Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Parable of the Weeping Bitch

            This is an old story which comes from the 10th century quill of Petrus Alfonsi. Born a Sephardic Jew named Moses, he was educated in both Hebrew and Arabic and may have been a physician attached to one of the Islamic courts in al-Andalus (modern Spain). After migrating to England, Petrus made a strong impact on the history of science as well as literary history
            He wrote two major works: the Disciplina Clericalis and the Dialogi contra Iudaeos (Dialogues against the Jews). This is a story from the first one.

                            The Parable of the Weeping Bitch
            It is related that a nobleman had a very chaste and beautiful wife. He wanted to go to Rome to pray in the holy places, and he did not want to leave any other guardian for his wife but herself, trusting in her chaste habits and the honor of her uprightness. When the retinue was ready, he departed and the wife remained, living chastely and acting prudently in all things.
            It happened that she needed something, and she left her own house and went to a neighboring house. As she came home after transacting her business, a young man saw her and fell madly in love with her. He, desiring to be loved by her for whom he burned so ardently, sent many messages to her. But she refused his messages and rejected him completely.
            The young man seeing himself utterly scorned, grief-stricken, fell gravely ill; but nevertheless he would often go where he had seen his lady leave, hoping to meet her; but he was not able to effect it at all. Weeping for sorrow, he met an old woman wearing the habit of a nun, and she asked the cause of his unhappiness; but the young man was not very anxious to reveal what was going on in his mind.
            The old woman said to him, “The longer a sick man delays in revealing his illness to the doctor, the more he will suffer from the illness.”
            Hearing this, he told her what had happened to him and his secret.
            The old lady said to him, “With God’s help I’ll find a remedy for what you have told me.”
            And she left him and returned to her own house. She forced a little dog which she had at home to go without food for two days. On the third day she gave the hungry dog bread made with mustard, and as the dog ate the bread, its eyes began to water with the sharpness of the mustard. The old woman brought the little dog to the house of the chaste woman whom the young man loved, and the woman received her respectfully because of her very religious appearance. The little bitch was following the old woman. When the woman saw it weeping, she asked what was wrong with it and why it was crying.
            The old woman said to her, “Dear friend, do not ask what is wrong, because the sorrow is so great that I can hardly talk about it.”
            And the woman begged her even more earnestly to tell her.
            The old woman: “This little dog which you see was my daughter, who was very chaste and modest and was loved by a young man; but she was so chaste that she spurned him and rejected his love. The young man, pining away, became very ill. For her sin, my wretched daughter was turned into a little bitch.” And so saying, the old lady burst into tears.
            The decent woman said at this, “O dear lady, what shall I do? I am guilty of a similar crime; for a young man loves me, but because of my love of chastity I have disdained him, and he has also fallen ill.”
            “Dear friend, I advise you to have pity on him as quickly as possible and do what he asks, so that you may not be turned into a dog just as my daughter was. If I had known of the love between my daughter and the young man, my daughter would never have been transformed.”
            The chaste woman said to her, “I beg you to give me good advice, so that I may not be turned into a little bitch, deprived of my own form.”
            “Willingly,” said the old woman, “for the love of God and the health of my soul and because I feel sorry for you, I will seek the young man, and if he can be found, I will bring him back to you.”
            The woman thanked her, and the wily old woman kept her word and brought back the young man, as she had promised and thus brought them together.
            The pupil said to the teacher, “I have never heard anything so astounding, and I think it was done with black magic.”
            The teacher: “Have no doubt!”
            The pupil: “I think that if any man is wise enough always to fear being deceived by women’s tricks, perhaps he will be able to guard himself against them.”
            The teacher: “I know of a certain man who took great precautions to guard his wife; but he did not gain anything by it.”
            The pupil: “Tell me what he did, teacher, so I will be better able to guard my wife, if I ever marry.”