Blind Men and the Elephant

mhcrxlc at mhcrxlc at
Wed Nov 22 10:58:40 UTC 1995

Michael Rabe writes:

>Can anyone identify the presumptive source in niti or katha literature for
>John Godfrey Saxe's poem "The Blind Men and the Elephant," first published
>in his _Clever Stories of Many Nations_ (Boston, 1865), 61-64?
>I had suspected that he invented the premise himself, but recently came
>across an early 19th c. painting on the subject from China. Might it then
>have an East Asian origin?

I haven't read the poem, but presumably the ultimate source is the Pali
Canon (prior to the first century B.C.) where the story of the blind men
and the elephant is told by the Buddha in the Udaana (p. 68f.). I have not
met any earlier source for this, although there are many other Indian
versions of this story after, say, the mid first millennium A.D.

Lance Cousins

Email: mhcrxlc at


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