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 “pretended husband” motif

Note: this text is extracted from Book VI, chapter 33.

The readiness with which no less a person than Śiva himself becomes a party to the trick played upon Kaliṅgasenā may seem surprising, but perhaps we are to understand that, after such a penance as that performed by Madanavega on the Ṛṣabha mountain, Śiva was almost bound to grant a boon of whatever nature it might be. Yet, as we have already seen (Vol. II, pp. 45, 46), Indra did not scruple to enjoy Ahalyā by disguising himself as her husband, Gautama.

The motif found its way into Sanskrit literature at a very early date, and Benfey, Pañcatantra (i, p. 299 et seq.), traces the different versions found in Kalila and Dimna, John of Capua, Suka Saptati, Anvār-i-Suhailī, Bahār-i-Dānish, etc., besides in well-known European collections, such as Le Livre des Lumières, Cabinet des Fées and the Decameron.

In nearly all these versions the wife is perfectly innocent of the cheat played upon her, and, on the return of the real husband, makes a similar remark to that in our text, such as: Wherefore have you returned? Did

I not serve your wishes at the beginning of the night?” Similarly in the Decameron (day 3, nov. 2) the queen confronts her husband with: My lord, what a surprise is this to-night!’Twas but now you left me after an unwonted measure of enjoyment, and do you now return so soon?” The king behaves in a most diplomatic manner and pretends he had been with his wife earlier in the evening. He then attempts to find out the culprit, and although he is unsuccessful in this, he makes any repetition of the offence unlikely.

In the version found in the Heptameron, however, the unhappy husband is unable to conceal his curiosity and resentment:

“What do these words mean? I know of a truth that I have not lain with you for three weeks, and yet you rebuke me for coming too often.”

Suddenly the terrible truth dawns upon the chaste lady. The husband rushes in pursuit of the wicked friar who has done the deed, but meanwhile his wife hangs herself and kills her child through shame and misery. Her brother hears the news, and, misunderstanding the details, runs his sword through the returning husband (see vol. iii, p. 97 et seq., of the English translation printed for the Society of English Bibliophilists, 1894).

In all the above versions we notice that the cheat played upon the innocent wife is done by an ordinary human being, and not by a god or supernatural being, as in our text. We find, however, a closer analogue in Herodotus (vi, 69). Demaratus was deposed from the sovereignty and made a magistrate of Sparta, owing to the charge of bastardy made by Leutychides. He is later insulted by Leutychides at the Gymnopædiæ, and, intending to get to the bottom of the whole matter, calls upon his mother with a mighty oath to tell the truth.

She then explains:

“When Ariston [her husband] had taken me to his own house, on the third night from the first, a spectre resembling Ariston came to me; and having lain with me, put on me a crown that it had: it departed, and afterwards Ariston came; but when he saw me with the crown, he asked who it was that gave it me. I said he did, but he would not admit it; whereupon I took an oath, and said that he did not well to deny it, for that having come shortly before and lain with me, he had given me the crown. Ariston, seeing that I affirmed with an oath, discovered that the event was superhuman: and, in the first place, the crown proved to have come from the shrine situate near the palace gates, which they call Astrabacus’s; and, in the next place, the seers pronounced that it was the hero himself. Thus, then, my son, you have all that you wish to know: for you are sprung either from that hero, and the hero Astrabacus is your father, or Ariston; for I conceived you in that night.. (Cary’s trans. Bohn's edition, 1877, p. 379).

There is also the legend of Amphitryon, son of Alcæus, whose wife, Alcmene, gave birth to twin sons, Iphicles being that of Amphitryon, and Heracles that of Zeus, who had visited her in the guise of her husband while he was away fighting.

The incident forms Plautus’ comedy Amphitruo, whence Molière adapted his Amphitryon.

Lee, op. cit., pp. 62-67, gives several other analogues of the motif. See also Chauvin, op. cit., ii, p. 92.—n.m.p.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: