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Fables in Europe
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  1. The Oak and the Reeds
  2. The Blind Man and the Cub
  3. The Boy and the Snails
  4. The Apes and the Two Travellers
  5. The Donkey and His Burdens
  6. The Shepherd's Boy and the Wolf
  7. The Fox and the Goat
  8. The Fisherman and the Sprat
  9. The Boasting Traveller
  10. The Crab and His Mother
  11. The Donkey and His Shadow
  12. The Farmer and His Sons
  13. The Dog and the Cook
  14. The Monkey as King
  15. The Thieves and the Cock
  16. The Farmer and Fortune
  17. Jupiter and the Monkey
  18. Father and Sons
  19. The Lamp
  20. The Owl and the Birds

The Oak and the Reeds

An oak that grew on the bank of a river was uprooted by a severe gale of wind, and thrown across the stream. It fell among some reeds growing by the water, and said to them, "How is it that you, who are so frail and slender, have managed to weather the storm, whereas I, with all my strength, have been torn up by the roots and hurled into the river?"

"You were stubborn," came the reply, "and fought against the storm, which proved stronger than you: but we bow and yield to every breeze, and thus the gale passed harmlessly over our heads."

The Blind Man and the Cub

There was once a blind man who had so fine a sense of touch that, when any animal was put into his hands, he could tell what it was merely by the feel of it. One day the cub of a wolf was put into his hands, and he was asked what it was. He felt it for some time, and then said, "Indeed, I am not sure whether it is a wolf's cub or a fox's: but this I know – it would never do to trust it in a sheepfold."

Evil tendencies are early shown.

The Boy and the Snails

A farmer's boy went looking for snails, and, when he had picked up both his hands full, he set about making a fire at which to roast them; for he meant to eat them. When it got well alight and the snails began to feel the heat, they gradually withdrew more and more into their shells with the hissing noise they always make when they do so.

When the boy heard it, he said, "You abandoned creatures, how can you find heart to whistle when your houses are burning?"

The Apes and the Two Travellers

Two men were travelling together, one of whom never spoke the truth, whereas the other never told a lie: and they came in the course of their travels to the land of apes. The king of the apes, hearing of their arrival, ordered them to be brought before him; and by way of impressing them with his magnificence, he received them sitting on a throne, while the apes, his subjects, were ranged in long rows on either side of him. When the travellers came into his presence he asked them what they thought of him as a king. The lying traveller said, "Sire, everyone must see that you are a most noble and mighty monarch."

"And what do you think of my subjects?" continued the king.

"They," said the traveller, "are in every way worthy of their royal master."

The ape was so delighted with his answer that he gave him a very handsome present. The other traveller thought that if his companion was rewarded so splendidly for telling a lie, he himself would certainly receive a still greater reward for telling the truth; so, when the ape turned to him and said, "And what, sir, is your opinion?" he replied, "I think you are a very fine ape, and all your subjects are fine apes too."

The king of the apes was so enraged at his reply that he ordered him to be taken away and clawed to death.

The Donkey and His Burdens

A pedlar who owned a donkey one day bought a quantity of salt, and loaded up his beast with as much as he could bear. On the way home the donkey stumbled as he was crossing a stream and fell into the water. The salt got thoroughly wetted and much of it melted and drained away, so that, when he got on his legs again, the donkey found his load had become much less heavy.

His master, however, drove him back to town and bought more salt, which he added to what remained in the panniers, and started out again.

No sooner had they reached a stream than the donkey lay down in it, and rose, as before, with a much lighter load. But his master detected the trick, and turning back once more, bought a large number of sponges, and piled them on the back of the donkey.

When they came to the stream the donkey again lay down: but this time, as the sponges soaked up large quantities of water, he found, when he got up on his legs, that he had a bigger burden to carry than ever.

You may play a good card once too often.

The Shepherd's Boy and the Wolf

A shepherd's boy was tending his flock near a village, and thought it would be great fun to hoax the villagers by pretending that a wolf was attacking the sheep: so he shouted out, "Wolf! wolf!" and when the people came running up he laughed at them for their pains. He did this more than once, and every time the villagers found they had been hoaxed, for there was no wolf at all. At last a wolf really did come, and the boy cried, "Wolf! wolf!" as loud as he could: but the people were so used to hearing him call that they took no notice of his cries for help. And so the wolf had it all his own way, and killed off sheep after sheep at his leisure.

You may not believe a liar even when he tells the truth.

The Fox and the Goat

A fox fell into a well and was unable to get out again. By and by a thirsty goat came by, and seeing the fox in the well asked him if the water was good.

"Good?" said the fox, "It's the best water I ever tasted in all my life. Come down and try it yourself."

The goat thought of nothing but the prospect of quenching his thirst, and jumped in at once. When he had had enough to drink, he looked about, like the fox, for some way of getting out, but could find none.

Before long the fox said, "I have an idea. You stand on your hind legs, and plant your forelegs firmly against the side of the well, and then I'll climb on to your back, and, from there, by stepping on your horns, I can get out. And when I'm out, I'll help you out too."

The goat did as he was requested, and the fox climbed on to his back and so out of the well; and then he coolly walked away. The goat called loudly after him and reminded him of his promise to help him out, but the fox merely turned and said, "If you had as much sense in your head as you have hair in your beard you wouldn't have got into the well without making certain that you could get out again."

Look before your leap.

The Fisherman and the Sprat

A fisherman cast his net into the sea, and when he drew it up again it contained nothing but a single sprat that begged to be put back into the water.

"I'm only a little fish now," it said, "but I shall grow big one day, and then if you come and catch me again I shall be of some use to you."

But the fisherman replied, "Oh, no, I shall keep you now I've got you: if I put you back, should I ever see you again? Not likely!"

The Boasting Traveller

A man once went abroad on his travels, and when he came home he had wonderful tales to tell of the things he had done in foreign countries. Among other things, he said he had taken part in a jumping-match at Rhodes, and had done a wonderful jump which no one could beat.

"Just go to Rhodes and ask them," he said; "everyone will tell you it's true."

But one of those who were listening said, "If you can jump as well as all that, we needn't go to Rhodes to prove it. Let's just imagine this is Rhodes for a minute: and now – jump!"

Deeds, not words.

The Crab and His Mother

An old crab said to her son, "Why do you walk sideways like that, my son? You ought to walk straight."

The young crab replied, "Show me how, dear mother, and I'll follow your example."

The old crab tried, but tried in vain, and then saw how foolish she had been to find fault with her child.

Example is better than precept.

The Donkey and His Shadow

A certain man hired a donkey for a journey in summertime, and started out with the owner following behind to drive the beast. By and by, in the heat of the day, they stopped to rest, and the traveller wanted to lie down in the donkey's shadow; but the owner, who himself wished to be out of the sun, wouldn't let him do that; for he said he had hired the donkey only, and not his shadow: the other maintained that his bargain secured him complete control of the donkey for the time being. From words they came to blows; and while they were belabouring each other the donkey took to his heels and was soon out of sight.

The Farmer and His Sons

A farmer, being at death's door, and desiring to impart to his sons a secret of much moment, called them round him and said, "My sons, I am shortly about to die; I would have you know, therefore, that in my vineyard there lies a hidden treasure. Dig, and you will find it."

As soon as their father was dead, the sons took spade and fork and turned up the soil of the vineyard over and over again in their search for the treasure which they supposed to lie buried there. They found none. However, after the thorough digging, the vines produced a crop such as had never before been seen.

The Dog and the Cook

A rich man once invited a number of his friends and acquaintances to a banquet. His dog thought it would be a good opportunity to invite another dog, a friend of his; so he went to him and said, "My master is giving a feast: there'll be a fine spread, so come and dine with me to-night."

The dog thus invited came, and when he saw the preparations being made in the kitchen he said to himself, "My word, I'm in luck: I'll take care to eat enough to-night to last me two or three days." At the same time he wagged his tail briskly, by way of showing his friend how delighted he was to have been asked.

But just then the cook caught sight of him, and, in his annoyance at seeing a strange dog in the kitchen, caught him up by the hind legs and threw him out of the window. He had a nasty fall, fainted for a while, and afterwards limped away as quickly as he could, howling dismally.

Before long some other dogs met him, and said, "Well, what sort of a dinner did you get?"

He replied, "I had a quite remarkable time: the wine was so good that I cannot remember how I got out of the house!"

Favours bestowed at the expense of others may not be worth telling about.

The Monkey as King

At a gathering of all the animals the monkey danced and delighted them so much that they made him their king. The fox, however, was very much disgusted at the promotion of the monkey: so having one day found a trap with a piece of meat in it, he took the monkey there and said to him, "Here is a dainty morsel I have found, sire; I did not take it myself, because I thought it ought to be reserved for you, our king. ill you be pleased to accept it?"

The monkey made at once for the meat and got caught in the trap. Then he bitterly reproached the fox for leading him into danger; but the fox only laughed and said, "O monkey, you call yourself king of the beasts and haven't more sense than to be taken in like that!"

The Thieves and the Cock

Some thieves broke into a house, and found nothing worth taking except a cock, which they seized and carried off with them. When they were preparing their supper, one of them caught up the cock, and was about to wring his neck, when he cried out for mercy and said, "Please, do not kill me: you will find me a most useful bird, for I rouse honest men to their work in the morning by my crowing."

But the thief replied with some heat, "Yes, I know you do, making it still harder for us to get a livelihood. Into the pot you go!"

The Farmer and Fortune

A farmer was ploughing one day on his farm when he turned up a pot of golden coins with his plough. He was overjoyed at his discovery, and from that time forth made an offering daily at the shrine of the goddess of the Earth.

Fortune was displeased at this, and came to him and said, "My man, why do you give Earth the credit for the gift that I bestowed on you? You never thought of thanking me for your good luck; but should you be unlucky enough to lose what you have gained I know very well that I, Fortune, should then come in for all the blame."

Show gratitude where gratitude is due, if you should find out of it.

Jupiter and the Monkey

Jupiter had it proclaimed to all the animals that he would offer a prize to the animal who, in his judgment, had got the most beautiful offspring. Among the rest came the monkey, carrying a baby monkey in her arms, a hairless, flat-nosed little fright. When they saw it, the gods all burst into peal on peal of laughter; but the monkey hugged her little one to her, and said, "Jupiter may give the prize to whoever he likes: but I shall always think my baby the most beautiful of them all."

Father and Sons

A certain man had several sons who were always quarrelling with one another, and, try as he might, he could not get them to live together in harmony. So he determined to convince them of their folly by the following means. Bidding them fetch a bundle of sticks, he invited each in turn to break it across his knee. All tried and all failed: and then he undid the bundle, and handed them the sticks one by one, when they had no difficulty at all in breaking them.

"There, my boys," said he, "united you will be more than a match for your enemies: but if you quarrel and separate, your weakness will put you at the mercy of those who attack you."

In union is some strength.

The Lamp

A lamp, well filled with oil, burned with a clear and steady light, and began to swell with pride and boast that it shone more brightly than the sun himself. Just then a puff of wind came and blew it out. Someone struck a match and lit it again, and said, "You just keep alight, and never mind the sun. Why, even the stars never need to be relit as you had to be just now."

The Owl and the Birds

The owl is a very wise bird; and once, long ago, when the first oak sprouted in the forest, she called all the other birds together and said to them, "You see this tiny tree? If you take my advice, you will destroy it now when it is small: for when it grows big, the mistletoe will appear on it, from which birdlime will be prepared for your destruction."

Again, when the first flax was sown, she said to them, "Go and eat up that seed, for it is the seed of the flax, out of which men will one day make nets to catch you."

Once more, when she saw the first archer, she warned the birds that he was their deadly enemy, who would wing his arrows with their own feathers and shoot them. But they took no notice of what she said: in fact, they thought she was rather mad, and laughed at her. When, however, everything turned out as she had foretold, they changed their minds and conceived a great respect for her wisdom.

Hence, whenever she appears, the birds attend on her in the hope of hearing something that may be for their good. She, however, gives them advice no longer, but sits moping and pondering on the folly of her kind.



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