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The title Kalila wa Dimna first came to my attention long ago in my second
year of Arabic language study. Ahmad Amin mentions Kalila wa
Dimna in passing in his autobiography, Hayati (Cairo: 1952), an excerpt of
which I read in Farhat Ziadeh’s Reader in Modern Literary Arabic. Over
the years, I tried occasionally to read a bit of the original and found the classical
Arabic intimidating. The task of reviewing Munther Younes’s retelling
of these stories represented the opportunity to taste the stories’ flavor without
the drudgery of dictionary look-up. Among other accomplishments,
Younes simplifies the grammar and lexicon to the point where intermediate
students of Arabic will understand what they read without excessive struggle.
This review will touch upon the structure and substance of Kalila wa
Dimna itself and Younes’ approach to retelling the stories and their utilization
as an Arabic language teaching tool.
In the West, most of us hear and then read Aesop’s Fables as children.
These stories, which date back as far as 620 BCE, feature anthropomorphic
animals who play out their dramas and conflicts in order to teach a moral.
Kalila wa Dimna, attributed to the Indian author Bidpai and written in
Sanskrit during the third century, does much the same, but also includes a
smattering of human characters. As Younes tells us, the Sassanid King
Khosro Anoushrawan sent his physician Burzuwayh to India to collect and
translate Bidpai’s fables into Persian. In the process, Burzuwayh added stories
by other authors. What had now become a book was then translated
into Syriac in 570; 200 years later, Abdullah ibn al-Muqafac translated it
into Arabic. Since its Arabization some 12 centuries ago, Kalila wa Dimna