animals, he heard a bull say to a donkey, "Lucky one, you enjoy the best of care, while I suffer all manner of ill treatment. I toil under the yoke by day, receive but a meager ration of beans and straw, and must lie at night in a filthy stall. You, by comparison, eat well and lie about at ease unless the master chooses to ride you into town, which happens seldom enough, and even then he returns with you straight-away."
"You fool," replied the donkey. "You could have an easier life, if you would only feign illness. When they next take you to your stall, fall to the ground, puff out your belly, and refuse to eat. This will surely bring a reprieve from your accustomed blows and toil."
The bull did as the donkey recommended and pretended to be sick. However, the master, who had overheard their conversation, responded by binding the wily donkey to the plow and forcing him to do the bull's work. The donkey, unaccustomed to such labor, suffered greatly under the yoke and the plowman's stick, while the bull enjoyed a day of rest. At day's end, the donkey, nearly dead from exertion and blows, came quickly to a new plan. "My friend," he said to the bull, "you have a bleak future if you do not soon recover your strength. I heard the master say that he intends to deliver you to the butcher, who will turn your flesh into meat for the poor and your hide into a leather mat." The husbandman heard this all.
The next morning the husbandman, accompanied by his wife, approached the bull in his stall. The beast gave a great show of health and vigor, whisking his tail, farting, and frisking lustily about. The master, greatly amused at the turn of events, broke into laughter.
"Why do you laugh?" asked his wife.
"I cannot tell you, lest I die." replied the man.
"So be it," answered the woman, "but I must know why you laughed." She continued to wheedle and to beg, until he, sensing that he could not forever resist her unrelenting pleas, resigned himself to his fate. He brought his affairs to order, then prepared to reveal his secret and to die.
Now the husbandman had some fifty hens, all serviced by one cock. The cock, lustily mounting one hen after the other, was interrupted by one of the farm dogs, who said, "For shame, that you thus satisfy your lust on this day that our master is to die."
The cock replied, "What sort of master do we have, who cannot manage a single wife? I control fifty hens."
"And what should the master do?" asked the dog.
"He should cut a branch from yonder mulberry tree then use it on her back and ribs until she repents. Then let him give her another beating for good measure, and henceforth he will sleep well and enjoy life."
The husbandman heard this conversation between the dog and the cock, and he took it to heart. He cut a branch from the mulberry tree and proceeded with it to his wife's room. Locking the door behind him, he announced that he was about to reveal his secret to her, but then began to beat her soundly about her back, shoulders, ribs, arms, and legs, all the while saying, "Are you ever again going to ask questions about matters that do not concern you?" Nearly senseless, she finally cried out, "I repent! With Allah as a witness, I will never again question you." She then kissed his hands and his feet, and he led her from the room as submissive as a wife should be. Her parents and other members of the family rejoiced at the turn of events.
Thus the husbandman learned family discipline from his cock, and he and his wife lived together the happiest of lives until they died.
Source: The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, translated by Richard F. Burton (Privately printed, 1885), v. 1, pp. 16-23.
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- I grew up in Chautauqua County, NY. I graduated from Edinboro University of Pennyslvania in 1981 with a BFA in Jewelry and Metalworking. I have been married 31 years. I currently run a small business with my husband. We both enjoy the outdoors and animals a great deal and live on a tiny farm in Western, NY.