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The Tale of Akir the Wise


A translation of The Tale of Akir the Wise was also known in Kievan Russia. This tale originated in Assyro-Babylon in the seventh century B.C.32

The Tale tells of how Akir, counsellor to King Sennacherib of Assyria and Nineveh, receives Divine instructions to adopt his nephew Anadan. He brings him up, teaches him all manner of wisdom (there is a list of Akir’s exhortations to Anadan), and finally, presents him to the king as his pupil and successor. But Anadan starts misbehaving in Akir’s house, and when his uncle tries to restrain him, he thinks up a cunning trick. Forging Akir’s handwriting, Anadan writes some letters to make Sennacherib think that Akir is plotting treason. The king is dumbfounded by what appears to be his counsellor’s treachery. Akir is too surprised to plead his innocence and merely begs that the death sentence demanded by Anadan be carried out by an old friend. Akir succeeds in persuading his friend of his innocence, and the friend executes a criminal instead of Akir, while Akir hides away.

Hearing of Akir’s execution, the Egyptian pharaoh sends envoys to Sennacherib demanding that one of his counsellors should build a house between earth and heaven. Sennacherib is in despair: Anadan, on whom he had been relying, refuses to help, saying that only a god could perform such a task. Then Akir’s friend tells the king that his disgraced counsellor is still alive. The king sends Akir to Egypt, where he answers all the riddles that the pharaoh puts to him. Then Akir makes the pharaoh take back his demand about building a house. Female eagles trained by Akir carry a boy up into the air who asks the Egyptians to hand him stones and mortar, which they cannot, of course. After receiving tribute for three years, Akir returns to Sennacherib, chains Anadan to the porch of his house and chastises him for the evil he has wrought. In vain Anadan begs for forgiveness. Unable to bear Akir’s biting reproaches, he swells up “like a jug” and bursts with anger.

The tale’s interest lies in its exciting plot: the evil cunning of Anadan who wrongfully accuses his foster-father, and the wisdom of Akir who finds a clever solution to all the difficult tasks that the pharaoh sets him produce many exciting situations in the work. Almost a quarter of the tale is taken up with Akir’s exhortations to Anadan; here we find maxims on friendship, justice, generosity, rules of conduct and denunciation of “evil women”. Mediaeval writers were fond of wise sayings and aphorisms. In the various redactions and manuscripts of The Tale of Akir the list of maxims changes, but they always form part of its text.33