Amita Bhose


Amita Bhose

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Reflections of "The Pancatantra" in "The Hieroglyphic History"

(Published in DacoRomania, 2, 1974, Freiburg/Munchen, pp.192-196)

(Read in the "Dimitrie Cantemir Tricentenary Celebrations" Seminar, held in the Mihai Eminescu Society, Freiburg University, G.F.R, December, 1973)

The history of «The Hieroglyphic History» seemed to pose a problem for literary critics for about two centuries. In the preface of the book, the author himself acknowledged his partial debt to "Aethiopica" of Heliodor in framing the structure of narration [1]. Based on this confession, one group of critics accused him of total imitation of Heliodor. Another group of critics, for example, P. P. Panaitescu, seeking to refute these charges, claimed that «The Hieroglyphic History» was not inspired by any foreign source whatever, and that there was no room for doubt in the originality of Demeter Cantemir [2]. Thus, the sources of Cantemir's inspiration remained obscure till recently.
However, as early as in 1900, L. Şăineanu pointed out the influence of oriental literature on the style of «The Hieroglyphic History» [3], but this point was rather neglected. Recently, Mircea Anghelescu has followed up the suggestions of Şăineanu, and in his article «Demeter Cantemir and the oriental literature» has drawn some interesting parallels between «The Hieroglyphic History» and the three famous Islamic versions of "The Pancatantra", the sanscrit book of fables [4].

It is seemingly strange that a Romanian writer of the 18th cen¬tury would be inspired by an Indian text of the 4th century. But, the history of the Romanian popular literature would reveal that Indian influence on Romania dates far back. The infusion of Indian tales in Romanian folklore through the literatures of the Middle East began in the 8th century and was intensified after the 10th century, when the Islamis peoples started to have direct contact with India [5].

M. Gaster, in his book «Romanian Popular Literature», has drawn some interesting conclusions in this respect, and later experts on both Indian and Romanian cultures, like Cicerone Poghirc [6] and Keith Hitchins [7], have traced the origin of different Romanian tales, folk songs and popular festivals from Indian sources.

The popular themes borrowed from India started to make their way into the written Romanian literature from the 16th century. For example, in «The Teachings of Neagoe Basarab to his Son Theodosie» some influences of «The Pancatantra» have been observed by Paul Anghel [8]. Similar reflections have also been observed in other li¬terary works, but they are beyond the scope of our discussion.
The purpose of tracing this short history was to suggest that the vast panorama of Romanian literature had already embraced some Indian scenes, and that it was only natural for an erudite like Demeter Cantemir to introduce some additional tones from the far-away and ancient India.

Having spent more than twenty years in Constantinople, the then seat of Byzantine culture, and being himself an expert on Islamic literatures, Cantemir had ample possibilities to come across the In¬dian texts which were in circulation in those lands. In those days, the most popular of the Indian texts was «The Pancatantra», the In¬dian mirror for princes. Its best-known versions in the Islamic world were «Kalila-wa-Dimna» in Arabic, «Anwar-i-Suhaili» in Persian and «Humayun-Nama» in Ottoman Turkish.

Of these three, at least one, «Humayun-Nama», was read and appreciated by Cantemir. Referring to the literatures of the oriental peoples, Cantemir said in «Kniga Sistima» : «Anybody who would read and understand thoroughly their historic, poetic and legendary works and especially the book which is called "Gumaiun Name" would undoubtedly say that these are more beautiful than all European works» [9].
During the 13th and 14th centuries, the Arabic text, «Kalila-wa¬Dimna», was imitated several times in Islamic literatures for pro¬ducing similar mirrors for princes through animal fables [10]. It seems probable that Cantemir also felt it more convenient to adapt the model of «Humayun-Nama», to record the secret history of his time, in which he himself had a prominent role.

The structure of «The Hieroglyphic History» does, in fact, bear a close resemblance to that of «The Pancatantra». The adaptation of animal fables to ilustrate human morals is a typical Indian way of representation, perhaps unknown to the Romanian literature till then. Cantemir developed this model and represented all historic figures by one animal or another, and narrated their dialogue with a double meaning, in order to register the secret discussions of the interested parties. This elaboration of the theme and this intricate planning of the novel bear the stamp of Cantemir's own literary talent, and therein lies his originality.
Apart from the mainstay of structure, Cantemir seems to have adapted certain other plans from «The Pancatantra». Like it, «The Hieroglyphic History» is a text narrated in prose, but interspersed with poetry, is profusely illustrated with proverbs and sayings, and on some occasion illustrates morals and maxims with the help of stories.
The characterization of animals in «The Hieroglyphic History» is also in line with the Indian fables to some extent. For example,«The Hieroglyphic History», the lion is selected as the head of the quadrupeds after «The Pancatantra» way. This is rather foreign to Romanian conception. According to the local tradition, as pointed out by Panaitescu and Verdeş, the bison was expected to be the head of Moldova [11].

Secondly, in Cantemir's novel, the elephant is represented as a conceited fool, who thinks that honour is measured after the size of the body [12]. This is a typical example of elephants in Indian fables, though in reality, the elephant is a very intelligent animal. The story No. 3 of the Third Book of «The Pancatantra» related how a herd of elephant was fooled by a little hare. It seems that Demeter Cantemir, who had possibly no notion of the intelligence of an elephant, was inspired by this story to chose this animal to represent the character of Antioh Cantemir, his own brother.

Thirdly, the dialogue of the comparatively honest jackal and the sly fox in the First Part of «The Hieroglyphic History» [13] corresponds, to some extend, to that of the two jackals of «The Pancatantra», Ka¬rataka and Damanaka [14], whose names were transformed in the Ara¬bic version as Kalila and Dimna. Fourthly, apart from such tropical animals as lion, elephant or crocodile, another character, Căprioara de Hindii, deciphered by Panaitescu and Verdeş as Deer of India [15], has been introduced in this novel. This particular character, which exerts a significant influence on Fil, the elephant, throws a flash of light on our study. It seems to suggest that India was present in the world of Cantemir's imagination, when he was writing this book.

The proverbs and sayings in «The Hieroglyphic History» were studied by several specialists, who have found their correspondence in Latin, Turkish and Arabic. It will be interesting to note that similar ideas are met with in «The Pancatantra» and other Indian texts.
For example, in «The Hieroglyphic History» we find two sayings. One is: «To give good counsel to wicked hearts is like throwing pearls among swine» and the other «Where the ears of truth are blocked, all oracles appear to be tales»[16]. A series of analogous sayings is found in «The Pancatantra» : «Even hundreds of human virtues are lost among men that are lacking in virtue, like sunbeams falling upon peaks of Black Mountain... A hundred wise sayings are lost upon the foolish, a hundred sage counsels are lost upon who cannot take advice, a hundred bits of wisdom are lost upon the un¬intelligent» [17].
A proverb in «The Hieroglyphic History» : «As the stomach acquires venom and troubles from good pieces, similarly a crafty mind turns oath into evil and slyness"[18] compares favourably with a «Pancatantra» proverb : «Virtues are virtues only to those who can appreciate them, when they touch one who lacks virtue they become faults. For rivers that flow with sweetest water become undrinkable when they reach the ocean» [19].

Many such examples can be cited from «The Hieroglyphic His¬tory, with their Indian correspondents, which deserve to be the sub¬ject of a separate study. Here we shall quote only one more exam¬ple, a piece of dialogue of the bat in «The Hieroglyphic History» : «My house is in the whole world; as the fish has no fixed place in the sea, so the learned one lias no private land, nor is any land foreign to him»[20]. This offers a striking similarity with the famous verse of Canakya : «A king is worshipped in his country, a learned man everywhere ».
The echoes of «The Pancatantra» stories in the world literature have beer widely studied. The reflection of some can be felt in «The Hieroglyphic History» as well, of which we shall quote only one. The firamestory of the Fifth Book of «The Pancatantra», known as the story of the Brahman, the Bongoose and the snake, illustrating the dangers of hasty action, transformed in the Fables of the prince, the dog and the wolf [21], has been adopted in different forms in the tales of different countries. Cantemir's version of this story may be found in the story of the watchdog and the wolf in the Fourth Part of «The Hieroglyphic History». But, here the author's purpose was to show the intelligence of the wolf, rather than the folly of the master, and so the story ended in a different way.

However, if «The Pancatantra» has exerted any influence on Cantemir, it is displayed only in the form and contents of «The Hierogly¬phic History». The underlying idea of «The Hieroglyphic History» is basically different from that of «The Pancatantra». "The Pancatantra" is a mirror of princes, a guide to administration. It consists of the shrewd counsels of a minister to exploit the people under the guise of virtue. It preaches the highest form of moral, but at the same time utilises it in justifying injustice. On the other hand, «The Hieroglyphic History» is an expression of the grievances of oppressed people. It goutes maxims, and holds to it.

«The Pancatantra» admits king's right as divine ; «The Hieroglyphic History» challenges it. «The Pancatantra» accepts political intrigues as necessary evils ; «The Hieroglyphic History» denounces them. «The Hieroglyphic History» describes the peasants' revolution with utmost sympathy ; «The Pancatantra» guards the king against the intelligence of the people. The administration of a country forms the subject matter of both books' but while Sisnus' arman, the narrator of «The Pancatantra» treats it from the king's point of view, Demeter Cantemir, the author of «The Hieroglyphic History» treats it from the people's point of view. The attitude of Sisnus'arman is more rea¬listic than idealistic. The attitude of Demeter Cantemir is more idea¬listic than realistic. The treatments of the two authors are, therefore, diametrically opposite.

(N.B. The translation of the relevant passages from «Istoria Iero¬glifică» is ours.)


1.D. Cantemir, Istoria ieroglifică (ed. P P. Panaitescu and I.Verdeş), 1965, Bucureşti, p. 5.
2.P.P. Panaitescu, Dimitrie Cantemir: Viaţa şi opera, Bucureşti 1958, p. 87.
3.L. Săineanu, Influenţa orientală asupra limbei şi culturei române, I, Bucu¬reşti, 1900, p. LXXXVI.
4.M. Anghelescu, Dimitrie Cantemir şi literatura orientală, in : Revista de istorie, şi teorie literară, 22, 2, pp. 195-200.
5.M. Gaster, Literatura populară romănă, Bucureşti 1883, p. 55.
6.C. Poghirc, Sanskrit Studies in Romania, in : Cultural Forum, XV (1972), 1, pp. 48-54.
7.K. Hitchins, Reflections of India in Romanian popular literature, XVI to XVIII centuries, in : Indo-Asian Culture (1956), pp. 106-126.
8.P. Anghel, Colaj şi elaborare originală la Neagoe Basarab, in: Neagoe Ba¬sarab 1512-1521, Bucureşti 1972, p. 80.
9. D. Cantemir, Kniga sistima, Petersburg 1722, p.360. Quoted bz St.Ciobanu, Dimitrie Cantemir în Rusia: Academia Română, Mem. Sect.Lit., ser.III, t.II, Mem.5, Bucureşti 1925, pp.41-421.
Istoria ieroglifică, I, p. 28.
10. C. Brockelmann, Kalila-wa-Dimna, in: The Encyclopaedia of Islam, II, Leyden-London, 1927, p.698.
11. D.Cantemir, Isotira ieroglifică, I, p.28.
12. Ibidem, p. 221.
13.Ibidem, p. 56-65.
14.Fr. Edgerton, The Panchatantra, New York-London, 1965, pp. 34-46.
15. D. Cantemir, Istoria ieroglifică, p.222.
16. Ibidem, p. 61.
17.Fr. Edgerton, op. cit., p. 54.
18. D. Cantemir, Istoria ieroglifică, II, p. 21.
19.Fr. Edgerton, op. cit., p. 54.
20. D.Cantemir, Istoria ieroglifică, I, p. 204.
21. Fr. Edgerton, op. cit., p. 18.


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