Kate Dudding: What Melody is the Sweetest?

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This story comes from Persia, an area now known as the countries of Afghanistan and Iran. Please go to the source of this story and create your own version, then tell your story as a way of shedding light on this ancient culture.

Once there was a King of Persia who liked to ask riddles. He particularly liked to ask his four advisors riddles. Sometimes the King knew the answer. Other times he didnít. The King asked those riddles to hear what his advisors would say.

One day, just before the beginning of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, the King of Persia asked his four advisors, "What melody is the sweetest?"

The first advisor immediately said, "Oh, your Majesty, that is such a simple riddle. The sweetest sound is the melody of a flute."

The second advisor disagreed. "Yes, the melody of a flute is sweet. But the sweetest sound is the melody of a harp."

The third advisor shook his head and declared, "The flute and the harp do make sweet melodies. However, I have heard a violin. And that is, by far, the sweetest melody."

The King looked at his fourth advisor who merely smiled. The King nodded at him, saying, "Hmm, it looks as if my fourth advisor is not yet ready to give his answer. I will wait until he is ready."

Days passed. The month of Ramadan started. The King of Persia stopped asking riddles and spent more time in prayer, as is the custom during Ramadan.

You see, during the month of Ramadan, all Muslim adults refrained from eating and drinking between daybreak and sunset. This fasting during Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The fasting serves many purposes. First, the time and energy normally spent preparing food and eating can be spent contemplating and praying. Second, the fasting reminds people of the poor and how it feels to be hungry. Charity is another of the Five Pillars of Islam. Third, fasting helps teach people self-control. If they can avoid things which are good for them, think of how much easier it will be to avoid things which are bad for them.

After sunset each day, the fast is broken by a meal, called the Iftar. Often people invite friends over for the Iftar.

So it was not unusual when the fourth advisor invited the King and the other three advisors over for the Iftar one evening. When the King and the three other advisors arrived, they were quite surprised. The fourth advisor ushered them into the dining room, but there were no platters of food on the table, just empty plates and silverware. Nor could they smell any cooking smells from the kitchen. They looked at each other questioningly.

Just then, a man came in playing the flute. It was a sweet melody. He was followed by a man playing the harp, then by another playing the violin. Finally, the three musicians played together, beautiful, intricate music, which was also somewhat loud. That was just as well, because all their stomachs were growling.

Finally, one of the lesser kitchen servants came in, carrying a simple pot and a ladle. As the ladle, brimming with stew, hit the first plate, the King smiled broadly and said, "Yes, yes, my fourth advisor. You are right. The sweetest melody is the melody of silverware hitting a plate when you are hungry. As the proverb says, the most delicious meal is the meal that you eat when you are hungry."


Dov Noy, "What Melody is the Sweetest?", Folktales of Israel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), p. 172.

Jane Yolen, editor, "What Melody Is The Sweetest?", Favorite Folktales From Around The World (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986), page 413. Also found at http://storypalace.ourfamily.com/c98909.html

A Muslim friend at work, Genghis Khan, graciously supplied me with the information regarding Islam and, in particular, the proverb at the end. Genghis thinks that the proverb could be the inspiration for this story.


Kate Dudding (518) 383-4620
8 Sandalwood Drive kate@katedudding.com
Clifton Park, NY 12065-2700 USA
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