Monkey and Fox: An Election Fable for Our Times

Several times during the election season I have tweeted the following lines attributed (weakly) to Archilochus.

Archilochus, fab. 81

“After he danced at a gathering of unreasoning animals and earned a reputation, a monkey was elected their king.”

ἐν συνόδῳ τῶν ἀλόγων ζῴων πίθηκος ὀρκησάμενος καὶ εὐδοκιμήσας βασιλεὺς ὑπ᾿ αὐτῶν ἐχειροτονήθη

Archilochus talks about the monkey in another fragment. Here, the monkey meets a fox.

Archilochus, Fr. 185

“I will tell you a fable, Cerycides,
With a mournful message [stick]:
A monkey was traveling ahead of the other animals,
Alone into the distance,
When a clever fox met him,
Possessing a well-formed mind.”

ἐρέω τιν’ ὕμιν αἶνον, ὦ Κηρυκίδη,
ἀχνυμένηι σκυτάληι,
πίθηκος ἤιει θηρίων ἀποκριθεὶς
μοῦνος ἀν’ ἐσχατιήν,
τῶι δ’ ἆρ’ ἀλώπηξ κερδαλῆ συνήντετο,
πυκνὸν ἔχουσα νόον.

monkey-and-fox

Les Fables d’Esope Phrygien, mises en Ryme Francoise. Auec la vie dudit Esope extraite de plusieurs autheurs par M. Antoine du Moulin Masconnois. A Lyon, Par Iean de Tournes, & Guillaume Gazeau. 1547. Fable 41. Du Singe & du Renard.

(confused about the “message stick” [ἀχνυμένηι σκυτάληι]? Me too. For a discussion, see

See Katerina Philippides’ “The Fox and the Wolf: Archilochus’ 81 D/185 W and Pindar’s “Olympian” 6, 87-91 (With Reference to “Pythian” 2)” Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica. 9 (2009) 11-21).

The fabulous meeting of the monkey and fox may have even more to say to our times. Here are two fables from the Aesopic tradition. (For an embarrassment of riches when it comes to resources for fables, go to mythfolklore.net)

Aesop, Fable 83

“A monkey danced at a gathering of unreasoning animals and, impressing them, was elected king. But a fox, envying him for this, noticed a piece of meat lying in a trap. She led the monkey to where it was, and said that she had discovered a storehouse on her own but did not use it because she had saved the prize for his kingdom. She advised him to take it. When he stupidly approached, he was caught by the trap. When he blamed the fox for leading him to the trap, she said, “Monkey, how are you going to be king of the animals with this kind of mind?”

In this way, people who attempt deeds without any experience slip into misfortune and absurdity.”

ΑΛΩΠΗΞ ΚΑΙ ΠΙΘΗΚΟΣ
ἐν συνόδῳ τῶν ἀλόγων ζῴων πίθηκος ὀρχησάμενος καὶ εὐδοκιμήσας βασιλεὺς ὑπ’ αὐτῶν ἐχειροτονήθη. ἀλώπηξ δὲ αὐτῷ φθονήσασα ὡς ἐθεάσατο ἔν τινι πάγῃ κρέας κείμενον, ἀγαγοῦσα αὐτὸν ἐνταῦθα ἔλεγεν, ὡς εὑροῦσα θησαυρὸν αὐτὴ μὲν οὐκ ἐχρήσατο, γέρας δὲ αὐτῷ τῆς βασιλείας τετήρηκε καὶ παρῄνει αὐτῷ λαβεῖν. τοῦ δὲ ἀμελετήτως ἐπελθόντος καὶ ὑπὸ τῆς παγίδος συλληφθέντος αἰτιωμένου τε τὴν ἀλώπεκα ὡς ἐνεδρεύσασαν αὐτῷ ἐκείνη ἔφη· „ὦ πίθηκε, σὺ δὲ τοιαύτην ψυχὴν ἔχων τῶν ἀλόγων ζῴων βασιλεύεις;”

οὕτως οἱ τοῖς πράγμασιν ἀπερισκέπτως ἐπιχειροῦντες πρὸς τῷ δυστυχεῖν καὶ γέλωτα ὀφλισκάνουσιν.

Aesop, Fab. 14

“While traveling together a fox and a monkey started arguing about their family trees. They were arguing for a while until they came to a graveyard. After he looked there, the monkey moaned. When the fox was asking why, the monkey pointed to the monuments and said, “How can I fail to weep looking at the graves of my ancestors?” The fox responded, “Lie as much as you want. None of them will stand up to refute you!”

It is the same way with men: braggarts lie the most whenever they won’t be challenged.”

ΑΛΩΠΗΞ ΚΑΙ ΠΙΘΗΚΟΣ
ἀλώπηξ καὶ πίθηκος ἐν ταὐτῷ ὁδοιποροῦντες περὶ εὐγενείας ἤριζον. πολλὰ δὲ ἑκατέρου διεξιόντος ἐπειδὴ ἐγένοντο κατά τι<νας τύμβους>, ἐνταῦθα ἀποβλέψας ἀνεστέναξεν ὁ πίθηκος. τῆς δὲ ἀλώπεκος ἐρομένης τὴν αἰτίαν ὁ πίθηκος ἐπιδείξας αὐτῇ τὰ μνήματα εἶπεν· „ἀλλ’ οὐ μέλλω κλαίειν ὁρῶν τὰς στήλας τῶν πατρικῶν μου ἀπελευθέρων καὶ δούλων;” κἀκείνη πρὸς αὐτὸν ἔφη· „ἀλλὰ ψεύδου, ὅσα βούλει. οὐδεὶς γὰρ τούτων ἀναστὰς ἐλέγξει σε.”

οὕτω καὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων οἱ ψευδολόγοι τότε μάλιστα καταλαζονεύονται, ὅταν τοὺς ἐλέγχοντας μὴ ἔχωσι.

Here’s a strange variation from Phaedrus:

Phaedrus, Appendix: Simius et Vulpes (Monkey and Fox)

“A monkey was asking a fox for part of her tail
So he could properly cover his naked ass.
The mean fox said, “even if it should grow longer still
I would rather drag my tail through muck and spines
Than share with you the smaller part of mine!”

Vulpem rogabat partem caudae simius,
contegere honeste posset ut nudas nates;
cui sic maligna: “Longior fiat licet,
tamen illam citius per lutum et spinas traham,
partem tibi quam quamvis parvam impartiar.”

And just because I cannot leave well-enough alone:

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 5.6 (Heracleides)

“Dionysius said to him: “you will also find these lines: ‘an old monkey is not caught in a trap’; ‘he is caught, he is caught after some time’. And in addition to these, he said: “Heracleides is illiterate, but not ashamed of it.”

Διονύσιος ὅτι “καὶ ταῦτα εὑρήσεις:
α. γέρων πίθηκος οὐχ ἁλίσκεται πάγῃ:
β. ἁλίσκεται μέν, μετὰ χρόνον δ᾽ ἁλίσκεται.”
καὶ πρὸς τούτοις: “Ἡρακλείδης γράμματα οὐκ ἐπίσταται οὐδ᾽ ᾐσχύνθη.”

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