The Science of Laziness


Source: Italo Calvino, Italian Folktales, p.137-138.


(Note: I do not wish to endorse racial or ethnic stereotyping, but it is a good story. Indeed, I find it inspiring.)


            There was once an old Turk who had just one son, and the boy was dearly loved by his father. As everybody knows, the greatest scourge on earth for a Turk is work. Therefore, when the son turned fourteen, his father decided to send him to school to learn the science of laziness.

            On the same street as the old Turk there lived a famous and highly respected professor, who had never done a lick of work in his life that he could get out of doing. The old Turk called on him and found him stretched out in the garden beneath a fig tree, with a cushion under his head, a cushion under his back, and a cushion under his buttocks. “Before talking to him I must first see how he does,” said the old Turk to himself and hid behind a hedge to observe the man.

            The professor lay as still as a corpse, with his eyes closed. The only time he moved was whenever he heard the thud of a ripe fig on the ground near where he lay; he would reach slowly out, bring the fruit to his mouth, and swallow it. Then he wouldn’t stir again until another fig fell.

            “This is just the professor my boy needs,” decided the Turk. He came out of his hiding place, introduced himself, and asked if the professor would teach his son the science of laziness.

            “Old man,” answered the professor just above a whisper, “don’t talk so much. It tires me to listen to you. If you want to bring up your son to be a true Turk, just send him to me.”

            The old Turk went home, took his son by the hand, thrust a feather pillow under his arm, and led him to that garden.

            “I urge you,” he told him, “to do everything you see this professor of idleness do.”

            The boy, who already had an inclination for that particular science, stretched out under the fig tree. Observing his teacher, he saw him reach for every fruit that fell and bring the fruit to his mouth. Why should I work myself to death reaching for figs? he thought, and lay there with his mouth wide open. Soon a fig fell into his mouth; he let it go down slowly, then reopened his mouth. Another fig fell, just missing his mouth. He kept perfectly still and murmured, “Why so wide of the mark? Fig, fall into my mouth!”

            Seeing how wise the pupil was already, the professor said, “Go home. You have nothing to learn. You can even teach me something.”

            So the boy went home to his father, who thanked heaven for having given him such a smart son.