Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Peasant and the Lion (Mongol)

Once many years ago, a poor old peasant was leaving his yurt when he spotted a hungry lion on the prowl heading for his very direction.

"Wife! Wife!" he cried. "A lion is coming towards our yurt! He'll surely gobble us up in no time! What shall we do?"

"Don't worry!" she said. "Whatever he says to you just tell him you are going hunting for fat lions. Now take this duck egg and listen to what I have to tell you . . ."

The old peasant left his yurt, and, sure enough, the lion came up to him and said, "Old gray beard! Where do you think you're going?"

"I'm off to hunt some fat lions, perhaps even you!" the old peasant said.

"You hunt me? Are you mad? Don't be foolish, old man. I'm a hundred or more times stronger than you. I can crush you like a grape."

"Then," said the old peasant, "let's have a little contest. Whoever is stronger will be the master. The weaker of the two must do the other's bidding."

"Fine! Let's go," said the lion.

They both headed out onto the plain. The old peasant pointed to a rock and said, "Crush this stone." The lion then pulverized it with one swipe of his paw.

The old peasant took out his duck egg, gulped and said, "Do you see this rock? Well, I shall use only two fingers to do what you just did." He then crushed the duck egg in one hand, and the egg white and yolk dripped onto the ground.

The lion's jaw dropped. Did that old graybeard just crush the juice out of that rock? he thought to himself.

So the lion had no choice but to submit to the old peasant, who placed a saddle on the lion's back and a ring through his nose for the reins. The old peasant rode the lion here and there, much as you or I would ride a horse or camel.

One day the old peasant ordered the lion to take him out to the woods. When they arrived, the man scouted for a tree with good and sturdy branches that could be fashioned into bows. He spotted one, but trying as hard as he could, he was unable to snap the branch off. Several times did he try to snap the branch off, but he just wasn't up to it because he lacked the strength.

All this was not lost on the lion, who had been keenly watching the old man's struggle with the branch. "What happened to all your strength?" the lion asked. "Suddenly you can't break off a miserable little branch?"

The old peasant shuddered and walked briskly all the way back to his yurt.

"I'm in for it now!" he cried to his wife. "The lion has found out I don't have any strength! Now he'll surely come back looking for me!"

"Aii, Husband! Don't worry!" she said. "When the lion comes, he'll surely poke his head into our tent. When he does, just ask me what I am cooking for tonight's dinner. Every problem has a solution. Now let me be. I'm busy."

In no time the lion returned and stuck his face through the open flaps of the yurt.

"What's for tonight's dinner, my dear?" the old peasant asked immediately, trying hard not to have a quivering voice.

"Just what you had asked for!" she replied. "I'm cooking a stew out the leftover lion we had the other night. Along with that I added a young lion's shoulder bone."

Well, that was all the lion had to hear. He turned tail and raced for the woods. As he was running, he passed a fox sunning himself on a rock.

"Why are you in such a hurry, Lion?" asked the fox. "And why do you have a ring in your nose? You're no caravan camel!"

The lion stopped and breathlessly told the fox about the old peasant who could crush stones with his bare hands and the wife who cooked lions for dinner.

"Bah! Those two people hoodwinked you! People are too weak to catch and to eat lions! Now listen: take me back there. I'll show you. You'll kill those two oldsters, and then, if you kindly would, save me a little of their meat for my lunch."

"Hop on. Let's go," said the lion, and the lion and fox headed for the old peasant's yurt.

Now the old peasant spotted the pair in the distance and knew something was up.

"Oh, boy! Now we're really going to get it!" cried the peasant to his wife. "Now the lion and a fox are on their way over here. What shall we do?"

"Don't worry," said the wife. "Here's what you must say . . ."

When the lion and fox had come within a few feet of the yurt, the old peasant said in a deep, gruff voice, "Fox, you old rascal! I told you to bring me a fat lion, not that sick, miserable dying bag of bones!"

The lion heard this and, turning to the fox, snarled, "You traitor! You liar!" The lion suddenly arched his back, and the fox flew right into the air. The lion then gave the fox a savage kick with one of his hind legs. Leaving the fox sprawled on the dusty plain, the lion then ran back towards the woods, never to be seen in those parts again.

Pleased, the old peasant turned to his wife and said, "True strength comes not from the muscles but from the mind!"

His wife nodded and smiled.

(from The Wonderful Treasure Horse)


Menggu minjian gushi, pp. 86-89.

Motfis: B211.2.2, "Speaking lion"; K62, "Squeezing water from stone"; K547, "Escape by frightening captor"; K1715.2, "Ogre or larger animal deceived by bluffing."

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