Varda Books

 View book pages:
 Buy this book:

Tales of Sendebar

by Morris Epstein

Bibliographic information

TitleTales of Sendebar
AuthorMorris Epstein
PublisherVarda Books
Publication Date2002


This collection of fascinating stories makes available the complete English translation of Mishle Sendebar, the Hebrew version of an enormously popular medieval romance which originated in the East and was subsequently transmitted westward.

The astonishing vitality of this collection of narratives, whose central anti-feminist motif portrays woman’s purported wickedness and wiles, is attested by the existence of eight Eastern versions—Greek, Syriac, Old Spanish, three in Persian, Arabic, and Hebrew—and scores of Occidental versions in all the major Western languages.

Of them all, the Hebrew—preserved in no less than eighteen manuscripts—is the most important, for it was probably the bridge linking Eastern and Western forms. Yet it has never been edited from the earliest medieval manuscripts nor translated into English.

Addressing himself to libraries and scholars around the world, Dr. Epstein turned up unknown manuscripts, often in unlikely places. Two manuscripts in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, of much earlier date than the first printed edition (1516), became the foundation of this scholarly edition of highly unscholastic tales.

Here, then, is an important source book for all students of literature, presented in parallel Hebrew and English texts, with footnotes and critical and historical appendices. Here, too, is a theory of transmission—namely, that the tales were borne from East to West by the Radanites, Jewish merchantmen who were the first Europeans to establish direct contact between Orient and Occident. Tales of Sendebar thus provides another instance in which medieval Jewry conveyed the fruit of Eastern culture to the Christian world for the benefit of mankind as a whole.

Perhaps the most romantic aspect of this romance, however, is that the casual reader, unconcerned with its attraction for scholars, will find it a hilarious and salty picture of life and lore of long ago—clear testimony to Mishle Sendebar’s power, undiminished over the centuries, to captivate an audience.

About the Author 

Morris Epstein ---

Morris Epstein was professor of English and Chairman of the department at Stern College for Women of Yeshiva University, and an editor – since 1947 – of “World Over” magazine. He has written radioplays, drama reviews, and scholarly essays. Dr. Epstein lived in Manhattan with his wife Shifra and the daughters, Guita Eve and Sherry Lee.






1. The Book of Sindibad and the Seven Sages

2. The Date and Source of Mishle Sendebar

3. Mishle Sendebar and the Other Eastern Versions

4. The Three New Stories in Mishle Sendebar

5. A Hypothesis

6. Text and Arrangement







Striga et Fons









Absalom Rebellus

Absalom Mortuus


Iuvenis Femina


Fur et Luna




Senex Caecus


A. The Eastern Versions

B. The Seven Sages in Europe

C. The Manuscripts, Printed Editions, and Translations of Mishle Sendebar

D. Authorship of Mishle Sendebar

E. The Names of the Sages

F. Fur et Luna: A Comparison

G. Table of Stories and Their Order






In those days there was a King in the land of India whose name was Bibar and he was beloved by the inhabitants of India for he was a mighty man of valor4 and very generous; a sage, and an upholder of justice. Now he had eighty wives and each of them used to lie with him one week. When the turn came of the worthiest and the wisest of them all, she made a feast for all his princes and his servants, and she invited the King to the banquet hall to eat and to rejoice with her and with his princes.

And King Bibar came to the feast that Beria his wife had prepared for him and his heart was saddened by the multitude of his thoughts and he sat silent in his house of festivity. Now when Beria saw the agitated look of the King, she arose from her royal throne and cast off her earrings and her jewels and fell before the King and wept and pleaded with him, saying:

“How has your maidservant sinned? Why are you not towards me as you were yesterday and the day before that?”

The King replied and said to her: “Peace be unto you, Beria. Arise and be seated. Fear not, for you have found favor before me. But there is a great fear in my heart, for I have grown old in my kingdom, and I am eighty years of age. Nor do I have a son to succeed me on my throne. And from days of yore have my ancestors ruled and governed the land of India, and now my name and the names of my ancestors will be erased from the kingdom of India. This I recalled and it caused me concern.”

Now Beria replied, saying:

“In truth, my lord, this is a matter for concern. But many who are older than you have prayed to God, and God heard their cry. And now, my lord King, who deals justice and loves truth, and all the people love you!—Let us declare a fast and clothe ourselves in sackcloth and ashes and afflict ourselves before God, for He is merciful and ever present to those who seek Him and He responds to all who call upon Him, nor does He reject those who seek Him."

And the King heard the wisdom of her words and was very pleased. And he ordered and declared a fast in every city and in each province. And afterwards, Bibar came to Beria his wife and she conceived and bore a son, and the King rejoiced mightily, and so did all his princes and servants. And he wrote letters to the hundred twenty and seven provinces to summon the nobles and all his princes, servants and counselors from among all the King’s officers of the provinces and all the wise and learned sages to a feast in honor of the Prince, and he came and made a great feast for them, and distributed gifts lavishly to them, according to the bounty of the King.

And he said to them: “Choose from among yourselves one thousand sages.” And they did so. And they stood before the King in the chamber of the King in all their wisdom. And among these thousand were found a hundred sages great in wisdom. And again he tested these hundred and found among them seven great sages, men of brilliance and discernment, and these were their names:

Sendebar, Ipokras, Apulin, Lukman, Aristalin, Hind and Amami.

The King spoke to them:

“Observe the horoscope of my son and consider the star under which he was born. See whether he is destined to live or die; whether he will inherit my throne or not.”

And the King separated them and questioned each one individually. And they replied to him:

“He will live and succeed to the throne; we fear however that he may be killed in his twentieth year, for he is destined to be in mortal danger at that time.”

The lad grew, and when he was seven, the King said to the sages: “Which among you wishes to teach my son?”

And Sendebar said: “I will teach him.” And the King gave the Prince to Sendebar, for he was wiser than the other six. And the boy was with Sendebar twelve years and six months. And the King commanded and they brought him before the King, and he tested the boy with riddles. And he found in him no wisdom at all. The King grew agitated and he clapped his hands, saying:

“It were better had he not been born! Is such a one fit to rule or to maintain my kingdom?”

And the wise men answered the King, saying:

“There is still hope for your son for he is yet a youth, and still has time to learn and to comprehend, for it is their childishness and youthful folly which restrain young boys from study. And your son is still a youth and can be taught with proper discipline. It is because he is an only child to his father and mother that Sendebar feared to reprove him and to make him study Torah. A youth will not learn if he does not fear, and chastisement teaches knowledge and knowledge brings forth wisdom. And from this day on, he will study from his masters, and he will learn more from the age of twenty and upward than he learned until the age of twenty, for he possesses intelligence and wisdom and zeal, and he will distinguish between good and evil. And we observe intelligence in your son.”

 Already viewed books:
Tales of SendebarTales of Sendebar