When the lion reigned over the beasts of the earth he was never cruel or tyrannical, but as gentle and just as a king ought to be. During his reign he called a general assembly of the beasts, and drew up a code of laws that all were to live by in perfect equality and harmony: the wolf and the lamb, the tiger and the stag, the leopard and the kid, the dog and the hare, all should dwell side by side in unbroken peace and friendship.
The hare said, "Oh! how I have longed for this day when the weak take their place without fear by the side of the strong!"
A donkey was being driven down a mountain road, and after jogging along for a while sensibly enough he suddenly quitted the track and rushed to the edge of a precipice. He was just about to leap over the edge when his driver caught hold of his tail and did his best to pull him back: but pull as he might he couldn't get the donkey to budge from the brink.
At last he gave up, crying, "All right, then, get to the bottom your own way; but it's the way to sudden death, as you'll find out quick enough."
A lion found a hare sleeping in her form and was just going to devour her when he caught sight of a passing stag. Dropping the hare, he at once made for the bigger game. However, after a long chase he found that he could not overtake the stag, so he abandoned the attempt and came back for the hare.
When he reached the spot, however, he found she was nowhere to be seen, and he had to go without his dinner.
"It serves me right," he said; "I should have been content with what I had got, instead of hankering after a better prize."
Once on a time the wolves said to the dogs, "Why should we continue to be enemies any longer? You are very like us in most ways: the main difference between us is one of training only. We live a life of freedom; but you are enslaved to mankind: People beat you, put heavy collars round your necks and compel you to keep watch over their flocks and herds for them. To crown all, they give you nothing but bones to eat. Don't put up with it any longer, but hand over the flocks to us, and we will all live on the fat of the land and feast together."
The dogs were persuaded by these words, and accompanied the wolves into their den. But no sooner were they well inside than the wolves set on them and tore them to pieces.
❋ Traitors richly deserve their fate.
A full-grown bull was struggling to force his huge bulk through the narrow entrance to a cow-house where his stall was, when a young calf came up and said to him, "If you'll step aside a moment, I'll show you the way to get through."
The bull turned on him an amused look. "I knew that way," said he, "before you were born."
A woodman went into the forest and begged of the trees the favour of a handle for his axe. The principal trees at once agreed to so modest a request, and unhesitatingly gave him a young ash sapling, out of which he fashioned the handle he desired.
No sooner had he done so than he set to work to fell the noblest trees in the wood.
When they saw the use to which he was putting their gift, they cried, "Alas! alas! We are undone, but we are ourselves to blame. The little we gave has cost us all: had we not sacrificed the rights of the ash, we might ourselves have stood for ages."
There was once an astronomer whose habit it was to go out at night and observe the stars. One night, as he was walking about outside the town gates, gazing up absorbed into the sky and not looking where he was going, he fell into a dry well.
As he lay there groaning, someone passing by heard him, and, coming to the edge of the well, looked down and, on learning what had happened, said, "If you really mean to say that you were looking so hard at the sky that you didn't even see where your feet were carrying you along the ground, it appears to me that you deserve all you've got."
A labourer's little son was bitten by a snake and died of the wound. The father was beside himself with grief, and in his anger against the snake he caught up an axe and went and stood close to the snake's hole and watched for a chance of killing it
Before long the snake came out, and the man aimed a blow at it, but only succeeded in cutting off the tip of its tail before it wriggled in again. He then tried to get it to come out a second time, pretending that he wished to make up the quarrel. But the snake said, "I can never be your friend because of my lost tail, nor you mine because of your lost child."
❋ Injuries are never forgotten in the presence of those who caused them.
A singing-bird was confined in a cage which hung outside a window, and had a way of singing at night when all other birds were asleep. One night a bat came and clung to the bars of the cage, and asked the bird why she was silent by day and sang only at night.
"I have a very good reason for doing so," said the bird: "it was once when I was singing in the daytime that a fowler was attracted by my voice, and set his nets for me and caught me. Since then I have never sung except by night."
But the bat replied, "It is no use your doing that now when you are a prisoner: if only you had done so before you were caught, you might still have been free."
❋ Precautions are useless after the event.
A man who wanted to buy a donkey went to market, and, coming across a likely-looking beast, arranged with the owner that he should be allowed to take him home on trial to see what he was like.
When he reached home, he put him into his stable along with the other donkeys. The newcomer took a look round, and at once went and chose a place next to the laziest and greediest beast in the stable. When the master saw this he put a halter on him at once, and led him off and handed him over to his owner again. The latter was a good deal surprised to see him back so soon, and said, "Why, do you mean to say you have tested him already?"
"I don't want to put him through any more tests," replied the other: "I could see what sort of beast he is from the companion he chose for himself."
❋ A man is known by the company he keeps.
A kid strayed from the flock and was chased by a wolf. When he saw he must be caught he turned round and said to the wolf, "I know, sir, that I can't escape being eaten by you: and so, as my life is bound to be short, I pray you let it be as merry as may be. Will you not play me a tune to dance to before I die?"
The wolf saw no objection to having some music before his dinner: so he took out his pipe and began to play, while the kid danced before him.
Before many minutes were passed the gods who guarded the flock heard the sound and came up to see what was going on. They no sooner clapped eyes on the wolf than they gave chase and drove him away. As he ran off, he turned and said to the kid, "It's what I thoroughly deserve: my trade is the butcher's, and I had no business to turn piper to please you."
A man of Athens fell into debt and was pressed for the money by his creditor; but he had no means of paying at the time, so he begged for delay. But the creditor refused and said he must pay at once. Then the debtor fetched a sow – the only one he had – and took her to market to offer her for sale. It happened that his creditor was there too.
Before long a buyer came along and asked if the sow produced good litters.
"Yes," said the debtor, "very fine ones; and the remarkable thing is that she produces females at the Mysteries and males at the Panathenea."
(Festivals these were: and the Athenians always sacrifice a sow at one, and a boar at the other; while at the Dionysia they sacrifice a kid.)
At that the creditor, who was standing by, put in, "Don't be surprised, sir; why, still better, at the Dionysia this sow has kids!"
A man who had lost all his hair took to wearing a wig, and one day he went out hunting. It was blowing rather hard at the time, and he hadn't gone far before a gust of wind caught his hat and carried it off, and his wig too, much to the amusement of the hunt. But he quite entered into the joke, and said, "Ah, well! the hair that wig is made of didn't stick to the head on which it grew; so it's no wonder it won't stick to mine."
A herdsman was tending his cattle when he missed a young bull, one of the finest of the herd. He went at once to look for him, but, meeting with no success in his search, he made a vow that, if he should discover the thief, he would sacrifice a calf to Jupiter.
Continuing his search, he entered a thicket, where he presently espied a lion devouring the lost bull. Terrified with fear, he raised his hands to heaven and cried, "Great Jupiter, I vowed I would sacrifice a calf to thee if I should discover the thief: but now a full-grown bull I promise thee if only I myself escape unhurt from his clutches."
One morning a mule, who had too much to eat and too little to do, began to think himself a very fine fellow indeed, and frisked about saying, "My father was undoubtedly a high-spirited horse and I take after him entirely."
But very soon afterwards he was put into the harness and compelled to go a very long way with a heavy load behind him. At the end of the day, exhausted by his unusual exertions, he said dejectedly to himself, "I must have been mistaken about my father; he can only have been a donkey after all."
A hound, roaming in the forest, spied a lion, and being well used to lesser game, gave chase, thinking he would make a fine quarry.
Before long the lion perceived that he was being pursued; so, stopping short, he rounded on his pursuer and gave a loud roar. The hound at once turned tail and fled. A fox, seeing him running away, jeered at him and said, "Ho! ho! There goes the coward who chased a lion and ran away the moment he roared!"
A man had two daughters, one of whom he gave in marriage to a gardener, and the other to a potter. After a time he thought he would go and see how they were getting on; and first he went to the gardener's wife. He asked her how she was, and how things were going with herself and her husband. She replied that on the whole they were doing very well: "But," she continued, "I do wish we could have some good heavy rain: the garden wants it badly."
Then he went on to the potter's wife and made the same inquiries of her. She replied that she and her husband had nothing to complain of: "But," she went on, "I do wish we could have some nice dry weather, to dry the pottery."
Her father looked at her with a humorous expression on his face. "You want dry weather," he said, "and your sister wants rain. I was going to ask in my prayers that your wishes should be granted; but now it strikes me I had better not refer to the subject."
A thief hired a room at an inn, and stayed there some days on the look-out for something to steal. No opportunity, however, presented itself, till one day, when there was a festival to be celebrated, the innkeeper appeared in a fine new coat and sat down before the door of the inn for an airing. The thief no sooner set eyes on the coat than he longed to take of it. There was no business doing, so he went and took a seat by the side of the innkeeper, and began talking to him.
They conversed together for some time, and then the thief suddenly yawned and howled like a wolf. The innkeeper asked him in some concern what ailed him.
The thief replied, "I will tell you about myself, sir, but first I must beg you to take charge of my clothes for me, for I intend to leave them with you. Why I have these fits of yawning I cannot tell: maybe they are sent as a punishment for my misdeeds; but, whatever the reason, the facts are that when I have yawned three times I become a ravening wolf and fly at men's throats."
As he finished speaking he yawned a second time and howled again as before. The innkeeper, believing every word he said, and terrified at the prospect of being confronted with a wolf, got up hastily and started to run indoors; but the thief caught him by the coat and tried to stop him, crying, "Stay, sir, stay, and take charge of my clothes, or else I shall never see them again."
As he spoke he opened his mouth and began to yawn for the third time. The innkeeper, mad with the fear of being eaten by a wolf, slipped out of his coat, which remained in the other's hands, and bolted into the inn and locked the door behind him; and the thief then quietly stole off with his spoil.
A wild donkey, who was wandering idly about, one day came on a pack-donkey lying at full length in a sunny spot and thoroughly enjoying himself. Going up to him, he said, "What a lucky beast you are! Your sleek coat shows how well you live: how I envy you!"
Not long after the wild donkey saw his acquaintance again, but this time he was carrying a heavy load, and his driver was following behind and beating him with a thick stick.
"Ah, my friend," said the wild donkey, "I don't envy you any more: for I see you pay dear for your comforts."
❋ Advantages that are dearly bought are doubtful blessings.
A gardener had a donkey that had a very hard time of it, what with scanty food, heavy loads, and constant beating. The donkey therefore begged Jupiter to take him away from the gardener and hand him over to another master. So Jupiter sent Mercury to the gardener to bid him sell the donkey to a potter, which he did.
But the donkey was as discontented as ever, for he had to work harder than before: so he begged Jupiter for relief a second time, and Jupiter very obligingly arranged that he should be sold to a tanner.
But when the donkey saw what his new master's trade was, he cried in despair, "Why wasn't I content to serve either of my former masters, hard as I had to work and badly as I was treated? for they would have buried me decently, but now I shall come in the end to the tanning-vat."
❋ Servants don't know a good master till they have served a worse.