Fables of Phaedrus, The


To Eutychus.

If you have a desire, Eutychus, to read the little books of Phædrus, you must keep yourself disengaged from business, that your mind, at liberty, may relish the meaning of the lines. “But,” you say, “my genius is not of such great value, that a moment of time should be lost for it to my own pursuits.” There is no reason then why that should be touched by your hands which is not suited for ears so engaged. Perhaps you will say, “some holidays will come, which will invite me to study with mind unbent.” Will you rather, I ask you, read worthless ditties, than bestow attention upon your domestic concerns, give moments to your friends, your leisure to your wife, relax your mind, and refresh your body, in order that you may return more efficiently to your wonted duties? You must change your purpose and your mode of life, if you have thoughts of crossing the threshold of the Muses. I, whom my mother brought forth on the Pierian hill, upon which hallowed Mnemosyne, nine times fruitful, bore the choir of Muses to thundering Jove: although I was born almost in the very school itself, and have entirely erased all care for acquiring wealth from my breast, and with the approval of many have applied myself to these pursuits, am still with difficulty received into the choir of the Poets. What do you imagine must be the lot of him who seeks, with ceaseless vigilance, to amass great wealth, preferring the sweets of gain to the labours of learning?

But now, come of it what may (as Sinon said when he was brought before the King of Dardania), I will trace a third book with the pen of Æsop, and dedicate it to you, in acknowledgment of your honor and your goodness. If you read it, I shall rejoice; but if otherwise, at least posterity will have something with which to amuse themselves.

Now will I explain in a few words why Fabulous narrative was invented. Slavery, subject to the will of another, because it did not dare to say what it wished, couched its sentiments in Fables, and by pleasing fictions eluded censure. In place of its foot-path I have made a road, and have invented more than it left, selecting some points to my own misfortune. But if any other than Sejanus had been the informer, if any other the witness, if any other the judge, in fine, I should confess myself deserving of such severe woes; nor should I soothe my sorrow with these expedients. If any one shall make erroneous surmises, and apply to himself what is applicable to all in common, he will absurdly expose the secret convictions of his mind. And still, to him I would hold myself excused; for it is no intention of mine to point at individuals, but to describe life itself and the manners of mankind. Perhaps some one will say, that I undertake a weighty task. If Æsop of Phrygia, if Anacharsis of Scythia could, by their genius, found a lasting fame, why should I who am more nearly related to learned Greece, forsake in sluggish indolence the glories of my country? especially as the Thracian race numbers its own authors, and Apollo was the parent of Linus, a Muse of Orpheus, who with his song moved rocks and tamed wild beasts, and held the current of Hebrus in sweet suspense. Away then, envy! nor lament in vain, because to me the customary fame is due.

I have urged you to read these lines; I beg that you will give me your sincere opinion of them with your well-known candour.

Fable I.

An Old Woman espied a Cask, which had been drained to the dregs, lying on the ground, and which still spread forth from its ennobled shell a delightful smell of the Falernian lees. After she had greedily snuffed it up her nostrils with all her might; “O delicious fragrance,” said she, “how good I should say were your former contents, when the remains of them are such!”

What this refers to let him say who knows me.

Fable II.

Repayment in kind is generally made by those who are despised.

A Panther had once inadvertently fallen into a pit. The rustics saw her; some belaboured her with sticks, others pelted her with stones; while some, on the other hand, moved with compassion, seeing that she must die even though no one should hurt her, threw her some bread to sustain existence. Night comes on apace; homeward they go without concern, making sure of finding her dead on the following day. She, however, after having recruited her failing strength, with a swift bound effected her escape from the pit, and with hurried pace hastened to her den. A few days intervening, she sallies forth, slaughters the flocks, kills the shepherds themselves, and laying waste every side, rages with unbridled fury. Upon this those who had shown mercy to the beast, alarmed for their safety, made no demur to the loss of their flocks, and begged only for their lives. But she thus answered them: “I remember him who attacked me with stones, and him who gave me bread; lay aside your fears; I return as an enemy to those only who injured me.”

Fable III.

One taught by experience is proverbially said to be more quick-witted than a wizard, but the reason is not told; which, now for the first time, shall be made known by my Fable.

The ewes of a certain Man who reared flocks, brought forth lambs with human heads. Dreadfully alarmed at the prodigy, he runs full of concern to the soothsayers. One answers that it bears reference to the life of the owner, and that the danger must be averted with a victim. Another, no wiser, affirms that it is meant that his wife is an adultress, and his children are spurious; but that it can be atoned for by a victim of greater age. Why enlarge? They all differ in opinions, and greatly aggravate the anxiety of the Man. Æsop being at hand, a sage of nice discernment, whom nature could never deceive by appearances, remarked:— “If you wish, Farmer, to take due precautions against this portent, find wives for your shepherds.”

Fable IV.

A man seeing an Ape hanging up at a Butcher’s among the rest of his commodities and provisions, enquired how it might taste; on which the Butcher, joking, replied: “Just as the head is, such, I warrant, is the taste.”

This I deem to be said more facetiously than correctly; for on the one hand I have often found the good-looking to be very knaves, and on the other I have known many with ugly features to be most worthy men.

Fable V.

Success leads many astray to their ruin.

An Insolent Fellow threw a stone at Æsop. “Well done,” said he, and then gave him a penny, thus continuing: “Upon my faith I have got no more, but I will show you where you can get some; see, yonder comes a rich and influential man; throw a stone at him in the same way, and you will receive a due reward.” The other, being persuaded, did as he was advised. His daring impudence, however, was disappointed of its hope, for, being seized, he paid the penalty on the cross.

Fable VI.

A Fly sat on the pole of a chariot, and rebuking the Mule: “How slow you are,” said she; “will you not go faster? Take care that I don’t prick your neck with my sting.” The Mule made answer: “I am not moved by your words, but I fear him who, sitting on the next seat, guides my yoke with his pliant whip, and governs my mouth with the foam-covered reins. Therefore, cease your frivolous impertinence, for I well know when to go at a gentle pace, and when to run.”

In this Fable, he may be deservedly ridiculed, who, without any strength, gives utterance to vain threats.

Fable VII.

I will shew in a few words how sweet is Liberty.

A Wolf, quite starved with hunger, chanced to meet a well-fed Dog, and as they stopped to salute each other, “Pray,” said the Wolf,how is it that you are so sleek? or on what food have you made so much flesh? I, who am far stronger, am perishing with hunger.” The Dog frankly replied: “You may enjoy the same condition, if you can render the like service to your master.” “What is it?” said the other. “To be the guardian of his threshold, and to protect the house from thieves at night.” “I am quite ready for that,” said the Wolf; “at present I have to endure snow and showers, dragging on a wretched existence in the woods. How much more pleasant for me to be living under a roof, and, at my ease, to be stuffed with plenty of victuals.” “Come along, then, with me,” said the Dog. As they were going along, the Wolf observed the neck of the Dog, where it was worn with the chain. “Whence comes this, my friend?” “Oh, it is nothing.” “Do tell me, though.” “Because I appear to be fierce, they fasten me up in the day-time, that I may be quiet when it is light, and watch when night comes; unchained at midnight, I wander wherever I please. Bread is brought me without my asking; from his own table my master gives me bones; the servants throw me bits, and whatever dainties each person leaves; thus, without trouble on my part, is my belly filled.” “Well, if you have a mind to go anywhere, are you at liberty?” “Certainly not,” replied the Dog. “Then, Dog, enjoy what you boast of; I would not be a king, to lose my liberty.”

Fable VIII.

Warned by this lesson, often examine yourself.

A certain Man had a very ugly Daughter, and also a Son, remarkable for his handsome features. These, diverting themselves, as children do, chanced to look into a mirror, as it lay upon their mother’s chair. He praises his own good looks; she is vexed, and cannot endure the raillery of her boasting brother, construing everything (and how could she do otherwise?) as a reproach against herself. Accordingly, off she runs to her Father, to be avenged on him in her turn, and with great rancour, makes a charge against the Son, how that he, though a male, has been meddling with a thing that belongs to the women. Embracing them both, kissing them, and dividing his tender affection between the two, he said: “I wish you both to use the mirror every day: you, that you may not spoil your beauty by vicious conduct; you, that you may make amends by your virtues for your looks.”

Fable IX.

The name of a friend is common; but fidelity is rarely found.

Socrates having laid for himself the foundation of a small house (a man, whose death I would not decline, if I could acquire similar fame, and like him I could yield to envy, if I might be but acquitted when ashes); one of the people, no matter who, amongst such passing remarks as are usual in these cases, asked: “Why do you, so famed as you are, build so small a house?”

“I only wish,” he replied, “I could fill it with real friends.”

Fable X.

It is dangerous alike to believe or to disbelieve. Of either fact, I will briefly lay before you an instance.

Hippolytus met his death, because his step-mother was believed: because Cassandra was not believed, Troy fell. Therefore, we ought to examine strictly into the truth of a matter, rather than suffer an erroneous impression to pervert our judgment. But, that I may not weaken this truth by referring to fabulous antiquity, I will relate to you a thing that happened within my own memory.

A certain married Man, who was very fond of his Wife, having now provided the white toga for his Son, was privately taken aside by his Freedman, who hoped that he should be substituted as his next heir, and who, after telling many lies about the youth, and still more about the misconduct of the chaste Wife, added, what he knew would especially grieve one so fond, that a gallant was in the habit of paying her visits, and that the honor of his house was stained with base adultery. Enraged at the supposed guilt of his Wife, the husband pretended a journey to his country-house, and privately stayed behind in town; then at night he suddenly entered at the door, making straight to his Wife’s apartment, in which the mother had ordered her son to sleep, keeping a strict eye over his ripening years. While they are seeking for a light, while the servants are hurrying to and fro, unable to restrain the violence of his raging passion, he approaches the bed, and feels a head in the dark. When he finds the hair cut close, he plunges his sword into the sleeper’s breast, caring for nothing, so he but avenge his injury. A light being brought, at the same instant he beholds his son, and his chaste wife sleeping in her apartment; who, fast locked in her first sleep, had heard nothing: on the spot he inflicted punishment on himself for his guilt, and fell upon the sword which a too easy belief had unsheathed. The accusers indicted the woman, and dragged her to Rome, before the Centumviri. Innocent as she was, dark suspicion weighed heavily against her, because she had become possessor of his property: her patrons stand and boldly plead the cause of the guiltless woman. The judges then besought the Emperor Augustus that he would aid them in the discharge of their oath, as the intricacy of the case had embarrassed them. After he had dispelled the clouds raised by calumny, and had discovered a sure source of truth: “Let the Freedman,” said he, “the cause of the mischief, suffer punishment; but as for her, at the same instant bereft of a son, and deprived of a husband, I deem her to be pitied rather than condemned. If the father of the family had thoroughly enquired into the charge preferred, and had shrewdly sifted the lying accusations, he would not, by a dismal crime, have ruined his house from the very foundation.”

Let the ear despise nothing, nor yet let it accord implicit belief at once: since not only do those err whom you would be far from suspecting, but those who do not err are sometimes falsely and maliciously accused.

This also may be a warning to the simple, not to form a judgment on anything according to the opinion of another; for the different aims of mortals either follow the bias of their goodwill or their prejudice. He alone will be correctly estimated by you, whom you judge of by personal experience.

These points I have enlarged upon, as by too great brevity I have offended some.

Fable XI.

A Eunuch had a dispute with a scurrilous fellow, who, in addition to obscene remarks and insolent abuse, reproached him with the misfortune of his mutilated person. “Look you,” said the Eunuch, “this is the only point as to which I am effectually staggered, forasmuch as I want the evidences of integrity. But why, simpleton, do you charge me with the faults of fortune? That alone is really disgraceful to a man, which he has deserved to suffer.”

Fable XII.

A young Cock, while seeking for food on a dunghill, found a Pearl, and exclaimed: “What a fine thing are you to be lying in so unseemly a place. If any one sensible of your value had espied you here, you would long ago have returned to your former brilliancy. And it is I who have found you, I to whom food is far preferable! I can be of no use to you or you to me.”

This I relate for those who have no relish for me.

Fable XIII.

Some Bees had made their combs in a lofty oak. Some lazy Drones asserted that these belonged to them. The cause was brought into court, the Wasp sitting as judge; who, being perfectly acquainted with either race, proposed to the two parties these terms: “Your shape is not unlike, and your colour is similar; so that the affair clearly and fairly becomes a matter of doubt. But that my sacred duty may not be at fault through insufficiency of knowledge, each of you take hives, and pour your productions into the waxen cells; that from the flavour of the honey and the shape of the comb, the maker of them, about which the present dispute exists, may be evident.” The Drones decline; the proposal pleases the Bees. Upon this, the Wasp pronounces sentence to the following effect: “It is evident who cannot, and who did, make them; wherefore, to the Bees I restore the fruits of their labours.”

This Fable I should have passed by in silence, if the Drones had not refused the proposed stipulation.

Fable XIV.

An Athenian seeing Æsop in a crowd of boys at play with nuts, stopped and laughed at him for a madman. As soon as the Sage,—a laugher at others rather than one to be laughed at,—perceived this, he placed an unstrung bow in the middle of the road: “Hark you, wise man,” said he, “unriddle what I have done.” The people gather round. The man torments his invention a long time, but cannot make out the reason of the proposed question. At last he gives up. Upon this, the victorious Philosopher says: “You will soon break the bow, if you always keep it bent; but if you loosen it, it will be fit for use when you want it.”

Thus ought recreation sometimes to be given to the mind, that it may return to you better fitted for thought.

Fable XV.

A Dog said to a Lamb bleating among some She-Goats: “Simpleton, you are mistaken; your mother is not here;” and pointed out some Sheep at a distance, in a flock by themselves. “I am not looking for her,” said the Lamb, “who, when she thinks fit, conceives, then carries her unknown burden for a certain number of months, and at last empties out the fallen bundle; but for her who, presenting her udder, nourishes me, and deprives her young ones of milk that I may not go without.” “Still,” said the Dog, “she ought to be preferred who brought you forth.” “Not at all: how was she to know whether I should be born black or white? However, suppose she did know; seeing I was born a male, truly she conferred a great obligation on me in giving me birth, that I might expect the butcher every hour. Why should she, who had no power in engendering me, be preferred to her who took pity on me as I lay, and of her own accord shewed me a welcome affection? It is kindliness makes parents, not the ordinary course of Nature.”

By these lines the author meant to show that men are averse to fixed rules, but are won by kind services.

Fable XVI.

He who does not conform to courtesy, mostly pays the penalty of his superciliousness.

A Grasshopper was making a chirping that was disagreeable to an Owl, who was wont to seek her living in the dark, and in the day-time to take her rest in a hollow tree. She was asked to cease her noise, but she began much more loudly to send forth her note; entreaties urged again only set her on still more. The Owl, when she saw she had no remedy, and that her words were slighted, attacked the chatterer with this stratagem: “As your song, which one might take for the tones of Apollo’s lyre, will not allow me to go to sleep, I have a mind to drink some nectar which Pallas lately gave me; if you do not object, come, let us drink together.” The other, who was parched with thirst, as soon as she found her voice complimented, eagerly flew up. The Owl, coming forth from her hollow, seized the trembling thing, and put her to death.

Thus what she had refused when alive, she gave when dead.

Fable XVII.

The Gods in days of yore made choice of such Trees as they wished to be under their protection. The Oak pleased Jupiter, the Myrtle Venus, the Laurel Phœbus, the Pine Cybele, the lofty Poplar Hercules. Minerva, wondering why they had chosen the barren ones, enquired the reason. Jupiter answered: “That we may not seem to sell the honor for the fruit.” “Now, so heaven help me,” said she, “let any one say what he likes, but the Olive is more pleasing to me on account of its fruit.” Then said the Father of the Gods and the Creator of men: “O daughter, it is with justice that you are called wise by all; unless what we do is useful, vain is our glory.”

This little Fable admonishes us to do nothing that is not profitable.

Fable XVIII.

A Peacock came to Juno, complaining sadly that she had not given to him the song of the Nightingale; that it was the admiration of every ear, while he himself was laughed at the very instant he raised his voice. The Goddess, to console him, replied: “But you surpass the nightingale in beauty, you surpass him in size; the brilliancy of the emerald shines upon your neck; and you unfold a tail begemmed with painted plumage.” “Wherefore give me,” he retorted, “a beauty that is dumb, if I am surpassed in voice?” “By the will of the Fates,” said she, “have your respective qualities been assigned; beauty to you, strength to the Eagle, melody to the Nightingale, to the Raven presages, unpropitious omens to the Crow; all of these are contented with their own endowments.”

Covet not that which has not been granted you, lest your baffled hopes sink down to useless repinings.

Fable XIX.

When Æsop was the only servant of his master, he was ordered to prepare dinner earlier than usual. Accordingly, he went round to several houses, seeking for fire, and at last found a place at which to light his lantern. Then as he had made a rather long circuit, he shortened the way back, for he went home straight through the Forum. There a certain Busybody in the crowd said to him: “Æsop, why with a light at mid-day?” “I’m in search of a man,” said he; and went hastily homewards.

If the inquisitive fellow reflected on this answer, he must have perceived that the sage did not deem him a man, who could so unseasonably rally him when busy.

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