Æsop. (Sixth century B.C.) Fables.
An old woman once found a wine jar, but it was empty. She sniffed at the mouth of the jar and said: "What memories cling 'round the instruments of our pleasure."
Editor's Note: Other fables are included in today's reading as indicated by the prompts in Eliot's original reading guide.
The Two Pots
TWO Pots had been left on the bank of a river, one of brass, and one of earthenware. When the tide rose they both floated off down the stream. Now the earthenware pot tried its best to keep aloof from the brass one, which cried out: “For nothing, friend, I will not strike you.”
“But I may come in contact with you,” said the other, “if I come too close; and whether I hit you, or you hit me, I shall suffer for it.”
“THE STRONG AND THE WEAK CANNOT KEEP COMPANY.”
The Four Oxen and the Lion
A LION used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.
“UNITED WE STAND, DIVIDED WE FALL.”
The Fisher and the Little Fish
IT happened that a Fisher, after fishing all day, caught only a little fish. “Pray, let me go, master,” said the Fish. “I am much too small for your eating just now. If you put me back into the river I shall soon grow, then you can make a fine meal off me.” 1
“Nay, nay, my little Fish,” said the Fisher, “I have you now. I may not catch you hereafter.”
“A LITTLE THING IN HAND IS WORTH MORE THAN A GREAT THING IN PROSPECT.”
Avaricious and Envious
TWO neighbours came before Jupiter and prayed him to grant their hearts’ desire. Now the one was full of avarice, and the other eaten up with envy. So to punish them both, Jupiter granted that each might have whatever he wished for himself, but only on condition that his neighbour had twice as much. The Avaricious man prayed to have a room full of gold. No sooner said than done; but all his joy was turned to grief when he found that his neighbour had two rooms full of the precious metal. Then came the turn of the Envious man, who could not bear to think that his neighbour had any joy at all. So he prayed that he might have one of his own eyes put out, by which means his companion would become totally blind.
“VICES ARE THEIR OWN PUNISHMENT.”
The Crow and the Pitcher
A CROW, half-dead with thirst, came upon a Pitcher which had once been full of water; but when the Crow put its beak into the mouth of the Pitcher he found that only very little water was left in it, and that he could not reach far enough down to get at it. He tried, and he tried, but at last had to give up in despair. Then a thought came to him, and he took a pebble and dropped it into the Pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped it into the Pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped it into the Pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped it into the Pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped it into the Pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped it into the Pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped it into the Pitcher. At last, at last, he saw the water mount up near him, and after casting in a few more pebbles he was able to quench his thirst and save his life.
“LITTLE BY LITTLE DOES THE TRICK.”
The Man and the Satyr
A MAN had lost his way in a wood one bitter winter’s night. As he was roaming about, a Satyr came up to him, and finding that he had lost his way, promised to give him a lodging for the night, and guide him out of the forest in the morning. As he went along to the Satyr’s cell, the Man raised both his hands to his mouth and kept on blowing at them. “What do you do that for?” said the Satyr.
“My hands are numb with the cold,” said the Man, “and my breath warms them.”
After this they arrived at the Satyr’s home, and soon the Satyr put a smoking dish of porridge before him. But when the Man raised his spoon to his mouth he began blowing upon it. “And what do you do that for?” said the Satyr.
“The porridge is too hot, and my breath will cool it.”
“Out you go,” said the Satyr. “I will have nought to do with a man who can blow hot and cold with the same breath.”
The Goose with the Golden Egg
ONE day a countryman going to the nest of his Goose found there an egg all yellow and glittering. When he took it up it was as heavy as lead and he was going to throw it away, because he thought a trick had been played upon him. But he took it home on second thoughts, and soon found to his delight that it was an egg of pure gold. Every morning the same thing occurred, and he soon became rich by selling his eggs. As he grew rich he grew greedy; and thinking to get at once all the gold the Goose could give, he killed it and opened it only to find,—nothing.
“GREED OFT O’ERREACHES ITSELF.”
The Labourer and the Nightingale
A LABOURER lay listening to a Nightingale’s song throughout the summer night. So pleased was he with it that the next night he set a trap for it and captured it. “Now that I have caught thee,” he cried, “though shalt always sing to me.”
“We Nightingales never sing in a cage,” said the bird.
“Then I’ll eat thee,” said the Labourer. “I have always heard say that nightingale on toast is a dainty morsel.”
“Nay, kill me not,” said the Nightingale; “but let me free, and I’ll tell thee three things far better worth than my poor body.” The Labourer let him loose, and he flew up to a branch of a tree and said: “Never believe a captive’s promise; that’s one thing. Then again: Keep what you have. And third piece of advice is: Sorrow not over what is lost forever.” Then the song-bird flew away.
The Fox, the Cock and the Dog
ONE moonlight night a Fox was prowling about a farmer’s hencoop, and saw a Cock roosting high up beyond his reach. “Good news, good news!” he cried.
“Why, what is that?” said the Cock.
“King Lion has declared a universal truce. No beast may hurt a bird henceforth, but all shall dwell together in brotherly friendship.”
“Why, that is good news,” said the Cock; “and there I see some one coming, with whom we can share the good tidings.” And so saying he craned his neck forward and looked afar off.
“What is it you see?” said the Fox.
“It is only my master’s Dog that is coming towards us. What, going so soon?” he continued, as the Fox began to turn away as soon as he had heard the news. “Will you not stop and congratulate the Dog on the reign of universal peace?”
“I would gladly do so,” said the Fox, “but I fear he may not have heard of King Lion’s decree.”
“CUNNING OFTEN OUTWITS ITSELF.”
The Wind and the Sun
THE WIND and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveller coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveller to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveller. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveller wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveller, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on.
“KINDNESS EFFECTS MORE THAN SEVERITY.”
Hercules and the Waggoner
A WAGGONER was once driving a heavy load along a very muddy way. At last he came to a part of the road where the wheels sank half-way into the mire, and the more the horses pulled, the deeper sank the wheels. So the Waggoner threw down his whip, and knelt down and prayed to Hercules the Strong. “O Hercules, help me in this my hour of distress,” quoth he. But Hercules appeared to him, and said:
“Tut, man, don’t sprawl there. Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel.”
“THE GODS HELP THEM THAT HELP THEMSELVES.”
The Man, the Boy and the Donkey
A MAN and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?”
So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”
So the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”
Well, the Man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor Donkey of yours—you and your hulking son?”
The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the Donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the Donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together he was drowned.
“That will teach you,” said an old man who had followed them:
“PLEASE ALL, AND YOU WILL PLEASE NONE.”
The Miser and His Gold
ONCE upon a time there was a Miser who used to hide his gold at the foot of a tree in his garden; but every week he used to go and dig it up and gloat over his gains. A robber, who had noticed this, went and dug up the gold and decamped with it. When the Miser next came to gloat over his treasures, he found nothing but the empty hole. He tore his hair, and raised such an outcry that all the neighbours came around him, and he told them how he used to come and visit his gold. “Did you ever take any of it out?” asked one of them.
“Nay,” said he, “I only came to look at it.”
“Then come again and look at the hole,” said a neighbour; “it will do you just as much good.”
“WEALTH UNUSED MIGHT AS WELL NOT EXIST.”
The Fox and the Mosquitoes
A FOX after crossing a river got its tail entangled in a bush, and could not move. A number of Mosquitoes seeing its plight settled upon it and enjoyed a good meal undisturbed by its tail. A hedgehog strolling by took pity upon the Fox and went up to him: “You are in a bad way, neighbour,” said the hedgehog, “shall I relieve you by driving off those Mosquitoes who are sucking your blood?”
“Thank you, Master Hedgehog,” said the Fox, “but I would rather not.”
“Why, how is that?” asked the hedgehog.
“Well, you see,” was the answer, “these Mosquitoes have had their fill; if you drive these away, others will come with fresh appetite and bleed me to death.”
The Fox Without a Tail
IT happened that a Fox caught its tail in a trap, and in struggling to release himself lost all of it but the stump. At first he was ashamed to show himself among his fellow foxes. But at last he determined to put a bolder face upon his misfortune, and summoned all the foxes to a general meeting to consider a proposal which he had to place before them. When they had assembled together the Fox proposed that they should all do away with their tails. He pointed out how inconvenient a tail was when they were pursued by their enemies, the dogs; how much it was in the way when they desired to sit down and hold a friendly conversation with one another. He failed to see any advantage in carrying about such a useless encumbrance. “That is all very well,” said one of the older foxes; “but I do not think you would have recommended us to dispense with our chief ornament if you had not happened to lose it yourself.”
“DISTRUST INTERESTED ADVICE.”
The One-Eyed Doe
A DOE had had the misfortune to lose one of her eyes, and could not see any one approaching her on that side. So to avoid any danger she always used to feed on a high cliff near the sea, with her sound eye looking towards the land. By this means she could see whenever the hunters approached her on land, and often escaped by this means. But the hunters found out that she was blind of one eye, and hiring a boat rowed under the cliff where she used to feed and shot her from the sea. “Ah,” cried she with her dying voice,
“YOU CANNOT ESCAPE YOUR FATE.”
Belling the Cat
LONG ago, the mice had a general council to consider what measures they could take to outwit their common enemy, the Cat. Some said this, and some said that; but at last a young mouse got up and said he had a proposal to make, which he thought would meet the case. “You will all agree,” said he, “that our chief danger consists in the sly and treacherous manner in which the enemy approaches us. Now, if we could receive some signal of her approach, we could easily escape from her. I venture, therefore, to propose that a small bell be procured, and attached by a ribbon round the neck of the Cat. By this means we should always know when she was about, and could easily retire while she was in the neighbourhood.”
This proposal met with general applause, until an old mouse got up and said: “That is all very well, but who is to bell the Cat?” The mice looked at one another and nobody spoke. Then the old mouse said:
“IT IS EASY TO PROPOSE IMPOSSIBLE REMEDIES.”
The Hare and the Tortoise
THE HARE was once boasting of his speed before the other animals. “I have never yet been beaten,” said he, “when I put forth my full speed. I challenge any one here to race with me.”
The Tortoise said quietly, “I accept your challenge.”
“That is a good joke,” said the Hare; “I could dance round you all the way.”
“Keep your boasting till you’ve beaten,” answered the Tortoise. “Shall we race?”
So a course was fixed and a start was made. The Hare darted almost out of sight at once, but soon stopped and, to show his contempt for the Tortoise, lay down to have a nap. The Tortoise plodded on and plodded on, and when the Hare awoke from his nap, he saw the Tortoise just near the winning-post and could not run up in time to save the race. Then said the Tortoise:
“PLODDING WINS THE RACE.”
The Old Man and Death
AN OLD labourer, bent double with age and toil, was gathering sticks in a forest. At last he grew so tired and hopeless that he threw down the bundle of sticks, and cried out: “I cannot bear this life any longer. Ah, I wish Death would only come and take me!”
As he spoke, Death, a grisly skeleton, appeared and said to him: “What wouldst thou, Mortal? I heard thee call me.”
“Please, sir,” replied the woodcutter, “would you kindly help me to lift this faggot of sticks on to my shoulder?”
“WE WOULD OFTEN BE SORRY IF OUR WISHES WERE GRATIFIED.”
The Hare with Many Friends
A HARE was very popular with the other beasts who all claimed to be her friends. But one day she heard the hounds approaching and hoped to escape them by the aid of her many Friends. So she went to the horse, and asked him to carry her away from the hounds on his back. But he declined, stating that he had important work to do for his master. “He felt sure,” he said, “that all her other friends would come to her assistance.” She then applied to the bull, and hoped that he would repel the hounds with his horns. The bull replied: “I am very sorry, but I have an appointment with a lady; but I feel sure that our friend the goat will do what you want.” The goat, however, feared that his back might do her some harm if he took her upon it. The ram, he felt sure, was the proper friend to apply to. So she went to the ram and told him the case. The ram replied: “Another time, my dear friend. I do not like to interfere on the present occasion, as hounds have been known to eat sheep as well as hares.” The Hare then applied, as a last hope, to the calf, who regretted that he was unable to help her, as he did not like to take the responsibility upon himself, as so many older persons than himself had declined the task. By this time the hounds were quite near, and the Hare took to her heels and luckily escaped.
“HE THAT HAS MANY FRIENDS, HAS NO FRIENDS.”
The Lion in Love
A LION once fell in love with a beautiful maiden and proposed marriage to her parents. The old people did not know what to say. They did not like to give their daughter to the Lion, yet they did not wish to enrage the King of Beasts. At last the father said: “We feel highly honoured by your Majesty’s proposal, but you see our daughter is a tender young thing, and we fear that in the vehemence of your affection you might possibly do her some injury. Might I venture to suggest that your Majesty should have your claws removed, and your teeth extracted, then we would gladly consider your proposal again.” The Lion was so much in love that he had his claws trimmed and his big teeth taken out. But when he came again to the parents of the young girl they simply laughed in his face, and bade him do his worst.
“LOVE CAN TAME THE WILDEST.”
The Bundle of Sticks
AN OLD man on the point of death summoned his sons around him to give them some parting advice. He ordered his servants to bring in a faggot of sticks, and said to his eldest son: “Break it.” The son strained and strained, but with all his efforts was unable to break the Bundle. The other sons also tried, but none of them was successful. “Untie the faggots,” said the father, “and each of you take a stick.” When they had done so, he called out to them: “Now, break,” and each stick was easily broken. “You see my meaning,” said their father.
“UNION GIVES STRENGTH.”
The Lion, the Fox and the Beasts
THE LION once gave out that he was sick unto death and summoned the animals to come and hear his last Will and Testament. So the Goat came to the Lion’s cave, and stopped there listening for a long time. Then a Sheep went in, and before she came out a Calf came up to receive the last wishes of the Lord of the Beasts. But soon the Lion seemed to recover, and came to the mouth of his cave, and saw the Fox, who had been waiting outside for some time. “Why do you not come to pay your respects to me?” said the Lion to the Fox.
“I beg your Majesty’s pardon,” said the Fox, “but I noticed the track of the animals that have already come to you; and while I see many hoof-marks going in, I see none coming out. Till the animals that have entered your cave come out again I prefer to remain in the open air.”
“IT IS EASIER TO GET INTO THE ENEMY’S TOILS THAN OUT AGAIN.”
The Ass' Brains
THE LION and the Fox went hunting together. The Lion, on the advice of the Fox, sent a message to the Ass, proposing to make an alliance between their two families. The Ass came to the place of meeting, overjoyed at the prospect of a royal alliance. But when he came there the Lion simply pounced on the Ass, and said to the Fox: “Here is our dinner for today. Watch you here while I go and have a nap. Woe betide you if you touch my prey.” The Lion went away and the Fox waited; but finding that his master did not return, ventured to take out the brains of the Ass and ate them up. When the Lion came back he soon noticed the absence of the brains, and asked the Fox in a terrible voice: “What have you done with the brains?”
“Brains, your Majesty! it had none, or it would never have fallen into your trap.”
“WIT HAS ALWAYS AN ANSWER READY.”
The Eagle and the Arrow
AN EAGLE was soaring through the air when suddenly it heard the whizz of an Arrow, and felt itself wounded to death. Slowly it fluttered down to the earth, with its life-blood pouring out of it. Looking down upon the Arrow with which it had been pierced, it found that the haft of the Arrow had been feathered with one of its own plumes. “Alas!” it cried, as it died,
“WE OFTEN GIVE OUR ENEMIES THE MEANS FOR OUR OWN DESTRUCTION.”
The Milkmaid and her Pail
PATTY the Milkmaid was going to market carrying her milk in a Pail on her head. As she went along she began calculating what she would do with the money she would get for the milk. “I’ll buy some fowls from Farmer Brown,” said she, “and they will lay eggs each morning, which I will sell to the parson’s wife. With the money that I get from the sale of these eggs I’ll buy myself a new dimity frock and a chip hat; and when I go to market, won’t all the young men come up and speak to me! Polly Shaw will be that jealous; but I don’t care. I shall just look at her and toss my head like this.” As she spoke she tossed her head back, the Pail fell off it, and all the milk was spilt. So she had to go home and tell her mother what had occurred.
“Ah, my child,” said the mother,
“DO NOT COUNT YOUR CHICKENS BEFORE THEY ARE HATCHED.”
THE GODS were once disputing whether it was possible for a living being to change its nature. Jupiter said “Yes,” but Venus said “No.” So, to try the question, Jupiter turned a Cat into a Maiden, and gave her to a young man for a wife. The wedding was duly performed and the young couple sat down to the wedding feast. “See,” said Jupiter, to Venus, “how becomingly she behaves. Who could tell that yesterday she was but a Cat? Surely her nature is changed?” 1
“Wait a minute,” replied Venus, and let loose a mouse into the room. No sooner did the bride see this than she jumped up from her seat and tried to pounce upon the mouse. “Ah, you see,” said Venus,
“NATURE WILL OUT.”
The Horse and the Ass
A HORSE and an Ass were travelling together, the Horse prancing along in its fine trappings, the Ass carrying with difficulty the heavy weight in its panniers. “I wish I were you,” sighed the Ass; “nothing to do and well fed, and all that fine harness upon you.” Next day, however, there was a great battle, and the Horse was wounded to death in the final charge of the day. His friend, the Ass, happened to pass by shortly afterwards and found him on the point of death. “I was wrong,” said the Ass:
“BETTER HUMBLE SECURITY THAN GILDED DANGER.”
The Trumpeter Taken Prisoner
A TRUMPETER during a battle ventured too near the enemy and was captured by them. They were about to proceed to put him to death when he begged them to hear his plea for mercy. “I do not fight.” said he, “and indeed carry no weapon; I only blow this trumpet, and surely that cannot harm you; then why should you kill me?” 1
“You may not fight yourself,” said the others, “but you encourage and guide your men to the fight.”
“WORDS MAY BE DEEDS.”
The Buffoon and the Countryman
AT a country fair there was a Buffoon who made all the people laugh by imitating the cries of various animals. He finished off by squeaking so like a pig that the spectators thought that he had a porker concealed about him. But a Countryman who stood by said: “Call that a pig’s squeak! Nothing like it. You give me till tomorrow and I will show you what it’s like.” The audience laughed, but next day, sure enough, the Countryman appeared on the stage, and putting his head down squealed so hideously that the spectators hissed and threw stones at him to make him stop. “You fools!” he cried, “see what you have been hissing,” and held up a little pig whose ear he had been pinching to make him utter the squeals.
“MEN OFTEN APPLAUD AN IMITATION AND HISS THE REAL THING.”
The Old Woman and the Wine-Jar
YOU must know that sometimes old women like a glass of wine. One of this sort once found a Wine-Jar lying in the road, and eagerly went up to it hoping to find it full. But when she took it up she found that all the wine had been drunk out of it. Still she took a long sniff at the mouth of the Jar. “Ah,” she cried,
“WHAT MEMORIES CLING ’ROUND THE INSTRUMENTS OF OUR PLEASURE.”
The Fox and the Goat
BY an unlucky chance a Fox fell into a deep well from which he could not get out. A Goat passed by shortly afterwards, and asked the Fox what he was doing down there. “Oh, have you not heard?” said the Fox; “there is going to be a great drought, so I jumped down here in order to be sure to have water by me. Why don’t you come down too?” The Goat thought well of this advice, and jumped down into the well. But the Fox immediately jumped on her back, and by putting his foot on her long horns managed to jump up to the edge of the well. “Good-bye, friend,” said the Fox, “remember next time,
“NEVER TRUST THE ADVICE OF A MAN IN DIFFICULTIES.”
And this is the end of Æsop’s Fables. HURRAH!