Author Topic: Nathan the wise  (Read 68 times)

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Nathan the wise
« on: September 29, 2006, 09:42:46 AM »
NATHAN THE WISE:  A Dramatic Poem in Five Acts

by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781)




Translated from german into english by William Taylor of Norwich

http://mirror.pacific.net.au/gutenberg/etext03/natws10.txt

[what happened before the act: Saladin is the sultan of Jerusalem and wants to kill the jew Nathan, who is a very rich merchant. in order to get his money, he plans to ask him a tricky question that would bring the jew to offend Islam what would justify his execution. The question he asks him after his soldiers bring nathan into the palace is what is the true religion?]

(...)

SALADIN.

To gain instruction quite on other points.
Since you are a man so wise, tell me which law,
Which faith appears to you the better?

NATHAN.

      Sultan,
I am a Jew.

(...)

NATHAN.

But, sultan, e'er I quite unfold myself
Allow me to relate a tale.

SALADIN.

      Why not?
I always was a friend of tales well told.

NATHAN.

Well told, that's not precisely my affair.

SALADIN.

Again so proudly modest, come begin.
NATHAN.

In days of yore, there dwelt in east a man
Who from a valued hand received a ring
Of endless worth:  the stone of it an opal,
That shot an ever-changing tint:  moreover,
It had the hidden virtue him to render
Of God and man beloved, who in this view,
And this persuasion, wore it.  Was it strange
The eastern man ne'er drew it off his finger,
And studiously provided to secure it
For ever to his house.  Thus--He bequeathed it;
First, to the MOST BELOVED of his sons,
Ordained that he again should leave the ring
To the MOST DEAR among his children--and
That without heeding birth, the FAVOURITE son,
In virtue of the ring alone, should always
Remain the lord o' th' house--You hear me, Sultan?

SALADIN.

I understand thee--on.

NATHAN.

   From son to son,
At length this ring descended to a father,
Who had three sons, alike obedient to him;
Whom therefore he could not but love alike.
At times seemed this, now that, at times the third,
(Accordingly as each apart received
The overflowings of his heart) most worthy
To heir the ring, which with good-natured weakness
He privately to each in turn had promised.
This went on for a while.  But death approached,
And the good father grew embarrassed.  So
To disappoint two sons, who trust his promise,
He could not bear.  What's to be done.  He sends
In secret to a jeweller, of whom,
Upon the model of the real ring,
He might bespeak two others, and commanded
To spare nor cost nor pains to make them like,
Quite like the true one.  This the artist managed.
The rings were brought, and e'en the father's eye
Could not distinguish which had been the model.
Quite overjoyed he summons all his sons,
Takes leave of each apart, on each bestows
His blessing and his ring, and dies--Thou hearest me?

SALADIN.

I hear, I hear, come finish with thy tale;
Is it soon ended?

NATHAN.

      It is ended, Sultan,
For all that follows may be guessed of course.
Scarce is the father dead, each with his ring
Appears, and claims to be the lord o' th' house.
Comes question, strife, complaint--all to no end;
For the true ring could no more be distinguished
Than now can--the true faith.
SALADIN.

      How, how, is that
To be the answer to my query?

NATHAN.

      No,
But it may serve as my apology;
If I can't venture to decide between
Rings, which the father got expressly made,
That they might not be known from one another.

SALADIN.

The rings--don't trifle with me; I must think
That the religions which I named can be
Distinguished, e'en to raiment, drink and food,

NATHAN.

And only not as to their grounds of proof.
Are not all built alike on history,
Traditional, or written.  History
Must be received on trust--is it not so?
In whom now are we likeliest to put trust?
In our own people surely, in those men
Whose blood we are, in them, who from our childhood
Have given us proofs of love, who ne'er deceived us,
Unless 'twere wholesomer to be deceived.
How can I less believe in my forefathers
Than thou in thine.  How can I ask of thee
To own that thy forefathers falsified
In order to yield mine the praise of truth.
The like of Christians.

SALADIN.

   By the living God,
The man is in the right, I must be silent.

NATHAN.

Now let us to our rings return once more.
As said, the sons complained.  Each to the judge
Swore from his father's hand immediately
To have received the ring, as was the case;
After he had long obtained the father's promise,
One day to have the ring, as also was.
The father, each asserted, could to him
Not have been false, rather than so suspect
Of such a father, willing as he might be
With charity to judge his brethren, he
Of treacherous forgery was bold t' accuse them.

SALADIN.

Well, and the judge, I'm eager now to hear
What thou wilt make him say.  Go on, go on.

NATHAN.

The judge said, If ye summon not the father
Before my seat, I cannot give a sentence.
Am I to guess enigmas?  Or expect ye
That the true ring should here unseal its lips?
But hold--you tell me that the real ring
Enjoys the hidden power to make the wearer
Of God and man beloved; let that decide.
Which of you do two brothers love the best?
You're silent.  Do these love-exciting rings
Act inward only, not without?  Does each
Love but himself?  Ye're all deceived deceivers,
None of your rings is true.  The real ring
Perhaps is gone.  To hide or to supply
Its loss, your father ordered three for one.

SALADIN.

O charming, charming!

NATHAN.

   And (the judge continued)
If you will take advice in lieu of sentence,
This is my counsel to you, to take up
The matter where it stands.  If each of you
Has had a ring presented by his father,
Let each believe his own the real ring.
'Tis possible the father chose no longer
To tolerate the one ring's tyranny;
And certainly, as he much loved you all,
And loved you all alike, it could not please him
By favouring one to be of two the oppressor.
Let each feel honoured by this free affection.
Unwarped of prejudice; let each endeavour
To vie with both his brothers in displaying
The virtue of his ring; assist its might
With gentleness, benevolence, forbearance,
With inward resignation to the godhead,
And if the virtues of the ring continue
To show themselves among your children's children,
After a thousand thousand years, appear
Before this judgment-seat--a greater one
Than I shall sit upon it, and decide.
So spake the modest judge.

(...)

[Amen]
"I grew up on the chill-side, the no-big-deal-side, staying alive was no problem"
[J-Live]

 

7even

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Re: Nathan the wise
« Reply #1 on: September 29, 2006, 11:08:37 AM »
The Ringparabel is awesome.. been diggin that since 2001
Cause I don't care where I belong no more
What we share or not I will ignore
And I won't waste my time fitting in
Cause I don't think contrast is a sin
No, it's not a sin