The Humble King

There once was a King. The King had a Sage. The King spoke to the Sage, saying, “There is a King who proclaims himself a heroic warrior and a man of truth and modesty (a truthful person who is not proud of himself). A hero. I know he is a great hero. For surrounding his country runs the sea, and on the sea stand soldiers on ships with cannons who don’t allow any approach. And inland there is a great swamp around the country which has nothing more there than a small pathway, that not more than one person can walk on. There also stand cannons. If anyone comes there to make war, one shoots the cannons; so one cannot approach.

“But as for him proclaiming himself as a man of truth and modesty, that I do not know, and I want you to bring me a portrait of this King.” Because the King possessed the portraits of all Kings, and the portrait of this King (the one who proclaimed himself, etc.) was not to be found by any King, because this King was hidden from people, for he sat under a curtain, and he was far from the people of his country.

So the Sage went into the country and thought to himself: he must know the customs of the country (way of the country, how it is governed). [In order to come close enough to the King and paint his portrait.] And by what means can he know the way of the land? Through the humor of the country, because if you need to know something, you have to know the humor of the thing. For there are many kinds of humor. There is one kind when really one wants to hurt somebody with his words; and when the other takes notice, he says, “I am joking,” as the Scripture says, ‘As one who shoots arrows and says, I’m just playing’ etc. (Proverbs 26, 18-19) In the same way, there is also one who really means to joke, and even so he does injure the other with his talk. And thus there are many kinds of humor.

And there is in all lands one state which contains everything to be found in all lands (this state is the core and center of all lands). And in this state there is a city, which contains all cities of the above mentioned state, which contains all lands. And in this city is a house, which contains all the houses of the whole city, which contains all cities of the state, which contains all countries. And in this house there is a person who contains the whole house, which contains all that has been mentioned.

And there is one who makes all the mockery and the humor of the whole land. [To be differentiated from he who contains the whole house, in the previous sentence.]

So the Sage took with him a vast amount of money and went there. He saw that there they make all kinds of mockery and jokes. So he understood by the humor that the land is thoroughly full of falsehood (lies). For he saw how they make mockery. How they deceive people in trading. And how one brings a case in court, with utter falsehood and taking of bribes. So he goes to the higher court; and there is also falsehood throughout. And they went on making mockery by putting on an exhibition of all these things. So the Sage understood by this humor that the land is full of lies and falsehood, and that there is no truth at all in the land.

So he went and traded in the land and let himself be fooled in these dealings. He went to complain before the justices and they were all full of lies, and took bribes. Today he gave them bribes, and tomorrow they did not recognize him. So he went to a higher court, and there also it was full of lies. Till he came to the Senate. And there they were also full of lies and bribery. Till he came to the King himself.

When he came to the King, he lifted his voice and said, “Over whom are you King? The country is altogether full of falsehood throughout, from beginning to end, and there is no sort of truth at all,” and he began to relate all the falsity of the country.

As soon as the King heard his talk, he inclined his ears towards the curtain to hear his speech, because it was for the King a great wonder that there should be found a person who knew all the falseness of the country. And King’s ministers heard his talk and were very angry with him. And he kept on telling further the perfidy of the country.

The Sage said, “It could be said that the King is also just like them—that he likes falsehood just like the country. But on the contrary, from this one can see how you are a man of truth, and therefore you are far from them, because you cannot tolerate the falsehood of the country.” He began to praise the King very very much. And the King, because he was very modest, and in the place of his greatness was his modesty (for such is the custom of a modest one) that the more he is praised and exalted, he becomes still smaller to himself and even more modest. Since the Sage so highly praised and exalted the King, the King came into great modesty and into great smallness, till he became absolutely nothing.

So he could not restrain himself and threw away the curtain in order to see the Sage—who this is that knows and understands all this.

So the face of the King was disclosed. The Sage saw him and painted his portrait and brought it to the King.

[Translated by Esther Kenig]