Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ahikar and Aesop


Art. XIII.—Contributions to the History of Aḥiḳar and Nadan

M. Gaster

The history of Aḥiḳar and his nephew Nadan forms part of Eastern popular literature. When publishing my history of Roumanian popular literature seventeen years ago (Bucureesti, 1883) I devoted a special chapter to the Roumanian versions of this history (pp. 104–114). I was the first to recognize the connection between the Roumanian and Slavonic versions and those contained in the Arabian Nights. I then drew attention to the intimate relation between this legend and that which has entered the Greek life of Æsop. Since that time scholars have paid much attention to this legend, especially as through Meissner's studies it is being considered as one of the lost Apocrypha mentioned already in the Book of Tobit.


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Several ancient writers mention a character whose name closely resembles that of Ahiqar; they may be referring to the hero of the book (Harris, Lewis, Conybeare APOT 2: 715–17; Küchler 1979: 344–46; Lindenberger OTP 2: 491). The Christian writer Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150–215) claimed that the Greek author Democritus (ca. 460–370 b.c.e.) plagiarized from a stele of Ahiqar (tēn Akikarou stēlēn [Str. 1.69, 4]). In this connection, the Persian Muslim philosopher Shahrastani (1071–1153), in a collection of sayings from Democritus, cites three sayings which agree very closely with proverbs from the versions of Ahiqar. Strabo (ca. 63 b.c.e.–23 c.e.), in his Geography 16,2,39, gives from Poseidonius (135–51 b.c.e.) the names of famous seers; among them he names Achaikaros as being among the people from the Bosporus. It has been suggested that Bosporus is an error for Borsippa, so that the Mesopotamian savant could be intended (Harris, Lewis, Conybeare APOT 2: 716). This must be regarded, however, as quite uncertain. Diogenes Laertius (3d century c.e.) provides a list of the works by Theophrastus (372–287 b.c.e.), among which is one named Akicharosa. If all of these intend the Ahiqar known from the story and proverbs, they show that his fame, especially as a dispenser of wise words, was early and spread over a wider area than the Semitic world. The same could be concluded from the fact that the Greek Life of Aesop borrows heavily from the story and proverbs of Ahiqar in chaps. 23–32. It has also been suggested that Ahiqar’s name should be restored on the 3d-century c.e. Roman mosaic of Monnus in Trier. In it there are 9 octagonal sections in each of which are pictured a Muse with a symbol of the art with which she is connected and an expert in that art or founder of it. In the section for Polymnia, the Muse often associated with dance and mime, is a figure only part of whose name is preserved. The letters -icar could well be part of Acicarus or Ahiqar (Lindenberger OTP 2: 492), though combining him with Polymnia is surprising (Küchler 1979: 352–55).


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