Saturday, August 16, 2008

Aesop's Fables

Aesop’s Fables, transl. V.S. Vernon Jones, Barnes & Noble Classics, New York, 2003

1. The Fox and the Grapes / A hungry fox saw some fine bunches of grapes hanging from a vine that was trained along a high trellis and did his best to reach them by jumping as high as he could into the air. But it was all in vain, for they were just out of reach. So he gave up trying and walked away with an air of dignity and unconcern, remarking, “I thought those grapes were ripe, but I see now that they are quite sour.”

4. The Mischievous Dog / There was a dog who used to snap at people at bite them without any provocation, and who was a great nuisance to anyone who came to his master’s house. So his master fastened a bell round his neck to warm people of his presence. The dog was very proud of the bell, and strutted about tinkling it with immense satisfaction. But an old dog came up to him and said, “The fewer airs you give yourself the better, my friend. You don’t think, do you, that your bell was given you as a reward of merit? On the contrary, it is a badge of disgrace.” / Notoriety is often mistaken for fame.

18. The Ass, the Fox, and the Lion / An ass and a fox went into partnership and sallied out to forage for food together. They hadn’t gone far before they saw a lion coming their way, at which they were both dreadfully frightened. But the fox thought he saw a way of saving his own skin, and went boldly up to the lion and whispered in his ear, “I’ll manage that you shall get hold of the ass without the trouble of stalking him, if you’ll promise to let me go free.” The lion agreed to this, and the fox then rejoined his companion and contrived before long to lead him by a hidden pit, which some hunter had dug as a trap for wild animals, and into which he fell. When the lion saw that the ass was safely caught and couldn’t get away, it was to the fox that he first turned his attention, and he soon finished him off, and then at his leisure proceeded to feast upon the ass. / Betray a friend, and you’ll often find you have ruined yourself.

32. The Ass and the Lapdog / There was once a man who had an ass and a lapdog. The ass was housed in the stable with plenty of oats and hay to eat and was as well off as an ass could be. The little dog was made a great pet of by his master, who fondled him and often let him lie in his lap. And if he went out to dinner, he would bring back a tidbit or two to give him when he ran to meet him on his return. The ass had, it is true, a good deal of work to do, carting or grinding the corn, or carrying the burdens of the farm; and ere long he became very jealous, contrasting his own life of labor with the ease and idleness of the lapdog. At last one day he broke his halter and frisking into the house just as his master sat down to dinner, he pranced and capered about, mimicking the frolics of the little favorite, upsetting the table and smashing the crockery with his clumsy efforts. No content with that, he even tried to jump on his master’s lap, as he had so often seen the dog allowed to do. At that the servants, seeing the danger their master was in, belabored the silly ass with sticks and cudgels, and drove him back to his stable had dead with his beating. “Alas!” he cried. “All this I have brought on myself. Why could I not be satisfied with my natural and honorable position, without wishing to imitate the ridiculous antics of that useless little lapdog?”

39. The Flea and the Man / A flea bit a man, and bit him again, and again, till he could stand it no longer, but made a thorough search for it, and at last he succeeded in catching it. Holding it between his finger and thumb, he said—or rather shouted, so angry was he—“Who are you, pray, you wretched little creature, that you make so free with my person?” The flea, terrified, whimpered in a weak little voice, “Oh, sir! Pray let me go. Don’t kill me! I am such a little thing that I can’t do you much harm.” But the man laughed and said, “I am going to kill you now, at once. Whatever is bad had got to be destroyed, no matter how slight the harm it does.” / Do not waste your pity on a scamp.

47. The Fox and the Goat / A fox fell into a well and was unable to get out again. By and by a thirsty goat cam by, and seeing the fox in the well asked him if the water was good. “Good?” said the fox. “It’s the best water I ever tasted in all my life. Come down and try it yourself” The goat thought of nothing but the prospect of quenching his thirst, and jumped in at once. When he had had enough to drink, he looked about, like the fox, for some way of getting out, but could find none. / Presently the fox said, “I have an idea. You stand on your hind legs and plant your forelegs firmly against the side of the well, and then I’ll climb onto your back, and, from there, by stepping on your horns, I can get out. And when I’m out, I’ll help you out too.” The goat did as he was requested, and the fox climbed onto his back and so out of the well. And then he coolly walked away. The goat called loudly after him and reminded him of his promise to help him out. But the fox merely turned and said, “If you had as much sense in your head as you have in your beard you wouldn’t have go into the well without making certain that you could get out again.” / Look before you leap.

51. The Ass and His Shadow / A certain man hired an ass for a journey in summertime, and started out with the owner following behind to drive the beast. By and by, in the heat of the day, they stopped to rest, and the traveler wanted to lie down in the ass’s shadow. But the owner, who himself wished to be out of the sun, wouldn’t let him do that; for he said he had hired the ass only, and not his shadow. The other maintained that his bargain secured him compete control of the ass for the time being. From words they came to blows. And while they were belaboring each other the ass took to his heels and was soon out of sight.

67. The Mouse, the Frog, and the Hawk / A mouse and a frog struck up a friendship. They were not well mated, for the mouse lived entirely on land, while the frog was equally at home on land or in the water. In order that they might never be separated, the frog tied himself and the mouse together by the leg with a piece of thread. As long as they kept on dry land all went fairly well; but, coming to the edge of a pool, the frog jumped in, taking the mouse with him, and began swimming about and croaking with pleasure. The unhappy mouse, however, was soon drowned, and floated about on the surface in the wake of the frog. There he was spied by a hawk, who pounced down on him and seized him in his talons. The frog was unable to loose the knot which bound him to the mouse, and thus was carried off along with him and eaten by the hawk.

76. The Frogs Asking for a King / Time was when the frogs were discontented because they had no one to rule over them, so they sent a deputation to Jupiter to ask him to give them a king. Jupiter, despising the follow of their request, cast a log into the pool where they lived, and said that that should be their king. The frogs were terrified at first by the splash and scuttled away into the deepest parts of the pool. / But by and by, when they aw that the log remained motionless, one by one they ventured to the surface again, and before long, growing bolder, they began to feel such contempt for it that they even took to sitting upon it. Thinking that a king of that sort was an insult to their dignity, they sent to Jupiter a second time and begged him to give them another and a better one. Jupiter, annoyed at being pestered in this way, sent a stork to rule over them, who no sooner arrived among them than he began to catch and eat the frogs as fast as he could.

77. The Olive Tree and the Fig Tree / An olive tree taunted a fig tree with the loss of her leaves at a certain season of the year. “You,” she said, “lose your leaves every autumn and are bare till the spring; whereas I, as you see, remain green and flourishing all the year round.” Soon afterwards there came a heavy fall of snow, which settled on the leaves of the olive so that she bent and broke under the weight. But the flakes fell harmlessly through the bare branches of the fig, which survived to bear many another crop.

107. The Lion and the Wild Ass / A lion and a wild ass went out hunting together. The latter was to run down the prey by his superior speed, and the former would then come up and dispatch it. They met with great success; and when it came to sharing the spoil the lion divided it all into three equal portions. “I will take the first,” said he, “because I am king of the beasts; I will also take the second, because as your partner, I am entitled to half of what remains; and as for the third—well, unless you give it up to me and take yourself off pretty quick, the third, believe me, will make you feel very sorry for yourself!” / Might makes right.

147. Venus and the Cat / A cat fell in love with a handsome young man, and begged the goddess Venus to change her into a woman. Venus was very gracious about it, and changed her at once into a beautiful maiden, whom the young man fell in love with at first sight and shortly afterwards married. One day Venus thought she would like to see whether the cat had changed her habits as well as her form, so she let a mouse run loose in the room where they were. Forgetting everything, the young woman had no sooner seen the mouse than up she jumped and was after it like a shot, at which the goddess was so disgusted that she changed her back again into a cat.

163. The Ass and the Wolf / An ass was feeding in a meadow, and, catching sight of his enemy the wolf in the distance, pretended to be very lame and hobbled painfully along. When the wolf came up he asked the ass how he came to be so lame, and the ass replied that in going through a hedge he had trodden on a thorn, and he begged the wolf to pull it out with his teeth, “In case,” he said, “when you eat me, it should stick in your throat and hurt your very much.” The wolf said he would, and told the ass to lift up his foot, and gave his whole mind to getting out the thorn. But the ass suddenly let out with his heels and fetched the wolf a fearful kick in the mouth, breaking his teeth; and then he galloped off at full speed. As soon as he could speak the wolf growled to himself, “It serves me right. My father taught me to kill, and I ought to have stuck to that trade instead of attempting to cure.”

207. The Ass and the Dog / An ass and a dog were on their travels together, and, as they went along, they found a sealed packet lying on the ground. The ass picked it up, broke the seal, and found it contained some writing, which he proceeded to read out aloud to the dog. As he read on, it turned out to be all about grass and barley and hay—in short, all the kinds of fodder that asses are fond of. The dog was a good deal bored with listening to all this, till at last his impatience got the better of him, and he cried, “Just skip a few pages, friend, and see if there isn’t something about meat and bones.” The ass glanced all through the packet, but found nothing of the sort, and said so. Then the dog said in disgust, “Oh, throw it away, do. What’s the good of a thing like that?”

209. The Athenian and the Theban / An Athenian and a Theban were on the road together and passed the time in conversation, as is the way of travelers. After discussing a variety of subjects they began to talk about heroes, a topic that tends to be more fertile than edifying. Each of them was lavish in his praises of the heroes of his own city, until eventually the Theban asserted that Hercules was the greatest hero who had ever lived on earth, and now occupied a foremost place among the gods; while the Athenian insisted that Theseus was far superior, for his fortune had been in every way supremely blessed, whereas Hercules had at one time been forced to act as a servant. And he gained his point, for he was a very glib fellow, like all Athenians; so that the Theban, who was no match for him in talking, cried at last in some disgust, “All right, have your way. I only hope that when our heroes are angry with us, Athens may suffer from the anger of Hercules, and Thebes only from that of Theseus.”

225. The Fisherman Piping / A fisherman who could play the flute went down one day to the seashore with his nets and his flute; and, taking his stand on a projecting rock, began to play a tune, thinking that the music would bring the fish jumping out of the sea. He went on playing for some time, but not a fish appeared. So at last he threw down his flute and cast his net into the sea, and made a great haul of fish. When they were landed and he saw them leaping about on the shore, he cried, “You rascals! You wouldn’t dance when I piped; but now I’ve stopped, you can do nothing else!”

229. The Monkey and the Dolphin / When people go on a voyage they often take with them lapdogs or monkeys as pets to while away the time. Thus it fell out that a man returning to Athens from the East had a pet monkey on board with him. As they neared the coast of Attica a great storm burst upon them, and the ship capsized. All on board were thrown into the water, and tried to save themselves by swimming, the monkey among the rest. A dolphin saw him, and, supposing him to be a man, took him on his back and began swimming towards the shore. When they got near Piraeus, which is the port of Athens, the dolphin asked the monkey if he was an Athenian. The monkey replied that he was, and added that he came of a very distinguished family. “Then, of course, you know the Piraeus,” continued the dolphin. The monkey thought he was referring to some high official or other, and replied, “Oh, yes, he’s a very old friend of mine.” At that, detecting the hypocrisy, the dolphin was so disgusted that he dived below the surface, and the unfortunate monkey was quickly drowned.

279. Prometheus and the Making of Man / At the bidding of Jupiter, Prometheus set about the creation of man and other animals. Jupiter, seeing that mankind, the only rational creatures, were far outnumbered by the irrational beasts, bade him redress the balance by turning some of the latter into men. Prometheus did as he was bidden, and this is the reason why some people have the forms of men but the souls of beasts.


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