“The Enchanted Wine Jug” is a Korean tale that was translated and preserved by Horace Newton Allen in 1889. Tales that explore why the world is the way it is are cosmological in origin. Every culture, around the world, has such stories that will explain things that we can’t or, at the very least, can’t yet.
Discussion questions and resources for teachers are located at the bottom.
The Enchanted Wine Jug; or, Why the Cat and Dog are Enemies
Translated and preserved by H.N. Allen
In ancient times there lived an old gray-haired man by the river’s bank where the ferry-boats land. He was poor but honest, and being childless, and compelled to earn his own food, he kept a little wine-shop, which, small though it was, possessed quite a local reputation, for the aged proprietor would permit no quarreling on his premises, and sold only one brand of wine, and this was of really excellent quality. He did not keep a pot of broth simmering over the coals at his door to tempt the passer-by, and thus increase his thirst on leaving. The old man rather preferred the customers who brought their little long-necked bottles, and carried the drink to their homes. There were some peculiarities—almost mysteries—about this little wine-shop; the old man had apparently always been there, and had never seemed any younger. His wine never gave out, no matter how great might be the local thirst, yet he was never seen to make or take in a new supply; nor had he a great array of vessels in his shop. On the contrary, he always seemed to pour the wine out of the one and same old bottle, the long, slender neck of which was black and shiny from being so often tipped in his old hand while the generous, warming stream gurgled outward to the bowl. This had long ceased to be a matter of inquiry, however, and only upon the advent of a stranger of an inquiring mind would the subject be re-discussed. The neighbors were assured that the old man was thoroughly good, and that his wine was better. Furthermore, he sold it as reasonably as other men sold a much inferior article. And more than this, they did not care to know; or at least if they did once care, they had gotten over it, and were now content to let well enough alone.
I said the old man had no children. That is true, yet he had that which in a slight degree took the place of children, in that they were his daily care, his constant companions, and the partners of his bed and board. These deputy children were none other than a good-natured old dog, with laughing face and eyes, long silken ears that were ever on the alert, yet too soft to stand erect, a chunky neck, and a large round body covered with long soft tan hair and ending in a bushy tail. He was the very impersonation of canine wisdom and good-nature, and seldom became ruffled unless he saw his master worried by the ill behavior of one of his patrons, or when a festive flea persisted in attacking him on all sides at once. His fellow, a cat, would sometimes assist in the onslaught, when the dog was about to be defeated and completely ruffled by his tormentor.
This “Thomas” was also a character in his own way, and though past the days when his chief ambition had been to catch his tail, he had such a strong vein of humor running through him that age could not subdue his frivolous propensities. He had been known to drop a dead mouse upon the dog’s nose from the counter, while the latter was endeavoring to get a quiet nap; and then he would blow his tail up as a balloon, hump his back, and look utterly shocked at such conduct, as the startled dog nearly jumped out of his skin, and growling horribly, tore around as though he were either in chase of a wild beast or being chased by one.
This happy couple lived in the greatest contentment with the old man. They slept in the little kang room with him at night, and enjoyed the warm stone floor, with its slick oil-paper covering, as much as did their master. When the old man would go out on a mild moonlit night to enjoy a pipe of tobacco and gaze at the stars, his companions would rush out and announce to the world that they were not asleep, but ready to encounter any and every thing that the darkness might bring forth, so long as it did not enter their master’s private court, of which they were in possession.
These two were fair-weather companions up to this time. They had not been with the old man when a bowl of rice was a luxury. Their days did not antedate the period of the successful wine-shop history. The old man, however, often recalled those former days with a shudder, and thought with great complacency of the time when he had befriended a divine being, in the form of a weary human traveler, to whom he gave the last drink his jug contained, and how, when the contents of the little jug had gurgled down the stranger’s throat in a long unbroken drought, the stranger had given him a trifling little thing that looked like a bit of amber, saying: “Drop this into your jug, old man, and so long as it remains there, you will never want for a drink.” He did so; and sure enough the jug was heavy with something, so that he raised it to his lips, and—could he believe it! a most delicious stream of wine poured down his parched throat.
He took the jug down and peered into its black depths; he shook its sides, causing the elf within to dance and laugh aloud; and shutting his eyes, again he took another long drought; then meaning well, he remembered the stranger, and was about to offer him a drink, when he discovered that he was all alone, and began to wonder at the strange circumstance, and to think what he was to do. “I can’t sit here and drink all the time, or I will be drunk, and some thief will carry away my jug. I can’t live on wine alone, yet I dare not leave this strange thing while I seek for work.”
Like many another to whom fortune has just come, he knew not for a time what to do with his good-luck. Finally he hit upon the scheme of keeping a wine-shop, the success of which we have seen, and have perhaps refused the old man credit for the wisdom he displayed in continuing on in a small scale, rather than in exciting unpleasant curiosity and official oppression, by turning up his jug and attempting to produce wine at wholesale. The dog and cat knew the secret, and had ever a watchful eye upon the jug, which was never for a moment out of sight of one of the three pairs of eyes.
As the brightest day must end in gloom, however, so was this pleasant state soon to be marred by a most sad and far-reaching accident.
One day the news flashed around the neighborhood that the old man’s supply of wine was exhausted; not a drop remained in his jug, and he had no more with which to refill it. Each man on hearing the news ran to see if it were indeed true, and the little straw-thatched hut and its small court encircled by a mud wall were soon filled with anxious seekers after the truth. The old man admitted the statement to be true, but had little to say; while the dog’s ears hung neglectedly over his cheeks, his eyes dropped, and he looked as though he might be asleep, but for the persistent manner in which he refused to lie down, but dignifiedly bore his portion of the sorrow sitting upright, but with bowed head.
“Thomas” seemed to have been charged with agitation enough for the whole family. He walked nervously about the floor till he felt that justice to his tail demanded a higher plane, where shoes could not offend, and then betook himself to the counter, and later to the beam which supported the roof, and made a sort of cats’ and rats’ attic under the thatch.
All condoled with the old man, and not one but regretted that their supply of cheap, good wine was exhausted. The old man offered no explanation, though he had about concluded in his own mind that, as no one knew the secret, he must have in some way poured the bit of amber into a customer’s jug. But who possessed the jug he could not surmise, nor could he think of any way of reclaiming it. He talked the matter over carefully and fully to himself at night, and the dog and cat listened attentively, winking knowingly at each other, and puzzling their brains much as to what was to be done and how they were to assist their kind old friend.
At last the old man fell asleep, and then sitting down face to face by his side, the dog and cat began a discussion. “I am sure,” says the cat, “that I can detect that thing if I only come within smelling distance of it; but how do we know where to look for it.” That was a puzzler, but the dog proposed that they make a search through every house in the neighborhood. “We can go on a mere kuh kyung (look see), you know, and while you call on the cats indoors, and keep your smellers open, I will yay gee (chat) with the dogs outside, and if you smell any thing you can tell me.”
The plan seemed to be the only good one, and it was adopted that very night. They were not cast down because the first search was unsuccessful, and continued their work night after night. Sometimes their calls were not appreciated, and in a few cases they had to clear the field by battle before they could go on with the search. No house was neglected, however, and in due time they had done the whole neighborhood, but with no success. They then determined that it must have been carried to the other side of the river, to which place they decided to extend their search as soon as the water was frozen over, so that they could cross on the ice, for they knew they would not be allowed in the crowded ferry-boats; and while the dog could swim, he knew that the water was too icy for that. As it soon grew very cold, the river froze so solidly that bull-carts, ponies, and all passed over on the ice, and so it remained for near two months, allowing the searching party to return each morning to their poor old master, who seemed completely broken up by his loss, and did not venture away from his door, except to buy the few provisions which his little fund of savings would allow.
Time flew by without bringing success to the faithful comrades, and the old man began to think they too were deserting him, as his old customers had done. It was nearing the time for the spring thaw and freshet, when one night as the cat was chasing around over the roof timbers, in a house away to the outside of the settlement across the river, he detected an odor that caused him to stop so suddenly as to nearly precipitate himself upon a sleeping man on the floor below. He carefully traced up the odor, and found that it came from a soapstone tobacco box that sat upon the top of a high clothes-press near by. The box was dusty with neglect, and “Thomas” concluded that the possessor had accidentally turned the coveted gem (for it was from that the odor came) out into his wine bowl, and, not knowing its nature, had put it into this stone box rather than throw it away. The lid was so securely fastened that the box seemed to be one solid piece, and in despair of opening it, the cat went out to consult the superior wisdom of the dog, and see what could be done. “I can’t get up there,” said the dog, “nor can you bring me the box, or I might break it.”
“I cannot move the thing, or I might push it off, and let it fall to the floor and break,” said the cat.
So after explaining the things they could not do, the dog finally hit upon a plan they might perhaps successfully carry out. “I will tell you,” said he. “You go and see the chief of the rat guild in this neighborhood, tell him that if he will help you in this matter, we will both let him alone for ten years, and not hurt even a mouse of them.”
“But what good is that going to do?”
“Why, don’t you see, that stone is no harder than some wood, and they can take turns at it till they gnaw a hole through, then we can easily get the gem.”
The cat bowed before the marvelous judgment of the dog, and went off to accomplish the somewhat difficult task of obtaining an interview with the master rat. Meanwhile the dog wagged his ears and tail, and strode about with a swinging stride, in imitation of the great yang ban, or official, who occasionally walked past his master’s door, and who seemed to denote by his haughty gait his superiority to other men. His importance made him impudent, and when the cat returned, to his dismay, he found his friend engaged in a genuine fight with a lot of curs who had dared to intrude upon his period of self-congratulation. “Thomas” mounted the nearest wall, and howled so lustily that the inmates of the house, awakened by the uproar, came out and dispersed the contestants.
The cat had found the rat, who, upon being assured of safety, came to the mouth of his hole, and listened attentively to the proposition. It is needless to say he accepted it, and a contract was made forthwith. It was arranged that work was to begin at once, and be continued by relays as long as they could work undisturbed, and when the box was perforated, the cat was to be summoned.
The ice had now broken up and the pair could not return home very easily, so they waited about the neighborhood for some months, picking up a scant living, and making many friends and not a few enemies, for they were a proud pair, and ready to fight on provocation.
It was warm weather, when, one night, the cat almost forgot his compact as he saw a big fat rat slinking along towards him. He crouched low and dug his long claws into the earth, while every nerve seemed on the jump; but before he was ready to spring upon his prey, he fortunately remembered his contract. It was just in time, too, for as the rat was none other than the other party to the contract, such a mistake at that time would have been fatal to their object.
The rat announced that the hole was completed, but was so small at the inside end that they were at a loss to know how to get the gem out, unless the cat could reach it with his paw. Having acquainted the dog with the good news, the cat hurried off to see for himself. He could introduce his paw, but as the object was at the other end of the box he could not quite reach it. They were in a dilemma, and were about to give up, when the cat went again to consult with the dog. The latter promptly told them to put a mouse into the box, and let him bring out the gem. They did so, but the hole was too small for the little fellow and his load to get out at the same time, so that much pushing and pulling had to be done before they were successful. They got it safely at last, however, and gave it at once to the dog for safe-keeping. Then, with much purring and wagging of tails, the contract of friendship was again renewed, and the strange party broke up; the rats to go and jubilate over their safety, the dog and cat to carry the good news to their mourning master.
Again canine wisdom was called into play in devising a means for crossing the river. The now happy dog was equal to such a trifling thing as this, however, and instructed the cat that he must take the gem in his mouth, hold it well between his teeth, and then mount his (the dog’s) back, where he could hold on firmly to the long hair of his neck while he swam across the river. This was agreed upon, and arriving at the river they put the plan into execution. All went well until, as they neared the opposite bank, a party of school-children chanced to notice them coming, and, after their amazement at the strange sight wore away, they burst into uproarious laughter, which increased the more they looked at the absurd sight. They clapped their hands and danced with glee, while some fell on the ground and rolled about in an exhaustion of merriment at seeing a cat astride a dog’s back being ferried across the river.
The dog was too weary, and consequently matter-of-fact, to see much fun in it, but the cat shook his sides till his agitation caused the dog to take in great gulps of water in attempting to keep his head up. This but increased the cat’s merriment, till he broke out in a laugh as hearty as that of the children, and in doing so dropped the precious gem into the water. The dog, seeing the sad accident, dove at once for the gem; regardless of the cat, who could not let go in time to escape, and was dragged down under the water. Sticking his claws into the dog’s skin, in his agony of suffocation, he caused him so much pain that he missed the object of his search, and came to the surface.
The cat got ashore in some way, greatly angered at the dog’s rude conduct. The latter, however, cared little for that, and as soon as he had shaken the water from his hide, he made a lunge at his unlucky companion, who had lost the results of a half year’s faithful work in one moment of foolishness.
Dripping like a “drowned cat,” “Thomas” was, however, able to climb a tree, and there he stayed till the sun had dried the water from his fur, and he had spat the water from his inwards in the constant spitting he kept up at his now enemy, who kept barking ferociously about the tree below. The cat knew that the dog was dangerous when aroused, and was careful not to descend from his perch till the coast was clear; though at one time he really feared the ugly boys would knock him off with stones as they passed. Once down, he has ever since been careful to avoid the dog, with whom he has never patched up the quarrel. Nor does he wish to do so, for the very sight of a dog causes him to recall that horrible cold ducking and the day spent up a tree, and involuntarily he spits as though still filled with river-water, and his tail blows up as it had never learned to do till the day when for so long its damp and draggled condition would not permit of its assuming the haughty shape. This accounts for the scarcity of cats and the popularity of dogs.1
The dog did not give up his efforts even now. He dove many times in vain, and spent most of the following days sitting on the river’s bank, apparently lost in thought. Thus the winter found him—his two chief aims apparently being to find the gem and to kill the cat. The latter kept well out of his way, and the ice now covered the place where the former lay hidden. One day he espied a man spearing fish through a hole in the ice, as was very common. Having a natural desire to be around where any thing eatable was being displayed, and feeling a sort of proprietorship in the particular part of the river where the man was fishing, and where he himself had had such a sad experience, he went down and looked on. As a fish came up, something natural seemed to greet his nostrils, and then, as the man lay down his catch, the dog grabbed it and rushed off in the greatest haste. He ran with all his might to his master, who, poor man, was now at the end of his string (coin in Korea is perforated and strung on a string), and was almost reduced to begging. He was therefore delighted when his faithful old friend brought him so acceptable a present as a fresh fish. He at once commenced dressing it, but when he slit it open, to his infinite joy, his long-lost gem fell out of the fish’s belly. The dog was too happy to contain himself, but jumping upon his master, he licked him with his tongue, and struck him with his paws, barking meanwhile as though he had again treed the cat.
As soon as their joy had become somewhat natural, the old man carefully placed the gem in his trunk, from which he took the last money he had, together with some fine clothes—relics of his more fortunate days. He had feared he must soon pawn these clothes, and had even shown them to the brokers. But now he took them out to put them on, as his fortune had returned to him. Leaving the fish baking on the coals, he donned his fine clothes, and taking his last money, he went and purchased wine for his feast, and for a beginning; for he knew that once he placed the gem back in the jug, the supply of wine would not cease. On his return he and the good dog made a happy feast of the generous fish, and the old man completely recovered his spirits when he had quaffed deeply of the familiar liquid to which his mouth was now such a stranger. Going to his trunk directly, he found to his amazement that it contained another suit of clothes exactly like the first ones he had removed, while there lay also a broken string of cash of just the amount which he had previously taken out.
Sitting down to think, the whole truth dawned upon him, and he then saw how he had abused his privilege before in being content to use his talisman simply to run a wine-shop, while he might have had money and every thing else in abundance by simply giving the charm a chance to work.
Acting upon this principle, the old man eventually became immensely wealthy, for he could always duplicate any thing with his piece of amber. He carefully tended his faithful dog, who never in his remaining days molested a rat, and never lost an opportunity to attack every cat he saw.
Questions for Discussion
- The cat and the dog start out as fair-weather friends. When the amber is lost, they work together to retrieve it, at first. What happens to change their relationship?
- The old man was granted a boon for his kindness to a stranger, why do you think this behavior would be reinforced in a culture? Is that something that is present in your culture and how is it manifested?
- Why do you think the old man never questioned how his little bit of amber worked, and why didn’t he try it inside other vessels until the end?
- What roles do trust and loyalty play in this story?
- Why do you suppose the dog is depicted as cleverer than the cat? Is this something that translates to your culture?
- Write about a time when you did a good deed toward someone else and received something unexpected.
- Write an alternate ending to this story, one where the amber is never found.
- In a five-paragraph essay, discuss three attributes that contribute to your understanding of either trust or loyalty.
- If you received a piece of amber that regenerated whatever was in the vessel you put it in, what would you regenerate? Support your decision with three reasons why you made your choice.