From Vita Aesopi G:
“Aesop was toothless and unable to speak. His master, knowing that he was entirely silent and wouldn’t do for more urbane work, sent him to work the field. One of Aesop’s fellow slaves noted this affliction and said to his companion, ‘Ah my fellow slave, I know that you have a hearty desire to eat some figs.’ His companion responded, ‘Yes, by Zeus! How did you know?’ The first responded, ‘From the tokens of your face I can recognize your soul’s desire. I’ll share with you my plan so that we can both eat figs!’ His friend responded, ‘It can’t be a very good one – for when our master looks for is figs and we can’t give them to him, what will happen?’ The first slave responded, ‘Tell him that Aesop found the treasury open, rushed in, and ate all the figs! Aesop, being unable to speak, will then get a good thrashing, while you will have fulfilled your heart’s desire.’ Having thus discharged the burden of conversation, they sat down by the figs, ate them, and said, ‘Ah, woe to Aesop! He’s truly a useless old fellow, and nothing suits him better than a good thrashing! We will then agree at the same time with each other, and should he be broken or killed or drowned, we will say that Aesop did this deed, and we will have the best of it! At the appointed hour, the master returned after bathing and eating his morning meal and had a favorable inclination toward some figs. He wanted the fruit, so he said, ‘Agathopos, give me some figs.’ The master, realizing that he had been worked ill and toyed with, and learning that Aesop had eaten the figs, said, ‘Someone call Aesop here.’ When Aesop arrived, he said, ‘You villainous wretch! You have thus despised me, that you would go into my treasury and eat my specially ordered figs?’
Aesop listened, but was unable to speak because of the impediment to his tongue. He saw his accusers there openly before his eyes, as he was about to be thrashed, when he fell to his master’s knees and begged him to hold off for a moment. The master having thus held off, Aesop saw a pint glass and grabbed it, and through various nods and gestures asked for some lukewarm water. He set a bowl down before him and, after drinking the contents of the glass, stuck is fingers down his throat and forced them around until he vomited the water which he had drunk. For you see, he had not eaten anything yet. Thus, through this daring enterprise, he furnished his proof of innocence. He thought it proper that his fellow-slaves should do the same thing, so that it may be known who had eaten the figs. The master was astonished by this daring enterprise, and ordered that the other slaves drink and vomit as well. The slaves said to each other, ‘What shall we do, Hermes? Let’s drink, but avoid sticking our fingers down our throats – we’ll shove them in the corner.’ As soon as they drank the water, it mixed with the figs, roused up their bile, and up rushed the figs! As soon as they slackened their fingers, the figs ran out. The master said, ‘You see how you have falsely accused one who is unable to speak? Strip them!’ As they were being flogged, they realized that he who contrives evil for another inflicts evil upon himself without knowing it.”
ἦν δὲ καὶ νωδὸς καὶ οὐδὲν ἠδύνατο λαλεῖν. Τοῦτον ὁ δεσπότης κατὰ πάντα σιγηλὸν ἔχων καὶ ἀποίητον τῇ πολιτικῇ ἐργασίᾳ, ἔπεμψεν εἰς τὸν ἀγρόν … εἷς δέ τις τῶν συνδούλων αὐτοῦ ἰδὼν αὐτὸν ἀλγούμενον λέγει τῷ ἑταίρῳ “σύνδουλε, οἶδά σέ τι ἐνθυμῆσαι, διότι τὰ σῦκα καταφαγεῖν θέλεις.” ὁ δὲ ἔφη “ναὶ μὰ τὸν Δία, πῶς τοῦτο οἶδας;” ὁ δὲ λέγει “ἀπὸ τοῦ τῆς ὄψεως χαρακτῆρος τὸ τῆς ψυχῆς βούλευμα γινώσκω. δώσω οὖν γνώμην πῶς αὐτὰ φάγωμεν οἱ δύο.” ὁ δέ· “οὐ γὰρ καλὴν τὴν γνώμην ἔδωκας· ὅταν γὰρ ὁ δεσπότης ἐπιζητήσῃ τὰ σῦκα καὶ μὴ ἔχωμεν δοῦναι, τί ἔσται;” ὁ δὲ εἶπεν “εἰπὲ αὐτῷ ὅτι Αἴσωπος εὑρὼν τὸ ταμεῖον εὐκαίρως ἀνεῳγμένον εἰσπηδήσας κατέφαγεν τὰ σῦκα. ὁ δὲ Αἴσωπος λαλεῖν μὴ δυνάμενος οὕτως δαρήσεται, καὶ τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν σου εἶ πεπληρωκώς.” ταῦτα εἰπόντες περικαθίζουσι τοῖς σύκοις καὶ κατεσθίουσιν αὐτὰ καὶ ἔλεγον “οὐαὶ τῷ Αἰσώπῳ. ἀληθῶς σαπρός ἐστι, καὶ οὐδὲν ἄλλο πρέπει αὐτῷ εἰ μὴ δέρεσθαι. ἅπαξ οὖν συμφωνήσωμεν εἰς ἑαυτούς, καὶ ὃ ἐὰν κατεαγῇ ἢ ἀπόληται ἢ ἐκχυθῇ, λέγομεν ὅτι Αἴσωπος αὐτὸ πεποίηκεν, καὶ πάντοτε ἀμάχητοι γινόμεθα.” καὶ οἱ μὲν κατέφαγον τὰ σῦκα. τῇ δὲ τακτῇ ὥρᾳ ὁ δεσπότης λουσάμενος καὶ ἀριστήσας, εὐπέπτως ἔχων πρὸς τὰ σῦκα, ἐπεζήτησε τὴν ὀπώραν, καί φησιν “᾿Αγαθόπου, δὸς τὰ σῦκα.” [ἄλλος ῾Ερμᾶ, φέρε τὰ σῦκα]. ἰδὼν ὁ δεσπότης ὅτι διαπαίζεται διαπονηθείς, καὶ μαθὼν ὅτι Αἴσωπος ἔφαγε τὰ σῦκα, εἶπεν “Αἴσωπόν τις καλείτω.” καὶ δὴ κληθέντος παρεγένετο. ὁ δέ φησιν [λέγει] αὐτῷ “ἐπικατάρατε, οὕτως μου κατεφρόνησας, ἵνα εἰσελθὼν εἰς τὸ ταμιεῖον τὰ ἐμοὶ ἑτοιμασθέντα σῦκα καταφάγῃ;” ὁ δὲ ἀκούων, λαλεῖν δὲ μὴ δυνάμενος διὰ τὸ τῆς γλώττης ἐμπόδιον, θεωρῶν τοὺς κατηγόρους φανεροὺς ἀπὸ τῆς ὄψεως, μέλλων δαίρεσθαι, πεσὼν εἰς τὰ τοῦ δεσπότου γόνατα παρεκάλει μικρὸν ἐπισχεῖν. αὐτοῦ δὲ ἀνασχομένου, ἰδὼν παρακείμενον ξέστην ἔλαβεν αὐτὸν καὶ διὰ τῶν νευμάτων ᾔτησεν ὕδωρ χλιαρόν,
καὶ λεκάνην παραθεὶς εἰς τὸ μέσον Αἴσωπος καὶ πιών, ἔβαλεν τοὺς δακτύλους εἰς τὸ στόμα καὶ σπαράξας ἑαυτὸν ἀνέβαλεν τὸ χλιαρὸν ὅπερ ἔπιεν· οὐδαμῶς γὰρ ἦν γευσάμενος. διὰ δὲ τῆς πολυπειρίας δοὺς ἀπόδειξιν, τοῦτο ἠξίωσε καὶ τοὺς συνδούλους αὐτοῦ ποιῆσαι, ἵνα γνωσθῇ τίς ἐστιν ὁ φαγὼν τὰ σῦκα. θαυμάσας δὲ ὁ δεσπότης τὸ ἐνθύμημα αὐτοῦ ἐκέλευσεν καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους πιόντας ἐμέσαι. οἱ δὲ δοῦλοι εἰς ἑαυτούς· “τί ποιήσωμεν, ῾Ερμᾶ; πίωμεν, καὶ μὴ κάτω τοὺς δακτύλους βάλωμεν ἀλλὰ παρὰ τὰς γωνίας.” ἅμα δὲ τῷ πιεῖν αὐτοὺς τὸ χλιαρὸν χολοποιοῦντα τὰ σῦκα ἐπέπλευσαν ἄνω· καὶ ἅμα τῷ χαλάσαι τὸν δάκτυλον ἀνέδραμον τὰ σῦκα. ὁ δὲ δεσπότης ἔφη “ὁρᾶτε πῶς κατεψεύσασθε τῷ μὴ δυναμένῳ λαλῆσαι; ἔκδυσον αὐτούς.” δερόμενοι δὲ ἐκεῖνοι ἔγνωσαν ἀσφαλῶς ὅτι ὁ κατὰ ἄλλου μηχανευόμενος κακὸν αὐτὸς καθ’ ἑαυτοῦ τοῦτο λανθάνει ποιῶν.
3 thoughts on “Aesop Can Eat a Fig! (Or, How to Puke Your Way Out of a Tough Situation)”
Bravo on this passage. The Vita manages to combine moralizing and puking, two things I love to hate (and hate to love).
Here’s the Hesiod passage that may merely echo it or may be an inspiration for the moral:
“The man who does evil against another harms himself.”
οἷ αὐτῷ κακὰ τεύχει ἀνὴρ ἄλλῳ κακὰ τεύχων, WD 265.
And, of course, how could we forget Plato from the Gorgias (473a5):
“Doing wrong is worse than suffering it”
τὸ ἀδικεῖν τοῦ ἀδικεῖσθαι κάκιον εἶναι
Good parallels! Of course, I’m more inclined to side with Glaucon in The Republic than with these worn-out old moralizers!