Kathasaritsagara (the Ocean of Story)

by Somadeva | 1924 | 1,023,469 words | ISBN-13: 9789350501351

This is the English translation of the Kathasaritsagara written by Somadeva around 1070. The principle story line revolves around prince Naravāhanadatta and his quest to become the emperor of the Vidhyādharas (‘celestial beings’). The work is one of the adoptations of the now lost Bṛhatkathā, a great Indian epic tale said to have been composed by ...

Note on the motive of old age

Note: this text is extracted from Book V, chapter 25:

“Then that hermit, having gradually elicited the whole story, said to him: ‘If you are firmly resolved, then do what I tell you. Three yojanas from here there is a country named Kāmpilya, and in it is a mountain named Uttara, and on it there is a hermitage. There dwells my noble elder brother named Dīrghatapas; go to him, he being old may perhaps know of that city’. When Śaktideva heard that, hope arose in his breast, and having spent the night there, he quickly set out in the morning from that place”.

In the story of the “Beautiful Palace East of the Sun and North of the Earth” (Thorpe, Yule-tide Stories, p. 1 58) an old woman sends the youth, who is in quest of the palace, to her old sister, who again refers him to an older sister dwelling in a small ruinous cottage on a mountain. In Laura Gonzenbach’s Sicilianische Märchen, p. 86, the prince is sent by one “Einsiedler” to his brother, and this brother sends him to an older brother, and he again to an older still, who is described as “Steinalt.” See also p. 162 . We have a similar incident in Méltisine, p. 447. The story is entitled “ La Montagne Noire ou Les Filles du Diable.” See also II Pentamerone, ninth diversion of the fifth day (Burton, vol. ii, pp. 54.9, 550); Ralston’s Russian Folk-Tales, p. 76; Waldau’s Böhmische Märchen, pp. 37, 255 et seq.; Dasent’s Popular Tales from the Norse, 1859, pp. 31-32, 212-213, and 330-331; and Kaden’s Unter den Olivenbäumen, p. 56.

—The motif is found in the first voyage of Aboulfaouaris, Les Mille et un Jours, Lille, 1784, vol. iv, p. 166 , whence it was copied in “The Story of Qara Khan,” a sub-tale in The Story of Jewad, translated by E. J. W. Gibb, Glasgow, 1884. See Chauvin, op. cit., vii, pp. 60, 6ln4, where other references are given.

Clouston, Popular Tales and Fictions, vol. ii, pp. 94-98, quotes from a paper by Cowell, “The Legend of the Oldest Animals,” in Y Cymrodor (Welsh Society’s Journal), October 1882, where in the “Story of Kilhwch and Olwen” Arthur’s ambassadors seek certain tidings by the aid of animals, each referring them to an older and cleverer one than themselves. In the “Tale of the Jealous Sisters,” Dozon, Contes Albanais (No. 2), the hero meets a lamia, in quest of a magic flower, who not only refrains from eating him, but directs him to her elder sister, and she again refers him to her elder sister. In the tale of “Hasan of Bassorah” in the Nights (Burton, vol. viii, pp. 72-82), Hasan is sent by a venerable Shaykh to his brother, and thence to the King of the Camphor Islands, who all aid him in his search for the Islands of Wak. There is no mention of each being older than the last, although the story is always quoted as an example of this motif.

A curious variant is found in Sāstrī’s Dravidian Nights. The hero, in quest of the pārijāta flower, is sent to an ascetic who opened his eyes every watch, then to one who opened his eyes every second watch, and finally to one who only opened them every third watch.

I do not agree with Clouston (op. cit., p. 98), who says:

“The idea is probably a survival of some primitive myth, suggested by the physical and mental imbecility of extreme old age ‘second childhood.’”

On the contrary, old age in man is usually venerated in the East, and apart from the use of the motif to the story-teller to excite the curiosity of his audience as the denouement is thus continually postponed, it serves as an excellent lesson in perseverance and patience. —n.m.p.

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