IF I WERE to even attempt to relate the fascinating and intricate history of the Fables of Bidpai from their ancient and obscure roots in old India, their wanderings through Persian and Arab lands, their meanderings across Europe and China — in fact their near worldwide travels through time and translation — you'd no doubt, due to my plodding style and the many detours into minutiae I'd be obliged to take, soon be snoring in front of your screen saver, so I'm not going to do that.
These fables are a long concatenation of interrelated stories, or stories set within stories set within stories, in much the same manner as "The Arabian Nights," a collection more familiar to Western readers and clearly patterned after the much earlier Bidpai Tales.
In but one cycle within all this mess are the stories of two brothers, the jackals Kalila and Dimna. It is their role — and I am simplifying! — to advise a king in the ways of wise leadership. And so at one point, as a cautionary tale, Dimna tells the king (who is, never mind why, a lion at this point) the following story:
... It happened that one day a bedbug had the good fortune to crawl into the bed of a rich man and his beautiful young wife. That night, as the handsome couple slept, this bedbug crept delicately all over their bodies, gently nipping at them here and there and sipping their blood. It immediately became evident to the bug that the sweet, silky blood of the wife was far and away the best he had ever tasted! In but a matter of days he was entirely addicted to it, and so he continued to live out his peaceful days and nights in a hazy, happy sort of swoon as contented bedbugs do everywhere, until it further happened that one day a flea sprang from the back of the rich man's dog as it passed by the bed.
Bedbug, a most amicable fellow, welcomes the flea to his digs; at the same time the canny flea — a bit of a rogue and a rambler — is doing his flea's version of casing the joint. Flea mentions how hungry he is, having been traveling about and such, and tired, and asks if he can stay the night.
Well bedbug is delighted with this, quite happy to accomodate a guest, and tells flea about how nice it is here, and begins to describe the ambrosia of the wife's intoxicating blood that is nightly to be had — in fact he waxes quite poetic about this. On very friendly terms now, the two gab the rest of the afternoon and evening away, working up quite an appetite.
By and by the husband and wife come to bed. No sooner does flea get a whiff of the wife's exquisite body-odor, her fine muskiness ravishing his senses, than his hind legs begin to twitch and he inadvertently gives several tiny hops of quivering anticipation.
Because of bedbug's whispered insistence, flea just manages to control himself. Once the husband and wife are asleep, however, the two bugs assail the wife. Bedbug proceeds gently, gently, creeping lightly along and taking great care each time he slowly penetrates the wife's skin with his feedtube. But flea goes utterly berserk, energetically leaping about and nipping the wife all over her smooth thighs and breasts, biting her painfully on buttocks and neck, until she wakes and feels the sore bumps all over her body.
This begins a chain of reactions, as the now discombobulated wife wakes the husband and as the sleepy-headed husband wakes the chambermaid, and the three of them fling back the covers and commence to search for the culprit. At the first moment of exposure, flea makes four mighty leaps which take him to safety across the room, while slower-moving bedbug is found skulking under a fold in the sheets.
Of course, the humans cannot hear bedbug's screeches of protest; his pitious cries that it was the flea and not him who had bitten so hard, go unheard. And presently, as the chambermaid carries him away, he is squeezed between two sharp fingernails — until he pops!....
So it is with this nifty little tale that Dimna warns the king about too easily trusting a stranger. And I can't think of a more charming way for him to have done so.