Well of Truth


An old tale of a young and clever wife

Sources and variants

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Richard Marsh mailed this from his extensive notes on Popular Tales and Fictions: Their Migrations and Transformations, W. A. Clouston; W. Blackwood, 1887, pp. 177-8:
In a Persian tale of an unfaithful wife, in Cardonne’s “Melanges de Littératore Orientale” her father-in-law cites her to the Tank of Trial, at Agra. The virtue of this water consisted in trying all kinds of falsehood. A woman, suspected of infidelity, swore she had been faithful, and was thrown into this tank : if she swore falsely she instantly sank to the bottom, but if truly she floated. This wife, conscious of her guilt, devised a plan by which she should come through the ordeal scatheless: she bade her gallant counterfeit madness, and to seize her the moment she was to undergo the trial. The lover, solicitous to save the honour and life of his mistress, made no scruple to expose himself to the spectators, and found an opportunity to approach and embrace her, which he effected by subjecting himself to a few blows, being deemed insane by those who did not know him. The suspected wife advanced to the edge of the tank, and, raising her voice, cried, “I swear that I never touched any man but my husband and that madman who has just insulted me. Let this water be my punishment if I have sworn falsely.” Having thus spoken, she threw herself into the tank. The water buoyed her up in sight of all present, who unanimously declared her innocent, and she returned triumphant to the arms of her husband, who had always thought her faithful.
This incident has been taken from the 15th tale of the ‘Suka Saptati,’ or Seventy Tales of a Parrot, a Sanskrit work.

Robin Dawes sent the following:
There is a related tale in the Shuka Saptati: Tale 15, the Ordeal of Shreya Devi.  In this tale, the truth-detector is a demi-god, and the test consists of passing between the deity’s legs.  Only truthful persons will survive this test.  The lover is advised to act the part of a madman, and to wildly embrace the wife on her way to be tested.  The wife asserts that no-one except her husband and the madman outside the temple has touched her, and thus she survives the ordeal.

Norman Perrin wrote:
I know the tale as “The Rope of Truth”
The title of the book escapes me but I know I have it back home.
As I recall:
The wife uses a similar strategy to conceal her affair with a man who rents out donkeys.
Accused by her suspicious husband of having an affair she is compelled to make the journey to the top of a mountain.
There, suspended from heaven, is the ‘Rope of Truth’. Anyone who holds it and speaks falsehood is incinerated on the spot.
Since a donkey is needed to make the long ascent, the wife instructs her lover to offer the best price for a donkey to her stingy husband.
The keeper of the donkey leads the donkey up the steep path, with the wife riding the donkey.
On the way she pretends to fall off the donkey, exposing all her charms to her husband, the donkey and the keeper of the donkey.
Oh, the scandal !!!
Grasping the rope, she firmly declares truthfully that none has seen her naked other than her husband and the donkey keeper.
No incineration comes since she has spoken the truth.
Heaven withdraws the rope in disgust at the woman’s manipulation of truth; since then there has been no Rope of Truth.

There is a Burmese tale “The Pincers of Truth” involving stolen gold, in which a strict interpretation of facts leads to the deception. The story is in either Burmese ‘Monk’s Tales’ or ‘Burmese Law Tales’  both by Maung Htin Aung.


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