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Kalila and Dimna

KALILA AND DIMNA, a cycle of fables which originated in *India in the third century C.E. and were collected and compiled in Kashmir. In the course of centuries the cycle has gone through numerous changes, especially as a result of having been translated into many languages: Persian, Arabic, Hebrew, Syriac, Ethiopian, Malay, Mongolian, Greek, and many European languages. Most of the translators also acted as adaptors and added material of their own. The story was greatly expanded and revised in the seventh century when Abdallah ibn al-Muqaffaʿ translated it into Arabic from the Persian adaptation, i.e., from Pahlavi. In the 12th century this Arabic translation was the basis for the story's translation and adaptation into Hebrew by an author about whom nothing is known except his name, Joel. In the 13th century the poet *Jacob b. Eleazar not only translated the story into Hebrew, but also adapted it into rhymed rhetoric. Since the original source has been lost, these medieval Hebrew translations are of great importance in studying the textual changes in the story during succeeding generations. The apostate *John of Capua's 13th-century Latin translation of the story (Directorium Vitae), from which most European translations have been made, was executed in accordance with Joel's Hebrew translation. In 1881 both Hebrew translations, which had over centuries become deficient because of copying errors, were published in Paris, Joel's work being accompanied by Joseph Derenbourg's French translation. A new Hebrew translation from the Arabic was made by Abraham *Elmaleh and appeared in Tel Aviv in 1927.

In both content and form the story resembles other books that have come down from Indian sources, i.e., stories whose bare outlines had been fleshed out by the addition of new material or the substitution of new stories for old ones. Kalila and Dimna comprises a collection of moral fables and fables about birds and animals, Kalila and Dimna being the names of two foxes. The story, in outline, tells of a physician named Barzoyeh, who, at the behest of the king of *Persia, sought plants whose juice would not only bring health to the sick but immortality as well. Ultimately, the physician learns that such "plants" are really symbols for the books of wisdom which help man achieve perpetual life. Barzoyeh told the king of his discovery and the king ordered "all those books to be collected from every native and every traveler, and to be brought to the king's treasury." It is said that from these collected wisdom books, Kalila and Dimna, the essence of wisdom and morality, was compiled. The major part of the book is constituted by the king's queries and the replies of the philosopher Sindbar, or in Jacob b. Eleazar's translation, Dod Ḥokhmah (lit. "lover of wisdom," the Hebrew equivalent of philosopher). Some editions of the book including, apparently, the Hebrew translations, were accompanied by pictures.


J. Derenbourg, Deux Versions Hébraïques du Livre de Kalîâ et Dimnâh (1881); Schirmann, Sefarad, 2 (19602), 209–37, 690–1; Zinberg, Sifrut, 1 (1955), 208–13.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.