Some mischievous boys were playing on the edge of a pond, and, catching sight of some frogs swimming about in the shallow water, they began to amuse themselves by pelting them with stones, and they killed several of them.
At last one of the frogs put his head out of the water and said, "Oh, stop! stop! I beg of you: what is sport to you is death to us."
A dispute arose between the north wind and the sun, each claiming that he was stronger than the other. At last they agreed to try their powers on a traveller, to see which could soonest strip him of his cloak.
The north wind had the first try; and, gathering up all his force for the attack, he came whirling furiously down on the man, and caught up his cloak as though he would wrest it from him by one single effort: but the harder he blew, the more closely the man wrapped it round himself.
Then came the turn of the sun. At first he beamed gently on the traveller, who soon unclasped his cloak and walked on with it hanging loosely about his shoulders: then he shone forth in his full strength, and the man, before he had gone many steps, was glad to throw his cloak right off and complete his journey more lightly clad.
❋ Persuasion is better than force.
A widow, thrifty and industrious, had two servants, whom she kept pretty hard at work. They were not allowed to lie long abed in the mornings, but the old lady had them up and doing as soon as the cock crew. They disliked intensely having to get up at such an hour, especially in winter-time: and they thought that if it were not for the cock waking up their mistress so horribly early, they could sleep longer. So they caught it and wrung its neck.
But what happened was that their mistress, not hearing the cock crow as usual, waked them up earlier than ever, and set them to work in the middle of the night.
There was a time in the youth of the world when goods and ills entered equally into the concerns of men, so that the goods did not prevail to make them altogether blessed, nor the ills to make them wholly miserable.
But owing to the foolishness of mankind the ills multiplied greatly in number and increased in strength, until it seemed as though they would deprive the goods of all share in human affairs, and banish them from the earth. The latter, therefore, betook themselves to heaven and complained to Jupiter of the treatment they had received, at the same time praying him to grant them protection from the ills, and to advise them concerning the manner of their intercourse with men.
Jupiter granted their request for protection, and decreed that for the future they should not go among men openly in a body, and so be liable to attack from the hostile ills, but singly and unobserved, and at infrequent and unexpected intervals.
Hence it is that the earth is full of ills, for they come and go as they please and are never far away; while goods, alas! comeone by one only, and have to travel all the way from heaven, so that they are very seldom seen.
The hares once gathered together and lamented the unhappiness of their lot, exposed as they were to dangers on all sides and lacking the strength and the courage to hold their own. Men, dogs, birds and beasts of prey were all their enemies, and killed and devoured them daily: and sooner than endure such persecution any longer, they one and all determined to end their miserable lives.
Thus resolved and desperate, they rushed in a body towards a neighbouring pool, intending to drown themselves. On the bank were sitting a number of frogs, who, when they heard the noise of the hares as they ran, with one accord leaped into the water and hid themselves in the depths.
Then one of the older hares who was wiser than the rest cried out to his companions, "Stop, my friends, take heart; don't let us destroy ourselves after all. See, here are creatures who are afraid of us, and who must, therefore, be still more timid than ourselves."
A fox invited a stork to dinner, at which the only fare provided was a large flat dish of soup. The fox lapped it up with great relish, but the stork with her long bill tried in vain to partake of the savoury broth. Her evident distress caused the sly fox much amusement.
But not long after the stork invited him in turn, and set before him a pitcher with a long and narrow neck, into which she could get her bill with ease. Thus, while she enjoyed her dinner, the fox sat by hungry and helpless, for it was impossible for him to reach the tempting contents of the vessel.
A wolf resolved to disguise himself in order that he might prey on a flock of sheep without fear of being detected. So he clothed himself in a sheepskin and slipped among the sheep when they were out at pasture. He completely deceived the shepherd, and when the flock was penned for the night he was shut in with the rest.
But that very night the shepherd, requiring a supply of mutton for the table, laid hands on the wolf, mistaking him for a sheep, and killed him with his knife on the spot.
A stag, chased from his lair by the hounds, took refuge in a farmyard, and, entering a stable where a number of oxen were stalled, thrust himself under a pile of hay in a vacant stall, where he lay hidden, all but the tips of his horns.
Before long one of the oxen said to him, "What has induced you to come in here? Aren't you aware of the risk you are running of being captured by the herdsmen?"
To which he replied, "Pray let me stay for the present. When night comes I shall easily escape under cover of the dark."
In the course of the afternoon more than one of the farm-hands came in, to attend to the wants of the cattle, but not one of them noticed the presence of the stag, who accordingly began to congratulate himself on his escape and to express his gratitude to the oxen.
"We wish you well," said the one who had spoken before, "but you are not out of danger yet. If the master comes, you will certainly be found out, for little escapes his keen eyes."
After a short time, sure enough, in the farmer came, and made a great to-do about the way the oxen were kept. "The beasts are starving," he cried; "here, give them more hay, and put plenty of litter under them." As he spoke, he seized an armful himself from the pile where the stag lay hidden, and at once detected him. Calling his men, he had him seized at once and killed for the table.
A farmer's daughter had been out to milk the cows, and was returning to the dairy carrying her pail of milk on her head. As she walked along, she fell a-musing after this fashion: "The milk in this pail will provide me with cream, which I will make into butter and take to market to sell. With the money I will buy a number of eggs, and these, when hatched, will produce chickens, and by and by I shall have quite a large poultry-yard. Then I shall sell some of my fowls, and with the money which they will bring in I will buy myself a new gown, which I shall wear when I go to the fair; and all the young fellows will admire it, and come and make love to me, but I shall toss my head and have nothing to say to them."
Forgetting all about the pail, and suiting the action to the word, she tossed her head. Down went the pail, all the milk was spilled, and all her fine castles in the air vanished in a moment!
❋ Do not count your chickens before they are hatched.
The dolphins quarrelled with the whales, and before very long they began fighting with one another. The battle was very fierce, and had lasted some time without any sign of coming to an end, when a sprat thought that perhaps he could stop it; so he stepped in and tried to persuade them to give up fighting and make friends.
But one of the dolphins said to him contemptuously, "We would rather go on fighting till we're all killed than be reconciled by a sprat like you!"
A fox and a monkey were on the road together, and fell into a dispute as to which of the two was the better born. They kept it up for some time, till they came to a place where the road passed through a cemetery full of monuments, when the monkey stopped and looked about him and gave a great sigh.
"Why do you sigh?" said the fox. The monkey pointed to the tombs and replied, "All the monuments that you see here were put up in honour of my forefathers, who in their day were eminent men."
The fox was speechless for a moment, but quickly recovering he said, "Oh! don't stop at any lie, sir; you're quite safe: I'm sure none of your ancestors will rise up and expose you."
❋ Boasters brag most when they cannot be detected.
There was once a man who had a donkey and a lapdog. The donkey was housed in the stable with plenty of oats and hay to eat and was as well off as an ass could be. The little dog was made a great pet of by his master, who fondled him and often let him lie in his lap; and if he went out to dinner, he would bring back a tit-bit or two to give him when he ran to meet him on his return. The donkey had, it is true, a good deal of work to do, carting or grinding the corn, or carrying the burdens of the farm: and before long he became very jealous, contrasting his own life of labour with the ease and idleness of the lapdog. At last one day he broke his halter, and frisking into the house just as his master sat down to dinner, he pranced and capered about, mimicking the frolics of the little favourite, upsetting the table and smashing the crockery with his clumsy efforts. Not content with that, he even tried to jump on his master's lap, as he had so often seen the dog allowed to do. At that the servants, seeing the danger their master was in, belaboured the silly donkey with sticks and cudgels, and drove him back to his stable half dead with his beating.
"Alas!" he cried, "all this I have brought on myself. Why could I not be satisfied with my natural and honourable position, without wishing to imitate the ridiculous antics of that useless little lapdog?"
A fir-tree was boasting to a bramble, and said, somewhat contemptuously, "You poor creature, you are of no use whatever. Now, look at me: I am useful for all sorts of things, particularly when men build houses; they can't do without me then."
But the bramble replied, "Ah, that's all very well: but you wait till they come with axes and saws to cut you down, and then you'll wish you were a bramble and not a fir."
❋ Better poverty without a care than wealth with its many obligations.
Once on a time the Sun was about to take to himself a wife. The frogs in terror all raised their voices to the skies, and Jupiter, disturbed by the noise, asked them what they were croaking about.
They replied, "The Sun is bad enough even while he is single, drying up our marshes with his heat as he does. But what will become of us if he marries and begets other Suns?"
A dog and a cock became great friends, and agreed to travel together. At nightfall the cock flew up into the branches of a tree to roost, while the dog curled himself up inside the trunk, which was hollow. At break of day the cock woke up and crew as usual. A fox heard it, and, wishing to make a breakfast of him, came and stood under the tree and begged him to come down.
"I should so like," said he, "to make the acquaintance of one who has such a beautiful voice."
The cock replied, "Would you just wake my porter who sleeps at the foot of the tree? He'll open the door and let you in."
The fox rapped on the trunk. Out rushed the dog and tore him in pieces.
A gnat alighted on one of the horns of a bull, and remained sitting there for a considerable time. When it had rested sufficiently and was about to fly away, it said to the bull, "Do you mind if I go now?"
The bull merely raised his eyes and remarked without interest, "It's all one to me; I didn't notice when you came, and I shan't know when you go away."
❋ We may often be of more consequence in our own eyes than in the eyes of our neighbours.
Two travellers were on the road together, when a bear suddenly appeared on the scene. Before the bear observed them, one made for a tree at the side of the road and climbed up into the branches and hid there. The other was not so nimble as his companion; and, as he could not escape, he threw himself on the ground and pretended to be dead. The bear came up and sniffed all round him, but the man kept perfectly still and held his breath: for they say that a bear will not touch a dead body. The bear took him for a corpse, and went away.
When the coast was clear, the traveller in the tree came down, and asked the other what it was the bear had whispered to him when he put his mouth to his ear.
The other replied, "He told me never again to travel with a friend who deserts you at the first sign of danger."
❋ Misfortune tests the sincerity of friendship.
A slave ran away from his master, by whom he had been most cruelly treated. In order to avoid being captured he betook himself into the desert. As he wandered about in search of food and shelter, he came to a cave. It was a lion's den, and almost immediately, to the horror of the wretched fugitive, the lion himself appeared.
The man gave himself up for lost, but to his utter astonishment, the lion came and fawned on him, at the same time whining and lifting up his paw. Observing the paw to be much swollen and inflamed, he examined it and found a large thorn embedded in the ball of the foot. He accordingly removed it and dressed the wound as well as he could: and in course of time it healed up completely.
The lion's gratitude was unbounded; he looked on the man as his friend, and they shared the cave for some time together. A day came, however, when the slave began to long for the society of his fellow-men, and he bade farewell to the lion and returned to the town. Here he was soon recognised and carried off in chains to his former master, who resolved to make an example of him, and ordered that he should be thrown to the beasts at the next public spectacle in the theatre.
On the fatal day the beasts were loosed into the arena, and among the rest a lion of huge bulk and ferocious aspect; and then the wretched slave was cast in among them.
What was the amazement of the spectators, when the lion after one glance bounded up to him and lay down at his feet with every expression of affection and delight! It was his old friend of the cave! The audience clamoured that the slave's life should be spared: and the governor of the town, marvelling at such gratitude and fidelity in a beast, decreed that both should receive their liberty.
A flea bit a man, and bit him again and again till he could stand it no longer, but made a thorough search for it, and at last succeeded in catching it. Holding it between his finger and thumb, he said – or rather shouted, so angry was he: "Who are you, you wretched little creature, that you make so free with my person?"
The flea, terrified, whimpered in a weak little voice, "Oh, pray let me go; don't kill me! I am such a little thing that I can't do you much harm."
But the man laughed and said, "I am going to kill you now, at once: whatever is bad has got to be destroyed, no matter how slight the harm it does."
❋ Do not waste your pity on a scamp.
A queen bee from Hymettus flew up to Olympus with some fresh honey from the hive as a present to Jupiter. He was so pleased with the gift that he promised to give her anything she liked to ask for. She said she would be very grateful if he would give stings to the bees, to kill people who robbed them of their honey.
Jupiter was greatly displeased with this request, for he loved mankind: but he had given his word, so he said that stings they should have. The stings he gave them, however, were of such a kind that whenever a bee stings a man the sting is left in the wound and the bee dies.
❋ Evil wishes, like fowls, come home to roost.