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Tales From The Land Of Rabbits

Southern Europe


Spain And Portugal

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The Emir In Search Of An Eye








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This volume, Tales From The Land of Rabbits covers stories originating in what is now Spain and Portugal.

Why the land of rabbits? John A. Crow explains it perfectly in Spain, The Root and the Flower, University of California Press, 1985:

“Spain was first called Iberia, a name given to it by its Iberian inhabitants (from North Africa). The name was supposedly based on the Iberian word for river, Iber. They reached Spain around 6000 BCE. When the Greeks arrived on Spanish soil around 600 BCE. they referred to the peninsula as Hesperia, meaning "land of the setting sun." When the Carthaginians came around 300 BCE. they called the country Ispania (from Sphan, "rabbit"), which means "land of the rabbits." The Romans arrived a century later and adopted the Carthaginian name of the country, calling it Hispania. Later, this became the present-day Spanish name for the country, España. Thus, because of the Romans and their language, the rabbits won over the sunset and over the river.”

This collection contains stories either written by or collected by Rachel Harriette Busk, Charles Sellers, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, Andrew Lang and by José Muñoz Escámez. Translations from Bécquer are by Cornelia Francis Bates and Katherine Lee Bates.

As ever it’s been a delight to work on these stories, many of which I had not read before working through some of these original collections. There is a real flavour of the peninsular in these stories, reflecting as they do Spain and Portugal’s long history of thought, religion and conflict.


The Emir In Search Of An Eye

The Emir Abu-Bekir lost an eye in battle against the Christians.

“The Christians shall pay me what they have taken from me,” he said, and he sent for a number of Christian captives, and had one of their eyes taken out, in the idea of replacing his own; but it was found that none of them agreed with his in size, and form, and colour.

The Emir Abu-Bekir was a very comely person, and his eyes had been so mild and soft, that it was at last thought only the eye of a woman could replace the missing one.

The choice fell upon a beautiful maiden named Sancha. Sancha was brought into the Emir’s presence, and his physician was ordered to take out her eye, and place it in the vacant socket.

Now Sancha stood trembling and wailing, and by her very crying damaging the perfection of the coveted feature.

Then there stood up a travelling doctor who was in great fame among the people, and who begged a hearing of the Emir, for albeit he was a Turk, yet he possessed pity and gratitude.

He knew that the operation, while a torment to the Christian maiden, would be of no service to the Emir; and he pitied the waste of pain.

It also happened to be true that once, when on a journey he had sunk fainting by the way-side, and this very Sancha had comforted and relieved him, and now he was determined to rescue her.

Accordingly, he stepped up to the Emir, and told him that he had eyes made of crystal, and coloured by cunning art, which no one could tell from living eyes, and which would be of much greater service and ornament than those of the Christian dogs, whose eyes he might have observed lost all their lustre and consistency the moment they were taken from their natural place.

The Emir admitted the truth of the last statement, and being marvellously pleased with the glass eyes the travelling doctor displayed, asked him the price.

“The maiden for a slave,” replied the doctor.

The Emir gladly consented to so advantageous a bargain, and suffered the glass eye to be fixed in his head. All the Court applauded the appearance.

“But I cannot see with it!” cried the Emir.

“Oh! you must give it a little time to get used to your ways,” answered the doctor, readily. “You can’t expect it all of a sudden to do as well as the other, that you have had in use so long.”

So the Emir was content to wait. Meanwhile, the doctor made off with his fair prize, whom he conducted safely back to Christian Spain, and restored her faithfully to her friends and her liberty.

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