Rachel M. (Rachel Mary) Fleming.

Ancient tales from many lands : a collection of folk stories online

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obeyed, that the black-haired people cherish him in
their hearts. O Emperor ! choose him."

But the Emperor said, " Come, Yu. When the
waters spread over the land, and filled me with dread,
you subdued them. Full of toilsome earnestness for


the good of your country, you worked day and night,
and denied yourself the comforts of a home. You do
not boast, but are humble. Carefully maintain the
throne which you are to occupy, and see that there is
no distress and poverty in your kingdom. I will not
alter my words."

So Yu became Emperor. For a long time the
people of Miao, who had always given trouble to the
Emperor, continued to rebel against Yu, but at last
he conquered them, not, however, by war, but by
making them understand the advantages of living at
peace with their powerful neighbour.

The Emperor Yu was so powerful that he divided
the land into different parts, each of which had to send
tribute to him. The wild people of the islands in the
north brought furs, whilst the wild people of the islands
in the south brought garments of grass, with silks woven
in shell patterns, and baskets of oranges. The people
on the hills brought silk from the mountain mulberry
tree. Other provinces sent varnish and silk, salt and
fine cloth, gold, silver, copper, lead, and precious
stones. Yet others sent bamboos, salt, sounding
stones, oyster pearls, and fish, with baskets of woven silk,
both blue and purple, and checked and pure white.
Others sent gold and iron and flint stones to make
arrow heads, along with the skins of bears, foxes, and
jackals, and nets woven of hair. Jade and hemp, and
fibres and fine floss silk were also sent. Most of these
things were sent by boat along the rivers and along
the canals which Yu had ordered his workmen to
make, for Yu had made access to the capital easy from
all parts of his kingdom.

He encouraged the people to grow crops, and, after
studying the nature of the soil carefully, he ordered the
people to bring as tribute either the whole plant of the
grain, or the ears only, with a portion of the stalk, or the
straw, or the husk, or the grain in the husk, or the
grain cleaned from the husk, according as the soil was


fertile and easy to cultivate, or barren and difficult to

After he had become Emperor, Yu still continued to
be as hard-working and as thoughtful for the people as
he had been when trying to check the floods. It is
said that he rose as many as ten times during one meal
so as to listen to people who had called upon his name
in their trouble. He desired so earnestly to receive
good advice that he announced to the scholars in all
parts of his kingdom, that anyone who could guide him
in the right way, or could give him information about
the business of the kingdom, or had any complaint to
make, was to be sure and come to the palace and claim
an audience.

Whether he was resting or bathing or eating, the
Emperor always rose and went to listen to anyone who
called upon his name. In fact, "he tried to live up to
what he had once said to the Emperor Shun : " When
the Emperor knows men so that he can put every one
into the office for which he is fit, he is wise. When he
gives peace to his people, his kindness is felt, and the
black-haired race cherish him in their hearts. When
he can be thus wise and kind, what need has he for
anxiety or fear ? "


One of the earliest places in the world where men learnt
to write, to draw, and to carve, to make laws, and to
live together in great cities, was the plain through which
flow the Euphrates and the Tigris. Before men learnt
to make canals and channels, it was for many reasons a
difficult place in which to make a home.

The country gets so little rain and so much sunshine
that those places which were not near the rivers would be
too dry for men and animals and plants, while those
places which were near the river were subject to dreadful
floods in the spring when the snows melted on the
mountains where the streams and rivers rose. Near its
mouth the river Tigris laid down so much mud that
its channel got filled, and so all the land round became
a swamp.

As soon, however, as men learnt to make canals and
channels, water could be carried from the river to all
parts of the plain, and as the soil had been laid down by
the river, it was very fertile, and corn and grain grew so
well and so quickly that the country became very rich.
Merchants and traders from Europe and Egypt and the
East brought luxuries to it in exchange for its corn and
grain. The canals made the rivers less likely to flood
their banks, and also formed convenient ways for goods
to be carried from one part to the other. No one
knows when the people in this plain found out how to
make canals, but it must have been some thousands of
years ago, at a time when the people of the British Isles
were probably still living in a very backward way, and

1 About 2O0O B.C.

I 129


only knew how to use stone and bone and horns for
tools and weapons.

At any rate, when the King about whom you are now
reading reigned in Babylon, more than twenty centuries
before Christ was born, the people had long been used
to watering their country by canals, and were famous
for their corn and grain and gardens. They had long
known how to write, though they did not write on
paper as we do, but made their signs on little clay

They had even a system by means of which letters
could be carried by swift runners to all parts of the
country. The letters that Hammurabi wrote were on
small clay tablets, two or three inches broad, three or
four inches long, and about an inch thick. The signs
were made on the wet clay, which was then baked.
Afterwards it was powdered with dry clay to prevent it
from sticking, and was then enclosed in an envelope of
clay, on which was written the name of the person to
whom it was being sent. The envelope was necessary
to prevent the letters from being rubbed off as well as
to keep private what was written. Both tablets and
envelope were baked to harden them. Numbers of
these letters sent so many thousands of years ago have
been found, and quite lately people have been clever
enough to find out what the signs on them meant,
and to read the letters. Scholars think that letters of
this kind were being sent, two thousand years before
Hammurabi reigned, from Shirpurla, the town about
which you read in the story of Gudea, to the various
towns near it.

It is from the letters which Hammurabi and the
people at that time wrote, and from the records they
made on clay tablets or carved on stone, that we
have learnt so much about this great King of

Until his time the district had been ruled by many
petty princes, who had often quarrelled among them-


(K)hammurabi receives the Code of Laws from

Shamash, the Sun God

From a facsimile, engraved with the Text of the Laws, in the British Museum


selves. Hammurabi, partly by his success as a leader
in battle, but chiefly by his wise way of governing,
and by the care which he took in the improvement of
the canals and cities, managed to unite these little
kingdoms into a great empire, of which Babylon
was the chief city. His name deserves to be remem-
bered with respect and affection, not because he made
Babylonia a great empire, whose power lasted for
nearly two thousand years after his death, but because
he was one of the first kings in the world to spend the
greater part of his time and strength in trying to see
that the poorest and humblest and weakest of the
people whom he ruled, whether they were of the same
race as himself or not, should get justice. No matter
how poor a man was, or how far away from the city
he lived, he could be certain that if he were unjustly
treated, the King would see that the wrong was put
right, and that the officer who had wronged him was
not given the power to wrong him again.

When you are a little older, perhaps, you will read his
famous letters, and find out for yourselves how carefully
he watched over the interests of the poor.

Not only did he try to make good and just laws,
and to see that everyone obeyed them, but he carried
out many plans for making the country better and
more prosperous. He improved the little channels and
canals by which the water was carried to all parts of the
country, and encouraged people to keep the canals in
good repair, by granting the village people who mended
them free fishing rights in their waters.

He caused several new and important canals to be
cut, which made it easier for goods to be carried from
one part to another. He caused the silt and mud
which had been blocking up the Tigris near the sea
to be removed. This made it possible for vessels to go
right down the river to the sea, drained the swamps so
that corn and grain could be grown there, and made it


easier for the swollen waters to get to the sea in spring
so that there was far less danger of floods.

Both Hammurabi and his people were very devout
and anxious to please their gods. He encouraged the
people who lived in the great cities to be proud of their
home, by building temples in each city, in which the
people might worship their own city god. As people
always wanted to make the home of their god beautiful
and to put ornaments in it, this plan of encouraging
each city to build fine temples naturally helped the
people to become clever craftsmen.

There is also a record of the many statues that he
caused to be made, and the great granaries he built,
where the corn from a very good harvest might be stored
so as to be ready for a time of famine. In addition to
all these things, he had frequently to go to war with
the tribes who were continually coming down from
the hills around the plain to try to plunder and
rob the richer people of the lowlands, and he built
great walls and fortresses to protect the people on the

He is most famous for the code of laws which he
made towards the end of his reign. Many of these
laws were very old, others were new ones which
Hammurabi had found to be wise and useful during
his long reign. Everyone who reads them agrees that
they are among the wisest and best laws that have
ever been made. A slab of rock, on which these laws
are engraved, has on it a picture of the sun god pre-
senting Hammurabi with the laws of the land.

When Hammurabi came to the throne, he renamed
his capital and called it " Bab-ili " or the Gate of
God. This city is called Babel in the Bible, and has
become known all over the world as the famous city
of Babylon.

Some day perhaps you will visit the British Museum
and see the letters Hammurabi wrote. They are on


all sorts of subjects, such as the shearing of sheep, the
growing of corn, the clearing of canals, the punishment
of money-lenders who had charged too much interest,
the sending out of ships, and the state of the temples
of the city gods.



Very long ago Changkat Rambian was a seaport and
not an inland town. In those far off days, a great
desire for tin led traders from India to risk themselves
in frail boats on the Bay of Bengal, and trust to the
monsoon to blow them across to Changkat Rambian.
Here they unloaded their gay and pretty chintzes and
prints, and received the much desired Malay tin in
exchange. The Datoh of Changkat Rambian always
welcomed the dusky strangers, and entertained them
pleasantly while they waited during long weeks for the
wind to change and be ready to blow them westward
to India again. Now once it happened that when an
Indian trader cast anchor off Changkat Rambian, the
Datoh had only a very small quantity of tin ore and no
smelted tin ready for exchange. The Datoh, however,
felt quite sure that long before the winds were ready
to blow the Indian ship back again he would have plenty
of tin smelted. So he examined the pretty chintzes
and prints, found them very tempting, and boldly
promised the Malabar merchant that the tin would be
ready in plenty of time.

As the days went past, all sorts of troubles came
upon the unlucky Datoh, and no pure tin could he
prepare. Day by day the Indian trader marched up
to the Datoh's house and demanded at least some small
portion of the tin, and day by day some fresh misfortune
prevented the Datoh from getting the tin. At last he

1 From "Notes and Queries, 1885.


fell into a great rage and scolded the trader fiercely
because his feet were wearing out the white cockle
shells that formed the pathway to his house.

That night despair overtook the poor Datoh, and he
called loudly upon the gods to help him. Then he
stretched himself upon his mat to sleep. No sooner
had he closed his eyes than an old man appeared to him
and said, " Seek for a young kompas tree growing upon
an ant hill. Make a poker of its trunk, and use that to
stir the tin that is being smelted. All will go well

When dawn came, there came the angry trader,
crushing the white cockle shells beneath his feet, and
calling loudly for his tin, saying that in a day or two the
wind would be blowing towards Malabar, and he must
go. The Datoh once more begged for time, and said
that he must go to visit Tunggal, and would be quite
sure to have the tin ready on his return. The unwilling
trader had perforce to agree, so the Datoh stepped
into his canoe and paddled away to Tunggal, which
was then an island, and not an inland town, on the Perak
river. It did not take the Datoh long to find a kompas
sapling on an ant hill on the island, and he jumped
cheerfuUy into his canoe and paddled back to Changkat

There he found the angry trader louder than ever in
his complaints, for he had hoped the Datoh had gone
to borrow gold, and was furiously angry when he
brought back merely a kompas sapling. " Keep calm,"
said the Datoh. " To-night I smelt. To-morrow you
may come for the tin, for I have made a vow to fill
your boat."

All night the Datoh smelted. The Indian seamen
lying on board their ship at anchor off the shore could
hear the regular noise of the clack of the bellows, and
wondered wherever all the tin ore could be got to make
such a night's work. The trader did not believe the
Datoh could have the tin ready, and was determined to


punish him for having cheated him of his cargo of
chintz and print.

Quite early in the morning he sent a sailor on shore
to see how much tin was ready. Picture the sailor's
astonishment at seeing piles and piles of white, shining
ingots of tin lying ready at the smelting house, while
the furnace still burnt and the Datoh still blew the

" Why are you alone ? " said he to the sailor. " Did
I not promise you the tin to-day ? " So the sailor
fetched his companions and the captain, and the Datoh
told them to take the ingots without weighing or count-
ing them, for he had promised them all he should smelt.
Very happy grew the Indian trader's face on hearing
this, and now he was as polite to the Datoh as he had
formerly been rude.

Back and forth tramped the sailors, carrying the
precious ingots to the vessel. Yet the heap on shore
grew and grew. So the Datoh suggested to the Indian
trader that, instead of carrying any more ingots, a spout
should be fixed from the furnace to the hold of the ship,
and the precious metal poured like water into the vessel.
The greedy trader, who had already had far more
than his due of tin, eagerly agreed. The spout was
fixed, and the heavy molten metal poured into the ship
so rapidly that it began to sink. The Indian merchant
now cried loudly to the Datoh to stop, but the latter
said, " No ; did you not refuse to believe any of my
promises ? Now you shall see how I keep one. I
promised a shipload of tin. A shipload you shall

So the tin went pouring into the ship, which soon
sank with all its crew and its greedy captain, and was
lost to sight. But as the ages went by, the sea gradually
sank, and Changkat Rambian, where the Datoh had
punished the greedy trader, became an inland town.
Near it the Indian ship, now turned into stone, appeared
in sight as a glistening rock, which may still be seen


among the other rocks on the hill side. And still
to-day every Malay rainer knows that if he could only
find the kompas sapling growing on the ant hill, he too
could smelt as much tin as the Datoh did in the long
ago. But though men search and search, the kompas
tree on the ant hill is never found.



No one is quite sure who were the first people who came
to live in Ireland, but a very wonderful history of the
Irish tells us that many invaders came to try to settle
there. A very early king who landed there found
the plains covered with thick forests, and he and his
men set to work to cut them down, and clear paths and
open spaces all over Ireland. After that many tales
were told of this island, so that a king of Spain felt
he must visit it, and see if it was really as beautiful
as report said. He found that it was indeed a land full
of grain and honey, and fish and fowl, so that men
might live there at their ease.

Three of the most famous races that invaded Ireland
and settled there, were the Fomorians, the Firbolgs,
and the Tuatha-de-Danann. The Fomorians are said
to have settled in Ireland, and built many houses and
made many clearings in the forest, but were at last
driven out again, and had to go back to Greece, where
they stayed for many years. Some of the descendants
of these Fomorians came back again to Ireland, and
were known as the Firbolgs. These Firbolgs were in
their turn defeated by the Tuatha-de-Danann, who are
said to have been another set of the descendants of
the Fomorians. Nuadhat was one of the Tuatha-de-
Danann, and Balor was a Fomorian.

A great battle took place at Moytura between the
Tuatha-de-Danann, with Nuadhat as their leader,
and the Firbolgs. The Firbolgs were defeated, but



the Tuatha-de-Danann suffered a great loss too, for
during the battle the hand of their leader Nuadhat was
struck off. Now it was a rule among them that a man
who had lost a hmb could not be their king, so Nuadhat
gave up his kingship to some one else. The Tuatha-de-
Danann, however, were very skilful both in medicine
and in the working of metals. So the most famous
silversmith designed a wonderful silver hand, with
every joint and vein marked upon it as clearly as on a
living hand. Then their great doctor fitted it on to
Nuadhat's arm, but the son of the doctor took it off
again, and put it on so cleverly this time that it had
just the same feeling and motion as his own hand.
The making and the fitting-on of this hand took full
seven years, and during all that time some one else was
king of the Tuatha-de-Danann, but as soon as he could
use his silver hand, they made Nuadhat king again.

After that, he reigned twenty years, until the second
battle of Moytura, when Balor of the Mighty Blows
slew him. Now this is the story of Balor. There
were once three brothers, one of whom was so famous
a smith that people from all over Ireland and the
neighbouring countries came to him to have their
weapons made. Another brother named Mac Kineely,
was lord of all that district, and was the fortunate
possessor of a cow which gave so much milk that her
master became very rich indeed. His neighbours envied
him so much that they were always trying to steal the
cow, so that Mac Kineely had to watch her continually,
and had to take her with him when he went on a

At the same time there lived on Tory Island a famous
warrior named Balor, who had one eye in the middle
of his forehead and one directly opposite to it in the back
of his skull. This eye in the back of Balor's head had
the dreadful power of striking dead anyone on whom its
glance should fall. Thus Balor was well armed in battle,
for he had only to glance at an enemy with this eye in


order to strike him dead. It was, however, such a
dangerous gift that Balor generally kept his eye covered,
lest a glance from it should fall on his own friends and
followers, and kill them too, and only uncovered it
when every other way of defence had failed him.

He performed many famous deeds, captured many
ships and put the adventurous sea rovers into chains,
and often crossed from his retreat on Tory Island to
Ireland itself and carried off men and property. One
thing he had tried to do many times but had always
failed вАФ namely, to carry off Mac Kineely's wondrous
cow, but at last he succeeded by means of cunning.

Mac Kineely, who was chief of the land which lay
opposite to Tory Island, had come to his brother the
smith to get some swords forged. He had with him
the cow fastened by a halter which Mac Kineely kept
in his hand all day. When he reached the forge he
entrusted the cow to the care of his elder brother,
so that he might go in to watch his brother the smith
forge the swords. Now while he was inside, Balor
of the Red Hair came up and told the brother who was
holding the cow that Mac Kineely and the smith were
plotting to use all the best steel in Mac Kineely's
swords, and to leave only poor stuff for their brother.
Upon this the brother, who did not know Balor, said
** I'll let them know I'm not to be cheated so easily.
Hold this cow, my red-headed friend, and you shall see
how I will make them alter their plans." So saying,
he handed the halter to Balor and rushed into the

As swift as lightning, Balor rushed to the coast and
began to cross the Sound of Tory. Mac Kineely, as
soon as he understood what had happened, rushed after
Balor, but could not overtake him, so he returned to the
forge and cuffed his brother soundly about the head
for his stupidity. When his passion had cooled, he
sought the lonely dwelling of a Druid, and asked him
what was the best way to set about recovering the


cow. The Druid told him that he could never recover
it as long as Balor was alive, because the evil eye would
shrivel anyone who came near enough to get the cow.
And sure enough, when Mac Kineely died Balor was
still the owner of the cow. But Balor did not go
unpunished for his theft. Mac Kineely had a son
who had been brought up by his uncle to be a smith,
for in those days smiths were held in great honour
throughout the world, and princes were glad to learn
the craft. In fact, a man who made a beautiful sword
or shield was held in as much honour as a man who
made a beautiful poem. Balor came to the forge
of Mac Kineely's son to order some weapons, not
knowing who the smith was. Mac Kineely's son, how-
ever, knew Balor at once, and put an end to his
wickedness by thrusting a glowing rod from the furnace
into Balor's evil eye.



An unworthy descendant of the great Yu of China was
so feeble and indifferent to the needs of his country
that a usurper arose who easily defeated him, put him
to death and became king himself. The usurper
tried to put to death everyone left of the family of Yu,
but the Empress Min, widow of the defeated king,
managed to escape. She fled to her native home,
Jing, where her father was a chief, and here her little
son was born.

The usurper heard of his birth and tried to take
his life, offering great rewards to anyone who would
bring him, dead or alive, to his palace. In order to
hide the secret of his birth his mother employed him
as a shepherd boy. For some years Shau Kang (such
was his name) remained in obscure safety tending
his flocks. But the news of his whereabouts leaked
out, so his royal mother placed him as an under-cook
in the household of the neighbouring governor. Here,
however, he attracted the governor's attention by his
appearance and proud spirit and was forced to confess
his name and birth. Fortunately for him the governor
was devotedly attached to the house of Yu, so he not
only concealed the secret, but put Shau Kang in charge
of a small town, where he was able to gather a few friends
round him. By great wisdom and patience he suc-
ceeded at last in getting together a sufficiently strong
army to attack his father's murderer and utterly
defeat him. The people welcomed Shau Kang eagerly,
and attended at the solemn sacrifices which he offered

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Online LibraryRachel M. (Rachel Mary) FlemingAncient tales from many lands : a collection of folk stories → online text (page 9 of 13)