The Offended Prince (Persian, from Saadi’s ‘Gulistan’)
Harun, the ruler of Baghdad
Had a young son. One day the lad
Comes to his father and exclaims:
“One of my playmates calls me names!”
The king convenes the council of the state
To help him decide the culprit’s fate.
Some say, the boy should lose his head;
Some say, his tongue is to be cut out instead,
And others: ‘banish him, as long as he does live!’
“My son – said ar-Rashid, the ruler – to forgive
Would be the nobler thing to do;
But if you can’t forgive, go and insult him, too,
But use bad language with restraint,
For should the punishment exceed the boy’s transgression,
We would be guilty of oppression,
And he would have good reason for complaint.
This tale gives food for thought: what if
The council had its way, and not the noble calif?
The boy would probably be dead,
Or lucky to escape with nothing, but his head.
And so it happens that an emperor or kaiser
May be at times more merciful and wiser
Than many an adviser,
Or even than a council as a whole,
For, does a council have a soul?
It also illustrates the reasons why
There was the ancient law: ‘eye for an eye’
This principle applies
To those who, having lost but one,
Would try to take their enemy’s both eyes,
Or even three, if this could have been done.
And, by the way, do you recall
What has been written by Saint Paul,
The words he uses in relation
To the repeated flagellation
He had endured? What had they done?
“Five times they gave me forty minus one.”
Why thirty nine? Since forty was the limit,
It was considered, that to trim it
By just one lash was much to be preferred
To giving forty one, in case
The executioner had erred.
That is, indeed, a tiny grace;
But it is always better to abide,
When there is doubt, on mercy’s side.