Occupational hazards – the unpredictability of kings

Jesters are regularly confronted with the unpredictability of great or absolute  power; they can be rewarded for an insult or a harsh truth, or executed for the same. Many are quite accomplished in walking a tightrope of favour without falling into a pit of punishment. There is a whole class of stories showing them evading punishment through quick-thinking wit – we’ll be featuring these in the coming months.

Here the great 13th century Persian poet and writer Sa’di Shirazi highlights the unpredictability of rulers, and the value of jocularity in those serving them.

It may happen that a companion of his majesty the sultan receives gold and it is possible that he loses his head. Philosophers have said that it is necessary to be on guard of the fickle temper of padshahs because sometimes they are displeased with politenenss and at others they bestow robes of honour for rudeness.  It is also said that much jocularity is an accomplishment in courtiers.

Source: Sa’di Shirazi (1210-1291/92), The Persian-English Gulistan or Rose Garden of Sa’di (1258), trans. Edward Rehatsek (Tehran: Shargh’s Press, 1967), p. 102.

Image credit: Sa’di in a Rose Garden, attrib. Govardhan, India, Mughal dynasty, c. 1645, The Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC; from a manuscript of the Gulistan (Rose Garden) by Sa’di.


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