Kalila and Dimna – Fables of Friendship and Betrayal

Ramsay wood

Introduction by Doris Lessing

Kalila and Dimna - Fables of Friendship and Betrayal

Kalila and Dimna or The Panchatnatra (also known as The Fables of Bidpai) is a collection of animal stories that has been part of world literature for over 2000 years. It migrated across ancient cultures in many different formats. All our beast fables from Aesop through La Fontaine to Uncle Remus owe this book a debt. These tales ostensibly constitute a handbook for rulers, a so-called ‘Mirror for Princes’ illustrating how to run a kingdom. But in their slyly profound grasp of human nature at its best and its worst, they offer wise counsel for all of us today.

Based on a collation of scholarly translations from key Sanskrit, Syriac, Arabic and Persian texts, as well as the 1570 English rendition by Thomas North this is the first uncompromisingly modern re-telling in either the East or West for over 400 years.

Kalila and Dimna are two jackal brothers, and their king is a lion who befriends a sweet-natured, wandering bull named Schanzabeh. Turtles, crows, fish, insects and rats tell their tales, and in Ramsay Wood’s version the profound meanings behind these ancient fables shine forth. Wood captures this great World Classic in modern English making it utterly relevant, fascinating, insightful and hugely readable. This is a necessary book, accessible to all ages and readers, completely addictive and informative. This first volume is about friendship – making friends, losing them, cooperation, coercion, betrayal, trust, loyalty and love.

‘Contemporary, racy, vigorous, full of zest. It is also funny. I defy anyone to sit down with it and not finish it at a sitting.’ Doris Lessing

‘These wise and vigorous, sly and funny tales are contemporary: they are eternal … Kalila and Dimna is the greatest present of the Islamic heritage; it is a fountain, ever running, of sensual joy against mortified stone, against the eventual solemnity of Christian office (power and incense); overrunning with the knowledge we dare not rediscover, for fear of its negating us, in the tradition of Islam. Today when we need, more than ever, to understand the Muslim nations, Ramsay Wood’s fresh recreation of these tales becomes indispensable reading for the West. Indispensable more than for political, for human, artistic, glad reasons. Wood’s superb stories should be set alongside Italo Calvino’s recent retelling of the folktales of Italy. No higher praise is necessary.’ Carlos Fuentes

‘Wood’s version will be much more attractive to modern readers than the older translations, with their drier narratives and unfamiliar oriental hyperbole. Given the same zestful treatment, a further collection could hardly fail to be as enjoyable as the present one.’ TLS

‘Kalila wa Dimna is, like the Arabian Nights, an engine room of stories – and stories within stories. It is also one of the undoubted masterpieces of world literature. Its tales mingle entertainment and wisdom. The limpidity of Ramsay Wood’s prose echoes that of the Indian original.’   
Robert Irwin, author of The Arabian Nights: A Companion


  • Saqi Books UK & US
  • Elex Media Indonesia
  • Random House India
  • Acantilado World Spanish
  • Editions Desclée de Brouwer France
  • Herder Verlag Germany (reverted)
  • Neri Pozza Italy (reverted)

Material: finished copies (295pp)