Fables from Ęsop
The Goose that Laid Golden Eggs
THERE was a man who once had a very handsome goose, that always laid golden eggs. Now, he thought there must be gold inside of her, so he wrung her neck straightway, and found she was exactly like all other geese. He thought to find riches, and lost the little he had.
The fable teaches that one who has anything should be content with it, and avoid covetousness, lest he lose what he has.
The Boys and the Frogs
A company of idle boys were watching some frogs by the side of a pond, and as fast as any of the frogs lifted their heads the boys would pelt them down again with stones.
“Boys,” said one of the frogs, “you forget that, though this may be fun for you, it is death to us.”
The Lion and the Mouse
A mouse happened to run into the mouth of a sleeping lion, who roused himself, caught him, and was just about eating him, when the little fellow begged him to let him go, saying, “If I am saved, I shall be everlastingly grateful.” So, with a smile, the lion let him off. It befell him not long after to be saved by the mouse's gratitude, for when he was caught by some hunters and bound by ropes to a tree, the mouse, hearing his roaring groans, came and gnawed the ropes, and set him free, saying, “You laughed at me once, as if you could receive no return from me, but now, you see, it is you who have to be grateful to me.”
The story shows that there come sudden changes of affairs, when the most powerful owe everything to the weakest.
The Fox and the Grapes
A hungry fox discovered some bunches of grapes hanging from a vine high up a tree, and, as he gazed, longed to get at them, and could not; so he left them hanging there and went off muttering, “They're sour grapes.”
The Frog and the Ox
An ox, grazing in a swampy meadow, chanced to set his foot among a parcel of young frogs, and crushed nearly the whole brood to death. One that escaped ran off to his mother with the dreadful news. “O mother,” said he, “it was a beast—such a big four-footed beast, that did it!” “Big?” quoth the old frog, “How big? was it as big”—and she puffed herself out—“as big as this?” “Oh, a great deal bigger than that.” “Well, was it so big?” and she swelled herself out yet more. “Indeed, mother, but it was; and if you were to burst yourself, you would never reach half its size.” The old frog made one more trial, determined to be as big as the ox, and burst herself, indeed.
The Cat, the Monkey, and the Chestnuts
A cat and a monkey were sitting one day in the chimney corner watching some chestnuts which their master had laid down to roast in the ashes. The chestnuts had begun to burst with the heat, and the monkey said to the cat, “It is plain that your paws were made especially for pulling out those chestnuts. Do you reach forth and draw them out. Your paws are, indeed, exactly like our master's hands.” The cat was greatly flattered by this speech, and reached forward for the tempting chestnuts, but scarcely had he touched the hot ashes than he drew back with a cry, for he had burnt his paw; but he tried again, and managed to pull one chestnut out; then he pulled another, and a third, though each time he singed the hair on his paws. When he could pull no more out he turned about and found that the monkey had taken the time to crack the chestnuts and eat them.
The Country Maid and Her Milkpail
A country maid was walking slowly along with a pail of milk upon her head, and thinking thus:
“The money for which I shall sell this milk will buy me three hundred eggs. These eggs, allowing for what may prove addled, will produce at least two hundred and fifty chickens. The chickens will be fit to carry to market about Christmas, when poultry always brings a good price, so that by May-day I shall have money enough to buy a new gown. Let me see—green suits me; yes, it shall be green. In this dress I will go to the fair, where all the young fellows will want me for a partner, but I shall refuse every one of them.” By this time she was so full of her fancy that she tossed her head proudly, when over went the pail, which she had entirely forgotten, and all the milk was spilled on the ground.
Moral. Don't count your chickens before they are hatched.
The Ass in the Lion’s Skin
The Ass once dressed himself in the Lion's skin and went about frightening all the little beasts. Now he happened on the Fox, and tried to frighten him too; but the Fox chanced to hear him speak, and said: “Well, to be sure, I should have been frightened too, if I hadn't heard you bray, and seen your ears sticking out.”
So there are some men who make themselves appear very fine outwardly, but are betrayed as soon as they begin to talk.
The Tortoise and the Hare
“What a dull, heavy creature,” says the Hare, “is this Tortoise!” “And yet,” says the Tortoise, “I'll run with you for a wager.” “Done,” says the Hare, and then they asked the Fox to be the judge. They started together, and the Tortoise kept jogging on still, till he came to the end of the course. The Hare laid himself down midway and took a nap; “for,” says he, “I can catch up with the Tortoise when I please.” But it seems he overslept himself, for when he came to wake, though he scudded away as fast as possible, the Tortoise had got to the post before him and won the wager.
Slow and steady wins the race.
The Vain Jackdaw
A jackdaw picked up some beautiful feathers left by the peacocks on the ground. He stuck them into his own tail, and, thinking himself too fine to mix with the other daws, strutted off to the peacocks, expecting to be welcomed as one of themselves.
The peacocks at once saw through his disguise, and, despising him for his foolishness and conceit, began to peck him, and soon he was stripped of all his borrowed plumes.
Very much ashamed, the jackdaw went sadly home, meaning to join his old friends as if nothing had happened. But they, remembering how he had scorned them before, chased him away and would have nothing to do with him.
“If you had been content,” said one, “to remain as nature made you, instead of trying to be what you are not, you would have neither been punished by your betters nor despised by your equals.”
The Fox Without a Tail
A fox lost his tail in escaping from a steel trap. When he began to go about again, he found that every one looked down upon or laughed at him. Not liking this, he thought to himself that if he could persuade the other foxes to cut off their tails, his own loss would not be so noticeable.
Accordingly he called together the foxes and said: “How is it that you still wear your tails? Of what use are they? They are in the way, they often get caught in traps, they are heavy to carry and not pretty to look upon. Believe me, we are far better without them. Cut off your tails, my friends, and you will see how much more comfortable it is. I for my part have never enjoyed myself so much nor found life so pleasant as I have since I lost mine.”
Upon this, a sly old fox, seeing through the trick, cried, “It seems to me, my friend, that you would not be so anxious for us to cut off our tails, if you had not already lost yours.”
The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
A wolf put on the skin of a sheep, and getting in among the flock by means of this disguise, killed many of the sheep. The shepherd, who wondered why so many of his flock had disappeared, at last discovered the deceit. He fastened a rope cunningly round the pretended sheep's neck, led him to a tree, and there hanged him.
Some other shepherds passing that way and seeing what they thought was a sheep hanging from a tree, said, “What, brother! Surely you do not hang sheep?”
“No,” answered the shepherd, “but I hang wolves when I catch them dressed up in sheep's skins!”
Then he showed them their mistake, and they praised the justice of the deed he had done.
The Crow and the Pitcher
A crow, whose throat was parched and dry with thirst, saw a pitcher in the distance. In great joy he flew to it, but found that it held only a little water, and even that was too near the bottom to be reached, for all his stooping and straining. Next he tried to overturn the pitcher, thinking that he would at least be able to catch some of the water as it trickled out. But this he was not strong enough to do. In the end he found some pebbles lying near, and by dropping them one by one into the pitcher, he managed at last to raise the water up to the very brim, and thus was able to quench his thirst.
The Man, his Son, and his Ass
A man and his son were leading their ass to market. A girl, seeing them, cried, “Why walk when you can ride?” On hearing this, the man set his son upon the ass.
Going further, they heard an old man say, “Shame for the young to ride while old people walk!” Thereupon the man made his son get down and rode himself.
Presently they met some women who cried, “Look at the poor tired son and lazy father!” Hearing this, the man took his son up beside him and so they rode into the town.
There a young man called to them, “Two men on one beast! It seems to me you are more fit to carry the ass than he is to carry you.”
Then they got down, tied the beast's legs to a pole, and carried him thus till they came to a bridge. As they went, the children shouted so loudly that the ass took fright—kicked his legs free, and jumped over the bridge into the river.
Thus having lost his ass, the man went home, crying, “Try to please everybody and you will please nobody, not even yourself!”