In the kingdom of the animals there was a wise vizier. He was always
at the pharaoh's side, gave him advice, and dealt with the affairs of state in
his name. He judged the subjects justly, but with clemency. At the beautiful age
of 110 years he lay down and died. His majesty the king began to look among his
courtiers whom he could choose as his new vizier. But no one pleased him, and
there was nobody whom he could ask for advice.
Then he had the idea to pose a riddle. Whoever could solve it, would be
appointed vizier. He sent his messengers all over the country to proclaim the
riddle. Its words were: "What is sweater than honey and more bitter than
The animals pondered the puzzle, but it was too difficult for them. Already the
moon had wandered around the earth once, and no vizier had been found. Just as
the moon set for the last time and Pharaoh was almost despairing, a tiny mouse
came running and whispered into the king's ear: "The office of
This was the puzzle's solution. Pharaoh raised his head, praised the little
mouse and appointed him to be his vizier. The mouse was solemnly inducted into
its new office. Pharaoh presented him with the gold of honour and received his
oath of allegiance as vizier. He read out the virtues of a just vizier.
Henceforth the mouse was to sit at the Pharaoh's right.
Meanwhile, all the animals were preparing great festivities in order to
celebrate the mouse's new position of honour. The hares made the plans. The
hippo brewed beer, a goat carried water with a yoke and the pot-bellied one
himself strained the mash with a sieve. The pig put the beer-dough on a platter,
while a hyaena looked after the sow's piglet carrying it in a breast cloth. Cats
mixed wine in the kitchen and baked cakes. A big band practised music and
rehearsed dances. The billy-goat beat the drum, a fox plucked the lute, another
one played the double oboe. In the corner nearby a donkey was teaching two
goats. He flourished the conductor's baton keeping time with the leaps of the
two horned ones. The crocodile and the lion too roared out songs and accompanied
them with music.
In the meantime the mouse was prepared for the festivities. His feet were
washed, he was given the eye-liner and the mirror. A cat served him the morning
drink. The mouse slurped the wine through a pipe from the jug. A feline maid
servant tied a beautiful bow around his neck, and another cat chamberlain
brought the fan in order to fan the high lord with cool air.
Soon, everything was ready. The mouse's family rode in the first carriage,
followed by a vehicle with well-wishers. Beautifully dressed up with a lotus
flower on his head, the mouse sat on a little dais, behind him was a follower.
All of the pavilion was covered in garlands. A cat carrying a fan stepped
forward, and handed the new vizier a bowl with fragrant food expressing her best
wishes. She was followed by a fox carrying a huge bouquet of flowers, who was so
excited that he stammered when he wanted to wish him well. But the fox at the
great harp continued playing the song of praise to its end unperturbedly, and
the mouse took pleasure in all the beauty.
This well-wisher was succeeded by a very long train of animals doing homage
to the mouse. They brought flowers, wine and cakes, jewellery, weapons and
clothes in chests. All the while they made music incessantly. The mouse vizier
was sitting on his throne full of dignity and accepted the honours in a
All the animals enjoyed themselves. They ate the food with relish, made
merry, fooled around and competed at board games.
An accident almost occurred during the celebrations. A crocodile had brought
along a little fish which he loved very much. When a hyaena perceived the
appetizing little creature she desired to eat the animal child. But the
crocodile defended it with its scaly tail and no harm befell it. The crocodile
let the incident pass, but a little dog had observed it and told its mother. The
bitch would have liked to accuse the hyaena before the vizier, but the husband
of the hyaena and the puppy's father begged her to remain silent for harmony's
sake. This is how the festivities had a happy ending.
The following day the mouse began performing his official functions, among them
sitting in judgment. Immediately, some malefactors were led into the prison. A
cat and a dog were dragged off, their front paws in stocks. A bailiff urged them
forward with a cudgel. The cat carried her possessions on her head when she was
led into gaol. The mouse vizier was severe, but just.
But the mouse was given to violent fits of anger. He got excited and there
was the danger that in his ire he would exceed the measure of punishment. He was
especially touchy when the charge was theft. Thus, one day he had a Nubian child
violently beaten by the cat bailiff for having pinched a few dates. The guilty
child raised his arms and begged for mercy. But the mouse remained pitiless. The
child's wails did not move him.
This came to the knowledge of the pharaoh. He called his vizier, reprimanded
him severely and bade him to correct the injustice. What did the mouse do? He
ordered the Nubian child to beat the cat just as the cat had beaten the child.
As the cat was completely innocent, the child hesitated to punish her. But the
mouse demanded obedience, therefore the child beat the poor cat until she cried
When the pharaoh heard this tale he was angered like a panther from Upper Egypt.
He would not suffer a hothead in his realm, who at first punished without giving
much thought and then tried to make amends for one injustice by committing
another. He immediately dismissed his vizier ignominiously from office. And this
did not satisfy him: He felt such revulsion towards the mouse that he did not
want to see him nor any of his kind ever more.
Therefore he proclaimed loudly: "From this hour onward, all mice shall
disappear from the fields and shall live underground only!"
Thus the king spoke and thus it happened. This is the reason why mice live in
subterranean holes to this day.