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King Solomon and the Hoopoes.


An Arab Legend, from "Monasteries in the Levant".
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The Arabs say that every race of animals is governed by its chief, to whom the others are bound to pay obeisance. The chief of the crocodiles holds his court at the bottom of the Nile near Siout. The king of the fleas lives at Tiberias in the Holy Land; and deputations of illustrious fleas, from other countries, visit him on a certain day in his palace, situated in the midst of beautiful gardens, under the Lake of Genessareth. There is a bird which is common in Egypt called the hoopoe (Abou hood hood), of whose king the following legend is related. This bird is of the size and shape as well as the colour of a woodcock; but has a crown of feathers on its head, which it has the power of raising and depressing at will. It is a tame, quiet bird; usually to be found walking leisurely in search of its food on the margin of the water. It seldom takes long flights; and is not harmed by the natives, who are much more sparing of the life of animals than we Europeans are.

In the days of King Solomon, the son of David, who, by the virtue of his cabalistic seal, reigned supreme over genii as well as men, and who could speak the languages of animals of all kinds, all created beings were subservient to his will. Now when the king wanted to travel he made use for his conveyance of a carpet of a square form. This carpet had the property of extending itself to a sufficient size to carry a whole army, with the tents and baggage; but at other times it could be reduced so as to be only large enough for the support of the royal throne, and of those ministers whose duty it was to attend upon the person of the sovereign. Four genii of the air then took the four corners of the carpet, and carried it with its contents wherever King Solomon desired.

Once the king was on a journey in the air, carried upon his throne of ivory over the various nations of the earth. The rays of the sun poured down upon his head, and he had nothing to protect him from its heat. The fiery beams were beginning to scorch his neck and shoulders, when he saw a flock of vultures flying past. - "O vultures!" cried King Solomon, "come and fly between me and the sun, and make a shadow with your wings to protect me, for its rays are scorching my neck and face." But the vultures answered and said, "We are flying to the north, and your face is turned towards the south. We desire to continue on our way; and be it known unto thee, O king! that we will not turn back on our flight, neither will we fly above your throne to protect you from the sun, although its rays may be scorching your neck and face."

Then King Solomon lifted up his voice and said, cc Cursed be ye, O vultures! - and because ye will not obey the commands of your lord, who rules over the whole world, the feathers of your necks shall fall off; and the heat of the sun, and the cold of the winter, and the keenness of the wind, and the beating of the rain, shall fall upon your rebellious necks, which shall not be protected with feathers, like the necks of other birds. And whereas you haw hitherto fared delicately, henceforward ye shall cat carrion and feed upon offal; and your race shall be impure till the end of the world." And it was done unto the vultures as King Solomon had said.

Now it fell out that there was a flock of hoopoes flying past; and the king cried out to them, and said, "O hoopoes! come and fly between me and the sun, that I may be protected from its rays by the shadow of your wings." Whereupon the king of the hoopoes answered, and said, "O king, we are but little fowls, and we are not able to afford much shade; but we will gather our nation together, and by our numbers we will make up for our small size." So the hoopoes gathered together, and, flying in a cloud over the throne of the king, they sheltered him from the rays of the sun.

When the journey was over, and King Solomon sat upon his golden throne, in his palace of ivory, whereof the doors were emerald, and the windows of diamonds, larger even than the diamond of Jemshid, he commanded that the king of the hoopoes should stand before his feet. "Now," said King Solomon, "for the service that thou and thy race have rendered, and the obedience thou hast shown to the king, thy lord and master, what shall be done unto thee, O hoopoe? and what shall be given to the hoopoes of thy race, for a memorial and a reward?"

Now the king of the hoopoes was confused with the great honour of standing before the feet of the king; and, making his obeisance, and laying his right claw upon his heart, he said, "O king, live for ever! Let a day be given to thy servant, to consider with his queen and his councillors what it shall be that the king shall give unto us for a reward," And King Solomon said, "Be it so." And it was so.

But the king of the hoopoes flew away; and he went to his queen, who was a dainty hen, and he told her what had happened, and he desired her advice as to what they should ask of the king for a reward; and he called together his council, and they sat upon a tree, and they each of them desired a different thing. Some wished for a long tail; some wished for blue and green feathers; some wished to be as large as ostriches; some wished for one thing, and some for another; and they debated till the going down of the sun, but they could not agree together.

Then the queen took the king of the hoopoes apart and said to him, "My dear lord and husband, listen to my words; and as we have preserved the head of King Solomon, let us ask for crowns of gold on our heads, that we may be superior to all other birds." And the words of the queen and the princesses her daughters prevailed; and the king of the hoopoes presented himself before the throne of Solomon, and desired of him that all hoopoes should wear golden crowns upon their heads. Then Solomon said, "Hast thou considered well what it is that thou desirest? " And the hoopoe said, "I have considered well, and we desire to have golden crowns upon our heads." So Solomon replied, "Crowns of gold shall ye have: but, behold, thou art a foolish bird; and when the evil days shall come upon thee, and thou seest the folly of thy heart, return here to me and I will give thee help."

So the king of the hoopoes left the presence of King Solomon, with a golden crown upon his head. And all the hoopoes had golden crowns; and they were exceeding proud and haughty. Moreover, they went down by the lakes and the pools, and walked by the margin of the water, that they might admire themselves, as it were in a glass. And the queen of the hoopoes gave herself airs, and sat upon a twig; and she refused to speak to the merops her cousin, and the other birds who had been her friends, because they were but vulgar birds, and she wore a crown of gold upon her head.

Now there was a certain fowler who set traps for birds; and he put a piece of a broken mirror into his trap, and a hoopoe that went in to admire itself was caught. And the fowler looked at it, and saw the shining crown upon its head; so he wrung off its head, and took the crown to Issachar, the son of Jacob, the worker in metal, and he asked him what it was. So Issachar, the son of Jacob, said, "It is a crown of brass." And he gave the fowler a quarter of a shekel for it, and desired him, if he found any more, to bring them to him, and to tell no man thereof. So the fowler caught more hoopoes, and sold their crowns to Issachar, the son of Jacob; until one day he met another man who was a jeweller, and he showed him several of the hoopoes' crowns. Whereupon the jeweller told him that they were of pure gold; and he gave the fowler a talent of gold for four of them.

Now when the value of these crowns was known the fame of them got abroad, and in all the land of Israel was heard the twang of bows and the whirling of slings; bird-lime was made in every town; and the price of traps rose in the market, so that the fortunes of the trap-makers increased. Not a hoopoe could show its head but it was slain or taken captive, and the days of the hoopoes were numbered.

Then their minds were filled with sorrow and dismay, and before long few were left to bewail their cruel destiny.

At last, flying by stealth through the most unfrequented places, the unhappy king of the hoopoes went to the court of King Solomon, and stood again before the steps of the golden throne, and with tears and groans related the misfortunes which had happened to his race.

So King Solomon looked kindly upon the king of the hoopoes, and said unto him, "Behold, did I not warn thee of thy folly, in desiring to have crowns of gold? Vanity and pride have been thy ruin. But now, that a memorial may remain of the service which thou didst render unto me, your crowns of gold shall be changed into crowns of feathers, that ye may walk unharmed upon the earth." Now when the fowlers saw that the hoopoes no longer wore crowns of gold upon their heads, they ceased from the persecution of their race; and from that time forth the family of the hoopoes have flourished and increased, and have continued in peace even to the present day.

And here endeth the veracious history of the king of the hoopoes.


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