Fables and Stories of the Middle East

The Scorpion and the Frog

One day, a scorpion looked around at the mountain where he lived and decided that he wanted a change. So he set out on a journey through the forests and hills. He climbed over rocks and under vines and kept going until he reached the sea of Galillee. The sea was wide and long, and the scorpion stopped to reconsider the situation. He couldn’t see any way across. So he ran up and down the coast, all the while thinking that he might have to turn back.

Suddenly, he saw a frog sitting in the rushes by the edge of the sea. He decided to ask the frog for help getting across the water.

“Hellooo Mr. Frog!” called the scorpion, “Would you be so kind as to give me a ride on your back across the water?”

“Well now, Mr. Scorpion! How do I know that if I try to help you, you wont try to kill me?” asked the frog hesitantly.

“Because,” the scorpion replied, “If I try to kill you, then I would die too, for you see I cannot swim!”

Now this seemed to make sense to the frog. But he asked. “What about when I get close to the bank? You could still try to kill me and get back to the shore!”

“This is true,” agreed the scorpion, “But then I wouldn’t be able to get to the other side of the sea!”

“Alright then…how do I know you wont just wait till we get to the other side and THEN kill me?” said the frog.

“Ahh…,” crooned the scorpion, “Because you see, once you’ve taken me to the other side of this sea, I will be so grateful for your help, that it would hardly be fair to reward you with death, now would it?!”

So the frog agreed to take the scorpion across the sea of Galillee. He swam over to the scorpion and settled himself near the mud to pick up his passenger. The scorpion crawled onto the frog’s back, his sharp claws prickling into the frog’s soft hide, and the frog slid into the sea. The muddy water swirled around them, but the frog stayed near the surface so the scorpion would not drown. He kicked strongly through the first half of the sea, his flippers paddling wildly against the current.

Halfway across the water, the frog suddenly felt a sharp sting in his back and, out of the corner of his eye, saw the scorpion remove his stinger from the frog’s back. A deadening numbness began to creep into his limbs.

“You fool!” croaked the frog, “Now we shall both die! Why on earth did you do that?”

The scorpion shrugged, and did a little jig on the drownings frog’s back.

“I could not help myself. It’s the Middle East.”

Then they both sank into the muddy waters.

Adapted from Frog Fables – at

People disagree about the origins of this story, and this is certainly not the original (generally the scorpion says “it is my nature,” after the stung frog protests.) However, this story has been adapted many times over to describe politics in Lebanon, Israel/Palestine, Egypt, etc. The seeming lack of purpose in the frog and scorpion’s death sheds more than a bit of light on the nonsensical deaths that occur so often in this region.

The Legend of the Three Rings, by Gabor Renner
The story takes place in Jerusalem at the time of Saladin the Great (1138-1193), who was the Muslim sultan fighting the Christian crusading knights. As his war treasury was rapidly being emptied, he thought out a trick of how he could get a lot of money from the rich Jewish merchant Nathan.

So Saladin, the Sultan, invites Nathan, who is called “the Wise”, to instruct him about which faith, which moral laws, are the most important. The Sultan realizes that Nathan cannot say it is the Jewish faith, for that would be high treason. He cannot say it is the Muslim faith, for it would be a lie. And he definitively cannot say it is the Christian faith, for it would be both high treason and a lie. Nathan now knows that he will loose his freedom, if not his life.

Nathan asks the Sultan if he may first tell him a legend, which may shed some light on the question, before he instructs him. The Sultan, very sure of the situation, orders Nathan to begin.

“A long time ago, far out to the east, there lived a king who had a ring of immense value. Not only was the ring extremely beautiful, it also had the magic power, that if received with love and kindness it would multiply these attributes a thousand fold for the receiver.

The king wore it always. He never took it off even to sleep. It gave him the facilities to be the greatest king ever. He was beloved by his neighbor kings and subjects alike. He loved God and his country and served both with all his heart, all his strength and all his might. His justice was built more on mercy than on laws.

The kingdom thrived.

When he was dying he called for his favorite son, as he himself was called at his own father’s deathbed. It was neither the eldest nor the youngest, yet it was the son he loved the best. The son also had to promise to pass on the ring to his favorite son only. And by the virtue of the ring, he would become the king.

Thus the ring was handed down from father to favorite son from one generation to the other. The kingdom thrived.

Yet one day there was a king who had three sons whom he loved dearly. Each of them loved God and their country and served both with all their hearts, with all their strength and all their might. They were loved by their peers and by all the people in the realm.

The father was dying and was very embarrassed. For he had in secret promised each son individually that he would inherit the ring. In moments when his heart was overflowing with love for the son who was at that particular time alone with him, he had given that promise.

So, in secret he send for a master jeweler whom he orders to spare neither costs nor efforts to make another two identical rings. The jeweler succeeds. No one can now tell one ring from the other.

The king calls each of his sons to come to visit him alone on a separate day. He blesses each son individually, gives him one of the three rings and asks him to keep it a secret until he has died. Then he dies.

After the funeral, the sons come to the Assembly of the Nobles to show the ring he had inherited from his father and to claim the kingdom. Each son is shocked and in this situation accuses his brothers of falsehood and deception. The rings are examined, again and again, yet not one ring was different that the other.”

Nathan now looks at Saladin and comments: “Almost as little as today as the genuine faith!”

Saladin, taken by surprise, replies: “You mean this is the answer to my question? …”
“Well, just to demonstrate that I cannot answer your question. The Father intended that the Rings could not distinguished from another – so that the sharpest eye could not tell which is which.”

The Sultan, now angry says: “Don’t play with me! You know that those three religions can be distinguished readily enough – even outwardly to the clothes they wear, the food they eat and what they drink!”

Nathan replies: “Exactly so! Except for their basic principles! Are not these faiths all grounded in history? In the writings and in the stories all handed down? And don’t we accept our own history bases wholly upon faith? Well then, whose faith are we least likely to doubt? Of our own people’s, surely! Of those whose blood we share, who loved us from our early childhood! Can I trust my fathers less than you can trust yours?

Or turn it around; can I demand that you say of your forefathers that they were telling lies? And isn’t it the same for the Christians?”

Saladin is stunned. He waves Nathan on to continue.

“Back to the rings. As at the Assembly of the Nobles no decision could be taken, the case was taken to the most experienced and fair judge. Each son swore that he had received his ring from his father’s hand personally. And long before that, his father had promised him the ring, him personally, and that he would enjoy the privileges of that ring! It was impossible that his loving father had been false to him! He must accuse his brothers. Although, up to this moment, he always thought the best of them, they were deceitful and traitors and he would take revenge on them.
The judge first said to stop wasting his time. Did they think he was there to solve riddles? Could they bring their father to this court? Or perhaps they would wait till the genuine ring would speak to them?

But then the judge said he understood that the bearer of this magical ring has the power to be loved by his peers and his subjects. That he loves God and his country, and serves them with all his heart, with all his strength and all his might, and that his judgments are based more on mercy than the laws. That must be the deciding factors for the false rings cannot do that.

Whom then the two of you love the most? Quick now! Answer me! What – are you all mute? Does the ring only work backwards, that each of you love only himself the most?

Then all three of you are the deceived deceivers. All three rings are false! The genuine ring got lost and to hide this terrible loss, your father had these three rings made, so he could make it good for you.

I can not give a verdict, yet I can give you some advice – if you will take it! Accept the matter wholly as it stands. If each of you believe that you have your father’s ring, then believe in it, and act accordingly as if it were the genuine one.

Possibly, your father didn’t want to tolerate the tyranny of just one ring. And because he loved all three sons – and loved you all alike, since he didn’t want to humiliate two of you – let each of you strive to fulfill the magic of his ring. And with God’s will and your humility, benefaction and peace from the bottom of your hearts may the magic powers of the rings reveal themselves in your children’s, children’s children and then, in a thousand’s thousand years, come and stand before this seat and speak, for another, wiser Judge than me may decide”

Saladin is shocked and touched at the same time.

He cries out: “Allah! Inch Allah! “

Nathan asks him: “Now, oh Sultan, do you claim to be that wiser man, the promised one? … “

Saladin jumps out of his seat and seizes Nathan’s hand, which he keeps holding, and speaks: “Dear Nathan, the thousand, thousand years are not over. HIS judgment seat is not for me! Go! Go! But be my friend, nothing else!”

Osman’s Dream<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>
The mythical foundations of Ottoman legitimacy


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Osman Ghazi prayed (for new raids against the Christians) and briefly wept (for fallen comrades). Then sleep won him over, so he lay down and rested. He saw that among (his acquaintances) was a highly-esteemed sheykh, whose many miracles were well-known and whom all the people followed. They called him a dervish, but his dervish qualities were deep within him. He possessed much in the way worldly goods, comforts, and sheep. He also had both students and knowledge. His guest house was never vacant and Osman Ghazi himself used to come from time to time and be a guest of this holy man. As Osman Ghazi slept he saw that a moon arose from the holy man’s breast and came to sink in Osman Ghazi’s breast. A tree then sprouted from his navel, and its shade compassed the world. Beneath this shade there were mountains, and streams flowed forth from the foot of each mountain. Some people drank from these running waters, others watered gardens, while yet others caused fountains to flow. (When Osman awoke he went and) told the story to their sheykh, who said, “Osman, my son, congratulations, for God has given the imperial office to you and your descendants, and my daughter Malkhun shall be your wife.” He married them forthwith and gave his daughter to Osman Ghazi.

<!–[endif]–> <!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–> As translated by Rudi Lindner in his Nomads and Ottomans in Medieval Anatolia (Bloomington, 1983), p. 37.


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