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Once upon a time there was a king of Persia who had extended a hand of oppression over his subjects and their property. He had set upon a course of injustice and tyranny. The people were immiserated by his cruel depredations, and many of them were driven in anguish to pursue their lives in exile. As the people suffered and became ever fewer in number, the resources of the state were impaired, and the treasury was emptied. Enemies pressed upon the king from every side.
He who in adversity would succour have,
Let him be generous while he rests secure.
You who reward him not, will lose your slave,
Though wearing now your ring. You would secure
The stranger as your slave, be to him kind;
And by your courtesy enslave his mind.
And one day they read in the presence of the king the book of Shah-namah, and came to the passage which relates to the decline of the empire of Zahhak and the reign of Faridun. The wazir asked the king: “Faridun possessed no treasure, territory or troops, so how did he hold on to his king?” And he replied: “As you have read. The people rallied around him because they loved him. They freely gave him their support. And so Faridun came to possess the kingdom.” And then the wazir responded: “My king, since sovereignty is the people’s gift to a king, why do you drive the people from you? Does this mean you no longer wish to be king?”
And the king asked, “Why do soldiers and the people rally around their king?” He answered: “A king must be just that they may resort to him, and merciful, that they may sit secure under the shadow of his greatness–and you have neither of these two great qualities.”
The art of rule fails with tyranny;
No wolf may the shepard be.
Tyrants who on their people fall,
Undermine their state’s foundation-wall.
The conversation with his wazir enraged the king. He ordered the wazir to be bound and sent him off to prison. But only a short time passed before the sons of the king’s uncle rose in revolt, gathered an army against him, and laid claim to the kingdom of their father. Those who had been driven into emigration by his tyranny, once dispersed, collected to support the rivals. And so the kingdom passed from his hands.
The king who dares his subjects to oppress,
In day of need will find his friend a foe–
A mighty one. Soothe, rather, and caress
Your people; and in war-time you will know
No fear of foes; for a just potentate
The nation will rise as one to protect the state.
–Muslih-ud-Din Mushrif-ibn-Abdullah (Saadi), Gulistan ch. i, sec. vi (1258 CE)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”