The Frog King: Another Fable for Our Time

Phaedrus, Fabulae 1.2

“When Athens flourished with equal laws,
Heady freedom corrupted the state
And excess dissolved their ancient restraints.
As partisan conspiracies were inflamed,
The tyrant Pisistratus took the citadel.
While all the Attic demes mourned wretched slavery—
Not because he was savage, but because they were all
Unaccustomed to control—Aesop retold this tale.
The frogs who wandered free in their marshes
Sought from Jupiter a king with great acclamation,
One who would return their customs in decline.
He sent a small plank whose sudden appearance
Shocked the timid race with its movement and sound.
While it floated for some time on the surface
By chance one lifted his quiet head from the pond
And called all the rest to their newly found ‘king’.
With fear set aside, they swam to it bit by bit
And the raucous crowd climbed on the plank to dance!
Then their furies rang out all around,
As they asked Zeus for another king
Because the one he sent them was useless.
Then he sent them a water-snake who began
To snatch them one by one with savage teeth.
In vain they tried their useless flight; fear muted their voices.
Secretly they gave their pleas to Mercury for Jove,
That he might help the cursed. But the god responded:
“Because you did not want the good king you had,
You must now endure the bad. And you, too, Athenians
Endure this, lest you take in turn a greater evil.”

silver-stater

A Silver Stater from Seriphos

Athenae cum florerent aequis legibus,
Procax libertas civitatem miscuit
Frenumque solvit pristinum licentia.
Hic conspiratis factionum partibus
Arcem tyrannus occupat Pisistratus.
Cum tristem servitutem flerent Attici,
(Non quia crudelis ille, sed quoniam gravis
Omnino insuetis), onus et coepissent queri,
Aesopus talem tum fabellam rettulit.
Ranae vagantes liberis paludibus
Clamore magno regem petiere a Iove,
Qui dissolutos mores vi compesceret.
Pater deorum risit atque illis dedit
Parvum tigillum, missum quod subito vadi
Motu sonoque terruit pavidum genus.
Hoc mersum limo cum iaceret diutius,
Forte una tacite profert e stagno caput
Et explorato rege cunctas evocat.
Illae timore posito certatim adnatant
Lignumque supera turba petulans insilit.
Quod cum inquinassent omni contumelia,
Alium rogantes regem misere ad Iovem,
Inutilis quoniam esset qui fuerat datus.
Tum misit illis hydrum, qui dente aspero
Corripere coepit singulas. Frustra necem
Fugitant inertes, vocem praecludit metus.
Furtim igitur dant Mercurio mandata ad Iovem,
Afflictis ut succurrat. Tunc contra deus:
Quia noluistis vestrum ferre inquit bonum,
Malum perferte. — Vos quoque, o cives, ait,
Hoc sustinete, maius ne veniat malum.

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