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  • 12/20/2003

A Tale from Persia

Long ago, a man of Persia hosted a Bedouin from the desert, sitting him at table with his wife, two sons and two daughters; the wife had roasted one chicken, and the host told his guest: "Share it out among us," meaning to make fun of him. The Bedouin said he did not know how, but if they humored him he would try: when they agreed, he took the chicken and chopped it up, distributing it with these words: "The head for the head of the family," as he gave his host the bird"s head; "the two wings for the two boys, the two legs for the two girls," giving them out, and "the parson"s nose for the old woman," giving the wife the "parson"s nose" of the bird (this is a pun in Arabic) and finally, taking the best portion for himself, "The breast for the guest!" he said.

A Tale from Persia

Now, the next day, the host said to his wife (having enjoyed this joke) that she should roast five chickens, and when lunchtime came he told the Bedouin, "Share them out among us."

"I have an idea," his guest replied, "that you are offended."
"Not at all. Share them out."
"Would you like me to do it by even numbers or odd?"
"By odd numbers."
"Very well," said the Bedouin. "You, your wife and one fowl make three." (Giving them one chicken) "Your two sons and one fowl make three. Your two daughters and one fowl make three. And I and two chickens make three," he finished, taking two chickens for himself; and the joke was on the host again.
Seeing them eyeing his share, he smiled and continued, "Perhaps you are not content with my method--shall I share them out by even numbers, then?" When they said yes, he replied, "Well, then, my host, you and your two sons and one fowl make four. Your wife, her two daughters and one fowl make four." He passed the three male members of the household one chicken, and the three female members got one. "And," he concluded, "and myself plus three fowls makes four." Then raising his hands toward heaven he cried: "Praise be to Thee, O God, for Thou hast inspired me."
(From "The Life and Works of Jahiz", written in the seventh century.)

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