Simon Doubleday

Folio from Kalila Wa Dimna

The animal tales called Kalila wa Dimna (Kalila and Dimna) had originated in India in the third century, later passing into Persian and Arabic, and were translated into Hebrew, Latin, and Castilian Spanish in the thirteenth century. The Spanish version, Calila e Digna (1251), was produced one year before Alfonso’s accession to the throne. Its title refers to the two jackals or lynxes who dominate the first set of stories in the collection.

The tale of the Mouse, the Crow, and the Doves in Calila e Digna tells how a beautiful dove (La Colorada) inadvertently leads her flock into the net that a hunter had set for them in the depths of the forest. The dove is able to persuade them all to fly up into the air, still covered by the net, until they reach the home of her friend the Mouse, who gnaws through the net to free them; selflessly, La Colorada insists on being freed last.

Courtiers were awash in a sea of stories, like Calila e Digna, which promoted the ideal of pure friendship. The Florentine scholar Brunetto Latini—Dante’s teacher—stated that the person who counterfeits friendship is worse than a counterfeiter of gold or silver. But Alfonso X experienced a devastating rupture in his relationship with the aristocratic leader Nuño González de Lara, a close friend and ally since childhood.