HomeThe Fable of the Monkey and the Carpenter: From Kalila wa Dimnah

The Fable of the Monkey and the Carpenter: From Kalila wa Dimnah

In this story, Kalilah tries to show Dimnah that his ambition will get him into two kinds of trouble - not only will his ambition be its own punishment, by getting him into political maneuverings over his head (just like the monkey had its tail crushed by the log), but he risks punishment by the king if things go wrong.

Kalilah's example to Dimnah is a way of rebuking him without arguing directly. The story itself uses the animal world to do the same for its readers, reminding them of the twin dangers of greed and ambition by acting them out in a fictional animal kingdom rather than the real courts and kings that they knew.

Now there was a certain lion in that region who was king of all the animals. He was named Pingalaka, and he ruled over many animals of every kind. . .

At his royal gate there were two jackals, who were brothers, named Kalilah and Dimnah. They were very crafty, and trained in learning or wisdom. Dimnah was very greedy and ambitious, but he did not know his weaknesses, and, in short, did not know himself.

One day, Dimnah said to Kalilah: "I see that the king has been staying in one place without moving from it to another as he usually does. I would like to know why he does so, and why he does not amuse himself as usual."

Kalilah said, "Why do you ask about this, which is none of your business? As far as we are concerned, we live well and dwell in comfort at the king's gate, receiving sustenance from God, the Nourisher of all. We are not worthy to look into the king's actions or to track out the knowledge of his secret matters; neither are we entitled to speak with him. Be quiet, brother. You should know that if a man longs for something which does not befit him, there will happen to him what happened to the monkey.

Dimnah. What is the story about him?

Kalilah. They say that one day a monkey saw a carpenter, whom he saw straddling one log and splitting another log into two pieces. . . The monkey saw the carpenter take a small wedge of wood from the cleft of the log which he was splitting, and replace it with a second wedge like it. Then the carpenter left for a minute on some business of his, while the foolish monkey jumped up and mounted on the log like the carpenter, with his back towards the cleft of the log, and his face toward the little wooden wedge, while his tail hung down and lay in the middle of the cleft of the log. [Then he pulled out the wedge.]

But the foolish monkey forgot to put another wedge in its place, and his tail was crushed between the two parts of the log which was being split, and the poor monkey was hurt badly and lost his senses from the intensity of the pain.

[To make it worse,] he also got punished by the carpenter, who chastised him with blows more painful than the pain caused by the log of wood."

- Kalilah wa Dimnah, adapted from a translation by G.N. Keith-Falconer