The Guest said, ‘They have related that a poor man was practising a hunter’s profession, and contenting himself with capturing birds and fishes, so passed his existence; and when employed in capturing fish, his whole frame became eyes, like a net; and when in pursuit of birds, he made a gin of every hair of his body.

Nor bird, nor fish, could from his net escape.

One day he had set his net, and, with a thousand difficulties, had brought three birds into its vicinity, and he himself was sitting in a place of ambush, waiting until he could secure the neck of those hapless birds in the mesh of his snare. In the midst of this state he heard a noise of wrangling, and in fear lest the birds should, by reason of the sound, fly away, he issued from his ambuscade. He then beheld two students, who were disputing on a point of law, and their discourse had ended in quarreling. The Hunter besought them much, saying, ‘Do not make a noise, that these birds may not be scared away, and thus my labour lost.

Breathe not a word, lest the net’s prey be scared.’

They retorted, ‘If thou wilt give us a share in the game, to each of us a bird, we will consent to thy request, and will not indulge in strife and angry vociferation.’ The hunter replied, ‘Friends, I am a poor man with a family, and the food of several persons depends on these birds, and after you have carried off two birds, how shall I go home? and how shall I solace ten persons with one bird.’ They answered, ‘Thou art employed every day in this business, and it is a long time since we have met with this sport. It is altogether impossible that we should dispense with these birds. Either we will call out so that the birds will fly away, or thou shalt agree to give each of us a bird, so that we may take them for our lecturer to see, and give the other students of the college an entertainment.’ In vain the Hunter complained, saying, ‘Your professor did not knit my net, nor did the hands of the students twist my cord. I have not set my net in ground bequeathed for religious purposes; nor have I scattered grain as bait from the granaries of the college; nor am I bound by law to bestow upon you my game by way of thirds or two-thirds.’ All his words, however, had no effect; and at last he promised them the birds; which, having pulled the string, he caught in the net. Then he commenced his entreaties and lamentations again, saying, ‘Have pity upon me! and shorten the hand of covetousness from carrying off these birds.’ They replied, ‘Cease these words and fulfil the promise thou hast made.’ The hunter saw there was no alternative, and gave each of them a bird. He then said, ‘Since, forsooth, I have submitted to your annoyance, and have presented you with gifts and somewhat to conciliate your good-will, teach me the word about which you were disputing; perhaps some day it may be of use to me.’ They replied, ‘We were disputing about the word ‘hermaphrodite,’ and were contending as to the rights of inheritance of such a person.’ The hunter inquired, What is the meaning of the term ‘hermaphrodite?’ They answered, ‘In point of fact it means one who is neither male nor female.’ The Hunter stored up the word in his memory, and went home very much out of spirits, and related to his family the circumstances, and they contented themselves with a scant repast, and so passed the night. The next day, when the golden-pinioned bird of the sun came flying abroad from the nest of the horizon, and the silver-encrusted fishes of the stars, from dread of the cords of the solar rays, turned to flight on the expanse of heaven,

Heaven like a hunter, wlth a golden net,
Did the sun, fish-like, in its meshes get,

the old fisherman, having taken up his net, set off for the river’s side, and, with complete reliance on God, let down the net into the water. Fate decreed that a fish of beautiful form and exquisite shape should be taken; such that the armorer, water, had never reared one clad in scales like it, and the eyes of mermen* never beheld in the expanse of waters an equal beauty*;

Its belly clear a silver whiteness shewed,
Bright as the fountain of the sun its eye.
Chameleon-like, its back with colors glowed,
Whose varying tints would thought itself defy.

The fisherman was amazed at its shaped and appearance, and thought to himself, ‘In all my life I never saw a fish like this, nor gazed upon so splendid a prize. My best course is to carry it alive to the Sulṭán as a free-will offering, and by such a service get myself a great name among my fellows.’ Hereupon, he cast the fish into a vessel of water, and set off for the king’s palace. It so befell that, by the Sulṭán’s command, they had made in the royal garden in front of the palace, where the king was wont to sit, a basin of marble and alabaster for a fountain, and had put in it various kinds of fishes.

Fish of silver therein play;
Golden rings their ears down weigh.

And they had set afloat a skiff, shaped like a crescent, on the surface of that heaven-resembling reservoir.

Of aloe-wood a barque there too,
Like crescent seemed in sky of blue.

Every day the monarch came to the brink of the basin to enjoy the sight, and was pleased with the sportive swimming of the fish and the movements of the vessel. At that same time, too,

He gazed upon the water fair,
Watched moon and stars reflected there.

when all at once the fisherman* came in, and offered to the king’s inspection that beautiful and exquisite fish. The king was excessively pleased at the sight of the fish, and commanded them to give the Fisherman a thousand dínárs. One of the vazírs who held a rank, which allowed of his taking a liberty, and an office which permitted him to speak boldly, loosed the tongue of admonition and whispered to the king,

‘May thy clear heart a fountain be of light,
And thy high fortunes no reproach invite!*

Fishermen are numerous and the sea is full of fish: if the king bestow a thousand dínárs for every fish, neither will the gold in the treasury suffice for it, nor will the revenues of the country be adequate. It is a settled thing, too, what the price of a fish ought to be, and how much one ought to give to a fisherman for a reward. A present ought to be proportionate to merit, and a reward suitable to the service done.

A tank that holds a hundred tons—no more,
Admits not that two hundred should flow o’er.’

The king responded, ‘I have promised him a thousand dínárs; and how can it be admissible to break that promise?’ The vazír replied, ‘I have a scheme for this, so that your promise shall not be broken, and too much money not be lost either. My advice is, that you ask him whether this fish is male or female? If he says it is a male, we will tell him to bring a female, and he will receive a thousand dínárs. And if he says it is a female, we will say, ‘Bring a male and take thy gold.’ Of course he will be at a loss how to do this, and then having satisfied him with some trifle, we will acquire his goodwill.’ The king then turned to the Fisherman, and said, ‘Is this fish a male or a female?’ The old Fisher was a man of experience, and a cunning fellow. He guessed what the secret intention of the king and the vazír was by that question, and sent down the diver of thought into the sea of deliberation, to see how he could secure the pearl of an answer, which he could place on the tray of representation. At last that same word which the day before he had learned of the students flashed across his mind. He answered, ‘O king! asylum of the world! this fish is a hermaphrodite, that is to say, it is neither male nor female.’ The sulṭán was much pleased [at this rejoinder], rebuked the vazír for his scheme, and adding another thousand bestowed two thousand dínárs on the Fisherman, and made him one of his special favorites and counsellors.

And the lesson to be drawn from this story is, that the Fisherman by one word which he committed to memory, and through the two birds with which he obliged the students, obtained two thousand dínárs, and was honored with the sulṭan’s favor; wherefore no loss accrues from toil after learning, and from waiting on learned men. Moreover the wise have said,

Get learning, that thou mayest honored be;
Man is worth nought,* of learning when bereft.
Knowledge will raise thy fortune and degree
From the remotest line where shoes are left,*
To the mid-circle of the company.’

The Devotee said, ‘Now that thou importunest me, and art resolved to traverse the road of inquiry in the desert of study with the step of labor, I, too, as far as is attainable, will impart instruction and communicate knowledge; and will not omit a particle in causing thee to understand questions and in making clear the rules.’ The Guest betook himself to that study, and passed a considerable time in learning the Hebrew language. His mind, however, was in no wise disposed to be a recipient of that tongue, and was altogether devoid of capacity for comprehending its subtleties. The more instruction he received, his skill in the practice of it became less; and, however much he planted the sapling of instruction in the garden of thought, the more the fruit of disappointment increased on the branch of hope.

Unaided from the store of heavenly grace,
No toil avails, no wished-for thing takes place.

One day the Devotee said to him, ‘Thou hast undertaken a difficult matter, and hast laid on thy mind a huge weight. Thy tongue will not speak fluently in this dialect, and thy intellect is not suited to this tongue. Relinquish this design, and set not thy foot in a plain which is not proper for thy equitation.

For that, which thou by no means e’er canst win,
To waste thy life in vain attempts, were shame.
List to the sages’ counsel, nor begin
A course, if thou canst ne’er conclude the same.

To give up the tongue of one’s progenitors, and to toil at a language and business opposite to that of one’s ancestors is far removed from the path of rectitude. The Guest replied, ‘Imitation of the dead in their errors and ignorance is the very extreme of servility and fatuity; and in this matter I will not imitate any one, nor will I quit the road of right investigation, for imitation is the noose of the torments of devils, and right investigation the guide of the paths of sincerity and truth. And the recondite saying, ‘Verily we found our fathers practising a religion,* is a rebuke to the children of the play-ground of imitation that they should come from the perilous place of doubt into the stronghold of conviction, and gaze with the eye of certainty on the brilliancy of the light, ‘He directeth whom He pleaseth into the right way.’*

Whose sight base imitation does not mar,*
Sees in the light of truth all things that are:
There is between the mimicked and the true,
The difference of the* voice and echo too.
‘T is imitation that has ruined men,
Two hundred curses rest upon it then!’

The Devotee said, ‘I have done my duty in advising thee, and I fear that the end of this struggle will issue in regret, and now thou art able to speak in the European language, and can discourse in the dialect of thy wife and kindred. It is probable that if thou art continually repeating Hebrew phrases, the practice of this language will be hidden from thee, and thou wilt lose the other language too. Thus thy case will resemble that of the Crow that tried to learn the gait of the mountain-partridge and so forgot his own.’ The Guest asked, ‘How was that?’