9. The Merciful Magistrate

 There lived once near Ispahan a tailor, a hard-working man, who was very poor. So poor was he that his workshop and house together consisted of a wooden cottage with just one room.

But being poor is no protection against thieves, and so it happened that one night a thief entered the hut of the tailor. The tailor had driven nails in various places in the walls on which to hang the garments that were brought to him to mend. While he was looking about for something to steal, the thief struck against one of these nails and put out his eye.

The next morning the thief appeared before the magistrate and demanded justice. The magistrate then sent for the tailor, stated the complaint of the thief, and said that in accordance with the law, ‘an eye for an eye,’ it would be necessary to put out one of the tailor’s eyes. As usual, however, the tailor was allowed to plead in his own defence, whereupon he addressed the court, “Oh great and mighty magistrate, it is true that the law says an eye for an eye, but it does not say my eye. Now I am a poor man, and a tailor. If the Magistrate puts out one of my eyes, I will not be able to carry on my trade, and so I shall starve. Now it happens that there lives near me a gunsmith. He uses just one eye with which he squints along the barrel of his guns. Take his other eye, oh magistrate, and let the law be satisfied.”

The magistrate was favorably impressed with this idea, and accordingly sent for the gunsmith. He repeated to the gunsmith the complaint of the thief and the statement of the tailor, whereupon the gunsmith said, “Oh great and mighty magistrate, this tailor doesn’t know what he is talking about. I need both of my eyes; for while it is true that I squint one eye along one side of the barrel of the gun, to see if it is straight, I must use the other eye for the other side. If, therefore, you put out one of my eyes you will take away from me the means of livelihood. It happens, however, that there lives not far from me a flute-player. Now I have noticed that whenever he plays the flute he closes both of his eyes. Take out one of his eyes, oh magistrate, and let the law be satisfied.”

Accordingly, the Magistrate sent for the flute-player, and after repeating to him the complaint of the thief, and the words of the gunsmith, he ordered him to play upon his flute. This the flute-player did, and though he tried hard to control himself, he did not succeed, but, as the result of long habit, closed both of his eyes. When the Magistrate saw this, he ordered that one of the flute-player’s eyes be put out, which being done, the magistrate spoke as follows, “Oh flute-player, I saw that when playing upon your flute you closed both of your eyes. It was thus clear to me that neither was necessary for your livelihood, and I had intended to have them both put out, but I have decided to put out only one in order that you may tell other men how merciful the magistrates are