Book Reviews

Pilpay’s Fables

by Sir Richard Burton
with an introduction by
Tom Cox

2003. 96 pp., 9 colour plates. 21 x 19 cm. Hardbound.

ISBN-10: 974-524-028-1 $27.95
ISBN-13: 978-974-524-028-5



Marg Publications, National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, India
(Volume 56 No. 1 September 2004, author unknown)


This is a first publication of a translation of a Hindustani version of Pilpay’s Fables, by 19th-century soldier-scholar and linguist Sir Richard Francis Burton. In the course of his own research, ethnographer Thomas Cox discovered that Burton’s translation was still unpublished. He tracked it down to the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and obtained the necessary permission to publish it. Burton’s explanatory notes and appendix too have been included.
   “Burton’s translation is a stunning scholarly achievement, one that surpasses all other renderings”, writes Cox. Burton’s strength lay in being sensitive to other cultures and he has been able to retain the meaning, style, tone, and charm of the original stories. Burton had mastered 24 languages and introduced several literary masterpieces of the Orient to the Western world. Ironically, this, his first translation, done in 1847 while on postings to Bombay and Ootacamund, is the last to be published.
   A cast of animals and people illustrate these morality tales, written in Sanskrit, later translated into Persian and Hindustani. The origin of the fables is obscure, and there is no clue as to why they are titled Pilpay’s Fables. The stories come from the Hitopadesha, a book of fables apparently written down sometime between 800-1373 —which itself includes many stories from the Panchatantra of circa 200 BCE and from earlier oral traditions.
   The delightful watercolours specially commissioned for this book add to its appeal.

[Read an interview with Tom Cox from the South China Morning Post] [More Orchid Press Reviews]