The Pancatantra: The Book of India's Folk Wisdom

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Olivelle, Patrick
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Here is a recent Penguin-like paperback version of the Panchatantra. True to the format, it wastes very little space. There are no illustrations. The text seems sparse. If I have not noted it before, the Panchatantra's presentation of individual tales is much leaner than that of, say, Kalila and Dimna. The translation here seems straightforward and helpful. The heavy quoting of verse remains difficult for contemporary readers, I believe, even in this well-presented version. The best features of this book include its introduction, its handling of names, and its notes. The introduction makes an excellent case that this work is for ministers. I am convinced. Ministers are the key players in story after story here. Kings are mostly fools. Apparently we are meant to see the unscrupulous jackal of the first book as a positive example for ourselves. Kings, Brahmins, and women are seen very negatively in the Panchatantra. Ministers, merchants, and male friends/allies are seen positively. The moral stories are all told by losers! Craft and deception constitute the major art of government. Learn to trust more in pedigree and nature than in virtue. That is, do not change your mind about your natural or traditional enemy because of a few deeds or words. Do not give in to fate thinking. Rather take action! Hertel thought that the Panchatantra teaches Machiavellian deceit. Falk answered that it shows both sides. For him, it shows the negative so that we will know not to be like those negative characters. The characters' names are pointed, like Damanaka (daring) and Karataka (prudent) for the two jackals in the first book. Olivelle defines each name the first time it occurs. The notes at the end of the book, marked with asterisks, are helpful. Within the first book, the ox is learned and can teach the lion a great deal when they become friends. During his friendship with the ox, the lion kills less, and the jackals and others are getting hungry.
Oxford University Press
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