An old man cut himself a bundle of faggots in a wood and started to carry them home. He had a long way to go, and was tired out before he had got much more than halfway. Casting his burden on the ground, he called on Death to come and release him from his life of toil. The words were scarcely out of his mouth when, much to his dismay, Death stood before him and professed his readiness to serve him.
The man was almost frightened out of his wits, but he had enough presence of mind to stammer out, "Good sir, if you'd be so kind, please help me up with my burden again."
A miser sold everything he had, and melted down his hoard of gold into a single lump, which he buried secretly in a field. Every day he went to look at it, and would sometimes spend long hours gloating over his treasure.
One of his men noticed his frequent visits to the spot, and one day watched him and discovered his secret. Waiting his opportunity, he went one night and dug up the gold and stole it.
Next day the miser visited the place as usual, and, finding his treasure gone, fell to tearing his hair and groaning over his loss. In this condition he was seen by one of his neighbours, who asked him what his trouble was. The miser told him of his misfortune; but the other replied, "Don't take it so much to heart, my friend; put a brick into the hole, and take a look at it every day: you won't be any worse off than before, for even when you had your gold it was of no earthly use to you."
A number of foxes assembled on the bank of a river and wanted to drink; but the current was so strong and the water looked so deep and dangerous that they didn't dare to do so, but stood near the edge encouraging one another not to be afraid. At last one of them, to shame the rest, and show how brave he was, said, "I am not a bit frightened! See, I'll step right into the water!"
He had no sooner done so than the current swept him off his feet.
When the others saw him being carried down-stream they cried, "Don't go and leave us! Come back and show us where we too can drink with safety."
But he replied, "I'm afraid I can't yet: I want to go to the seaside, and this current will take me there nicely. When I come back I'll show you with pleasure."
There was once a horse who used to graze in a meadow which he had all to himself. But one day a stag came into the meadow, and said he had as good a right to feed there as the horse, and moreover chose all the best places for himself. The horse, wishing to be revenged on his unwelcome visitor, went to a man and asked if he would help him to turn out the stag.
"Yes," said the man, "I will by all means; but I can only do so if you let me put a bridle in your mouth and mount on your back."
The horse agreed to this, and the two together very soon turned the stag out of the pasture: but when that was done, the horse found to his dismay that in the man he had got a master for good.
In making his way through a hedge a fox missed his footing and caught at a bramble to save himself from falling. Naturally, he got badly scratched, and in disgust he cried to the bramble, "It was your help I wanted, and see how you have treated me! I'd sooner have fallen outright."
The bramble, interrupting him, replied, "You must have lost your wits, my friend, to catch at me, who am myself always catching at others."
A snake, in crossing a river, was carried away by the current, but managed to wriggle on to a bundle of thorns which was floating by, and was thus carried at a great rate down-stream.
A fox caught sight of it from the bank as it went whirling along, and called out, "Gad! the passenger fits the ship!"
A lion lay sick in his den, unable to provide himself with food. So he said to his friend the fox, who came to ask how he did, "My good friend, I wish you would go to yonder wood and beguile the big stag, who lives there, to come to my den: I have a fancy to make my dinner off a stag's heart and brains."
The fox went to the wood and found the stag and said to him, "My dear sir, you're in luck. You know the lion, our king: well, he's at the point of death, and has appointed you his successor to rule over the beasts. I hope you won't forget that I was the first to bring you the good news. And now I must be going back to him; and, if you take my advice, you'll come too and be with him at the last."
The stag was highly flattered, and followed the fox to the Lion's den, suspecting nothing. No sooner had he got inside than the Lion sprang on him, but he misjudged his spring, and the stag got away with only his ears torn, and returned as fast as he could to the shelter of the wood.
The fox was much mortified, and the lion, too, was dreadfully disappointed, for he was getting very hungry in spite of his illness. So he begged the fox to have another try at coaxing the stag to his den.
"It'll be almost impossible this time," said the fox, "but I'll try." Off he went to the wood a second time, and found the stag resting and trying to recover from his fright. As soon as he saw the fox he cried, "You scoundrel, what do you mean by trying to lure me to my death like that? Take yourself off, or I'll do you to death with my horns."
But the fox was entirely shameless. "What a coward you were," said he; "surely you didn't think the lion meant any harm? Why, he was only going to whisper some royal secrets into your ear when you went off like a scared rabbit. You have rather disgusted him, and I'm not sure he won't make the wolf king instead, unless you come back at once and show you've got some spirit. I promise you he won't hurt you, and I will be your faithful servant."
The stag was foolish enough to be persuaded to return, and this time the lion made no mistake, but overpowered him and feasted right royally on his carcase.
The fox, meanwhile, watched his chance and, when the lion wasn't looking, filched away the brains to reward him for his trouble.
Before long the lion began searching for them, of course without success: and the fox, who was watching him, said, "I don't think it's much use your looking for the brains: a creature who twice walked into a lion's den can't have got any."
A man was engaged in digging over his vineyard, and one day on coming to work he missed his spade. Thinking it may have been stolen by one of his labourers, he questioned them closely, but they one and all denied any knowledge of it. He was not convinced by their denials, and insisted that they should all go to the town and take oath in a temple that they were not guilty of the theft. This was because he had no great opinion of the simple country deities, but thought that the thief would not pass undetected by the shrewder gods of the town.
When they got inside the gates the first thing they heard was the town crier proclaiming a reward for information about a thief who had stolen something from the city temple.
"Well," said the man to himself, "it strikes me I had better go back home again. If these town gods can't detect the thieves who steal from their own temples, it's scarcely likely they can tell me who stole my Spade."
A fowler caught a partridge in his nets, and was just about to wring its neck when it made a piteous appeal to him to spare its life and said, "Do not kill me, but let me live and I will repay you for your kindness by decoying other partridges into your nets."
"No," said the fowler, "I will not spare you. I was going to kill you anyhow, and after that treacherous speech you thoroughly deserve your fate."
A slave, discontented with his lot, ran away from his master. He was soon missed by the latter, who lost no time in mounting his horse and setting out in pursuit of the fugitive. In a short time he came up with him, and the slave, in the hope of avoiding capture, slipped into a treadmill and hid himself there.
"Aha," said his master, "that's the very place for you, my man!"
A hunter was searching in the forest for the tracks of a lion, and, catching sight presently of a woodman engaged in felling a tree, he went up to him and asked him if he had noticed a lion's footprints anywhere about, or if he knew where his den was.
The woodman answered, "If you will come with me, I will show you the lion himself."
The hunter turned pale with fear, and his teeth chattered as he replied, "Oh, I'm not looking for the lion, thanks, but only for his tracks."
An eagle swooped down on a serpent and seized it in his talons with the intention of carrying it off and devouring it. But the serpent was too quick for him and had its coils round him in a moment; and then there followed a life-and-death struggle between the two.
A countryman, who was a witness of the encounter, came to the assistance of the eagle, and succeeded in freeing him from the serpent and enabling him to escape. In revenge the serpent spat some of his poison into the man's drinking-horn. Heated with his exertions, the man was about to slake his thirst with a draught from the horn, when the eagle knocked it out of his hand, and spilled its contents on the ground.
❋ One good turn deserves another.
A rogue laid a wager that he would prove the oracle at Delphi to be untrustworthy by getting from it a false reply to an inquiry by himself. So he went to the temple on the appointed day with a small bird in his hand, which he hid under the folds of his cloak, and asked whether what he held in his hand were alive or dead. If the oracle said "dead," he meant to produce the bird alive: if the reply was "alive," he intended to wring its neck and show it to be dead. But the oracle was one too many for him, for the answer he got was this:
"Stranger, whether the thing that you hold in your hand be alive or dead, is a matter that depends entirely on your own will."
A horse, proud of his fine harness, met a donkey on the high-road. As the donkey with his heavy burden moved slowly out of the way to let him pass, the horse cried out impatiently that he could hardly resist kicking him to make him move faster. The donkey held his peace, but did not forget the other's insolence.
Not long afterwards the horse became broken-winded, and was sold by his owner to a farmer. One day, as he was drawing a dung-cart, he met the donkey again, who in turn derided him and said, "Aha! you never thought to come to this, did you, you who were so proud! Where are all your gay trappings now?"
A dog was chasing a wolf, and as he ran he thought what a fine fellow he was, and what strong legs he had, and how quickly they covered the ground. "Now, there's this wolf," he said to himself, "what a poor creature he is: he's no match for me, and he knows it and so he runs away."
But the wolf looked round just then and said, "Don't you imagine I'm running away from you, my friend: it's your master I'm afraid of."
When Jupiter was assigning the various gods their privileges, it so happened that Grief was not present with the rest: but when all had received their share, he too entered and claimed his due. Jupiter was at a loss to know what to do, for there was nothing left for Grief. However, at last he decided that to him should belong the tears that are shed for the dead.
Thus it is the same with Grief as it is with the other gods. The more devoutly men render to him his due, the more lavish is he of that which he has to bestow. It is not well, therefore, to mourn long for the departed; else Grief, whose sole pleasure is in such mourning, will be quick to send fresh cause for tears.
The pigeons in a certain dovecote were persecuted by a kite, who every now and then swooped down and carried off one of their number. So they invited a hawk into the dovecote to defend them against their enemy.
But they soon repented of their folly: for the hawk killed more of them in a day than the kite had done in a year.
A woman, who had lately lost her husband, used to go every day to his grave and lament her loss. A farmer, who was engaged in ploughing not far from the spot, set eyes on the woman and desired to have her for his wife, so he left his plough and came and sat by her side, and began to shed tears himself. She asked him why he wept, and he replied, "I have lately lost my wife, who was very dear to me, and tears ease my grief."
"And I," said she, "have lost my husband."
And so for a while they mourned in silence. Then he said, "Since you and I are in like case, shall we not do well to marry and live together? I shall take the place of your dead husband, and you, that of my dead wife."
The woman agreed to the plan, which seemed reasonable enough: and they dried their tears. Meanwhile, a thief had come and stolen the oxen that the farmer had left with his plough. On discovering the theft, he beat his breast and loudly bewailed his loss. When the woman heard his cries, she came and said, "Why, are you weeping still?"
To which he replied, "Yes, and I mean it this time."
At the bidding of Jupiter, Prometheus set about the creation of man and the other animals. Jupiter, seeing that mankind, the only rational creatures, were far outnumbered by the irrational beasts, bade him redress the balance by turning some of the latter into men. Prometheus did as he was bidden, and this is why some people have the forms of men but the souls of beasts.
A swallow was once boasting to a crow about her birth. "I was once a princess," said she, "the daughter of a king of Athens, but my husband used me cruelly, and cut out my tongue for a slight fault. Then, to protect me from further injury, I was turned by Juno into a bird."
"You chatter quite enough as it is," said the crow. "What you would have been like if you hadn't lost your tongue, I can't think."