A traveller in distress vows to God, piously but apparently pointlessly, that he will never eat
elephant flesh. Subsequently, the oath would seem to
be his perdition, yet in the end he is saved because of it, unlike his fellow
travellers. This entertaining story is told by al-Tanūkhī (d.
384/994) in two almost identical versions. It is also found in other sources,
both Arabic and Persian, among them translations or adaptations of al-Tanūkh¯
(by ‘Awfī and Dihistānī), works on lives of the Sufis
(Abū Nu‘aym, Jāmī), a travelogue (Ibn Baūa),
anthologies (al-Damīrī, al-‘Āmilī), and a collection
of mystical and moral tales in verse (Rūmī). These versions, spanning
at least six centuries, differ in the name of the protagonist, plot, language,
style, length, ‘outlook’, and quality. In general, it will be
argued, travelling has done the story little good: unlike al-Tanūkhī's
tale, its beginning is happier than its ending.