Through the ages many stories have been told of the wisdom of King Solomon. This is a legend from Ethiopia of a very important lesson that King Solomon taught his son, Prince Menelik, when the young prince went to Jerusalem to visit his father.
Prince Menelik was fifteen years old when he the got the permission from his mother, Queen Saba, (usually known as Queen Sheba to the West,) to take a trip to Israel and visit his father, King Solomon, of whom he had heard many wonderful things, but had never yet seen. The trip was planned over many months, and a caravan of several hundred camels, horses, mules and donkeys, was organized. Finally, the young price left for Jerusalem with a great entourage of attendants, servants, and slaves. Prince Menelik was also accompanied by five hundred carefully selected young men, some of whom were his cosines, nephews, and close friends, and others were children of famous governors, rulers and principalities of the land.
Once they arrived in Jerusalem they were received by King Solomon in the only protocol befitting and appropriate to a Crown Prince, since it was widely known that on his return to Ethiopia, Prince Menelik was to be crowned king and inherit the throne from his mother, Queen Saba. And Solomon used the occasion of the visit to get to know his son, and to train him in the ways of the world, the artful handling of the reins of the empire, and the careful manner of bearing the burden of kingship. The following is a legend and a story that has survived the ages and come down to us.
It is told that King Solomon asked the young Menelik if he had a true friend, and the young man answered that yes he had many good friends. King Solomon then asked Menelik to pick the best of all and find out who might be the one true friend. Without too much trouble, Menelik picked one with whom he had attended traditional school, a friend that he really considered to be the closest, and named him to the king, his father. King Solomon then invited Menelik and this friend to attend his audience and join him for breakfast the next morning.
After the usual palace ceremonies of the morning, the King invited the two young men to the privacy of the breakfast table behind closed curtains, and retired to his own private table, since royalty should never be seen eating. Among loaves of freshly baked bread, milk, fresh fruits, and roasted lamb, there was a plate with three fried eggs, fried over-easy. The king, however, had a trusted servant to attend to the boys as they ate. While the kids ate breakfast the valet stood at the corner avoiding their eyes, and pretending to look away, but absorbing every word, sound and gesture they made. In reality, he was the eyes and ears of the king. The boys shared the food and ate all they could until they came to the plate with three eggs. The friend helped himself to one egg and said that he was really full and could not eat more than one egg. He insisted that Menelik should eat the second egg. After some protest, Menelik finally complied and ate two eggs while the friend had only one of the eggs.
After breakfast, the valet reported to King Solomon every word and every sound of what took place at the breakfast table. King Solomon called Menelik to his audience later that day and privately said to him, “Menelik, you have a very nice and caring friend. He is a very good friend, and I like him a lot. He will make you a very loyal subject, but he is not your true friend. I would like to know, if you have any other young man that you would consider to be your true friend. If you have such a friend, bring him over for breakfast tomorrow.” Young Menelik thought hard and long and finally decided whom he would bring to breakfast in the King’s palace the next day. This time he picked another very close friend, and the son of the Queen’s adviser. Menelik thought very highly of him. They had known each other since they were little children, and had grown up together. Surely, Menelik thought, he must be my true friend.
The following day it was the same scenario. Loaves of freshly baked bread, plenty of milk and fresh fruits, roasted cuts of lamb, and the three fried eggs, fried over-easy. This time after taking one egg each, Menelik offered the second egg to his friend. The friend made a halfhearted refusal, but didn’t even argue too much when Menelik insisted that he have the egg. The friend helped himself to the second egg while Menelik had only one egg. The valet attending to the kids at breakfast went afterwards and relayed all that took place to King Solomon.
After breakfast, King Solomon called his son and said to him, “This friend of yours, I understand, is the son of the Queen’s adviser. He is a very ambitious young man. And that is as it should be. He may be your friend, but he is not your true friend. If this friend gets half a chance, he will not hesitate to take advantage of you. You should always be on your guard, and never give him an opportunity to do so. He may be a useful subject, but he might just as easily betray you. Such friends are very dangerous. They need to be watched very carefully. Do you have any one else that you consider to be a true friend? If you do, I would like you to bring him over for breakfast tomorrow.”
This time Menelik would not sleep the best part of the night trying to determine whom he would take for breakfast the next morning. This went on for several mornings, and some friends would insist that Menelik eat the remaining egg, and other friends would eat the egg themselves. Finally, after about a week, Menelik decided to take a friend, not so very close as the previous ones, but a very cordial young man who always showed him, and all the other kids, great respect and was also well liked and respected in return by most. This kid did not come from a long line of nobility. In fact it was widely known that his father, though now a Rass, was the son of a common peasant. He had shown great courage in several battles and had led his troupes to many victories. He had had a meteoric rise through the ranks to become a legendary general in his own lifetime.
Menelik took this young man for breakfast to the palace one morning. The table was set in the same way as the all the previous mornings: freshly baked bread, milk, fresh fruits, choice cuts of fried lamb, and the ever-recurring three fried eggs. Menelik offered the young man to eat two of the eggs and he would have only one, but the young man refused and said he would eat one, and Menelik should have two eggs. They argued back and forth and neither of them would give in until they finally agreed to cut the over-easy fried egg in half and share it equally between them. But the yolk might be spilled and it is not an easy thing to cut an egg in half. They finally decided to cut the egg on top of a loaf of bread so that the yolk if it flows out, can soak into the bread. This they did. Not only did they share the one egg, but they also proceeded to cut the loaf of bread, where the yolk had soaked into, in to two equal parts and shared it equally. Thus ended the breakfast.
After breakfast the valet entered King Solomon’s private audience and gave a full report of what he had seen and heard. The king was very happy with the story. That evening, King Solomon called his son, Crown Prince Menelik and said to him: “The young man you had breakfast with this morning is your true friend. He would not take advantage of you, and he would not like you to take advantage of him. Such a man, you can easily take into your confidence and share your most secret thoughts with. Such a friend is very hard to come by. Take him into your heart and treat him with courtesy and gentleness. If you carefully cultivate the friendship of this man, he will become the most valued person in your life.”