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"Varlaam and Joasaph"


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From “Varlaam and Joasaph”

Notes about the stories from the book “From the Old Bulgarian Literature”

Varlaam and Joasaph – widely spread medieval short novel, in the basis of which lies the legend of Buda, completely Christianized. The two published stories are only a part of the short novel – two parables, through which the hermit Varlaam shows to Joasaph, son of the Indian heathen king Avenir, the power of the Christian religion. Disguised as a merchant, Varlaam tells him a whole number of parables, which are differentiated as self-dependent stories. The short novel has made its way into Bulgaria probably in the XI c. – The texts of the stories are taken from the book of Jord. Ivanov “Old-Bulgarian stories”, 1935.

“Parable for the unicorn”

All these, says Varlaam, who serve the mean and evil master – the world, - who in their madness shun the good and man-loving God, who have given themselves wholly to the earthly things and the pleasures of flesh, but have abandoned their souls in spiritual hunger and countless evils, such people are like the one, who fled from the face of the one-horned beast. As he couldn’t endure its voice and its foul cry, he ran as much as he could, so that he wouldn’t be eaten, and he fell in the great abyss. As he fell with stretched arms, he caught a tree and he caught it fast; and as he placed his feet at one bulge, he thought that he is now in absolute safety. But as he looked, he saw two mice, one white and the other black, which were gnawing the root of the tree, which he had caught, and there was not much time till they would gnaw it through and root it out. And when he looked around and to the bottom of the abyss, he saw a fearful dragon with a fiery breath, fixing its gaze upwards and opening its mouth, waiting to devour him. He looked then to his feet and he saw four snake heads, which were reaching out of the bulge on which he had placed his feet. Then, as he raised his eyes, he noticed that from the tree, on which he was hanging, some honey is dropping.

Then he forgot the troubles, which surrounded him, he forgot that there’s an open-mouthed dragon in the abyss, waiting to devour him; that the tree on which he was hanging is soon to be rooted out; that his feet are standing on slippery and unstable ground. He didn’t think about these so abominable horrors, but he was carried away by the sweetness of few drops of honey.

This is the picture of those, who are deceived by the spirit of today’s life; I will explain it to you now. The unicorn is the image of the death, which constantly pursues the offspring of Adam. The abyss is this world, filled with all kinds of evils and deadly consequences. The tree, which the two mice are constantly gnawing and which we have caught and are hanging on, is the road of life of every man, being gradually shortening and coming near its end, just as the hours of the day (the white) and the night (the black mouse) are slipping by. The four snakes signify the deceitful and transient parts of which the human body is made and which, if they come into disagreement and disorder, bring disorder to the body itself. Besides this, that fiery and fierce dragon signifies the terrible hellish womb, which is hungry to devour those, who prefer the worldly pleasures instead of the goods of the future. And the honey drop represents the sweetness of the worldly pleasures, through which the world seduces the lovers of pleasures and doesn’t let them take care for their own salvation.

“Parable for the three friends”

One man had three friends: two of them he honoured sincerely and cared much about their love; the third one he treated coldly. Once the king’s messengers, fearful soldiers, came to him and wanted to take him to the king, because he had done some wrong. This deeply saddened him and he decided to look for a helpmate, who would intercede for him in front of his lord. He hurried up to his first friend and he told him: “You know, friend, that I’ve always loved you and I’ve given my soul for you. Now I need a helper, who would rescue me from trouble. And thus, intercede for me before the king, of whom I’m too worried.” He answered him: “I am not your friend, nor I know who you are or where you are from; I have others with which I keep close friendship. But here, I give you two tatters, take them and carry them with you, wherever you go, but don’t expect something else from me”.

As he understood that there would be no help from him, he hurried up to his second close friend and he told him: “Do you know, friend, what favour I’ve had for you; now, however, I fell in great sadness; and so, help me to save myself from it.” Then his second friend replied to him: “I am myself in worries and I don’t have time to stay long with you; I will go out for awhile to accompany you to a certain distance and I will go back, because I’m busy with my own hardships and I will not be able to help you.”

Deeply saddened by the ungratefulness of his friends, to which he showed so much love, he went to the third one, whom he had never loved, nor he had ever shared good hours with him, and started talking to him with shame and humiliation: “You know, friend, that I have never showed a special love to you, but now, as an ill plague has befallen me and none of my other friends, with which I kept close friendship in vain, didn’t help me, I came to you to ask you, if you could, to help me at least a bit. Don’t chase me away because of my imprudence!” And he answered him kindly and with a mirthful face: “I remember your small favours to me and because of that I’ll help you. Don’t be saddened, because I’ll go to the king before you and will beseech him not to deliver you in the hands of your enemies. Be brave, friend, don’t be sorrow!” Then the debtor started talking with tears in his eyes: “Woe me, should I first rejoice or grieve? Should I blame myself that I had a friendship with those, the deceitful friends, or should I suffer that to this sincere friend I haven’t shown any love?”

Joasaph listened with astonishment to the parable and asked that it would be explained to him, to which Varlaam replied: “The first friend are the maleficent riches, for which the man falls in bad sins. When the death comes, the riches can’t help with anything, except with a cloth for the burial, but even for that there would be rumours. The second friend are the wife, the children and the other relatives, which have lived for some time with him, but they can’t help him with anything; even if they accompany him to the grave, they return again to take care of their own hardships and sins. The third one, he is eternal and stable friend. His name is: faith, love, peace, alms, kindness, obedience, helpfulness, tractability, sobriety, prayer, fasting, repentance and so on. He is the good friend, who remembers even the smallest good turns and redeems the man from the eternal torment”.

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