Fables of Phaedrus, The


To Particulo.

When I had determined to put an end to my labours, with the view that there might be material enough left for others, in my mind I silently condemned my resolve. For even if there is any one desirous of the like fame, how will he guess what it is I have omitted, so as to wish to hand down that same to posterity; since each man has a turn of thinking of his own, and a tone peculiar to himself. It was not, therefore, any fickleness, but assured grounds, that set me upon writing again. Wherefore, Particulo, as you are amused by Fables (which I will style “Æsopian,” not “those of Æsop;” for whereas he published but few, I have brought out a great many, employing the old style, but with modern subjects), now at your leisure you shall peruse a Fourth Book. If envy shall choose to carp at it, so long as it cannot imitate, why let it carp. I have gained glory enough, in that you, and others like to you, have quoted my words in your writings, and have thought me worthy of being long remembered. Why should I stand in need of the applause of the illiterate?

Fable I.

He who has been born to ill luck, not only passes an unhappy life, but even after death the cruel rigour of destiny pursues him.

The Galli, priests of Cybele, were in the habit, on their begging excursions, of leading about an Ass, to carry their burdens. When he was dead with fatigue and blows, his hide being stripped off, they made themselves tambourines therewith. Afterwards, on being asked by some one what they had done with their favourite, they answered in these words: “He fancied that after death he would rest in quiet; but see, dead as he is, fresh blows are heaped upon him.”

Fable II.

This way of writing seems to you facetious; and no doubt, while we have nothing of more importance, we do sport with the pen. But examine these Fables with attention, and what useful lessons will you find concealed under them! Things are not always what they seem; first appearances deceive many: few minds understand what skill has hidden in an inmost corner. That I may not appear to have said this without reason, I will add a Fable about the Weasel and the Mice.

A Weasel, worn out with years and old age, being unable to overtake the active Mice, rolled herself in flour, and threw herself carelessly along in a dark spot. A Mouse, thinking her food, jumped upon her, and, being caught, was put to death: another in like manner perished, and then a third. Some others having followed, an old brindled fellow came, who had escaped snares and mouse-traps full oft; and viewing from afar the stratagem of the crafty foe: “So fare you well,” said he, “you that are lying there, as you are flour.”

Fable III.

Urged by hunger, a Fox, leaping with all her might, tried to reach a cluster of Grapes upon a lofty vine. When she found she could not reach them, she left them, saying: “They are not ripe yet; I don’t like to eat them while sour.”

Those who disparage what they cannot perform, ought to apply this lesson to themselves.

Fable IV.

While a Wild Boar was wallowing, he muddied the shallow water, at which a Horse had been in the habit of quenching his thirst. Upon this, a disagreement arose. The Horse, enraged with the beast, sought the aid of man, and, raising him on his back, returned against the foe. After the Horseman, hurling his javelins, had slain the Boar, he is said to have spoken thus: “I am glad that I gave assistance at your entreaties, for I have captured a prey, and have learned how useful you are;” and so compelled him, unwilling as he was, to submit to the rein. Then said the Horse, sorrowing: “Fool that I am! while seeking to revenge a trifling matter, I have met with slavery.”

This Fable will admonish the passionate, that it is better to be injured with impunity, than to put ourselves in the power of another.

Fable V.

I will show to posterity, by a short story, that there is often more merit in one man than in a multitude.

A Person, at his death, left three Daughters; one handsome, and hunting for the men with her eyes; the second, an industrious spinner of wool, frugal, and fond of a country life; the third, given to wine, and very ugly. Now the old man made their Mother his heir, on this condition, that she should distribute his whole fortune equally among the three, but in such a manner that they should not possess or enjoy what was given them; and further, that as soon as they should cease to have the property which they had received, they should pay over to their Mother a hundred thousand sesterces. The rumour spreads all over Athens. The anxious Mother consults the learned in the law. No one can explain in what way they are not to possess what has been given, or have the enjoyment of it; and then again, in what way those who have received nothing, are to pay money. After a long time had been wasted, and still the meaning of the will could not be understood, the Parent, disregarding the strict letter of the law, consulted equity. For the Wanton, she sets aside the garments, female trinkets, silver bathing-vessels, eunuchs, and beardless boys: for the Worker in wool, the fields, cattle, farm, labourers, oxen, beasts of burden, and implements of husbandry: for the Drinker, a store-room, well stocked with casks of old wine, a finely finished house, and delightful gardens. When she was intending to distribute what was thus set apart for each, and the public approved, who knew them well; Æsop suddenly stood up in the midst of the multitude, and exclaimed: “O! if consciousness remained to their buried father, how would he grieve that the people of Athens are unable to interpret his will!”

On this, being questioned, he explained the error of them all: “The house and the furniture, with the fine gardens, and the old wines, give to the Worker in wool, so fond of a country life. The clothes, the pearls, the attendants, and other things, make over to her who spends her life in luxury. The fields, the vines, and the flocks, with the shepherds, present to the Wanton. Not one will be able to retain possession of what is alien to her taste. The Ungainly one will sell her wardrobe to procure wine; the Wanton will part with the lands to procure fine clothes; and she who delights in cattle, and attends to her spinning, will get rid of her luxurious abode at any price. Thus, no one will possess what was given, and they will pay to their Mother the sum named from the price of the things, which each of them has sold.”

Thus did the sagacity of one man find out what had baffled the superficial enquiries of many.

Fable VI.

When the Mice, overcome by the army of the Weasels, (whose History is painted in our taverns), took to flight, and crowded in trepidation about their narrow lurking-holes, with difficulty getting in, they managed, however, to escape death. Their Leaders, who had fastened horns to their heads, in order that they might have a conspicuous sign for their troops to follow in battle, stuck fast at the entrance, and were captured by the enemy. The victor, sacrificing them with greedy teeth, plunged them into the Tartarean recesses of his capacious paunch.

Whenever a people is reduced to the last extremity, the high position of its chiefs is in danger; the humble commonalty easily finds safety in obscurity.

Fable VII.

You, fastidious critic, who carp at my writings, and disdain to read trifles of this kind, endure with some small patience this little book, while I smooth down the severity of your brow, and Æsop comes forward in a new and more lofty style.

Would that the pine had never fallen on the summits of Pelion under the Thessalian axe! and that Argus had never, with the aid of Pallas, invented a way boldly to meet certain death, in the ship which, to the destruction of Greeks and Barbarians, first laid open the bays of the inhospitable Euxine. For both had the house of the proud Æetes to lament it, and the realms of Pelias fell by the guilt of Medea, who, after concealing by various methods the cruelty of her disposition, there effected her escape, by means of the limbs of her brother, and here embrued the hands of the daughters of Pelias in their father’s blood.

What think you of this? “This, too, is mere folly,” say you, “and is an untrue story; for long before this, Minos, of more ancient date, subjected the Ægæan seas with his fleet, and by seasonable correction, punished piratical attacks.” What then can I possibly do for you, my Cato of a Reader, if neither Fables nor Tragic Stories suit your taste? Do not be too severe upon all literary men, lest they repay you the injury with interest.

This is said to those who are over-squeamish in their folly, and, to gain a reputation for wisdom, would censure heaven itself.

Fable VIII.

Let him who with greedy teeth attacks one who can bite harder, consider himself described in this Fable.

A Viper came into a smith’s workshop; and while on the search whether there was anything fit to eat, fastened her teeth upon a File. That, however, disdainfully exclaimed “Why, fool, do you try to wound me with your teeth, who am in the habit of gnawing asunder every kind of iron?”

Fable IX.

As soon as a crafty man has fallen into danger, he seeks to make his escape by the sacrifice of another.

A Fox, through inadvertence, having fallen into a well, and being closed in by the sides which were too high for her, a Goat parched with thirst came to the same spot, and asked whether the water was good, and in plenty. The other, devising a stratagem, replied: “Come down, my friend: such is the goodness of the water, that my pleasure in drinking cannot be satisfied.” Longbeard descended; then the Fox, mounting on his high horns, escaped from the well, and left the Goat to stick fast in the enclosed mud.

Fable X.

Jupiter has loaded us with a couple of Wallets: the one, filled with our own vices, he has placed at our backs, the other, heavy with those of others, he has hung before.

From this circumstance, we are not able to see our own faults: but as soon as others make a slip, we are ready to censure.

Fable XI.

A Thief lighted his Lamp at the altar of Jupiter, and then plundered it by the help of its own light. Just as he was taking his departure, laden with the results of his sacrilege, the Holy Place suddenly sent forth these words: “Although these were the gifts of the wicked, and to me abominable, so much so that I care not to be spoiled of them, still, profane man, thou shalt pay the penalty with thy life, when hereafter, the day of punishment, appointed by fate, arrives. But, that our fire, by means of which piety worships the awful Gods, may not afford its light to crime, I forbid that henceforth there shall be any such interchange of light.” Accordingly, to this day, it is neither lawful for a lamp to be lighted at the fire of the Gods, nor yet a sacrifice kindled from a lamp.

No other than he who invented this Fable, could explain how many useful lessons it affords. In the first place, it teaches that those whom you yourself have brought up, may often be found the most hostile to you: then again, it shows that crimes are punished not through the wrath of the Gods, but at the time appointed by the Fates: lastly, it warns the good to use nothing in common with the wicked.

Fable XII.
Hercules and Plutus.

Riches are deservedly despised by a man of worth, because a well-stored chest intercepts praise from its true objects.

When Hercules was received into heaven as the reward of his virtues, and saluted in turn the Gods who were congratulating him, on Plutus approaching, who is the child of Fortune, he turned away his eyes. His father, Jupiter, enquired the reason: “I hate him,” says he, “because he is the friend of the wicked, and at the same time corrupts all by presenting the temptation of gain.”

Fable XIII.

Nothing is more advantageous to a man than to speak the truth; a maxim that ought indeed to be approved of by all; but still sincerity is frequently impelled to its own destruction.

The Lion having made himself king of the wild beasts, and wishing to acquire the reputation of equity, abandoned his former course of rapine, and, content among them with a moderate supply of food, distributed hallowed justice with incorruptible fidelity. But after second thoughts began to prevail*****

(The rest is lost).

Fable XIV.



A fictione veretri linguam mulieris,

Affinitatem traxit inde obscœnitas.

Rogavit alter, tribadas et molles mares

Quæ ratio procreasset? Exposuit senex.

Idem Prometheus auctor vulgi fictilis

(Qui simul offendit ad fortunam, frangitur,)

Naturæ partes, veste quas celat pudor,

Quum separatim toto finxisset die,

Aptare mox ut posset corporibus suis,

Ad cœnam est invitatus subito a Libero;

Ubi irrigatus multo venas nectare

Sero domum est reversus titubanti pede.

Tum semisomno corde et errore ebrio,

Applicuit virginale generi masculo,

Et masculina membra applicuit fæminis;

Ita nunc libido pravo fruitur gaudio.

Fable XV.

The She-Goats having obtained of Jupiter the favour of a beard, the He-Goats, full of concern, began to be indignant that the females rivalled them in their dignity. “Suffer them,” said the God, “to enjoy their empty honours, and to use the badge that belongs to your rank, so long as they are not sharers in your courage.”

This Fable teaches you to bear that those who are inferior to you in merit should be like you in outside appearances.

Fable XVI.

On a certain man complaining of his adverse fortune, Æsop, for the purpose of consoling him, invented this Fable.

A ship which had been tossed by a fierce tempest (while the passengers were all in tears, and filled with apprehensions of death) on the day suddenly changing to a serene aspect, began to be borne along in safety upon the buoyant waves, and to inspire the mariners with an excess of gladness. On this, the Pilot, who had been rendered wise by experience, remarked: “We ought to be moderate in our joy, and to complain with caution; for the whole of life is a mixture of grief and joy.”

Fable XVII.

The Dogs once sent Ambassadors to Jupiter, to entreat of him a happier lot in life, and that he would deliver them from the insulting treatment of man, who gave them bread mixed with bran, and satisfied their most urgent hunger with filthy offal. The ambassadors set out, but with no hasty steps, while snuffing with their nostrils for food in every filth. Being summoned, they fail to make their appearance. After some difficulty Mercury finds them at last, and brings them up in confusion. As soon, however, as they saw the countenance of mighty Jove, in their fright they bewrayed the whole palace. Out they go, driven away with sticks; but great Jove forbade that they should be sent back. The Dogs, wondering that their Ambassadors did not return, and suspecting that they had committed something disgraceful, after a while ordered others to be appointed to aid them. Rumour soon betrayed the former Ambassadors. Dreading that something of a similar nature may happen a second time, they stuff the Dogs behind with perfumes, and plenty of them. They give their directions; the Ambassadors are dispatched; at once they take their departure. They beg for an audience, and forthwith obtain it. Then did the most mighty Father of the Gods take his seat on his throne, and brandish his thunders; all things began to shake. The Dogs in alarm, so sudden was the crash, in a moment let fall the perfumes with their dung. All cry out, that the affront must be avenged. But before proceeding to punishment, thus spoke Jupiter:— “It is not for a King to send Ambassadors away, nor is it a difficult matter to inflict a proper punishment on the offence; but by way of judgment this is the reward you shall have. I don’t forbid their return, but they shall be famished with hunger, lest they be not able to keep their stomachs in order. And as for those who sent such despicable Ambassadors as you, they shall never be free from the insults of man.”

And so it is, that even now the Dogs of the present day are in expectation of their Ambassadors. When one of them sees a strange Dog appear, he snuffs at his tail.

Fable XVIII.

He who gives relief to the wicked has to repent it before long.

A Man took up a Snake stiffened with frost, and warmed her in his bosom, being compassionate to his own undoing; for when she had recovered, she instantly killed the Man. On another one asking her the reason of this crime, she made answer: “That people may learn not to assist the wicked.”

Fable XIX.

While a Fox, digging a lair, was throwing out the earth, and making deeper and more numerous burrows, she came to the farthest recesses of a Dragon’s den, who was watching some treasure hidden there. As soon as the Fox perceived him, she began:— “In the first place, I beg that you will pardon my unintentional intrusion; and next, as you see clearly enough that gold is not suited to my mode of life, have the goodness to answer me: what profit do you derive from this toil, or what is the reward, so great that you should be deprived of sleep, and pass your life in darkness?” “None at all,” replied the other; “but this task has been assigned me by supreme Jove.” “Then you neither take anything for yourself, nor give to another?” “Such is the will of the Fates.” “Don’t be angry then, if I say frankly: the man is born under the displeasure of the Gods who is like you.”

As you must go to that place to which others have gone before, why in the blindness of your mind do you torment your wretched existence? To you I address myself, Miser, joy of your heir, who rob the Gods of their incense, yourself of food; who hear with sorrow the musical sound of the lyre; whom the joyous notes of the pipes torment; from whom the price of provisions extorts a groan; who, while adding some farthings to your estate, offend heaven by your sordid perjuries; who are for cutting down every expense at your funeral, for fear Libitina should be at all a gainer at the expense of your property.

Fable XX.

Although malice may dissemble for the present, I am still perfectly aware what judgment it will think proper to arrive at. Whatever it shall here deem worthy to be transmitted to posterity, it will say belongs to Æsop; if it shall be not so well pleased with any portion, it will, for any wager, contend that the same was composed by me. One who thus thinks, I would refute once for all by this my answer: whether this work is silly, or whether it is worthy of praise, he was the inventor: my hand has brought it to perfection. But let us pursue our purpose in the order we proposed.

Fable XXI.

A learned man has always a fund of riches in himself.

Simonides, who wrote such excellent lyric poems, the more easily to support his poverty, began to make a tour of the celebrated cities of Asia, singing the praises of victors for such reward as he might receive. After he had become enriched by this kind of gain, he resolved to return to his native land by sea; (for he was born, it is said, in the island of Ceos). Accordingly he embarked in a ship, which a dreadful tempest, together with its own rottenness, caused to founder at sea. Some gathered together their girdles, others their precious effects, which formed the support of their existence. One who was over inquisitive, remarked: “Are you going to save none of your property, Simonides?” He made reply: “All my possessions are about me.” A few only made their escape by swimming, for the majority, being weighed down by their burdens, perished. Some thieves make their appearance, and seize what each person has saved, leaving them naked. Clazomenæ, an ancient city, chanced to be near; to which the shipwrecked persons repaired. Here a person devoted to the pursuits of literature, who had often read the lines of Simonides, and was a very great admirer of him though he had never seen him, knowing from his very language who he was, received him with the greatest pleasure into his house, and furnished him with clothes, money, and attendants. The others meanwhile were carrying about their pictures, begging for victuals. Simonides chanced to meet them; and, as soon as he saw them, remarked: “I told you that all my property was about me; what you endeavoured to save is lost.”

Fable XXII.

A Mountain was in labour, sending forth dreadful groans, and there was in the districts the highest expectation. After all, it brought forth a Mouse.

This is designed for you, who, when you have threatened great things, produce nothing.

Fable XXIII.

An Ant and a Fly were contending with great warmth which was of the greater importance. The Fly was the first to begin: “Can you possibly compare with my endowments? When a sacrifice is made, I am the first to taste of the entrails that belong to the Gods. I pass my time among the altars, I wander through all the temples; soon as I have espied it, I seat myself on the head of a king; and I taste of the chaste kisses of matrons. I labour not, and yet enjoy the nicest of things: what like to this, good rustic, falls to your lot?” “Eating with the Gods,” said the Ant, “is certainly a thing to be boasted of; but by him who is invited, not him who is loathed as an intruder. You talk about kings and the kisses of matrons. While I am carefully heaping up a stock of grain for winter, I see you feeding on filth about the walls. You frequent the altars; yes, and are driven away as often as you come. You labour not; therefore it is that you have nothing when you stand in need of it. And, further, you boast about what modesty ought to conceal. You tease me in summer; when winter comes you are silent. While the cold is shrivelling you up and putting you to death, a well-stored abode harbours me. Surely I have now pulled down your pride enough.”

A Fable of this nature distinctly points out the characters of those who set themselves off with unfounded praises, and of those whose virtues gain solid fame.

Fable XXIV.

I have said, above, how greatly learning is esteemed among men: I will now hand down to posterity how great is the honor paid to it by the Gods.

Simonides, the very same of whom I have before made mention, agreed, at a fixed price, to write a panegyric for a certain Pugilist, who had been victorious: accordingly he sought retirement. As the meagreness of his subject cramped his imagination, he used, according to general custom, the license of the Poet, and introduced the twin stars of Leda, citing them as an example of similar honours. He finished the Poem according to contract, but received only a third part of the sum agreed upon. On his demanding the rest: “They,” said he, “will give it you whose praises occupy the other two-thirds; but, that I may feel convinced that you have not departed in anger, promise to dine with me, as I intend to-day to invite my kinsmen, in the number of whom I reckon you.” Although defrauded, and smarting under the injury, in order that he might not, by parting on bad terms, break off all friendly intercourse, he promised that he would. At the hour named he returned, and took his place at table. The banquet shone joyously with its cups; the house resounded with gladness, amid vast preparations, when, on a sudden, two young men, covered with dust, and dripping with perspiration, their bodies of more than human form, requested one of the servants to call Simonides to them, and say that it was of consequence to him to make no delay. The man, quite confused, called forth Simonides; and hardly had he put one foot out of the banquetting room, when suddenly the fall of the ceiling crushed the rest, and no young men were to be seen at the gate.

When the circumstances of the story I have told were made known, all were persuaded that the personal intervention of the Divinities had saved the Poet’s life by way of reward.


There are still remaining many things which I might say, and there is a copious abundance of subjects; but though witticisms, well-timed, are pleasing; out of place, they disgust. Wherefore, most upright Particulo (a name destined to live in my writings, so long as a value shall continue to be set upon the Latin literature), if you like not my genius, at least approve my brevity, which has the more just claim to be commended, seeing how wearisome Poets usually are.

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