I am teaching world literature at a high school-level homeschooling network. This year we first went through the Shakespeare play of El Cid, which I found to be relevant to today. We are now going through the stories in Arabian Nights as told by beautiful Scheherazade to the Sultan who would otherwise kill her.
The story we went over last week was one of a king who had three unruly sons. Each was more wild than the next. Each had their particular skill. One was an expert archer, the other an expert fighter, and the third an expert swordsman. Their father was getting old. He wondered who to set as his heir, seeing that the three had very important lessons to learn before attaining the wisdom it takes to become a king.
The father decided to send his three sons on a quest. He told them to take a year each going their own way to find the most amazing treasure in the world. I will not tell you the whole story, just a part of it that I particularly liked.
One of the sons, the expert archer, went to a deserted island where he heard that far away, in a Buddhist monastery, monks owned an apple that could heal any ailment with one bite. The son found the monastery and asked to buy the apple. He could certainly afford it, but the problem was that the precious apple was not for sale. The monks would give it to him only if he passed a certain archery test.
The first test was to shoot an arrow in a target’s bullseye, which he did kind of boringly. The next test was to put an arrow through the first arrow. The third test was to shoot the flame from a candle, then to shoot the flame of that same candle but blindfolded. The fifth test was to shoot through an apple sitting on the head of a boy. All this he did with no difficulty. Now came the last test. To shoot the arrow on the same apple sitting on the same boy, but blindfolded.
The archer put his arrow on the bow, pulled the string, then stopped. “If you do it you get the precious apple; if you don’t, you go away empty handed!” said the monk. The archer lifted his bow again; pulled the string, “I can’t! It’s not fair to the boy. I lose!” “No!” said the monk. “You win. You win by not trying to win at any cost!”
Winning is not worth it when it comes at the price of virtue. Maybe that is what the statement, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” means!
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