There’s a famous story involving the Persian philosopher and fool-figure, Mullah Nasrudin. One day, he was watching the Sultan of Baghdad tame a new horse. Suddenly, the Sultan was flung from the back of a new wild stallion brought to his stables from Bactria (modern-day Afghanistan). The horse was wild and uncontrollable. Nasrudin began laughing because the Sultan was covered in dirt and manure.
Angrily, the Sultan rose to his feet and ordered his bodyguards to arrest Nasrudin. "Why are you laughing at me?" the Sultan asked. "Because I was flung from my horse?"
"No," said Nasrudin the fool. "Because you are trying so hard to tame the horse in a single day, and failing. You should stick to what you are good at, not breaking horses."
The Sultan grew red-faced. "I suppose," he said, "that you could do better?"
"Oh yes," said Nasrudin, and he grew boastful. "I could tame that horse," and here he snapped his fingers, "like that! But better than that… because of my great wisdom, if I had a year…. well, I could teach that stallion to talk!"
The Sultan smiled an evil smile. "In that case," said the Sultan, "you may have a year. In a year, I expect this beast to be a trained, talking war-horse. And if not, I shall take his head, and yours, and mount them both on spikes above my gate for insolence!" And the Sultan stomped away.
Nasrudin’s followers wept, and tore at their beards. They urged Nasrudin to come with them, and escape! But Nasrudin only went into the paddock with the wild horse, and picked a handful of sweet grass, and tried to get the horse to eat it. Again and again, the horse only ran away, or kicked at him. This went on for months. Finally, one of Nasrudin’s disciples asked him, "Master, why do you not run away? The horse is dangerous, and the Sultan is even more dangerous. Why not give up this mad pursuit?"
Nasrudin shrugged. "Ah, my disciple, how little you know! I lot can change in a year. The Sultan could die of old age, or an assassin’s knife. He could be strangled in his harem by a jealous concubine. I could die, of disease or age. I might feel an urge to make the <i>hajj</i> and go to Mecca, and even the Sultan could not refuse me that. I could be laid low by a wasting sickness, or there could be a palace coup, or the Mongols may invade."
"But, master" said the student in a doubtful voice, "that does not explain why you persist, day after day, in trying to tame this dangerous and wild stallion."
Nasrudin smiled, "Oh, that. Well, a lot can happen in a year. It may even be that I shall succeed in teaching the horse to talk."