Marina Warner

Travelling Tales: Kalīlah wa-Dimnah and the Animal Fable

July 25, 2023

Marina’s most recent essay is out on Public Domain Review now! It is expanded and adapted from her foreword to the English edition of Kalīlah and Dimnah: Fables of Virtue and Vice, translated by Michael Fishbein and James E. Montgomery (New York: NYU Press, Library of Arabic Literature)

Illustration of Kalīlah and Dimnah discussing the latter’s scheme to insert himself into the confidence of the king, from a manuscript thought to have been copied in India during the Gujarat Sultanate from an Egyptian source, ca. 1525–50 — Source 

Influencing numerous later animal tales told around the world, the 8th-century Arabic fables of Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ’s Kalīlah wa-Dimnah also inspired a rich visual tradition of illustration: jackals on trial, airborne turtles, and unlikely alliances between species. Marina Warner follows these stories as they wander and change across time and place, celebrating their sharp political observation and stimulating mix of humour, earnesty, and melancholy.