Monday, March 19, 2012

Æsop's Fables, by Æsop - Full Text

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One Hundred and Eleven

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Printed at the Chiswick Press,






So much has been already said concerning Æsop and his writings, both by ancient and modern authors, that the subject seems to be quite exhausted. The different conjectures, opinions, traditions, and forgeries, which from time to time we have had given to us of him, would fill a large volume: but they are, for the most part, so inconsistent and absurd, that it would be but a dull amusement for the reader to be led into such a maze of uncertainty: since Herodotus, the most ancient Greek historian, did not flourish till near an hundred years after Æsop.
As for his Life, with which we are entertained in so complete a manner, before most of the editions of his Fables, it was invented by one Maximus Planudes, a Greek Monk; and, if we may judge of him from that composition, just as judicious and learned a person, as the rest of his fraternity are at this day observed to be. Sure there never were so many blunders and childish dreams mixed up together, as are to be met with in the short compass of that piece. For a Monk, he might be very good and wise, but in point of history and chronology, he shows himself to be very ignorant. He brings Æsop to Babylon, in the reign of king Lycerus, a king of his own making; for his name is not to be found in any catalogue, from Nabonassar to Alexander the Great; Nabonadius, most probably, reigning in Babylon about that time. He sends him into Egypt in the days of Nectanebo, who was not in being till two hundred years afterwards; with some other gross mistakes of that kind, which sufficiently show us that this Life was a work of invention, and that the inventor was a bungling[viii]poor creature. He never mentions Æsop's being at Athens; though Phædrus speaks of him as one that lived the greatest part of his time there; and it appears that he had a statue erected in that city to his memory, done by the hand of the famed Lysippus. He writes of him as living at Samos, and interesting himself in a public capacity in the administration of the affairs of that place; yet, takes not the least notice of the Fable which Aristotle[1] tells us he spoke in behalf of a famous Demagogue there, when he was impeached for embezzling the public money; nor does he indeed give us the least hint of such a circumstance. An ingenious man might have laid together all the materials of this kind that are to be found in good old authors, and, by the help of a bright invention, connected and worked them up with success; we might have swallowed such an imposition well enough, because we should not have known how to contradict it: but in Planudes' case, the imposture is doubly discovered; first, as he has the unquestioned authority of antiquity against him; secondly, (and if the other did not condemn him) as he has introduced the witty, discreet, judicious Æsop, quibbling in a strain of low monastic waggery, and as archly dull as a Mountebank's Jester.
That there was a Life of Æsop, either written or traditionary, before Aristotle's time, is pretty plain; and that there was something of that kind extant in Augustus' reign, is, I think, as undoubted; since Phædrus mentions many transactions of his, during his abode at Athens. But it is as certain, that Planudes met with nothing of this kind; or, at least, that he met not with the accounts with which they were furnished, because of the omissions before-mentioned; and consequently with none so authentic and good. He seems to have thrown together some merry conceits which occurred to him in the course of his reading, such as he thought were worthy of Æsop, and very confidently obtrudes them upon us for his. But, when at last he brings him to Delphos (where he was put to death by being thrown down from a precipice) that the Delphians might have some colour of justice for what they intended to do, he favours them with the same stratagem which Joseph made use of to bring back his brother Benjamin; they clandestinely convey a cup into his baggage, overtake him upon the road, after a strict search find him guilty; upon that pretence carry him back to the city, condemn and execute him.
As I would neither impose upon others, nor be imposed upon, I cannot, as some have done, let such stuff as this[ix]pass for the Life of the great Æsop. Planudes has little authority for any thing he has delivered concerning him; nay, as far as I can find, his whole account, from the beginning to the end, is mere invention, excepting some few circumstances; such as the place of his birth, and of his death; for in respect of the time in which he lived, he has blundered egregiously, by mentioning some incidents as contemporary with Æsop, which were far enough from being so. Xanthus, his supposed master, puts his wife into a passion, by bringing such a piece of deformity into her house, as our Author is described to be. Upon this, the master reproaches the slave for not uttering something witty, at a time that seemed to require it so much: and then Æsop comes out, slap dash, with a satirical reflection upon women, taken from Euripides, the famous Greek tragedian. Now Euripides happened not to be born till about fourscore years after Æsop's death. What credit, therefore, can be given to any thing Planudes says of him?
As to the place of his birth, I will allow, with the generality of those who have written about him, that it might have been some town in Phrygia Major: A. Gellius making mention of him, says, 'Æsopus ille, e Phrygia, Fabulator.' That he was also by condition a slave, we may conclude from what Phædrus[2] relates of him. But whether at both Samos and Athens, he does not particularly mention: though I am inclined to think it was at the latter only; because he often speaks of him as living at that place, and never at any other; which looks as if Phædrus believed that he had never lived any where else. Nor do I see how he could help being of that opinion, if others of the ancients, whose credit is equally good, did not carry him into other places. Aristotle introduces him (as I mentioned before) speaking in public to the Samians, upon the occasion of their Demagogue, or Prime Minister, being impeached for plundering the commonwealth.
I cannot but think Æsop was something above the degree of a slave, when he made such a figure as an eminent speaker in the Samian State. Perhaps he might have been in that low condition in the former part of his life; and therefore Phædrus, who had been of the same rank himself, might love to enlarge upon this circumstance, since he does not choose to represent him in any higher sphere. Unless we allow him to be speaking[3] in as public a capacity to the Athenians, upon the occasion of Pisistratus' seizing their liberties, as we have before[x]supposed he did to the Samians. But, however, granting that he was once a slave, we have great authority that he was afterwards not only free, but in high veneration and esteem with all that knew him; especially all that were eminent for wisdom and virtue. Plutarch, in his Banquet of the Seven Wise Men, among several other illustrious persons, celebrated for their wit and knowledge, introduces Æsop. And, though in one place he seems to be ridiculed by one of the company for being of a clumsy mongrel shape; yet, in general, he is represented as very courtly and polite in his behaviour. He rallies Solon, and the rest, for taking too much liberty in prescribing rules for the conduct of sovereign princes; putting them in mind, that those who aspire to be the friends and counsellors of such, lose that character, and carry matters too far when they proceed to censure and find fault with them. Upon the credit of Plutarch, likewise, we fix the Life of Æsop in the time of Crœsus, King of Lydia; with whom he was in such esteem, as to be deputed by him to consult the Oracle at Delphos, and be sent as his envoy to Periander, King of Corinth; which was about three hundred and twenty years after the time in which Homer lived, and five hundred and fifty before Christ.
Now, though this imaginary banquet of Plutarch does not carry with it the weight of a serious history, yet we may take it for granted, that he introduced nothing in his fictitious scene, which might contradict either the written or traditionary Life of Æsop; but rather chose to make every thing agree with it. Be that as it will, this is the sum of the account which we have to give of him. Nor, indeed, is it material for us to know the little trifling circumstances of his Life; as whether he lived at Samos or Athens, whether he was a slave or a freeman, whether handsome or ugly. He has left us a legacy in his writings that will preserve his memory dear and perpetual among us: what we have to do, therefore, is to show ourselves worthy of so valuable a present, and to act, in all respects, as near as we can to the will and intention of the donor. They who are governed by reason, need no other motive than the mere goodness of a thing to incite them to the practice of it. But men, for the most part, are so superficial in their inquiries, that they take all upon trust; and have no taste for any thing but what is supported by the vogue of others, and which it is inconsistent with the fashion of the world not to admire.
As an inducement, therefore, to such as these to like the person and conversation of Æsop, I must assure them that he was held in great esteem by most of the great wits of old. There is scarce an author among the ancient Greeks,[xi]who mixed any thing of morality in his writings, but either quotes or mentions him.
Whatever his person was, the beauties of his mind were very charming and engaging; that the most celebrated among the ancients were his admirers; that they speak of him with raptures, and pay as great a respect to him as to any of the other wise men who lived in the same age. Nor can I perceive, from any author of antiquity, that he was so deformed as the Monk has represented him. If he had, he must have been so monstrous and shocking to the eye, as not only to be a very improper envoy for a great king, but scarce fit to be admitted as a slave in any private family. Indeed, from what Plutarch hints of him, I suspect he had something particular in his mien; but rather odd than ugly, and more apt to excite mirth than disgust, in those that conversed with him. Perhaps something humorous displayed itself in his countenance as well as his writings; and it might be upon account of both, that he got the name of Γελωτοποιος, as Lucian calls him, and his works that of Γελοια. However, we will go a middle way; and without insisting upon his beauty, or giving into his deformity, allow him to have made a merry comical figure; at least as handsome as Socrates; but at the same time conclude, that this particularity in the frame of his body was so far from being of any disadvantage to him, that it gave a mirthful cast to every thing he said, and added a kind of poignancy to his conversation.
We have seen what opinion the ancients had of our Author, and his writings. Now, as to the manner of conveying instruction by Fables in general, though many good vouchers of antiquity sufficiently recommend it, yet to avoid tiring the reader's patience, I shall wave all quotations from thence, and lay before him the testimony of a modern; whose authority, in point of judgment, and consequently, in the present case, may be as readily acknowledged as that of any ancient of them all. "Fables[4]," says Mr. Addison, "were the first pieces of wit that made their appearance in the world; and have been still highly valued, not only in times of the greatest simplicity, but among the most polite ages of mankind. Jotham's Fable of the Trees is the oldest that is extant, and as beautiful as any which have been made since that time. Nathan's Fable of the poor Man and his Lamb, is likewise more ancient than any that is extant, besides the above-mentioned, and had so good an effect, as to convey instruction to the ear of a king, without offending it, and[xii]to bring the man after God's own heart to a right sense of his guilt, and his duty. We find Æsop in the most distant ages of Greece. And, if we look into the very beginning of the commonwealth of Rome, we see a mutiny among the common people appeased by the Fable of the Belly and the Members[5]; which was indeed very proper to gain the attention of an incensed rabble, at a time, when, perhaps, they would have torn to pieces any man who had preached the same doctrine to them, in an open and direct manner. As Fables took their birth in the very infancy of learning, they never flourished more than when learning was at its greatest height. To justify this assertion, I shall put my reader in mind of Horace, the greatest wit and critic in the Augustan age; and of Boileau, the most correct poet among the moderns; not to mention La Fontaine, who, by this way of writing, is come more into vogue than any other author of our times." After this, he proceeds to give some account of that kind of Fable in which the passions, and other imaginary beings, are actors; and concludes with a most beautiful one of that sort, of his own contriving. In another place, he gives us a translation from Homer of that inimitable Fable comprised in the interview between Jupiter and Juno, when the latter made use of the girdle of Venus, to recall the affection of her husband; a piece never sufficiently to be recommended to the perusal of such of the fair sex, as are ambitious of acquitting themselves handsomely in point of conjugal complacence. But I must not omit the excellent Preface, by which the Fable is introduced, "Reading is to the mind[6]," says he, "what exercise is to the body: as by the one, health is preserved, strengthened, and invigorated; by the other virtue (which is the health of the mind) is kept alive, cherished, and confirmed. But, as exercise becomes tedious and painful when we make use of it only as the means of health, so reading is too apt to grow uneasy and burdensome, when we apply ourselves to it only for our improvement in virtue. For this reason, the virtue which we gather from a Fable or an allegory, is like the health we get by hunting, as we are engaged in an agreeable pursuit that draws us on with pleasure, and makes its insensible of the fatigues that accompany it."




A brisk young Cock, in company with two or three pullets, his mistresses, raking upon a dunghill for something to entertain them with, happened to scratch up a Jewel. He knew what it was well enough, for it sparkled with an exceeding bright lustre; but, not knowing what to do with it, endeavoured to cover his ignorance under a gay contempt; so, shrugging up his wings, shaking his head, and putting on a grimace, he expressed himself to this purpose:—'Indeed, you are a very[2]fine thing; but I know not any business you have here. I make no scruple of declaring that my taste lies quite another way; and I had rather have one grain of dear delicious barley, than all the Jewels under the sun.'
There are several people in the world that pass, with some, for well accomplished gentlemen, and very pretty fellows, though they are as great strangers to the true uses of virtue and knowledge as the Cock upon the dunghill is to the real value of the Jewel. He palliates his ignorance by pretending that his taste lies another way. But, whatever gallant airs people may give themselves upon these occasions, without dispute, the solid advantages of virtue, and the durable pleasures of learning, are as much to be preferred before other objects of the senses, as the finest brilliant diamond is above a barley-corn. The greatest blockheads would appear to understand what at the same time they affect to despise: and nobody yet was ever so vicious, as to have the impudence to declare, in public, that virtue was not a fine thing.
But still, among the idle, sauntering young fellows of the age, who have leisure as well to cultivate and improve the faculties of the mind, as to dress and embellish the body, how many are there who spend their days in raking after new scenes of debauchery, in comparison of those few who know how to relish more reasonable entertainments![3]Honest, undesigning good sense is so unfashionable, that he must be a bold man who, at this time of day, attempts to bring it into esteem.
How disappointed is the youth who, in the midst of his amorous pursuits, endeavouring to plunder an outside of bloom and beauty, finds a treasure of impenetrable virtue concealed within! And why may it not be said, how delighted are the fair sex when, from among a crowd of empty, frolic, conceited admirers, they find out, and distinguish with their good opinion, a man of sense, with a plain, unaffected person, which, at first sight, they did not like!



One hot, sultry day, a Wolf and a Lamb happened to come, just at the same time, to quench their thirst in the stream of a clear, silver brook that ran tumbling down the side of a rocky mountain. The Wolf stood upon the higher ground, and the Lamb at some distance from him down the current. However, the Wolf, having a mind to pick a quarrel with him, asked him, what he meant by disturbing the water, and making it so muddy that he could not drink? and, at the same time demanded satisfaction. The Lamb, frightened at this threatening charge, told him, in a tone as mild as possible, that, with humble submission, he could not conceive how that could be;[5]since the water which he drank, ran down from the Wolf to him, and therefore it could not be disturbed so far up the stream. 'Be that as it will,' replies the Wolf, 'you are a rascal, and I have been told that you treated me with ill language, behind my back, about half a year ago.'—'Upon my word,' says the Lamb, 'the time you mention was before I was born.' The Wolf, finding it to no purpose to argue any longer against truth, fell into a great passion, snarling and foaming at the mouth, as if he had been mad; and drawing nearer to the Lamb, 'Sirrah,' says he, 'if it was not you, it was your father, and that is all one.'—So he seized the poor innocent, helpless thing, tore it to pieces, and made a meal of it.
The thing which is pointed at in this fable is so obvious, that it will be impertinent to multiply words about it. When a cruel ill-natured man has a mind to abuse one inferior to himself, either in power or courage, though he has not given the least occasion for it, how does he resemble the Wolf! whose envious, rapacious temper could not bear to see innocence live quietly in its neighbourhood. In short, wherever ill people are in power, innocence and integrity are sure to be persecuted: the more vicious the community is, the better countenance they have for their own villanous measures. To practise honesty in bad times, is being liable to suspicion enough; but if any one should dare to prescribe it, it is ten to[6]one but he would be impeached of high crimes and misdemeanors: for to stand up for justice in a degenerate and corrupt state, is tacitly to upbraid the government, and seldom fails of pulling down vengeance upon the head of him that offers to stir in its defence. Where cruelty and malice are in combination with power, nothing is so easy as for them to find a pretence to tyrannize over innocence, and exercise all manner of injustice.



Four Bulls, which had entered into a very strict friendship, kept always near one another, and fed together. The Lion often saw them, and as often had a mind to make one of them his prey; but, though he could easily have subdued any of them singly, yet he was afraid to attack the whole alliance, as knowing they would have been too hard for him, and therefore contented himself, for the present, with keeping at a distance. At last, perceiving no attempt was to be made upon them, as long as this combination held, he took occasion, by whispers and hints, to foment jealousies, and raise divisions among them. This stratagem succeeded so well, that the Bulls grew cold and reserved towards one another, which[8]soon after ripened into a downright hatred and aversion; and, at last, ended in a total separation. The Lion had now obtained his ends; and, as impossible as it was for him to hurt them while they were united, he found no difficulty, now they were parted, to seize and devour every Bull of them, one after another.
The moral of this fable is so well known and allowed, that to go about to enlighten it, would be like holding a candle to the sun. "A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand;" and as undisputed a maxim as it is, was, however, thought necessary to be urged to the attention of mankind, by the best Man that ever lived. And since friendships and alliances are of so great importance to our well-being and happiness, we cannot be too often cautioned not to let them be broken by tale-bearers and whisperers, or any other contrivance of our enemies.



A Frog, leaping out of a lake, and taking the advantage of a rising ground, made proclamation to all the beasts of the forest, that he was an able physician, and, for curing all manner of distempers, would turn his back to no person living. This discourse, uttered in a parcel of hard, cramp words, which nobody understood, made the beasts admire his learning, and give credit to every thing he said. At last the Fox, who was present, with indignation asked him, how he could have the impudence, with those thin lantern-jaws, that meagre pale phiz, and blotched spotted body, to set up for one who was able to cure the infirmities of others.[10]
A sickly, infirm look, is as disadvantageous in a physician, as that of a rake in a clergyman, or a sheepish one in a soldier. If this moral contains any thing further, it is, that we should not set up for rectifying enormities in others, while we labour under the same ourselves. Good advice ought always to be followed, without our being prejudiced upon account of the person from whom it comes: but it is seldom that men can be brought to think us worth minding, when we prescribe cures for maladies with which ourselves are infected. "Physician, heal thyself," is too scriptural not to be applied upon such an occasion; and, if we would avoid being the jest of an audience, we must be sound, and free from those diseases of which we would endeavour to cure others. How shocked must people have been to hear a preacher, for a whole hour, declaim against drunkenness, when his own infirmity has been such, that he could neither bear nor forbear drinking; and, perhaps, was the only person in the congregation who made the doctrine at that time necessary! Others too have been very zealous in exploding crimes, for which none were more suspected than themselves: but let such silly hypocrites remember, that they whose eyes want couching, are the most improper people in the world to set up for oculists.



An Ass was loaded with good provisions of several sorts, which, in time of harvest, he was carrying into the field for his master and the reapers to dine upon. By the way he met with a fine large Thistle, and, being very hungry, began to mumble it; which, while he was doing, he entered into this reflection—'How many greedy epicures would think themselves happy, amidst such a variety of delicate viands as I now carry! But to me, this bitter prickly Thistle is more savoury and relishing than the most exquisite and sumptuous banquet.'
Happiness and misery, and oftentimes pleasure and pain, exist merely in our opinion, and are no[12]more to be accounted for than the difference of tastes. "That which is one man's meat, is another man's poison," is a proposition that ought to be allowed in all particulars, where the opinion is concerned, as well as in eating and drinking. Our senses must inform us whether a thing pleases or displeases, before we can declare our judgment of it; and that is to any man good or evil, which his own understanding suggests to him to be so, and not that which is agreeable to another's fancy. And yet, as reasonable and as necessary as it is to grant this, how apt are we to wonder at people for not liking this or that, or how can they think so and so! This childish humour of wondering at the different tastes and opinions of others, occasions much uneasiness among the generality of mankind. But, if we considered things rightly, why should we be more concerned at others differing from us in their way of thinking upon any subject whatever, than at their liking cheese, or mustard; one, or both of which, we may happen to dislike? In truth, he that expects all mankind should be of his opinion, is much more stupid and unreasonable than the Ass in the fable.



A Lark, who had Young Ones in a field of corn which was almost ripe, was under some fear lest the reapers should come to reap it before her young brood were fledged, and able to remove from the place: wherefore, upon flying abroad to look for food, she left this charge with them—that they should take notice what they heard talked of in her absence, and tell her of it when she came back again. When she was gone, they heard the owner of the corn call to his son—'Well,' says he, 'I think this corn is ripe enough; I would have you go early to-morrow, and desire our friends and neighbours to come and help us to reap it.' When the Old Lark came home, the Young Ones fell a quivering and chirping round[14]her, and told her what had happened, begging her to remove them as fast as she could. The mother bid them be easy; 'for,' says she, 'if the owner depends upon friends and neighbours, I am pretty sure the corn will not be reaped to-morrow.' Next day she went out again, upon the same occasion, and left the same orders with them as before. The owner came, and stayed, expecting those he had sent to: but the sun grew hot, and nothing was done, for not a soul came to help him. 'Then,' says he to his son, 'I perceive these friends of ours are not to be depended upon; so that you must even go to your uncles and cousins, and tell them, I desire they would be here betimes to-morrow morning to help us to reap.' Well, this the Young Ones, in a great fright, reported also to their mother. 'If that be all,' says she, 'do not be frightened, children, for kindred and relations do not use to be so very forward to serve one another; but take particular notice what you hear said the next time, and be sure you let me know it.' She went abroad the next day, as usual; and the owner, finding his relations as slack as the rest of his neighbours, said to his son, 'Hark ye! George, do you get a couple of good sickles ready against to-morrow morning, and we will even reap the corn ourselves.' When the Young Ones told their mother this, 'Then,' says she, 'we must be gone indeed; for, when a man undertakes to do his business himself, it is not so likely that he will be disappointed.' So she removed her Young Ones immediately, and the corn was reaped the next day by the good man and his son.[15]
Never depend upon the assistance of friends and relations in any thing which you are able to do yourself; for nothing is more fickle and uncertain. The man, who relies upon another for the execution of any affair of importance, is not only kept in a wretched and slavish suspense while he expects the issue of the matter, but generally meets with a disappointment. While he, who lays the chief stress of his business upon himself, and depends upon his own industry and attention for the success of his affairs, is in the fairest way to attain his end: and, if at last he should miscarry, has this to comfort him—that it was not through his own negligence, and a vain expectation of the assistance of friends. To stand by ourselves, as much as possible, to exert our own strength and vigilance in the prosecution of our affairs, is god-like, being the result of a most noble and highly exalted reason; but they who procrastinate and defer the business of life by an idle dependance upon others, in things which it is in their own power to effect, sink down into a kind of stupid abject slavery, and show themselves unworthy of the talents with which human nature is dignified.

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