Fables of Phaedrus, The



The matter which Æsop, the inventor of Fables, has provided, I have polished in Iambic verse. The advantages of this little work are twofold—that it excites laughter, and by counsel guides the life of man. But if any one shall think fit to cavil, because not only wild beasts, but even trees speak, let him remember that we are disporting in fables.

Fable I.

Driven by thirst, a Wolf and a Lamb had come to the same stream; the Wolf stood above, and the Lamb at a distance below. Then, the spoiler, prompted by a ravenous maw, alleged a pretext for a quarrel. “Why,” said he, “have you made the water muddy for me while I am drinking?” The Fleece-bearer, trembling, answered: “Prithee, Wolf, how can I do what you complain of? The water is flowing downwards from you to where I am drinking.” The other, disconcerted by the force of truth, exclaimed: “Six months ago, you slandered me.” “Indeed,” answered the Lamb, “I was not born then.” “By Hercules,” said the Wolf, “then ’twas your father slandered me;” and so, snatching him up, he tore him to pieces, killing him unjustly.

This Fable is applicable to those men who, under false pretences, oppress the innocent.

Fable II.

When Athens was flourishing under just laws, liberty grown wanton embroiled the city, and license relaxed the reins of ancient discipline. Upon this, the partisans of factions conspiring, Pisistratus the Tyrantseized the citadel. When the Athenians were lamenting their sad servitude (not that he was cruel, but because every burden is grievous to those who are unused to it), and began to complain, Æsop related a Fable to the following effect:—

“The Frogs, roaming at large in their marshy fens, with loud clamour demanded of Jupiter a king, who, by his authority, might check their dissolute manners. The Father of the Gods smiled, and gave them a little Log, which, on being thrown among them startled the timorous race by the noise and sudden commotion in the bog. When it had lain for some time immersed in the mud, one of them by chance silently lifted his head above the water, and having taken a peep at the king, called up all the rest. Having got the better of their fears, vying with each other, they swim towards him, and the insolent mob leap upon the Log. After defiling it with every kind of insult, they sent to Jupiter, requesting another king, because the one that had been given them was useless. Upon this, he sent them a Water Snake, who with his sharp teeth began to gobble them up one after another. Helpless they strive in vain to escape death; terror deprives them of voice. By stealth, therefore, they send through Mercury a request to Jupiter, to succour them in their distress. Then said the God in reply: ‘Since you would not be content with your good fortune, continue to endure your bad fortune.’”

“Do you also, O fellow-citizens,” said Æsop, “submit to the present evil, lest a greater one befall you.”

Fable III.

That one ought not to plume oneself on the merits which belong to another, but ought rather to pass his life in his own proper guise, Æsop has given us this illustration:—

A Jackdaw, swelling with empty pride, picked up some feathers which had fallen from a Peacock, and decked himself out therewith; upon which, despising his own kind, he mingled with a beauteous flock of Peacocks. They tore his feathers from off the impudent bird, and put him to flight with their beaks. The Jackdaw, thus roughly handled, in grief hastened to return to his own kind; repulsed by whom, he had to submit to sad disgrace. Then said one of those whom he had formerly despised: “If you had been content with our station, and had been ready to put up with what nature had given, you would neither have experienced the former affront, nor would your ill fortune have had to feel the additional pang of this repulse.” 

Fable IV.

He who covets what belongs to another, deservedly loses his own.

As a Dog, swimming through a river, was carrying a piece of meat, he saw his own shadow in the watery mirror; and, thinking that it was another booty carried by another dog, attempted to snatch it away; but his greediness was disappointed, he both dropped the food which he was holding in his mouth, and was after all unable to reach that at which he grasped.

Fable V.

An alliance with the powerful is never to be relied upon: the present Fable testifies the truth of my maxim.

A Cow, a She-Goat, and a Sheep patient under injuries, were partners in the forests with a Lion. When they had captured a Stag of vast bulk, thus spoke the Lion, after it had been divided into shares: “Because my name is Lion, I take the first; the second you will yield to me because I am courageous; then, because I am the strongest, the third will fall to my lot; if anyone touches the fourth, woe betide him.”

Thus did unscrupulousness seize upon the whole prey for itself.

Fable VI.

Æsop, on seeing the pompous wedding of a thief, who was his neighbour, immediately began to relate the following story:

Once on a time, when the Sun was thinking of taking a wife, the Frogs sent forth their clamour to the stars. Disturbed by their croakings, Jupiter asked the cause of their complaints. Then said one of the inhabitants of the pool: “As it is, by himself he parches up all the standing waters, and compels us unfortunates to languish and die in our scorched abode. What is to become of us, if he beget children?”

Fable VII.

A Fox, by chance, casting his eyes on a Tragic Mask: “Ah,” said she, “great as is its beauty, still it has no brains.”

This is meant for those to whom fortune has granted honor and renown, leaving them void of common sense.

Fable VIII.

He who expects a recompense for his services from the dishonest commits a twofold mistake; first, because he assists the undeserving, and in the next place, because he cannot be gone while he is yet safe.

A bone that he had swallowed stuck in the jaws of a Wolf. Thereupon, overcome by extreme pain, he began to tempt all and sundry by great rewards to extract the cause of misery. At length, on his taking an oath, a Crane was prevailed on, and, trusting the length of her neck to his throat, she wrought, with danger to herself, a cure for the Wolf. When she demanded the promised reward for this service, “You are an ungrateful one,” replied the Wolf, “to have taken your head in safety out of my mouth, and then to ask for a reward.”

Fable IX.

Let us show, in a few lines, that it is unwise to be heedless of ourselves, while we are giving advice to others.

A Sparrow upbraided a Hare that had been pounced upon by an Eagle, and was sending forth piercing cries. “Where now,” said he, “is that fleetness for which you are so remarkable? Why were your feet thus tardy?” While he was speaking, a Hawk seizes him unawares, and kills him, shrieking aloud with vain complaints. The Hare, almost dead, as a consolation in his agony, exclaimed: “You, who so lately, free from care, were ridiculing my misfortunes, have now to deplore your own fate with as woful cause.”

Fable X.

Whoever has once become notorious by base fraud, even if he speaks the truth, gains no belief. To this, a short Fable of Æsop bears witness.

A Wolf indicted a Fox upon a charge of theft; the latter denied that she was amenable to the charge. Upon this, the Ape sat as judge between them; and when each of them had pleaded his cause, the Ape is said to have pronounced this sentence: “You, Wolf, appear not to have lost what you demand; I believe that you, Fox, have stolen what you so speciously deny.” 

Fable XI.

A dastard, who in his talk brags of his prowess, and is devoid of courage, imposes upon strangers, but is the jest of all who know him.

A Lion having resolved to hunt in company with an Ass, concealed him in a thicket, and at the same time enjoined him to frighten the wild beasts with his voice, to which they were unused, while he himself was to catch them as they fled. Upon this, Long-ears, with all his might, suddenly raised a cry, and terrified the beasts with this new cause of astonishment. While, in their alarm, they are flying to the well-known outlets, they are overpowered by the dread onset of the Lion; who, after he was wearied with slaughter, called forth the Ass from his retreat, and bade him cease his clamour. On this the other, in his insolence, inquired: “What think you of the assistance given by my voice?” “Excellent!” said the Lion, “so much so, that if I had not been acquainted with your spirit and your race, I should have fled in alarm like the rest.” 

Fable XII.

This story shows that what you contemn is often found of more utility than what you load with praises.

A Stag, when he had drunk at a stream, stood still, and gazed upon his likeness in the water. While there, in admiration, he was praising his branching horns, and finding fault with the extreme thinness of his legs, suddenly roused by the cries of the huntsmen, he took to flight over the plain, and with nimble course escaped the dogs. Then a wood received the beast; in which, being entangled and caught by his horns, the dogs began to tear him to pieces with savage bites. While dying, he is said to have uttered these words: “Oh, how unhappy am I, who now too late find out how useful to me were the things that I despised; and what sorrow the things I used to praise, have caused me.”

Fable XIII.

He who is delighted at being flattered with artful words, generally pays the ignominious penalty of a late repentance.

As a Raven, perched in a lofty tree, was about to eat a piece of cheese, stolen from a window, a Fox espied him, and thereupon began thus to speak: “O Raven, what a glossiness there is upon those feathers of yours! What grace you carry in your shape and air! If you had a voice, no bird whatever would be superior to you.” On this, the other, while, in his folly, attempting to show off his voice, let fall the cheese from his mouth, which the crafty Fox with greedy teeth instantly snatched up. Then, too late, the Raven, thus, in his stupidity overreached, heaved a bitter sigh.

By this story it is shown, how much ingenuity avails, and how wisdom is always an overmatch for strength.

Fable XIV.

A bungling Cobbler, broken down by want, having begun to practise physic in a strange place, and selling his antidote under a feigned name, gained some reputation for himself by his delusive speeches.

Upon this, the King of the city, who lay ill, being afflicted with a severe malady, asked for a cup, for the purpose of trying him; and then pouring water into it, and pretending that he was mixing poison with the fellow’s antidote, ordered him to drink it off, in consideration of a stated reward. Through fear of death, the cobbler then confessed that not by any skill in the medical art, but through the stupidity of the public, he had gained his reputation. The King, having summoned a council, thus remarked: “What think you of the extent of your madness, when you do not hesitate to trust your lives to one to whom no one would trust his feet to be fitted with shoes?”

This, I should say with good reason, is aimed at those through whose folly impudence makes a profit.

Fable XV.

In a change of government, the poor change nothing beyond the name of their master. That this is the fact this little Fable shows.

A timorous Old Man was feeding an Ass in a meadow. Frightened by a sudden alarm of the enemy, he tried to persuade the Ass to fly, lest they should be taken prisoners. But he leisurely replied: “Pray, do you suppose that the conqueror will place double panniers upon me?” The Old Man said, “No.” “Then what matters it to me, so long as I have to carry my panniers, whom I serve?”

Fable XVI.

When a rogue offers his name as surety in a doubtful case, he has no design to act straight-forwardly, but is looking to mischief.

A Stag asked a Sheep for a measure of wheat, a Wolf being his surety. The other, however, suspecting fraud, replied: “The Wolf has always been in the habit of plundering and absconding; you, of rushing out of sight with rapid flight: where am I to look for you both when the day comes?”

Fable XVII.

Liars generally pay the penalty of their guilt.

A Dog, who was a false accuser, having demanded of a Sheep a loaf of bread, which he affirmed he had entrusted to her charge; a Wolf, summoned as a witness, affirmed that not only one was owing but ten. Condemned on false testimony, the Sheep had to pay what she did not owe. A few days after, the Sheep saw the Wolf lying in a pit. “This,” said she, “is the reward of villany, sent by the Gods.”

Fable XVIII.

No one returns with good will to the place which has done him a mischief.

Her months completed, a Woman in labour lay upon the ground, uttering woful moans. Her Husband entreated her to lay her body on the bed, where she might with more ease deposit her ripe burden. “I feel far from confident,” said she, “that my pains can end in the place where they originated.”

Fable XIX.

The fair words of a wicked man are fraught with treachery, and the subjoined lines warn us to shun them.

A Bitch, ready to whelp, having entreated another that she might give birth to her offspring in her kennel, easily obtained the favour. Afterwards, on the other asking for her place back again, she renewed her entreaties, earnestly begging for a short time, until she might be enabled to lead forth her whelps when they had gained sufficient strength. This time being also expired, the other began more urgently to press for her abode: “If” said the tenant, “you can be a match for me and my litter, I will depart from the place.”

Fable XX.

An ill-judged project is not only without effect, but also lures mortals to their destruction.

Some Dogs espied a raw hide sunk in a river. In order that they might more easily get it out and devour it, they fell to drinking up the water; they burst, however, and perished before they could reach what they sought.

Fable XXI.

Whoever has fallen from a previous high estate, is in his calamity the butt even of cowards.

As a Lion, worn out with years, and deserted by his strength, lay drawing his last breath, a Wild Boar came up to him, with flashing tusks, and with a blow revenged an old affront. Next, with hostile horns, a Bull pierced the body of his foe. An Ass, on seeing the wild beast maltreated with impunity, tore up his forehead with his heels. On this, expiring, he said: “I have borne, with indignation, the insults of the brave; but in being inevitably forced to bear with you, disgrace to nature! I seem to die a double death.”

Fable XXII.

A Weasel, on being caught by a Man, wishing to escape impending death: “Pray,” said she, “do spare me, for ’tis I who keep your house clear of troublesome mice.” The Man made answer: “If you did so for my sake, it would be a reason for thanking you, and I should have granted you the pardon you entreat. But, inasmuch as you do your best that you may enjoy the scraps which they would have gnawed, and devour the mice as well, don’t think of placing your pretended services to my account;” and so saying, he put the wicked creature to death.

Those persons ought to recognize this as applicable to themselves, whose object is private advantage, and who boast to the unthinking of an unreal merit.

Fable XXIII.

The man who becomes liberal all of a sudden, gratifies the foolish, but for the wary spreads his toils in vain.

A Thief one night threw a crust of bread to a Dog, to try whether he could be gained by the proffered victuals: “Hark you,” said the Dog, “do you think to stop my tongue so that I may not bark for my master’s property? You are greatly mistaken. For this sudden liberality bids me be on the watch, that you may not profit by my neglect.” 

Fable XXIV.

The needy man, while affecting to imitate the powerful, comes to ruin.

Once on a time, a Frog espied an Ox in a meadow, and moved with envy at his vast bulk, puffed out her wrinkled skin, and then asked her young ones whether she was bigger than the Ox. They said “No.” Again, with still greater efforts, she distended her skin, and in like manner enquired which was the bigger: they said: “The Ox.” At last, while, full of indignation, she tried, with all her might, to puff herself out, she burst her body on the spot.

Fable XXV.

Those who give bad advice to discreet persons, both lose their pains, and are laughed to scorn.

It has been related, that Dogs drink at the river Nile running along, that they may not be seized by the Crocodiles. Accordingly, a Dog having begun to drink while running along, a Crocodile thus addressed him: “Lap as leisurely as you like; drink on; come nearer, and don’t be afraid,” said he. The other replied: “Egad, I would do so with all my heart, did I not know that you are eager for my flesh.”

Fable XXVI.

Harm should be done to no man; but if any one do an injury, this Fable shows that he may be visited with a like return.

A Fox is said to have given a Stork the first invitation to a banquet, and to have placed before her some thin broth in a flat dish, of which the hungry Stork could in no way get a taste. Having invited the Fox in return, she set before him a narrow-mouthed jar, full of minced meat: and, thrusting her beak into it, satisfied herself, while she tormented her guest with hunger; who, after having in vain licked the neck of the jar, as we have heard, thus addressed the foreign bird: “Every one is bound to bear patiently the results of his own example.”

Fable XXVII.

This Fable may be applied to the avaricious, and to those, who, born to a humble lot, affect to be called rich.

Grubbing up human bones, a Dog met with a Treasure; and, because he had offended the Gods the Manes, a desire for riches was inspired in him, that so he might pay the penalty due to the holy character of the place. Accordingly, while he was watching over the gold, forgetful of food, he was starved to death; on which a Vulture, standing over him, is reported to have said: “O Dog, you justly meet your death, who, begotten at a cross-road, and bred up on a dunghill, have suddenly coveted regal wealth.” 


Men, however high in station, ought to be on their guard against the lowly; because, to ready address, revenge lies near at hand.

An Eagle one day carried off the whelps of a Fox, and placed them in her nest before her young ones, for them to tear in pieces as food. The mother, following her, began to entreat that she would not cause such sorrow to her miserable suppliant. The other despised her, as being safe in the very situation of the spot. The Fox snatched from an altar a burning torch, and surrounded the whole tree with flames, intending to mingle anguish to her foe with the loss of her offspring. The Eagle, that she might rescue her young ones from the peril of death, in a suppliant manner restored to the Fox her whelps in safety.

Fable XXIX.

Fools often, while trying to raise a silly laugh, provoke others by gross affronts, and cause serious danger to themselves.

An Ass meeting a Boar: “Good morrow to you, brother,” says he. The other indignantly rejects the salutation, and enquires why he thinks proper to utter such an untruth. The Ass, with legs crouching down, replies: “If you deny that you are like me, at all events I have something very like your snout.” The Boar, just on the point of making a fierce attack, suppressed his rage, and said: “Revenge were easy for me, but I decline to be defiled with such dastardly blood.” 

Fable XXX.

When the powerful are at variance, the lowly are the sufferers.

A Frog, viewing from a marsh, a combat of some Bulls: “Alas!” said she, “what terrible destruction is threatening us.” Being asked by another why she said so, as the Bulls were contending for the sovereignty of the herd, and passed their lives afar from them: “Their habitation is at a distance,” said she, “and they are of a different kind; still, he who is expelled from the sovereignty of the meadow, will take to flight, and come to the secret hiding-places in the fens, and trample and crush us with his hard hoof. Thus does their fury concern our safety.”

Fable XXXI.

He who entrusts himself to the protection of a wicked man, while he seeks assistance, meets with destruction.

Some Pigeons, having often escaped from a Kite, and by their swiftness of wing avoided death, the spoiler had recourse to stratagem, and by a crafty device of this nature, deceived the harmless race. “Why do you prefer to live a life of anxiety, rather than conclude a treaty, and make me your king, who can ensure your safety from every injury?” They, putting confidence in him, entrusted themselves to the Kite, who, on obtaining the sovereignty, began to devour them one by one, and to exercise authority with his cruel talons. Then said one of those that were left: “Deservedly are we smitten.”

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