Sir Thomas North & The Panchatantra

You have probably never heard of Sir Thomas North (1535-1604), and neither had I until recently. Among other things, North was a highly skilled translator. But he was not just known for what he translated, but North’s writing style was highly influential — even of Shakespeare. North’s translation of Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, for instance, was used by William Shakespeare to inform the history he used in writing several of his plays. Some scholars have called North the first master of English prose — early Modern English (illustrated here – click to enlarge the chart).

History of the English Language

North’s three most influential translation (with links to the originals) are as follows:

Note that all three of his major works are books of moral importance. And of special interest for this post is that the second, The Morall Philosophie of Doni, is another name for the Panchatantra — an ancient Indian moral text ( see my other posts here on the Panchatantra). North’s translation was the first English version of this text even if it was the translation of an Italian text — not the original Sanskrit. Indeed, none of North’s translations were from their original languages but translated from the translations of other European languages.

If you want to get a flavor of Early Modern English and the first English rendering of the Panchatantra, please take a look at the above links.  I enjoyed them. Thomas North’s works also made me reflect on how much we owe to translators, who names are soon forgotten.


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The Panchatantra: Morality via Death

Violent PanchaTantra
Westerners often romanticize the myths of other lands while belittling their own scriptures. As I wrote here, the Hindu Mahabharata has far more death than the Jewish Tanakh (the “Old Testament”).  And in this illustration I show a few of the many stories from the Panchatantra, that use death and cruelty to teach morality. Ancient writers had a different world than ours – death was always a threat.

When I first began to explore the Panchatantra, I read these stories to my daughter.  She was quick to point out how horrible all the murder morality was and didn’t want to hear any more. So now I am alone to explore this book academically. :-)



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Tickle and Control

FeatherFor the last two days my son lost access to some internet sites on his phone. He insisted it was due to the router restrictions I had put in place. But I had not changed those settings recently and so I told him that his problem was probably due to some new app he probably had put on his phone. We argued back and forth — needing to walk away from each other for an hour. After collecting ourselves, we experimented with the router — but no help. Then my son realized he just recently put an ad blocker on his phone. He removed it and all the problems went away.

He was terribly apologetic — both for his emotions (he is 14 years-old) and for the things he said. Being a sensitive fellow, I knew he’d feel guilty for a long time if I didn’t offer him a way out. So I said, “Look, massage my feet and I will forgive you.”

Hand ReflexologyHe rejoiced receiving a penance method and proceeded to massage my feet. He did a pretty good job actually, but I said, “Son, if you’d like, I can teach you to massage better — it may come in handy when you are older.” He laughed and the shyly asked to be instructed.

I tried to instruct him using his foot but he was unbelievably ticklish. I showed him how ticklishness is psychological by telling him to try to tickle himself. He was amazed. Then I said, “Look, you are in control of your mind, aren’t you? So just tell yourself not to be ticklish.” He tried but of course it only got worse. We experimented with me wearing gloves, then he putting on socks — nothing worked. The lesson: we are in far less control of our minds than we imagine.

Well, I was able to teach him hand massage techniques — hands aren’t ticklish usually. The principles of hand massage are the same as foot, so at least I knew I left my son with one valuable skill tonight.

  • Image credits: Feather, Hand Reflexology (true or false, it helps in the massage and I included it in my lecture to my son).  By the way, my son read this post and agreed to the posting.



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Poetry Sunday: Michael Blumenthal


I Think Constantly of Those Who Were Truly Great
Persius & Panchos

and, to be perfectly honest, it bums me out.
So many great ones! —libidinal heroes,
idealists, warrior-chieftains, revolutionaries,
fabulists of all sorts, even the great Irish pig farmers
and Armenian raisin growers —and who,
I ask myself, am I by comparison? Calmed
by Valium, urged on by Viagra, uplifted
by Prozac, I go about my daily rounds,
a quotidian member of the quotidian hierarchy,
a Perseus with neither a war nor a best friend,
and sink to the depths of despair
on the broken wings of my own mundanity.

If only some god had given me greatness,
I surely would have made something of it—
perhaps a loftier, more humble poem than this,
or some übermenschliche gesture that would reveal
my superiority to the ordinary beings and things
of this world. But here I am now, one of
the earth’s mere Sancho Panzas, leading
those heroic others through the world on their
magnificent horses, merely turning the page, dreaming
my own small deeds into their magnificent arms.

– by Michael Blumenthal


Michael Blumenthal

Michael Blumenthal

A bit about Michael Blumenthal

Born in 1949, Blumenthal was raised in a German-speaking family in NY (he has published in German) — thus perhaps his Nietzschean “übermenschliche”.  We was a philosopher, then a lawyer, and then a psychotherapist living and working in Europe. Finally, his passion became his profession.

About this Poem:

  • Armenian raisin growers“: Fleeing annihilation (Turkey) and civil wars in other countries, Armenians migrated to the USA — largely to California & NY (esp. Manhattan, Blumenthal’s childhood). see here
    Raisin Farm pic credit
  • Perseus“: A greek hero, but who was his friend? Athena or Hermes? They both helped give him “greatness”  see wiki
  • übermenschliche” : allusion to Nietzsche’s übermensch (Superman) — so here perhaps “some superhuman/superior-human) gesture”. see wiki
  • Sancho Panza“: a fictional character in the 1605 Spanish novel, “Don Quixote”. (wiki)  He was Don Quixote’s servant, a realist, and offered his master earthly wit, broad humor and irony throughout the story.

Blumenthal Links

My Impressions

I don’t lament (perhaps neither does Blumenthal, really), but instead embrace our insignificance (see my post). For to view the world through heros, or worse, to envy those heros is a deep mistake: see my view of “The Great Person Theory of History“.


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The Panchatantra: an introduction

The many casual Christians I know are far more familiar with Grimm’s Fairy Tales (1812) than they are with Bible stories. For instance, here are just some of the brothers’ stories:

  • Rapunzel
  • Hansel and Gretel
  • Cinderella
  • Snow White
  • Rumpelstiltskin
  • The Golden Goose
    & many other animal stories.

Similarly, better than their classic religious texts, most Indians are probably more familiar with the moral animal tales from the Panchatantra (~200 BCE). In fact, the Panchatantra (Sanskrit for “5 Books”) influenced the famous Arabic book “One Thousand and One Nights” (circa 1000 CE). And it seems that the brothers Grimm themselves also borrowed some of their stories from the Panchatantra. All to say, Western kids may indirectly know this ancient Indian text better than they do their Bible.

The Panchatantra (like Machiavelli’s “The Prince“, 1513) was written to educate future rulers in morality, wisdom and sly states craft.  But most of us have never heard of this ancient Indian text, yet alone of these deep connections. So I will do a series of posts on the Five Books, to remedy that situation for a few of you!

Here are my Panchatantra posts:



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Sunday Poetry: Robert Morgan


The Grain of Sound  by Robert Morgan [source]

A banjo maker in the mountains,
when looking out for wood to carve
an instrument, will walk among
the trees and knock on trunks. He’ll hit
the bark and listen for a note.
A hickory makes the brightest sound;
the poplar has a mellow ease.
But only straightest grain will keep
the purity of tone, the sought-
for depth that makes the licks sparkle.
A banjo has a shining shiver.
Its twangs will glitter like the light
on splashing water, even though
its face is just a drum of hide
of cow, or cat, or even skunk.
The hide will magnify the note,
the sad of honest pain, the chill
blood-song, lament, confession, haunt,
as tree will sing again from root
and vein and sap and twig in wind
and cat will moan as hand plucks nerve,
picks bone and skin and gut and pricks
the heart as blood will answer blood
and love begins to knock along the grain.


Morgan_RobertAbout the poet

Robert Morgan was born in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains in 1944 where he loved music.

– His site.
The Poetry Foundation

The Banjo

Originally fashioned by Africans in colonial America, modeled after African instruments. It is associated with country, folk, Irish Traditional and bluegrass music. (see Wiki, or here). The picture is of a former slave playing. (pic credit)

My impressions:

An earthy, soulful praise of the banjo and the blood behind our pleasures.


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Ironic Prejudice: How do Polish dogs bark?

dog barkI work for a large company, and float around at various clinics, often working with people I have never met. Two weeks ago, after being with the company for already a year, I had my first feedback session from an Area Director (AD),  who had never yet met me. Those meetings (I’ve had dozens of them over my career) are a time to tell the employee any complaints or areas of needed improvement.

The AD hesitantly shared a complaint from some unnamed employee who accused me of being prejudice. The day of the incident I was working with a new physician who was a young polish woman with a heavy accent. The offense, my AD told me, was that I asked the physician, “How do Polish dogs bark?

On hearing this, I laughed. The AD was surprised and said, “You see, you have to be careful what you say to people and how you react.” To which I replied, “You mean because it is giving away my prejudice that she is a dumb female foreigner, right?”

The AD looked at me startled by my apparent blunt bigotry. Then I said, “Look, you don’t know my background at all, so here it is ….” (here is my language background, if don’t know). After sharing my cultural experiences, the AD was visibly much more relaxed. Then I told her that every language uses different words to describe the sounds that animals make, they are very different from language to language. For instance, in English dogs say “woof, woof”, in Polish they say “hau hau”, in Japanese they say “wan wan” and in Hindi they say “bho bho”.

The sounds animals make is not common sense? These sounds are called onomatopoeias — for a fantastic list of comparative sounds between languages, see this wiki page.

After educating my AD she apologized for this horrific misunderstanding. Then I pointed out a worse irony: For though the polish doctor and I had a great time with the discussion (both of us having lived long times as foreigners), the listeners themselves (Americans who only speak one language) probably had a hidden prejudice which I lacked, and they themselves probably thought that the poor woman doctor was dumb because she spoke with an accent, and thus they thought I was picking on her. Arghhhh!



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