4 Years of Presidential Memories: 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

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.

4 Years of Presidential Memories: The Exploding Frog, A Fable

Phaedrus 1.24 The Exploding Frog (Full text on the Scaife Viewer)

A poor man, when he tries to imitate the powerful, dies.
Once in a meadow a frog saw a bull
Whose great size exerted on her such a pull
That she inflated her wrinkled skin and asked
Her children whether she was bigger than that.
They denied it and she puffed herself out self again
But when she asked who was bigger, they said “him”.
Finally angry, she didn’t want to blow it,
She puffed again and her body exploded.”

frog

I.24. Rana Rupta

Inops, potentem dum vult imitari, perit.
In prato quondam rana conspexit bovem,
et tacta invidia tantae magnitudinis
rugosam inflavit pellem. Tum natos suos
interrogavit an bove esset latior.
Illi negarunt. Rursus intendit cutem
maiore nisu, et simili quaesivit modo,
quis maior esset. Illi dixerunt “bovem”.
Novissime indignata, dum vult validius
inflare sese, rupto iacuit corpore.

4 Years of Presidential Memories: Weasel and Man, another Fable for Our Times

I.22. Mustela et Homo

“A weasel was caught by a man and to avoid
Coming death, was begging him “Spare me, please
Since I rid your home of pestilent mice”

And he responded, “if you did this for me
I would be grateful and do for you something nice.
But since you do these favors to enjoy the remains
Which the mice leave behind when you eat them too
Don’t ask me to do anything kind for you!”

He said this and sentenced the wicked weasel to die.
There are those who should know this tale is about them:
Their private business safeguards their own affairs
And they brag about accomplishments that are not there.”

A Weasel

Mustela ab homine prensa, cum instantem necem
effugere vellet, “Parce, quaeso”, inquit “mihi,
quae tibi molestis muribus purgo domum”.
Respondit ille “Faceres si causa mea,
gratum esset et dedissem veniam supplici.
Nunc quia laboras ut fruaris reliquiis,
quas sunt rosuri, simul et ipsos devores,
noli imputare vanum beneficium mihi”.
Atque ita locutus improbam leto dedit.
Hoc in se dictum debent illi agnoscere,
quorum privata servit utilitas sibi,
et meritum inane iactant imprudentibus.

A Verse Fable for the Superficial

The Fox and the Tragic Mask, Phaedrus 1.7

By chance a fox had seen a tragic mask:
What a sight, he has no brains inside!–he gasped.
To whomever fortune grants honor and glory,
It deprives of common sense, as in this story.

MaskTragedy168.jpg

Personam tragicam forte vulpes viderat:
O quanta species, inquit, cerebrum non habet!
Hoc illis dictum est, quibus honorem et gloriam
Fortuna tribuit, sensum communem abstulit.

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.

Frogs and Bulls, Another Fable for Our Times

Phaedrus 1.30 Frogs and Bulls

“The lower classes suffer when the powerful fight.
From a swamp a frog gazed on fighting bulls
And said, “Alas, how much danger looms in sight!”
When another frog asked why she said so,
Since those bulls struggled over their herd’s first place
And pursued their lives far from the water’s flow,
She said “although they are different and in a different space,
Whoever is expelled from the field’s realm will flee
And come to find secret safety in our pond.
He will bear down on us, trampled by his harsh feet.
So their conflict is a threat to life for you and me.”

frogs

1.30 Ranae et Tauri

Humiles laborant ubi potentes dissident.
Rana e palude pugnam taurorum intuens,
“Heu, quanta nobis instat pernicies” ait.
interrogata ab alia cur hoc diceret,
de principatu cum illi certarent gregis
longeque ab ipsis degerent vitam boves,
“Sit statio separata ac diversum genus;
expulsus regno nemoris qui profugerit,
paludis in secreta veniet latibula,
et proculcatas obteret duro pede.
Ita caput ad nostrum furor illorum pertinet”.

Weasel and Man, another Fable for Our Times

I.22. Mustela et Homo

“A weasel was caught by a man and to avoid
Coming death, was begging him “Spare me, please
Since I rid your home of pestilent mice”
And he responded, “if you did this for me
I would be grateful and do for you something nice.
But since you do these favors to enjoy the remains
Which the mice leave behind when you eat them too
Don’t ask me to do anything kind for you!”
He said this and sentenced the wicked weasel to die.
There are those who should know this tale is about them:
Their private business safeguards their own affairs
And they brag about accomplishments that are not there.”

A Weasel

Mustela ab homine prensa, cum instantem necem
effugere vellet, “Parce, quaeso”, inquit “mihi,
quae tibi molestis muribus purgo domum”.
Respondit ille “Faceres si causa mea,
gratum esset et dedissem veniam supplici.
Nunc quia laboras ut fruaris reliquiis,
quas sunt rosuri, simul et ipsos devores,
noli imputare vanum beneficium mihi”.
Atque ita locutus improbam leto dedit.
Hoc in se dictum debent illi agnoscere,
quorum privata servit utilitas sibi,
et meritum inane iactant imprudentibus.

The Exploding Frog, A Fable

Phaedrus 1.24 The Exploding Frog

A poor man, when he tries to imitate the powerful, dies.
Once in a meadow a frog saw a bull
Whose great size exerted on her such a pull
That she inflated her wrinkled skin and asked
Her children whether she was bigger than that.
They denied it and she puffed herself out self again
But when she asked who was bigger, they said “him”.
Finally angry, she didn’t want to blow it,
She puffed again and her body exploded.”

frog

I.24. Rana Rupta

Inops, potentem dum vult imitari, perit.
In prato quondam rana conspexit bovem,
et tacta invidia tantae magnitudinis
rugosam inflavit pellem. Tum natos suos
interrogavit an bove esset latior.
Illi negarunt. Rursus intendit cutem
maiore nisu, et simili quaesivit modo,
quis maior esset. Illi dixerunt “bovem”.
Novissime indignata, dum vult validius
inflare sese, rupto iacuit corpore.

Ambivalent Donkeys and Deceptive Wolves, Two Fables from Phaedrus

Two Fables from Phaedrus that have nothing to say about anything. Really.

The Ass to the old Shepherd, 1.15

When a state undergoes a change
The poor will change their ways
In nothing but the name of their king.
This little story illustrates the truth of such a thing.
A timid old man was taking an ass to meadow to graze
He was frightened by an enemy’s sudden shout,
To avoid capture, he was urging the donkey to get out.
But the slow one said, “Do you think, please
That your foe would put a double-load on me?”
The old man said no, and the ass said “what difference is a name
when the baskets I must bear are ever the same?”

Asinus ad senem pastorem.

In principatu commutando saepius
Nil praeter domini mores mutant pauperes.
Id esse verum parva haec fabella indicat.
Asellum in prato timidus pascebat senex.
Is hostium clamore subito territus
Suadebat asino fugere, ne possent capi.
At ille lentus: Quaeso, num binas mihi
Clitellas impositurum victorem putas?
Senex negavit. Ergo quid refert mea
Cui serviam clitellas cum portem meas?

sheep

The Sheep, the Deer and the Wolf, 1.16

“When a con-man calls dishonest men to back a debt
He looks not to resolve a case, but to spring a trap instead.
A deer was asking a sheep for a load of wheat
With a wolf to back him: But she suspected a kind of cheat.
“To thieve and leave is the wolf’s accustomed way
And you, deer, with headlong speed depart the fray.
Wherever would I find you on collection day?”

Ovis, cervus, et lupus.

Fraudator homines cum advocat sponsum improbos,
Non rem expedire, sed mala videre expetit.
Ovem rogabat cervus modium tritici
Lupo sponsore. At illa praemetuens dolum:
Rapere atque abire semper assuevit lupus,
Tu de conspectu fugere veloci impetu;
Ubi vos requiram cum dies advenerit?

 

[With thanks to Rick LaFleur with some help on the Latin!]

Monkey and Fox: An Election Fable

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.”