Student Question

What is the role of women in Kalīla wa-Dimna?

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Kalīla wa-Dimna consists primarily of animal fables, meaning that both men and women occupy a relatively minor role in most of the stories. However, the small part that women play in the text tends to place them in a subservient position or make them the objects of male fantasy. In the tale of the pious man and the jar of honey, the pious man is daydreaming about marrying a beautiful woman when he breaks the jar. In the story of the donkey and the deer, the donkey has to be tied up to prevent him from pursuing female asses.

It is significant that one of the most prominent female characters in Kalīla wa-Dimna begins and ends her life as a mouse. She becomes a girl when the prayer of a pious man is answered, and as a woman, she initially aspires to marry the sun, then the clouds. Eventually, however, she becomes a mouse again so that she can marry a rat, an event which illustrates the secondary role of women in the text.

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