A lion watched a fat bull feeding in a meadow, and his mouth watered when he thought of the royal feast he would make, but he did not dare to attack him, for he was afraid of his sharp horns. Hunger, however, presently compelled him to do something: and as the use of force did not promise success, he determined to resort to artifice.
Going up to the bull in friendly fashion, he said to him, "I cannot help saying how much I admire your magnificent figure. What a fine head! What powerful shoulders and thighs! But, my dear friend, what in the world makes you wear those ugly horns? You must find them as awkward as they are unsightly. Believe me, you would do much better without them."
The bull was foolish enough to be persuaded by this flattery to have his horns cut off; and, having now lost his only means of defence, fell an easy prey to the lion.
A man once bought a parrot and gave it the run of his house. It revelled in its liberty, and presently flew up on to the mantelpiece and screamed away to its heart's content. The noise disturbed the cat, who was asleep on the hearthrug. Looking up at the intruder, she said, "Who may you be, and where have you come from?"
The parrot replied, "Your master has just bought me and brought me home with him."
"You impudent bird," said the cat, "how dare you, a newcomer, make a noise like that? Why, I was born here, and have lived here all my life, and yet, if I venture to mew, they throw things at me and chase me all over the place."
"Look here, mistress," said the parrot, "you just hold your tongue. They delight in my voice, but yours – yours is a perfect nuisance."
A stag was chased by the hounds, and took refuge in a cave, where he hoped to be safe from his pursuers. Unfortunately there was a lion in the cave.
The stag fell an easy prey to it. "Unhappy that I am," he cried, "I am saved from the power of the dogs only to fall into the clutches of a lion."
❋ Out of the frying-pan into the fire.
A certain man fell ill, and, being in a very bad way, he made a vow that he would sacrifice a hundred oxen to the gods if they would grant him a return to health. Wishing to see how he would keep his vow, they caused him to recover in a short time. Now, he hadn't an ox in the world, so he made a hundred little oxen out of tallow and offered them up on an altar, at the same time saying, "Ye gods, I call you to witness that I have discharged my vow."
The gods determined to get even with him, so they sent him a dream, in which he was bidden to go to the sea-shore and fetch a hundred crowns which he was to find there.
Hastening in great excitement to the shore, he fell in with a band of robbers, who seized him and carried him off to sell as a slave: and when they sold him a hundred crowns was the sum he fetched.
❋ Do not promise more than you can perform.
Once on a time a number of dogs that were famished with hunger saw some hides steeping in a river, but couldn't get at them because the water was too deep. So they put their heads together, and decided to drink away at the river till it was shallow enough for them to reach the hides. But long before that happened they burst themselves with drinking.
A lion, a fox, and a donkey went out hunting together. They had soon taken a large booty, which the lion requested the donkey to divide between them. The donkey divided it all into three equal parts, and modestly begged the others to take their choice; at which the lion, bursting with fury, sprang on the donkey and tore him to pieces. Then, glaring at the fox, he bade him make a fresh division. The fox gathered almost the whole in one great heap for the lion's share, leaving only the smallest possible morsel for himself.
"My dear friend," said the lion, "how did you get the knack of it so well?"
The fox replied, "Me? Oh, I took a lesson from the donkey."
❋ Happy is he who learns from the misfortunes of others.
One day, as a fowler was sitting down to a scanty supper of herbs and bread, a friend dropped in unexpectedly. The larder was empty, so he went out and caught a tame partridge that he kept as a decoy, and was about to wring her neck when she cried, "Surely you won't kill me? Why, what will you do without me next time you go fowling? How will you get the birds to come to your nets?"
He let her go at this, and went to his hen-house, where he had a plump young cock.
When the cock saw what he was after, he too pleaded for his life, and said, "If you kill me, how will you know the time of night? and who will wake you up in the morning when it is time to get to work?"
The fowler, however, replied, "You are useful for telling the time, I know; but, for all that, I can't send my friend supperless to bed."
And with that he caught him and wrung his neck.
A gnat once went up to a lion and said, "I am not in the least afraid of you: I don't even allow that you are a match for me in strength. What does your strength amount to after all? That you can scratch with your claws and bite with your teeth – just like a woman in a temper – and nothing more. But I'm stronger than you: if you don't believe it, let us fight and see."
So saying, the gnat sounded his horn, and darted in and bit the lion on the nose. When the lion felt the sting, in his haste to crush him he scratched his nose badly, and made it bleed, but failed altogether to hurt the gnat, which buzzed off in triumph, elated by its victory.
Before long, however, it got entangled in a spider's web, and was caught and eaten by the spider, thus falling a prey to an insignificant insect after having triumphed over the king of the beasts.
A farmer was snowed up in his farmstead by a severe storm, and was unable to go out and procure provisions for himself and his family. So he first killed his sheep and used them for food; then, as the storm still continued, he killed his goats; and, last of all, as the weather showed no signs of improving, he was compelled to kill his oxen and eat them.
When his dogs saw the various animals being killed and eaten in turn, they said to one another, "We had better get out of this or we shall be the next to go!"
An eagle and a fox became great friends and determined to live near one another: they thought that the more they saw of each other the better friends they would be. So the eagle built a nest at the top of a high tree, while the fox settled in a thicket at the foot of it and produced a litter of cubs.
One day the fox went out foraging for food, and the eagle, who also wanted food for her young, flew down into the thicket, caught up the fox's cubs, and carried them up into the tree for a meal for herself and her family.
When the fox came back, and found out what had happened, she was not so much sorry for the loss of her cubs as furious because she couldn't get at the eagle and pay her out for her treachery. So she sat down not far off and cursed her. But it wasn't long before she had her revenge. Some villagers happened to be sacrificing a goat on a neighbouring altar, and the eagle flew down and carried off a piece of burning flesh to her nest. There was a strong wind blowing, and the nest caught fire, with the result that her fledglings fell half-roasted to the ground. Then the fox ran to the spot and devoured them in full sight of the eagle.
❋ False faith may escape human punishment, but cannot escape the divine.
Two men were buying meat at a butcher's stall in the market-place, and, while the butcher's back was turned for a moment, one of them snatched up a joint and hastily thrust it under the other's cloak, where it could not be seen. When the butcher turned round, he missed the meat at once, and charged them with having stolen it: but the one who had taken it said he hadn't got it, and the one who had got it said he hadn't taken it.
The butcher felt sure they were deceiving him, but he only said, "You may cheat me with your lying, but you can't cheat the gods, and they won't let you off so lightly."
❋ Prevarication often amounts to perjury.
Hercules was once travelling along a narrow road when he saw lying on the ground in front of him what appeared to be an apple, and as he passed he stamped on it with his heel. To his astonishment, instead of being crushed it doubled in size; and, on his attacking it again and smiting it with his club, it swelled up to an enormous size and blocked up the whole road. Upon this he dropped his club, and stood looking at it in amazement.
Just then Minerva appeared, and said to him, "Leave it alone, my friend; that which you see before you is the apple of discord: if you do not meddle with it, it remains small as it was at first, but if you resort to violence it swells into the thing you see."
A lion had a fox to attend on him, and whenever they went hunting the fox found the prey and the lion fell on it and killed it, and then they divided it between them in certain proportions. But the lion always got a very large share, and the fox a very small one, which didn't please the latter at all. He determined to set up on his own account. He began by trying to steal a lamb from a flock of sheep: but the shepherd saw him and set his dogs on him. The hunter was now the hunted, and was very soon caught and despatched by the dogs.
❋ Better servitude with safety than freedom with danger.
A certain man fell sick and took to his bed. He consulted a number of doctors from time to time, and they all, with one exception, told him that his life was in no immediate danger, but that his illness would probably last a considerable time. The one who took a different view of his case, who was also the last to be consulted, bade him prepare for the worst: "You don't have twenty-four hours to live," said he, "and I fear I can do nothing."
As it turned out, however, he was quite wrong; for at the end of a few days the sick man quitted his bed and took a walk abroad, looking, it is true, as pale as a ghost. In the course of his walk he met the doctor who had prophesied his death.
"Dear me," said the latter, "how do you do? You are fresh from the other world, no doubt. Pray, how are our departed friends getting on there?"
"Most comfortably," replied the other, "for they have drunk the water of oblivion, and have forgotten all the troubles of life. By the way, just before I left, the authorities were making arrangements to prosecute all the doctors, because they won't let sick men die in the course of nature, but use their arts to keep them alive. They were going to charge you along with the rest, till I assured them that you were no doctor, but a mere impostor."
A lion, infirm with age, lay sick in his den, and all the beasts of the forest came to inquire after his health with the exception of the fox. The wolf thought this was a good opportunity for paying off old scores against the fox, so he called the attention of the lion to his absence, and said, "You see, sire, that we have all come to see how you are except the fox, who hasn't come near you, and doesn't care whether you are well or ill."
Just then the fox came in and heard the last words of the wolf. The lion roared at him in deep displeasure, but he begged to be allowed to explain his absence, and said, "Not one of them cares for you so much as I, sire, for all the time I have been going round to the doctors and trying to find a cure for your illness."
"And may I ask if you have found one?" said the lion.
"I have, sire," said the fox, "and it is this: you must flay a wolf and wrap yourself in his skin while it is still warm."
The lion accordingly turned to the wolf and struck him dead with one blow of his paw, in order to try the fox's prescription; but the fox laughed and said to himself, "That's what comes of stirring up ill-will."
When Hercules was received among the gods and was entertained at a banquet by Jupiter, he responded courteously to the greetings of all with the exception of Plutus, the god of wealth. When Plutus approached him, Hercules cast his eyes on the ground, and turned away and pretended not to see him. Jupiter was surprised at this conduct on his part, and asked why, after having been so cordial with all the other gods, he had behaved like that to Plutus.
"Sire," said Hercules, "I do not like Plutus, and I will tell you why. When we were on earth together I always noticed that he was to be found in the company of scoundrels."
A fox and a leopard were disputing about their looks, and each claimed to be the more handsome of the two. The leopard said, "Look at my smart coat; you have nothing to match that."
But the fox replied, "Your coat may be smart, but my wits are smarter still."
A fox, in swimming across a rapid river, was swept away by the current and carried a long way downstream in spite of his struggles, until at last, bruised and exhausted, he managed to scramble on to dry ground from a backwater. As he lay there unable to move, a swarm of horseflies settled on him and sucked his blood undisturbed, for he was too weak even to shake them off.
A hedgehog saw him, and asked if he should brush away the flies that were tormenting him; but the fox replied, "Oh, please, no, not on any account, for these flies have sucked their fill and are taking very little from me now; but, if you drive them off, another swarm of hungry ones will come and suck all the blood I have left, and leave me without a drop in my veins."
A crow became very jealous of a raven because the raven was regarded by men as a bird of omen, one that foretold the future, and was accordingly held in great respect by them. She was very anxious to get the same sort of reputation herself; and, one day, seeing some travellers approaching, she flew on to a branch of a tree at the roadside and cawed as loud as she could. The travellers were in some dismay at the sound, for they feared it might be a bad omen, until one of them, spying the crow, said to his companions, "It's all right, my friends, we can go on without fear, for it's only a crow and that means nothing."
❋ Those who pretend to be something they are not only make themselves ridiculous.
A witch professed to be able to avert the anger of the gods by means of secret charms that she alone knew. She drove a brisk trade by this, and made a fat livelihood out of it. But certain persons accused her of black magic and carried her before the judges, and demanded that she should be put to death for dealings with the devil.
She was found guilty and condemned to death. One of the judges said to her as she was leaving the dock, "You say you can avert the anger of the gods. How comes it, then, that you have failed to disarm the enmity of men?"