Rumi's Mathnawi (selections)

Week 6: Middle East - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

The mouse and the camel

Reading time: 2 minutes. Word count: 400 words.

The story of the mouse and the camel is very similar to the tradition of Aesop's fables: there is a foolish and boastful animal, the mouse, who gets taught a lesson by another animal, in this case a camel.

A LITTLE mouse once caught in its paws a camel's head-rope and in a spirit of emulation went off with it. Because of the nimbleness with which the camel set off along with him the mouse was duped into thinking himself a champion. The flash of his thought struck the camel.

'Go on, enjoy yourself,' he grunted. 'I will show you!'

Presently the mouse came to the margin of a great river, such as would have cast down any lion or wolf. There the mouse halted, struck all of a heap.

'Comrade over mountain and plain,' said the camel, 'why this standing still? Why are you dismayed? Step on like a man! Into the river with you! You are my guide and leader; do not halt half-way, paralysed!'

'But this a vast and deep river,' said the mouse. 'I am afraid of being drowned, comrade.'

'Let me see how deep the water is,' said the camel, and quickly set foot in it.

The water only comes up to my knee,' he went on, 'Blind mouse, why were you dismayed? Why did you lose your head?'

'To you it is an ant, but to me it is a dragon,' said the mouse.

'There are great differences between one knee and another. If it only reaches your knee, clever camel, it passes a hundred cubits over my head.'

'Be not so arrogant another time,' said the camel, 'lest you are consumed body and soul by the sparks of my wrath. Emulate mice like yourself; a mouse has no business to hobnob with camels.'

'I repent,' said the mouse. 'For God's sake get me across this deadly water!'

'Listen,' said the camel, taking compassion on the mouse. 'Jump up and sit on my hump. This passage has been entrusted to me; I would take across hundreds of thousands like you.'

Since you are not the ruler, be a simple subject; since you are not captain, do not steer the ship.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • why did the mouse decide he was a mighty and powerful creature?
  • what happened when the mouse and the camel came to the river?
  • how does the mouse get across the river?

Source: Tales from Masnavi, Jalal al-Din Rumi, translated by A.J. Arberry (1961). Weblink.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM