Short Fiction

I’ve decided to publish some of my short fiction here. The first three stories announce my political leanings pretty clearly. Whether that was a good decision remains to be seen. What do you think?

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‘The Laughable Stories’

Here are but a few of the 727 “Laughable Stories” collected by John Abu’l-Faraj, more commonly known as Gregory Bar-Hebraeus, the head of the Jacobite Church, or Maphrian of the East, from A.D. 1264 to 1286. The text was written in Syriac, an Aramaic dialect used largely by Christians. After the Muslims took over the region, Arabic replaced Syriac, but the language remained in literary use for centuries.

The book is organized into chapters, each with quotes on a different theme. Saying of the Greek Philosophers, the Persian Sages, the Christian Recluses, etc. Stories of the speech of irrational beasts, of clowns and simpletons, and more.

A certain king was in company with one of his philosophers, and as they passed through a ruined village they saw there two owls; and he said to the philosopher, “What are these birds saying to each other?”

And the philosopher said, “I understand something of what they are saying, and if thou wilt swear unto me that thou wilt do me no harm, I will shew thee.”

And when the king had sworn to him, the philosopher said, “One of the owls hath a son and the other a daughter, and they wish to arrange a marriage between them. The owl with the daughter is willing to give her one hundred ruined  villages as a dowry, but the other one will not accept them and demandeth more. The father of the daughter having no more  to give promiseth his fellow, saying, ‘If this king ruleth his kingdom in the way in which he is now ruling it for one year more, I will give thee a thousand ruined villages.'”

When the king heard this he was rebuked, and he began to work righteousness.

Clearly, folks back then were aware of discrimination against women.

A certain woman asked her neighbour, saying, “Why should a man have power to buy a handmaiden and to lie with her and to do whatsoever he pleaseth with her, while a woman hath no power to do any such things freely and openly?”

And she said to her, “Because the kings, and the judges, and the lawgivers are all men; and they have therefore acted the parts of advocates of their own causes and have oppressed the women.”

Of course, women were not immune from jest, and certain professions are prominently abused.

“The intelligence of seventy women is like unto that of one man, and the mind of seventy weavers is as that of one woman.”

And, as is true today, fools take quite a verbal beating.

A fool owned a house together with some other folk, and he said one day, “I want to sell the half of it which is my share and buy the other half, so that the whole building may be mine.”

Another fool seeing an Arab minaret from which men were calling [the people] to prayer, said to his companion, “How very tall the men who built this minaret must have been!” His friend replied, “O silly man, how could any man be as tall as this. They built it first of all on the ground, and then set it up [on its end].”

Syriac text from The Laughable Stories

Syriac text from The Laughable Stories