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Seminar 2009

The Kalila and Dimna Story
Ramsay Wood

The 8th century Arabic story collection Kalila wa Dimna originated in India over 2000 years ago. This blend of animal fables evolved from The Jataka Tales (Birth Stories of the Buddha), a Pali spiritual development manual, and The Panchatantra, a secular Sanskrit How-To book for young princes fast-tracking toward kingship. In Sanskrit, Arabic, Syriac and Persian (under the title Anvar-e Soheyli) these animal tales are proudly considered separate literary masterpieces with wide cultural variations in content and style. Their Westward migration reached England in 1570 as a Renaissance jewel (translated from the Italian) by Sir Thomas North, entitled The Moral Philosophie of Doni. The book was also known in subsequent arrangements as The Fables of Bidpai.

What makes these fables so durable and well travelled? What role did live storytelling have in their origin and steady migration? What is the function of such stories, if any, beyond entertainment? Why are they so beautiful and hauntingly compelling?

Ramsay Wood helped found The College of Storytellers in 1980. He lives in London where he works part-time teaching dyslexic children keyboard skills. His book, Kalila and Dimna Fables of Friendship and Betrayal, was re-published in a revised and updated edition by Saqi in 2008. It won a 2009 US Storytelling World Magazine Resource Award. Kalila and Dimna - Fables of Conflict and Intrigue, volume two of his trilogy reinvigorating these traditional tales, will be released in October 2009. A detailed interview about the history of the book is available at http://ramsaywood.com.

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