Books Features

New Medieval Books: Kalilah and Dimnah

Kalilah and Dimnah: Fables of Virtue and Vice

By Ibn al-Muqaffaʻ
Translated by Michael Fishbein and James E. Montgomery

New York University Press
ISBN: 9781479825776

A collection of over fifty short tales, originally from India and adapted to Arabic audiences in the 8th century. These entertaining morality tales have animals as the main characters, similar to Aesop’s Fables.


Fables have long been an instrument of the powerless speaking truth to power, and according to Aesop’s legend and parts of Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ’s history, the fabulists themselves also appear to be situated as disadvantaged. This marker of outsider difference mirrors the condition of the stories’ dramatis personae, who mostly take the shape of overlooked and marginalized creatures—scavengers, vermin, and beasts of burden (jackals, crows, wolves, asses, mongooses, rats, and mice). They are the heroes of the tales, and are often portrayed as shrewd and valiant, cooperative, and quick-witted. They aren’t fabulous beasts like the Phoenix or the Simurgh, and in Kalīlah and Dimnah we don’t meet jinn or fairies. Instead, by choosing ordinary creatures, the writers naturalize the stories in this world close to hand and achieve a potent reality effect, which helps give voice to opinions that would otherwise be gagged.


Who is this book for?

Fables are a fun literary genre in the Middle Ages, and having this translation is a welcome addition to the field. Those studying medieval Arabic literature will be particularly interested in this book, but others just wanting a fun read should check it out.

The translators

Michael Fishbein is Lecturer Emeritus at UCLA. James E. Montgomery is a Professor of Arabic at the University of Cambridge. Both are experts in medieval Arabic literature.


You can learn more about this book from the publisher’s website

You can also buy this book on | |

See also Kalila wa Dimna: Ancient Tales for Troubled Time – their project website and YouTube page.