THE ALL-KNOWING HODJA
When Tamerlane used to have his headquarters in Akshehir, a learned foreigner applied to him, saying that he had a few questions to ask pertaining to natural sciences, and asked if Tamerlane would produce his most competent philosopher to answer his questions.
The first man that occurred to Tamerlane was Nasreddin Hodja. He immediately sent for him and told him the situation.
"Leave everything to me, your Majesty," said the Hodja. "If I can manage to silence him, well and good. If not, your Majesty can say that I am just a foolish fellow, and that you have already sent for the real philosopher."
next day the meeting was held in the presence of Tamerlane. The first thing the visiting scientist did was to draw a circle on the floor with his staff. Then he looked up to the Hodja for a reply. With his stick, the Hodja drew a line dividing the circle in two. Looking up, he saw that the visitor was still expecting something. This time he made a perpendicular line, thus dividing the circle into four equal parts. By gestures he took three of the quarters to himself and left one quarter to the visitor. To this the learned man nodded his assent.
The visitor extended his arm with his palm facing up and moved his hand up and down a few times. The Hodja replied to this question by extending his arm with the palm down and moving his hand up and down a few times himself. Again the learned man nodded his assent.
The last question proved a bit more complicated than the first two. Pointing to himself, the visitor pretended to be crawling on the floor. Then, pointing to his belly, he described things supposed to come out of it. The Hodja was ready with his reply. He put his hand into his pocket and produced an egg. Then, extending his arms, he waved them up and down, imitating a bird in flight. The learned visitor first caught the Hodja's hand and kissed it in veneration, then congratulated Tamerlane for having such a learned man in his domain.
Later, Tamerlane invited the learned visitor to dinner and spoke with him confidentially through an interpreter:
"Your questions and our Hodja's replies must have been very obvious to both of you men of science. However, I must confess that we, the spectators, understood nothing. Will you kindly tell me your questions and our Hodja's replies in plain words?"
"Certainly, your Majesty," replied the visitor. "You see, there is a difference of opinion between the Greek and the Hebrew philosophers regarding the Nature of Things. I wanted to find out what the Moslem philosophers thought about the problem.
"So I put my first question to your philosopher by drawing a circle, signifying that the earth was round. He agreed immediately by first drawing the Equator and then, putting in a vertical line he showed me that three-quarters of the earth is sea and only one-fourth is land.
"My next question was, how did things start to grow on this planet? He indicated that this had come to pass through rains and the heat of the Sun's rays. Then I pointed out to him that the animals had multiplied through birth. But he showed me the egg and reminded me not to forget the birds and that they had multiplied by laying eggs."
After the learned visitor had departed, well satisfied with what he had learned, Tamerlane sent for Nasreddin Hodja. And now it was the Hodja's turn to relate the story.
"Well, I hope he was given enough to eat, your Majesty," began the Hodja. "Instead of a learned man, I think he was a hungry man. What he did first was to draw a round cake. I divided this into two equal parts, but seeing that he did not readily accept it, I divided it further and threatened him with a quarter of the cake. Afraid that he would lose all, he consented to accept his share.
"Then he indicated to me how nice it would be to have some rice boiled and have it made into pilaf. I gave him to understand that some salt and pepper, as well as raisins and pine nuts, would make it more palatable.
"Lastly, he told me that he had come a very long way and was very hungry. I told him that I was hungry too, so much so that I felt myself weightless as a bird. Then I showed him the hard-boiled egg my wife had given me for breakfast, but which I hadn't had time to eat."