A wild donkey saw a pack-donkey jogging along under a heavy load, and taunted him with the condition of slavery in which he lived, in these words: "What a vile lot is yours compared with mine! I am free as the air, and never do a stroke of work; and, as for fodder, I have only to go to the hills and there I find far more than enough for my needs. But you! you depend on your master for food, and he makes you carry heavy loads every day and beats you unmercifully."
At that moment a lion appeared on the scene, and made no attempt to molest the pack-donkey owing to the presence of the driver; but he fell on the wild donkey, who had no one to protect him, and without more ado made a meal of him.
❋ It is no use being your own master unless you can stand up for yourself.
Ants were once men and made their living by tilling the soil. But, not content with the results of their own work, they were always casting longing eyes on the crops and fruits of their neighbours, which they stole, whenever they got the chance, and added to their own store. At last their covetousness made Jupiter so angry that he changed them into ants.
But, though their forms were changed, their nature remained the same: and so, to this day, they go about among the cornfields and gather the fruits of others' labour, and store them up for their own use.
❋ You may punish a thief, but his bent remains.
Two frogs lived together in a marsh. But one hot summer the marsh dried up, and they left it to look for another place to live in: for frogs like damp places if they can get them. By and by they came to a deep well, and one of them looked down into it, and said to the other, "This looks a nice cool place: let us jump in and settle here."
But the other, who had a wiser head on his shoulders, replied, "Not so fast, my friend: supposing this well dried up like the marsh, how should we get out again?"
❋ Think twice before you act.
A crab once left the sea-shore and went and settled in a meadow some way inland, which looked very nice and green and seemed likely to be a good place to feed in. But a hungry fox came along and spied the crab and caught him.
Just as he was going to be eaten up, the crab said, "This is just what I deserve; for I had no business to leave my natural home by the sea and settle here as though I belonged to the land."
❋ Be content with your lot if it is a good one.
A grasshopper sat chirping in the branches of a tree. A fox heard her, and, thinking what a dainty morsel she would make, he tried to get her down by a trick. Standing below in full view of her, he praised her song in the most flattering terms, and begged her to descend, saying he would like to make the acquaintance of the owner of so beautiful a voice.
But she was not to be taken in, and replied, "You are very much mistaken, my dear sir, if you imagine I am going to come down: I keep well out of the way of you and your kind ever since the day when I saw numbers of grasshoppers' wings strewn about the entrance to a fox's earth."
A farmer had just sown a field of wheat, and was keeping a careful watch over it, for numbers of rooks and starlings kept continually settling on it and eating up the grain. Along with him went his boy, carrying a sling: and whenever the farmer asked for the sling the starlings understood what he said and warned the rooks and they were off in a moment. So the farmer hit on a trick.
"My lad," said he, "we must get the better of these birds somehow. After this, when I want the sling, I won't say 'sling,' but just 'humph!' and you must then hand me the sling quickly."
Before long back came the whole flock. "Humph!" said the farmer. The starlings took no notice, and he had time to sling several stones among them, hitting one on the head, another in the legs, and another in the wing, before they got out of range.
As they made all haste away they met some cranes, who asked them what the matter was.
"Matter?" said one of the rooks; "it's those rascals, men, that are the matter. Don't you go near them. They have a way of saying one thing and meaning another which has just been the death of several of our poor friends."
A donkey and a dog were on their travels together, and, as they went along, they found a sealed packet lying on the ground. The donkey picked it up, broke the seal, and found it contained some writing, which he proceeded to read out aloud to the dog. As he read on it turned out to be all about grass and barley and hay – in short, all the kinds of fodder that donkeys are fond of.
The dog was a good deal bored with listening to all this, till at last his impatience got the better of him, and he cried, "Just skip a few pages, friend, and see if there isn't something about meat and bones."
The donkey glanced all through the packet, but found nothing of the sort, and said so. Then the dog said in disgust, "Oh, throw it away, do: what's the good of a thing like that?"
A certain man put an image on the back of his donkey to take it to one of the temples of the town. As they went along the road all the people they met uncovered and bowed their heads out of reverence for the image; but the donkey thought they were doing it out of respect for himself, and began to give himself airs accordingly. At last he became so conceited that he imagined he could do as he liked, and, by way of protest against the load he was carrying, he came to a full stop and flatly declined to proceed any further.
His driver, finding him so obstinate, hit him hard and long with his stick, saying the while, "Oh, you dunderheaded idiot, do you suppose it's come to this, that men pay worship to a donkey?"
❋ Rude shocks await those who take to themselves the credit that is due to others.
An Athenian and a Theban were on the road together, and passed the time in conversation, as is the way of travellers. After discussing a variety of subjects they began to talk about heroes, a topic that tends to be more fertile than edifying. Each of them was lavish in his praises of the heroes of his own city. Eventually the Theban asserted that Hercules was the greatest hero who had ever lived on earth and now occupied a foremost place among the gods; while the Athenian insisted that Theseus was far superior, for his fortune had been in every way supremely blessed, whereas Hercules had at one time been forced to act as a servant.
He gained his point, for he was a very glib fellow, like all Athenians; so that the Theban, who was no match for him in talking, cried at last in some disgust, "All right, have your way; I only hope that, when our heroes are angry with us, Athens may suffer from the anger of Hercules, and Thebes only from that of Theseus."
A goatherd was one day gathering his flock to return to the fold, when one of his goats strayed and refused to join the rest. He tried for a long time to get her to return by calling and whistling to her, but the goat took no notice of him at all; so at last he threw a stone at her and broke one of her horns.
In dismay, he begged her not to tell his master: but she replied, "You silly fellow, my horn would cry aloud even if I held my tongue."
❋ It's no use trying to hide what can't be hidden.
Once on a time the sheep complained to the shepherd about the difference in his treatment of themselves and his dog.
"Your conduct," said they, "is very strange and, we think, very unfair. We provide you with wool and lambs and milk and you give us nothing but grass, and even that we have to find for ourselves: but you get nothing at all from the dog, and yet you feed him with tit-bits from your own table."
Their remarks were overheard by the dog, who spoke up at once and said, "Yes, and quite right, too: where would you be if it wasn't for me? Thieves would steal you! wolves would eat you! Indeed, if I didn't keep constant watch over you, you would be too terrified even to graze!"
The sheep had to acknowledge that he spoke the truth, and never again made a grievance of the regard in which he was held by his master.
A shepherd found a wolf's cub straying in the pastures, and took him home and reared him along with his dogs. When the cub grew to his full size, if ever a wolf stole a sheep from the flock, he used to join the dogs in hunting him down. It sometimes happened that the dogs failed to come up with the thief, and, abandoning the pursuit, returned home. The wolf would on such occasions continue the chase by himself, and when he overtook the culprit, would stop and share the feast with him, and then return to the shepherd. But if some time passed without a sheep being carried off by the wolves, he would steal one himself and share his plunder with the dogs.
The shepherd's suspicions were aroused, and one day he caught him in the act. Fastening a rope round the wolf's neck, he hung him on the nearest tree.
❋ What's bred in the bone is sure to come out in the flesh.
The lion, for all his size and strength and his sharp teeth and claws, can't bear the sound of a cock crowing, and runs away whenever he hears it. He complained bitterly to Jupiter for making him like that; but Jupiter said he had done the best he could for him, and he ought to be well content.
The lion, however, wouldn't be comforted, and was so ashamed of his timidity that he wished he might die. In this state of mind, he met the elephant and had a talk with him. He noticed that the great beast cocked up his ears all the time, as if he were listening for something, and he asked him why he did so. Just then a gnat came humming by, and the elephant said, "Do you see that wretched little buzzing insect? I'm terribly afraid of its getting into my ear: if it once gets in, I'm dead and done for."
The lion's spirits rose at once when he heard this: "For," he said to himself, "if the elephant, huge as he is, is afraid of a gnat, I needn't be so much ashamed of being afraid of a cock, who is ten thousand times bigger than a gnat."
A pig found his way into a meadow where a flock of sheep were grazing. The shepherd caught him, and was proceeding to carry him off to the butcher's when he set up a loud squealing and struggled to get free.
The sheep rebuked him for making such a to-do, and said to him, "The shepherd catches us regularly and drags us off just like that, and we don't make any fuss."
"No, I dare say not," replied the pig, "but my case and yours are altogether different: he only wants you for wool, but he wants me for bacon."
A gardener's dog fell into a deep well that his master used to draw water from for the plants in his garden, using a rope and a bucket. Failing to get the dog out by means of these, the gardener went down into the well himself in order to fetch him up. But the dog thought he had come to make sure of drowning him; so he bit his master as soon as he came within reach and hurt him a good deal.
The result was that the gardener left the dog to his fate and climbed out of the well, remarking, "It serves me quite right for trying to save so determined a suicide."
Once on a time all the rivers combined to protest against the action of the sea in making their waters salt.
"When we come to you," said they to the sea, "we are sweet and drinkable: but when once we have mingled with you, our waters become as briny and unpalatable as your own."
The sea replied shortly, "Keep away from me, then, and you'll remain sweet."
A lion fell deeply in love with the daughter of a cottager and wanted to marry her. Her father was unwilling to give her to so fearsome a husband, and yet didn't want to offend the lion, so he went to the lion and said, "I think you will make a very good husband for my daughter: but I cannot consent to your union unless you let me draw your teeth and pare your nails, for my daughter is terribly afraid of them."
The lion was so much in love that he readily agreed that this should be done. When once, however, he was thus disarmed, the cottager was afraid of him no longer, but drove him away with his club.
A thief found his way into an apiary when the bee-keeper was away, and stole all the honey. When the keeper returned and found the hives empty, he was very much upset and stood staring at them for some time.
Before long the bees came back from gathering honey, and, finding their hives overturned and the keeper standing by, they made for him with their stings. At this he fell into a passion and cried, "You ungrateful scoundrels, you let the thief who stole my honey get off scot-free, and then you go and sting me who have always taken such care of you!"
❋ When you hit back make sure you have got the right man.
A wolf on his rambles came to a field of oats, but, not being able to eat them, he was passing on his way when a horse came along.
"Look," said the wolf, "here's a fine field of oats. For your sake I have left it untouched, and I shall greatly enjoy the sound of your teeth munching the ripe grain."
But the horse replied, "If wolves could eat oats, my fine friend, you would hardly have indulged your ears at the cost of your belly."
❋ There may be some virtue in giving to others what is useless to oneself.
A bat, a bramble, and a seagull went into partnership and determined to go on a trading voyage together. The bat borrowed a sum of money for his venture; the bramble laid in a stock of clothes of various kinds; and the seagull took a quantity of lead: and so they set out. By and by a great storm came on, and their boat with all the cargo went to the bottom, but the three travellers managed to reach land.
Ever since then the seagull flies to and fro over the sea, and every now and then dives below the surface, looking for the lead he's lost; while the bat is so afraid of meeting his creditors that he hides away by day and only comes out at night to feed; and the bramble catches hold of the clothes of everyone who passes by, hoping some day to recognise and recover the lost garments.
❋ Some seek to recover what they have lost to the expense of getting what they lack.