The King and the Corpse
The theme of this class is found in an ancient story from India called “The King and the Corpse.” In it, a king must cut a corpse down from a tree and carry it to a magical circle. However, when he cuts the corpse down and begins to carry it, he finds it inhabited by a spirit. The spirit begins to tell the king stories as he carries the corpse, and each story concludes with a moral conundrum. There are twenty four of these riddles.
The Prince and the Maiden
Once upon a time, a prince went hunting with his friend. Late in the day, they arrived at a pleasant lake where they paused to rest. The prince saw a beautiful maiden bathing on the farther bank, who was making signals to him across the water. He was unable to understand the signs, but his friend caught their meaning—she had communicated to the prince her name, that of her family, and that of the kingdom in which she lived, and was announcing her love. When she turned and vanished into the foliage, the prince and his friend got up and went home
Another day, under the pretext of a hunting party, the two set off into the jungle again, and went to the town in which the girl lived. They lodged in the house of an old woman, whom they bribed to serve as a messenger. The girl was so cunning that she was able to formulate a reply which the old woman did not recognize as a rendezvous--she described how the prince might climb into her father’s garden and ascend to her lofty chamber. He entered, as arranged, through her window, and the two young lovers found delight in each others arms.
The girl was both passionate and cunning. When she learned that her signals had been deciphered not by the prince, but by his friend, she was immediately afraid that her affair would be betrayed, and so she determined to poison the prince’s friend. He, however, was her match, and had even foreseen that this would come to pass. He had devised a plan that would teach her, once and for all, that he knew how to take care of himself and the prince.
The friend disguised himself as a teacher, and persuaded the prince to play the role of his pupil. Then, by a clever stratagem, he brought the girl into suspicion as a witch. He convinced the king of that country that she had been the cause of the recent, sudden death of his infant son, and he produced such proof that she was condemned to a disgraceful death. Exposed naked outside of town, she was left prey to the beasts of the surrounding jungle, but the moment she was abandoned, the two young men, having procured swift horses for themselves, snatched her up and fled with her to the prince’s realm, where she became his bride and future queen. Grief over the disgrace and loss overcame the aged parents of the maid; their hearts broke, and they died.
"Now, who was guilty of the death of those two?” suddenly demanded the specter in the corpse. “If you know the answer and do not reply, your head will burst into a hundred pieces.”
The king thinks he knows the answer: The person at fault was the king of the girl's country, who didn't know there were strangers in his land, and who allowed himself to fall pray to the ruse of the prince and his friend. He tells this to the corpse, and immediately the corpse groans in agony, and flies back to the tree. The king must return again, and take it up again, and begin to carry it. This happens 24 times, until finally the corpse presents the king with a conundrum he cannot answer.
You are free to pursue any kind of writing you wish this quarter, provided you and I agree that your project is responsive to the theme of discovery suggested in "The King and the Corpse".
Beyond that, I will venture only that your process will entail some research, a subject we'll discuss in class.