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.”
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.
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?
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!]
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.”
(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.”
“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.”
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.”
“Whoever seeks another’s goods has rightly lost his own.
A dog was swimming across a river carrying his meal
And saw his own reflection in the water’s shine:
Thinking he might claim different spoils from another
He tried to snatch it: but instead deceptive greed
Was gripping him as his mouth released his meat:
And so he also failed to touch what he tried to seek.”
Canis per fluvium carnem ferens.
Amittit merito proprium qui alienum adpetit.
Canis per flumen carnem cum ferret natans,
Lympharum in speculo vidit simulacrum suum,
Aliamque praedam ab altero ferri putans
Eripere voluit; verum decepta aviditas
Et quem tenebat ore dimisit cibum,
Nec quem petebat potuit adeo adtingere.
According to a Hellenistic collection, the poet Alcaeus complained of the onslaught of the erotic god:
Greek Anthology, 5. 10 (Attributed to Alcaeus of Messene)
“I hate Love [Eros]. Why doesn’t the overwhelming god attack
wild beasts instead of shooting arrows at my heart?
What good is it for a god to burn out a man? What is the rite
that has him pin me and take a prize from my head?”
“After our friend Taurus said these things about Pythagoras, he added, “Today, these people who turn to philosophy on whim and without washed feet [i.e. without preparation for the study], for them it isn’t enough that they are “completely without logic, without education, and without mathematical training”; no, they give the orders about how they should learn philosophy. One says “teach me this first”; another says “I’d like to learn this, but not that.” One is burning to start with Plato’s Symposium because of the appearance of Alcibiades; a different one wants the Phaedrus because of Lysias’ oration. By Jupiter! One even asks to read Plato not for the sake of improving his life, but only to decorate his speech and oratory—not so that it may be more appropriate, but in order to make it fancier.”
Haec eadem super Pythagora noster Taurus cum dixisset: “nunc autem” inquit “isti, qui repente pedibus inlotis ad philosophos devertunt, non est hoc satis, quod sunt omnino ἀθεώτεροι, ἄμουσοι, ἀγεωμέτρητοι, sed legem etiam dant, qua philosophari discant. 9 Alius ait “hoc me primum doce”, item alius “hoc volo” inquit “discere, istud nolo”; hic a symposio Platonis incipere gestit propter Alcibiadae comisationem, ille a Phaedro propter Lysiae orationem. 10 Est etiam,” inquit “pro Iuppiter! qui Platonem legere postulet non vitae ornandae, sed linguae orationisque comendae gratia, nec ut modestior fiat, sed ut lepidior.”