Persian Tales: Tortoise Bowl-On-The-Back and the Fox

Here is the author's note to the story: "The idea is that the one who got in first should begin counting "One, two, three..." and so on. Thus when the Tortoise said: "Eight and twenty," it means that he had been in so long before the Fox that he had had time to count up to twenty-eight."

The theme of the "tricky substitute" in the race is one that you will find in stories all over the world. See Dan Ashliman's collection of stories about Races Between Unequal Contestants, many of which are about the same kind of trick that you will see in this story.

Explore: For another animal story, see The Sad Tale of the Mouse's Tail or The Story of Susku and Mushu.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Persian Tales unit. Story source: Persian Talestranslated by D.L.R. Lorimer and E.O. Lorimer and illustrated by Hilda Roberts (1919).

Tortoise Bowl-On-The-Back and the Fox

Once upon a time there was a Tortoise who was known as Bowl-on-the-Back. He was sowing seed when a Fox chanced to pass by that way and said to him: "May God give you strength," and went on his way.

After some time the corn the Tortoise had sown sprang up, and summer came and the time for reaping it. Unexpectedly the Fox turned up again and said: "God give you strength," and went on his way.

He did not appear again till the harvest-time, when Bowl-on-the-Back had threshed and winnowed the corn. Then, however, the Fox threw a lot of big bags over his shoulder and came to the threshing-floor. "I have come for my share," said he.

"You crazy rascal!" said Bowl-on-the-Back, "your share of what?"

"Didn't I say to you: 'God give you strength'?" said the Fox.

"Yes, no doubt you did," replied Bowl-on-the-Back, "but because you said: 'God give you strength,' do you think that made you my partner and gave you a right to share with me?"

And so they fell to quarrelling.

At last the Fox said: "Now do you know what you are going to do? You and I will go off a long way and then we will race back to the threshing-floor, and whoever gets there first will be the owner of all the grain."

"Very good, I agree," said Bowl-on-the-Back.

But he went off and told the whole story privately to his brother, and said: "Now do you go to the threshing-floor and hide there, for I can't possibly race the Fox, and when he comes running up, say: 'Eight and twenty, you've lost!' and then you'll have scored off him absolutely, for he won't see any difference between us."

After that the brothers went off together, and the one hid himself at the threshing-floor, and Bowl-on-the-Back went away with the Fox, and they started their race.

But Bowl-on-the-Back ran and hid himself under a small bush while the Fox went on running as hard as he could till he came to the threshing-floor. Just as he got there, Bowl-on-the-Back's brother cried out: "Eight and twenty, you've lost."

"May your house be ruined!" screamed the Fox, "when did you get here that you're able to say: 'Eight and twenty, you've lost'?"

The Tortoise, however, only said: "You're not allowed to stand about here, be off," and he turned him out.

Then the Fox hung his head in shame and confusion and went off about his own business. And so every one who is greedy is put to shame.

The end.

(500 words)

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