Hear No Evil
See No Evil
Speak No Evil

folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 243A

edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1999-2011


  1. A Brahmin Asks Two Parrots to Keep an Eye on His Wife (India, The Jataka).

  2. How a Parrot Told Tales of His Mistress and Had His Neck Wrung (India, The Jataka).

  3. Of Maintaining Truth to the Last (England, Gesta Romanorum).

  4. The Three Roosters (Germany/France, Johannes Pauli).

  5. Links to related stories.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

A Brahmin Asks Two Parrots to Keep an Eye on His Wife

The Jataka

Once on a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born a parrot. A certain Brahmin in the Kasi country was as a father to him and to his younger brother, treating them like his own children. Potthapada was the Bodhisatta's name, and Radha his brother's.

Now the Brahmin had a bold bad wife. And as he was leaving home on business, he said to the two brothers, "If your mother, my wife, is minded to be naughty, stop her."

"We will, papa," said the Bodhisatta, "if we can; but if we can't, we will hold our peace."

Having thus entrusted his wife to the parrots' charge, the Brahmin set out on his business. Every day thenceforth his wife misconducted herself; there was no end to the stream of her lovers in and out of the house.

Moved by the sight, Radha said to the Bodhisatta, "Brother, the parting injunction of our father was to stop any misconduct on his wife's part, and now she does nothing but misconduct herself. Let us stop her."

"Brother," said the Bodhisatta, "your words are the words of folly. You might carry a woman about in your arms and yet she would not be safe. So do not essay the impossible."

And so saying he uttered this stanza:

How many more shall midnight bring? Your plan
Is idle. Naught but wifely love could curb
Her lust; and wifely love is lacking quite.
And for the reasons thus given, the Bodhisatta did not allow his brother to speak to the Brahmin's wife, who continued to gad about to her heart's content during her husband's absence.

On his return, the Brahmin asked Potthapada about his wife's conduct, and the Bodhisatta faithfully related all that had taken place. "Why, father," he said, "should you have anything more to do with so wicked a woman?" And he added these words, "My father, now that I have reported my mother's wickedness, we can dwell here no longer."

So saying, he bowed at the Brahmin's feet and flew away with Kadha to the forest.

How a Parrot Told Tales of His Mistress and Had His Neck Wrung

The Jataka

Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, the Bodhisatta came into the world as a young parrot. His name was Radha, and his youngest brother was named Potthapada. While they were yet quite young, both of them were caught by a fowler and handed over to a Brahmin in Benares. The Brahmin cared for them as if they were his children. But the Brahmin's wife was a wicked woman. There was no watching her.

The husband had to go away on business, and addressed his young parrots thus: "Little dears, I am going away on business. Keep watch on your mother in season and out of season. Observe whether or not any man visits her." So off he went, leaving his wife in charge of the young parrots.

As soon as he was gone, the woman began to do wrong. Night and day the visitors came and went. There was no end to them. Potthapada, observing this, said to Radha, "Our master gave this woman into our charge, and here she is doing wickedness. I will speak to her."

"Don't," said Radha.

But the other would not listen. "Mother," said he, "why do you commit sin?"

How she longed to kill him! But making as though she would fondle him, she called him to her. "Little one, you are my son! I will never do it again! Here, then the dear!" So he came out. Then she seized him, crying, "What! You preach to me! You don't know your measure!" And she wrung his neck, and threw him into the oven.

The Brahmin returned. When he had rested, he asked the Bodhisatta, "Well, my dear, what about your mother? Does she do wrong, or no?" And as he asked the question, he repeated the first couplet:

I come, my son, the journey done, and now I am at home again,
Come tell me, is your mother true? Does she make love to other men?

Radha answered, "Father dear, the wise speak not of things which do not conduce to blessing, whether they have happened or not." And he explained this by repeating the second couplet:

For what he said he now lies dead, burnt up beneath the ashes there.
It is not well the truth to tell, lest Potthapada's fate I share.

Thus did the Bodhisatta hold forth to the Brahmin. And he went on, "This is no place for me to live in either." Then bidding the Brahmin farewell, he flew away into the woods.

Of Maintaining Truth to the Last

Gesta Romanorum

In the reign of Gordian, there was a certain noble soldier who had a fair but vicious wife. It happened that her husband having occasion to travel, the lady sent for her gallant. Now, one of her handmaids, it seems, was skillful in interpreting the song of birds; and in the court of the castle there were three cocks. During the night, while the gallant was with his mistress, the first cock began to crow.

The lady heard it, and said to her servant, "Dear friend, what says yonder cock?"

She replied, "That you are grossly injuring your husband."

"Then," said the lady, "kill that cock without delay."

They did so. But soon after, the second cock crew, and the lady repeated her question.

"Madam," said the handmaid, "he says, 'My companion died for revealing the truth, and for the same cause, I am prepared to die.'"

"Kill him," cried the lady, which they did.

After this, the third cock crew.

"What says he?" asked she again.

"Hear, see, and say nothing, if you would live in peace."

"Oh, oh!" said the lady. "Don't kill him." And her orders were obeyed.


My beloved, the emperor is God; the soldier, Christ; and the wife, the soul. The gallant is the devil. The handmaid is conscience. The first cock is our Savior, who was put to death; the second is the martyrs; and the third is a preacher who ought to be earnest in declaring the truth, but, being deterred by menaces, is afraid to utter it.

The Three Roosters


We read about three roosters that crowed in the night while the lady of the house was lying with an adulterer. Now the kitchen maid understood the language of birds.

The first night the one rooster crowed, "My mistress is unfaithful to my master."

The kitchen maid reported this to the lady of the house. The woman said, "That rooster must die," and the rooster was broiled.

The next night the second rooster sang, and when the kitchen maid was asked about it, she said that the rooster had crowed, "My companion died for telling the truth."

Then the lady of the house said, "He too shall die," and this rooster was immediately broiled.

The next time the woman went to bed with her lover, the third rooster crowed, as interpreted by the kitchen maid, "See, hear, and remain silent, if you want to live in peace."

Audi, vive, tace,
Se vis vivere in pace.

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Revised May 1, 2011.