Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Goose and the Golden Eggs

The Goose and the Golden Eggs. There was an old woman who had a goose that laid a golden egg for her each and every day. The woman, however, was very greedy: she concluded that the goose must have a goldmine in his guts and, hoping for even more gain, she killed him on the spot. Then, when she inspected his guts and found only one golden egg in there, she realized she had been deceived by her own foolish hopes and cried, "Woe is me: what guilt I feel for the crime I have committed! Not being content with my moderate profit, I have gone and lost it all."

Anser et Ova Aurea. Anus quaedam anserem alebat, qui illi quotidie ovum aureum excludebat. Anus avarissima, existimans anserem habuisse in visceribus fodinam auream, cupiditate commota, anserem confestim interfecit et, cum viscera perscrutabatur et unicum tantum ovum deprehenderat, spe sublactata inani, exclamabat, "O me infelicem, tantae crudelitatis consciam, quae, non modico contenta lucro, iam omnia perdiderim."

Notes. This is Barlow 96, which is Perry 87 in Perry's classification scheme. This is one of the most famous of all the Aesop's fables, although many people do not realize that "the goose that laid the golden eggs" is part of the Aesopic tradition. For an intriguing Indian parallel, consider the jataka tale of the bird with the golden feathers.

The Lion, the Rooster and the Donkey

The Lion, the Rooster and the Donkey. Once upon a time a rooster and a donkey were feeding together. When a lion attacked the donkey, the rooster crowed and the lion (who fears the sound made by the rooster) ran off. The donkey, thinking that he had been the one who scared off the lion, followed in pursuit but when he had chased the lion a distance away from the rooster, the lion turned on the donkey and devoured him. As he was dying, the donkey cried out, "I should have known better: since I don't come from a family of warriors, why on earth did I rush into battle?"

Leo, Gallus et Asinus. Gallus aliquando cum Asino pascebatur. Leone autem aggresso Asinum, Gallus exclamavit, et Leo (qui Galli vocem timet) fugere incipit. Asinus, ratus propter se fugere, aggressus est Leonem; ut vero procul a gallicinio persecutus est, conversus Leo Asinum devoravit, qui moriens clamabat, "Iusta passus sum; ex pugnacibus enim non natus parentibus, quamobrem in aciem irrui?"

Notes. This is Barlow 46 , which is Perry 82 in Perry's classification scheme. The motif of the lion being afraid of the rooster crowing figures in other fables, too, such as the story of the lion and the elephant, Perry 259.

The Satyr and the Traveler

The Satyr and the Traveler. A satyr found a traveler who was buried in the snow and all but dead from the cold. Feeling sorry for him, the satyr brought him into his cave. As the man warmed his hands by breathing on them, the satyr asked why he was doing that; "To warm them up," said the man. Then, when they had sat down to dinner, the traveler breathed on his porridge. When the satyr asked what he was doing, the man said, "To cool it down." The satyr immediately threw the man out, saying, "I don't want you in my cave if you can blow hot and cold from the same mouth."

Satyrus et Viator. Satyrus viatorem, nive obrutum atque algore enectum, misertus ducit in antrum suum. Refocillantem manus anhelitu oris percontatur causam; "Ut calefiant" inquit. Postea, cum accumberent, sufflat viator in polentam. Quod cur ita faceret interrogatus, "Ut frigescat" inquit. Tunc continuo Satyrus viatorem eiiciens, "Nolo" inquit "in meo ut sis antro, cui tam diversum est os."

Notes. This is Barlow 74 , which is Perry 35 in Perry's classification scheme. The poor satyr is a creature notoriously confused by the ways of civilization, as you can see in the story of the satyr and the fire (Perry 467).

The Cat and the Rooster

The Cat and the Rooster. When the cat had caught the rooster, he then accused him of being an unruly creature, making a ruckus in the nighttime which did not allow the humans to get their rest. The rooster justified himself by saying that this is what the humans wanted him to do, since he was waking them up for the chores that had to be done. Then the cat said, "You are a wicked creature who cannot restrain your desire for your mother or your sisters, mingling together with them wantonly." The rooster defended himself by saying that such union resulted in the hens laing eggs. Then the cat said, "Even if you have no end of excuses, I still have no intention of letting you go."

Catus et Gallus. Catus, cum Gallum cepisset, criminare coepit quod esset animal turbulentum, qui noctu clamitando non permitteret homines quiescere. Gallus se excusabat quod id ageret ad eorum voluptatem, cum ad opera facienda illos excitaret. Rursum Catus ait, "Impius es, qui nec a matre nec a sororibus te abstineas, sed per incontinentiam illis te commisceas." Gallus se defendebat dixitque quod, ex huiusmodi coitu, Gallinae pariunt ova. Tunc inquit Catus, "Quamvis excusationibus abundes, ego tamen te missum facere non intendo."

Notes. This is Barlow 57 , which is Perry 16 in Perry's classification scheme. The story is of the same basic type as the fable of the wolf and the lamb at the stream, where the wolf kills the lamb despite the lamb's protested innocence of all charges (Perry 155).

The Fox and the Eagle

The Fox and the Eagle. While the fox's pups were running around outside, they were snatched by the eagle and called out for their mother's protection. The fox ran up and asked the eagle to let her captured children go free. The eagle, having obtained her prey, swooped up to her chicks. The fox grabbed a torch as if she were going to set the nest on fire and chased after the eagle. The eagle, trembling, then said, "Spare me and my little children, and whatever I have of yours I will give back."

Vulpes et Aquila. Dum Vulpis proles foris excurrebant, ab Aquila comprehensae, matris fidem implorabant. Accurrit Vulpes Aquilamque rogat ut captivam prolem dimittat. Aquila, nacta praedam, ad pullos subvolat. Vulpes, correpta face quasi nidum incendio absumptura esset, insequitur. Trepidans Aquila, "Parce" inquit "mihi parvisque liberis, et tuum quidquid habeo reddidero."

Notes. This is Barlow 10, which is Perry 1 in Perry's classification scheme. There are two quite different versions of this story. In one type, represented here, the fox threatens to destroy the eagle's nest and succeeds in getting her pups back. In the other type, the eagle's nest does catch fire and all her chicks are burned to death as punishment for her wicked treatment of the fox.

Francis Barlow

Francis Barlow was one of the most renowned nature artists of 17th-century England, and his edition of Aesop's fables is famous not so much for the text of the fables as for its marvelous illustrations. Michigan State University has made an edition of Barlow available online, and I've reproduced the pages at my Aesopica website.

In 2009, I published an edition of 80 fables from Barlow's book, with 40 of the illustrations, with Bolchazy-Carducci Press; it's available from!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Fly and the Bull

The Fly and the Bull. A tiny fly was sitting on the horn of a bull. "If my weight is too much for you," said the fly, "I will leave right away." The bull replied, "Where are you? I don't feel anything at all."

Musca et Taurus. In cornu Tauri parva sedebat Musca. "Si te nimis gravo" inquit "statim avolabo." Taurus respondet, "Ubi es? Nihil sentio."

Notes. This is Gildersleeve 1, which is Perry 137 in Perry's classification scheme. You can find all kinds of combinations of animals used for this story - a gnat and a camel, for example, or a fly and a bull, as here. The only requirement is that the insect should be very very tiny and the beast should be very very large! The bigger the discrepancy between the two of them, the better. :-)

Belling the Cat

Belling the Cat. Once upon a time the mice were trying to decide how to keep themselves safe from the cat. The various mice proposed all kinds of plans, but none of them met with general approval. Finally one of the mice said, "A bell should be tied to the cat; then we will hear right away when he is coming and we'll easily make our escape." They all praised this wise mouse, delighted by the plan he had proposed. "So go ahead and tie on the bell," they said. The mouse replied, "I am the one who came up with the plan; let someone else put it into operation." So the plan turned out to be a failure, because no one could be found who was willing to bell the cat.

Mures, Feles et Tintinnabulum. Mures aliquando consultabant quomodo se a Fele tueri possent. Multa proponebantur a singulis muribus, sed nihil placebat. Postremo unus dixit, "Tintinnabulum Feli annectendum est; tum statim audiemus cum veniet, facileque effugiemus." Omnes mures laeti praedicant prudentem consilii auctorem. "Iam tu" inquiunt "annecte tintinnabulum." "Ego vero" respondet ille "consilium dedi; alius operam sumat." Irritum consilium fuit, quoniam qui Feli annecteret tintinnabulum non reperiebatur.

Notes. This is Gildersleeve 18, which is Perry 613 in Perry's classification scheme. It is not a classical Aesop's fable, but it is well-known in the Middle Ages. Of the many different versions you can find of this fable, the reason I like this particular version best is that the mice directly command the mouse who proposed the plan to carry it out, and he pointedly. In other versions of the fable, the mice usually just ask in general, "who will bell the cat?" and no one is willing to take on the task. One of the earliest versions I know of is this account in Odo of Cheriton.

Two Dogs and a Bone

Two Dogs and a Bone. Two dogs, Nero and Phylax, together found a great big bone. Each dog claimed the whole bone for himself. They begin to quarrel heatedly; finally the friends start fighting. The ground flows with their blood. Finally Phylax drives Nero away and, rejoicing, he goes back to where they had left their prize. But the bone was gone. A wiser dog had carried it off while they were fighting.

Canes Duo et Os. Canes duo, Nero et Phylax, una invenerant eximium os. Uterque totum os postulat; rixa exardescit; postremo amici pugnam committunt. Fluebat solum sanguine. Tandem Phylax Neronem fugavit, exsultansque, ad locum ubi praedam reliquerant rediit. At aberat os. Canis prudentior id abstulerat, dum illi pugnabant.

Notes. This is Gildersleeve 6, a fable which is not part of the Aesopic corpus, although it has something in common with the story of how the fox managed to steal a fawn from the lion and the bear while they were fighting over it, Perry 147. There is a wonderful rhyming medieval proverb about what happens when otherwise friendly dogs start fighting over a bone: Dum canis os rodit, socium quem diligit odit, "When a dog is chewing a bone, he hates the friend whom he loved." I'm not sure what Gildersleeve's source was for this story, or how he came up with the Latin (Nero) and Greek (Phylax) dog names - if anyone has any information about that, let me know!

The Fox Speaking Words of Peace

The Fox Speaking Words of Peace. A rooster, together with many of the hens, was sitting up on the roof of the barn when the fox approached them, wearing a sweet expression on her face. "Greetings," she said, "and please accept the joyous tidings which I bring to you. All hatred throughout the animal kingdom has been brought to an end: there is now peace. The deer walk with the lions, the sheep with the wolves, and mice with the cats. So come down from up there and we too can pledge undying friendship." "What wise counsel," said the rooster; "we will come down and the dog, whom I see coming this way, will be our witness." "A dog coming this way?" prompted the fox. "It might be that the dogs have not yet heard about this peace. Farewell!"

Gallus et Vulpes Pacem Annuntians. Blando vultu ad stabulum in cuius tecto cum multis Gallinis sedebat Gallus, accessit Vulpes. "Salvete" inquit "et laetum, quem vobis adfero, accipite nuntium. Omnes, quae inter animalia erant, inimicitiae exstinctae sunt; pax est facta. Ambulant cum leonibus cervi, cum lupis oves, cum felibus mures. Descendite igitur, ut etiam nos amicitiam sempiternam iungamus." "Bene mones" respondit Gallus; "descendemus, et canis, quem accurrentem video, testis esto." "Accurrit canis?" subiicit Vulpes. "Fieri potest, ut pax canibus nondum nuntiata sit. Valete."

Notes. This is Gildersleeve 11, which is Perry 671 in Perry's classification scheme. I really like the way this fable shows the fox sticking to her story even at the very end - she has to run away before the dog gets her, but even so she manages to find a way to stick to her story!

Why The Cuckoo Sings "Cuckoo"

Why The Cuckoo Sings "Cuckoo". A starling was coming out of the city when a cuckoo flew up to meet him, wanting to know what opinion the people had of his singing. First the cuckoo asked, "What do people say about the nightingale?" The starling replied, "They praise the nightingale's song most highly." "What about the lark?" asked the cuckoo. "Many people likewise praise the lark's song." "What about the quail?" "There are also those who enjoy the singing of the quail." Then the cuckoo asked, "And what do they say about me?" "Well," replied the starling, "I don't know for sure; no one ever mentioned you." This was not what the cuckoo to hear! He got angry and said, "If that's how it is, then in the future I'll sing my own praises myself!"

Origo Cuculi Cantus. Ad Sturnum, qui ex urbe aufugerat, volavit Cuculus; scire enim volebat quid homines de cantu suo iudicarent. "Quomodo" interrogavit "homines de Luscinia loquuntur?" Ille respondet, "Lusciniae cantum maximopere laudant." "Quomodo de Alauda?" "Multi quidem huius cantum laudant." "Quomodo de Coturnice?" "Nonnulli etiam coturnicis cantu delectantur." "Quid vero de me iudicant?" "Hoc" inquit Sturnus "dicere tibi non possum; nusquam enim tui fit mentio." Id non exspectaverat Cuculus. "Si ita est" inquit iratus "in posterum semper de me ipse loquar."

Notes. This is Gildersleeve 8; it is an aetiological story not found in the classical Aesopic corpus. I think it's a wonderful little explanation of why the name of the cuckoo matches the sound of the song that it sings, "cuckoo! cuckoo!" The name of the cuckoo in Latin, cuculus, is also onomatopoetic.

Gildersleeve's Latin Reader & Latin Primer

You can find many simple Latin prose fables in the readers that were widely published in the 19th century. In the 20th century, these kinds of readers gradually disappeared, as the pedagogical pendulum swung in the direction of reading Roman authors only. Fortunately, though, these Latin readers are available now at GoogleBooks, and they are a treasure-trove of easy Latin reading.

One of the best of these readers, in my opinion, is Basil Gildersleeve's Latin Reader. Here is a link to the Table of Contents for the 1871 edition of Gildersleeve's Latin Reader; below is a list of the items contained in the Aesop's fables section:

Fable 1. Taurus et musca page image
Fable 2. Asinus aegrotus page image
Fable 3. Culex et Passer page image
Fable 4. Societas Leonina (Ovis etc.) page image
Fable 5. Leo et Mus page image
Fable 6. Nero et Phylax (Canes et Os) page image
Fable 7. Leo Senex (Vestigia) page image
Fable 8. Cuculus et Sturnus page image
Fable 9. Acanthis et Luscinia page image
Fable 10. Asinus Pelle Leonis Indutus page image
Fable 11. Vulpes Orator Pacis page image
Fable 12. Cervus (Ad Fontem) page image
Fable 13. Puer Mendax page image
Fable 14. Ranae et Rex Earum page image
Fable 15. Ranarum Convicia page image
Fable 16. Equus et Homo (et Cervus) page image
Fable 17. Asinus et Catulus page image
Fable 18. Mures et Tintinnabulum page image
Fable 19. Amici et Asinus page image
Fable 20. Amici et Ursus page image
Fable 21. Lupus Ovis Pelle Indutus page image
Fable 22. Grus et Lupus page image
Fable 23. Mors et Senex page image
Fable 24. Feles et Vespertilio page image
Fable 25. Mercurius et Securis page image 1 - page image 2
Fable 26. Graculus et Pennae page image
Fable 27. Agricola et Filii (Virgulae) page image
Fable 28. Simia Rex et Vulpes page image
Fable 29. Vulpes Fugiens page image 1 - page image 2
Fable 30. Anguis, Canis et Rusticus page image

There is also an 1882 Latin Primer by Gildersleeve which takes a different approach, blending readings in with grammar exercises, followed by a 30-page reading section at the end of the book. Here is a list of the titles in the reading section of the 1882 Latin Primer:

1. Asinus pelle leonis indutus
2. Quod catulum, non decet asinum
3. Cervus
4. Senex et Mors
5. Vulpes orator pacis
6. Diogenes
7. Minus perferte, mais ne veniat malum (Ranae et Rex Earum)
8. Parva res concordia crescunt (Pater et Virgulae)
9. Vespertilio
10. Duobus litigantibus, tertius gaudet (Asinus Controversus)
11. Animi tranquilitas (Caligula)
12. Contentio de asini umbra
13. Dictum citium quam factum (Mures et Tintinnabulum)
14. Bias
15. Quae sit gratia eorum, qui aliud clausam in pectore, aliud in lingua promptum habent (Lupus, Venator et Pastor)
16. Paris
17. Menenii Agrippae fabula (De Ventre et Membris)
18. Simius Rex
19. Codrus
20. Duo si faciunt idem, non est idem (Securis in Fluvium Delapsa)
21. Orestes
22. Somnium (Duo Arcades Iter Facientes)
23. Nihil magis ridetur quam quod est praeter exspectationem (Silus et Crassus)
24. Servilis taciturnitas (Piso et Clodius)
25. Quid est deus? (Hiero et Simonides)
26. Androclus et leo

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Pig and the Horse

The Pig and the Horse. The pig noticed a war-horse, clad in armor, who was marching out to battle. "You fool," said the pig, "what's your hurry? After all, you might die in battle." The horse replied, "And what about you, growing fat in the mud and the mire even though you won't ever do anything admirable, the butcher's knife will take your life; my death at least will be accompanied by glory."

Porcus et Equus. Porcus, conspiciens Equum bellatorem qui cataphractus ad pugnam prodibat, "Stulte" inquit "quo properas? In pugna enim fortasse morieris." Cui Equus, "Tibi inter lutum sordesque impinguato, quamvis nihil dignum laude gesseris, cultellus adimet vitam; mortem vero meam comitabitur gloria."

Notes. This is Abstemius 48. This is an interesting little fable because it juxtaposes two contrasting points of view very vividly. The horse gets the last word here, but of course there are count-fables which show that there is nothing great or glorious about the fate of the war-horse in war, as in the story of The Donkey and the Horse, Perry 357.

The Ailing Donkey, the Wolves and the Dogs

The Ailing Donkey, the Wolves and the Dogs. The donkey was sick and the rumor was that he was going to die soon, so the wolves and the dogs came to pay him a visit. They asked the donkey's son how his father was doing and, opening the door just a crack, he answered, "Better than you would hope."

Asinus Aegrotans, Lupi et Canes. Asinus aegrotabat famaque exierat eum cito moriturum. Ad eum igitur visendum cum Lupi Canesque venissent peterentque a filio quomodo pater eius se haberet, ille per ostii rimulam respondit, "Melius quam velletis."

Notes. This is Abstemius 64. I like the way this story shows the son of the sick donkey acting wisely in not opening the door wide when there are wolves on the other side! It reminds me of the wise little kid who won't open the door to the wolf, Perry 572.

The Cat, the Mouse and the Cheese

The Cat, the Mouse and the Cheese. There was a man who had a big, beautiful chunk of cheese which he kept in a box, but a mouse was eating the cheese. Following his friend's advice, he put a cat in the box but after killing the mouse, the cat ate up all the cheese.
Moral: The story shows that you shouldn't employ guardians who are able to do as much harm as your enemies.

Caseus, Mus et Feles. Vir quidam magnum ac pulcherrimum in capsa caseum habebat, quem musculus edebat. Ex consilio ergo amici, felem illuc clausit quae, occiso mure, totum caseum comedit.
Morale. Fabula indicat eos non adhibendos custodes, qui non minus quam hostes nobis nocere possunt.

Notes. This is Abstemius 116. You can find a similar version in Odo of Cheriton 21. Perry does not include many of Abstemius's fables in his classification system, but he does include a large number of fables from Odo, so this story does have a Perry number; it's Perry 594.

The Fox and the Lion in the Snare

The Fox and the Lion in the Snare. There was a lion who had gotten caught in a snare. With all his strength he tried to snap the ropes but the more he pulled at the snare, the more tightly he was bound. A fox happened to be passing that same way and when she saw what had happened she said to the lion, "My king, you will not escape from there by force, but by ingenuity. Instead of tugging at the snare, you need to let go so it can loosen up." When the lion did what the fox advised, he was released from the snare which had bound him and thus escaped, free once again.
Moral. The story shows that mental ingenuity is far superior to physical strength.

Vulpes et Leo Irretitus. Leo, comprehensus laqueo, totis viribus vincula dirumpere conabatur; quo autem maiori conatu laqueum trahebat, eo arctius detinebatur. Vulpes, illac iter habens, cum hoc esset intuita, "Non viribus" inquit "mi rex, istinc evades, sed ingenio. Relaxandus enim laqueus et dissolvendus, non trahendus est." Quod cum Leo fecisset, statim soluto laqueo quo erat astrictus, liber evasit.
Morale. Fabula indicat ingenium viribus longe esse praestantius.

Notes. This is Abstemius 170. I really love this little fable about the paradoxical wisdom of "letting go," a lesson which the lion definitely needs to learn! The more famous version of the lion in the snare is about how a little mouse frees the lion, Perry 150, which teaches a different kind of paradox, how a big creature can be saved by a little one.

The Parrot and the Turtle-Dove

The Parrot and the Turtle-Dove. The parrot had been brought from the East to the West where birds of his type were not usually found. He was surprised that he was held in great esteem and honor, more so than in his native land, for he now lived in an ivory cage interwoven with branches made of silver and he was given the most exquisite food to eat. Meanwhile, this was not the case for the native western birds, even though there were no less beautiful than he was, and no less talented at imitating human speech. Then the turtle-dove, who lived in the same cage, said to the parrot, "There is nothing surprising about it: no one ever gets the honor he deserves in his own homeland."

Psittacus et Turtur. Psittacus, ex oriente in occidentem delatus, ubi huiusmodi aves nasci non consueverunt, admirabatur sese in maiori pretio et honore haberi quam in natali consuevisset solo, nam caveam eburneam argenteis contextam virgis incolebat suavissimisque alebatur cibis, quod ceteris avibus occidentalibus, quae neque in forma, neque exprimendis humanis vocibus erant inferiores, non contingebat. Tunc Turtur, in eadem cavea conclusus, "Hoc" inquit "nulla est admiratione dignum: nulli enim in patria meritus honor exhiberi solet."

Notes. This is Abstemius 106. I guess you could call this an "Orientalist" fable about the attractions of exotic items imported from the east. It also resonates with the proverb made famous in the Bible, Luke 4:24. Nemo propheta acceptus est in patria sua; No prophet is accepted in his own country.


Abstemius was a fifteenth-century Italian scholar at the court of Urbino who wrote two collections of Aesop's fables, one hundred fables each, which he called Hecatomythia (a Greek word he invented, meaning "100 Fables"). The first was published in 1495, and the second followed in 1499. The fables are based on the motifs and themes of the classical tradition but they are original to Abstemius and many of them went on to become extremely popular, being widely reprinted in the collections of Aesop's fables published in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

The easiest way to find Abstemius's fables online is to consult the massive edition of Aesop published by Nevelet; that is the only online source I have found which includes both of Abstemius's fable collections.

You might be wondering about the name Abstemius, which is actually a delightful little play on words in Latin. Abstemius's Italian name was Lorenzo Bevilaqua, and "Bevilaqua" means, in Italian, "Drinkwater." Hence his adopted Latin name!