The animal fable as narrated by the Ikhwn al Safa in their Rasail is, without doubt, the most famous part of the Brethren’s encyclopaedic corpus. The work clearly stands out in medieval literature on animals by addressing a great number of issues that remain even today central to man’s reﬂection about himself and his place in the universe. The fable features a trial in which legatees of the animal cause sue man for unjust treatment and literally box him into a corner. Man’s physical and intellectual abilities, his religious and metaphysical aspirations, his moral conduct, his rights and obligations vis-a-vis the rest of creation are all bitterly called into question throughout the narrative until the very last part when man saves the game in extremis by adducing the immortality of his soul.
Does the famous animal fable, as narrated by the Ikhwān al-Ṣafā’ in Epistle 22 of their Rasā’il, possess an inner meaning? The issue is not new, but it may be useful to address it again today, considering the recent, significant re-evaluation of the Epistles of the Brethren of Purity in the overall history of medieval thinking. It is also important to return to this issue since it was largely left aside by the editors of Epistle 22 who are part of the ongoing project by Oxford University and the Ismaili Institute to critically edit the entire collection of the Rasā’il Ikhwān al-Ṣafā’.