A tortoise, discontented with his lowly life, and envious of the birds he saw disporting themselves in the air, begged an eagle to teach him to fly. The eagle protested that it was idle for him to try, as nature had not provided him with wings; but the tortoise pressed him with entreaties and promises of treasure, insisting that it could only be a question of learning the craft of the air. So at length the eagle consented to do the best he could for him, and picked him up in his talons. Soaring with him to a great height in the sky he then let him go, and the wretched tortoise fell headlong and was dashed to pieces on a rock.
A kid climbed up on to the roof of an outhouse, attracted by the grass and other things that grew in the thatch; and as he stood there browsing away, he caught sight of a wolf passing below, and jeered at him because he couldn't reach him.
The wolf only looked up and said, "I hear you, my young friend; but it is not you who mock me, but the roof you are standing on."
A fox once fell into a trap, and after a struggle managed to get free, but with the loss of his brush. He was then so much ashamed of his appearance that he thought life was not worth living unless he could persuade the other foxes to part with their tails also, and thus divert attention from his own loss. So he called a meeting of all the foxes, and advised them to cut off their tails: "They're ugly things anyhow," he said, "and besides they're heavy, and it's tiresome to be always carrying them about with you."
But one of the other foxes said, "My friend, if you hadn't lost your own tail, you wouldn't be so keen on getting us to cut off ours."
Jupiter announced that he intended to appoint a king over the birds, and named a day on which they were to appear before his throne, when he would select the most beautiful of them all to be their ruler. Wishing to look their best on the occasion they repaired to the banks of a stream, where they busied themselves in washing and preening their feathers. The jackdaw was there along with the rest, and realised that, with his ugly plumage, he would have no chance of being chosen as he was: so he waited till they were all gone, and then picked up the most gaudy of the feathers they had dropped, and fastened them about his own body, with the result that he looked gayer than any of them. When the appointed day came, the birds assembled before Jupiter's throne; and, after passing them in review, he was about to make the jackdaw king, when all the rest set on the king-elect, stripped him of his borrowed plumes, and exposed him for the jackdaw that he was.
A traveller was about to start on a journey, and said to his dog, who was stretching himself by the door, "Come, what are you yawning for? Hurry up and get ready: I mean you to go with me."
But the dog merely wagged his tail and said quietly, "I'm ready, master: it's you I'm waiting for."
A shipwrecked man cast up on the beach fell asleep after his struggle with the waves. When he woke up, he bitterly reproached the sea for its treachery in enticing men with its smooth and smiling surface, and then, when they were well embarked, turning in fury on them and sending both ship and sailors to destruction.
The sea arose in the form of a woman, and replied, "Lay not the blame on me, sailor, but on the winds. By nature I am as calm and safe as the land itself: but the winds fall on me with their gusts and gales, and lash me into a fury that is not natural to me."
A wild boar was engaged in whetting his tusks on the trunk of a tree in the forest when a fox came by and, seeing what he was at, said to him, "Why are you doing that, pray? The huntsmen are not out to-day, and there are no other dangers at hand that I can see."
"True, my friend," replied the boar, "but the moment my life is in danger I shall need to use my tusks. There'll be no time to sharpen them then."
Mercury was very anxious to know in what estimation he was held by mankind; so he disguised himself as a man and walked into a sculptor's studio, where there were a number of statues finished and ready for sale. Seeing a statue of Jupiter among the rest, he inquired the price of it.
"A crown," said the sculptor.
"Is that all?" said he, laughing; "and" (pointing to one of Juno) "how much is that one?"
"That," was the reply, "is half a crown."
"And how much might you be wanting for that one over there, now?" he continued, pointing to a statue of himself.
"That one?" said the sculptor; "Oh, I'll throw him in for nothing if you'll buy the other two."
A hind said to her fawn, who was now well grown and strong, "My son, Nature has given you a powerful body and a stout pair of horns, and I can't think why you are such a coward as to run away from the hounds."
Just then they both heard the sound of a pack in full cry, but at a considerable distance.
"You stay where you are," said the hind; "never mind me" - and with that she ran off as fast as her legs could carry her.
A fox who had never seen a lion one day met one, and was so terrified at the sight of him that he was ready to die with fear. After a time he met him again, and was still rather frightened, but not nearly so much as he had been when he met him first. But when he saw him for the third time he was so far from being afraid that he went up to him and began to talk to him as if he had known him all his life.
A man once caught an eagle, and after clipping his wings turned him loose among the fowls in his hen-house, where he moped in a corner, looking very dejected and forlorn. After a while his cptor was glad enough to sell him to a neighbour, who took him home and let his wings grow again. As soon as he had recovered the use of them, the eagle flew out and caught a hare, which he brought home and presented to his benefactor.
A fox observed this, and said to the eagle, "Don't waste your gifts on him! Go and give them to the man who first caught you; make him your friend, and then perhaps he won't catch you and clip your wings a second time."
A blacksmith had a little dog that used to sleep when his master was at work, but was very wide awake indeed when it was time for meals.
One day his master pretended to be disgusted at this, and when he had thrown him a bone as usual, he said, "What on earth is the good of a lazy cur like you? When I am hammering away at my anvil, you just curl up and go to sleep: but no sooner do I stop for a mouthful of food than you wake up and wag your tail to be fed."
❋ Those who will not work may neither be ready for it nor fully equipped
A thirsty stag went down to a pool to drink. As he bent over the surface he saw his own reflection in the water, and was struck with admiration for his fine spreading antlers, but at the same time he felt nothing but disgust for the weakness and slenderness of his legs. While he stood there looking at himself, he was seen and attacked by a lion; but in the chase which ensued, he soon drew away from his pursuer, and kept his lead as long as the ground over which he ran was open and free of trees. But as soon as he came to a wood, he was caught by his antlers in the branches, and fell a victim to the teeth and claws of his enemy.
"Woe is me!" he cried with his last breath; "I despised my legs, which might have saved my life: but I gloried in my horns, and they have proved my ruin."
❋ What is worth most is often valued least.
A dog was crossing a plank bridge over a stream with a piece of meat in his mouth, when he happened to see his own reflection in the water. He thought it was another dog with a piece of meat twice as big; so he let go his own, and flew at the other dog to get the larger piece. But all that happened was that he got neither; for one was only a shadow, and the other was carried away by the current.
When Jupiter was creating man, he told Mercury to make an infusion of lies, and to add a little of it to the other ingredients which went to the making of the Tradesmen. Mercury did so, and introduced an equal amount into each in turn – the tallow-chandler, and the greengrocer, and the haberdasher, and all, till he came to the horse-dealer, who was last on the list, when, finding that he had a quantity of the infusion still left, he put it all into him. This is why all Tradesmen lie more or less, but they none of them lie like a horse-dealer.
There was war between the mice and the weasels, in which the mice always got the worst of it, numbers of them being killed and eaten by the weasels. So they called a council of war, in which an old mouse got up and said, "It's no wonder we are always beaten, for we have no generals to plan our battles and direct our movements in the field." Acting on his advice, they chose the biggest mice to be their leaders, and these, in order to be distinguished from the rank and file, provided themselves with helmets bearing large plumes of straw. They then led out the mice to battle, confident of victory: but they were defeated as usual, and were soon scampering as fast as they could to their holes. All made their way to safety without difficulty except the leaders, who were so hampered by the badges of their rank that they could not get into their holes, and fell easy victims to their pursuers.
❋ Greatness carries its own penalties.
The peacock was greatly discontented because he had not a beautiful voice like the nightingale, and he went and complained to Juno about it.
"The nightingale's song," said he, "is the envy of all the birds; but whenever I utter a sound I become a laughing-stock."
The goddess tried to console him by saying, "You have not, it is true, the power of song, but then you far excel all the rest in beauty: your neck flashes like the emerald and your splendid tail is a marvel of gorgeous colour."
But the peacock was not appeased. "What is the use," said he, "of being beautiful, with a voice like mine?"
Then Juno replied, with a shade of sternness in her tones, "Fate has allotted to all their destined gifts: to yourself beauty, to the eagle strength, to the nightingale song, and so on to all the rest in their degree; but you alone are dissatisfied with your portion. Make, then, no more complaints. For, if your present wish were granted, you would quickly find cause for fresh discontent."
A bear was once bragging about his generous feelings, and saying how refined he was compared with other animals. (There is, in fact, a tradition that a bear will never touch a dead body.) A fox, who heard him talking in this strain, smiled and said, "My friend, when you are hungry, I only wish you would confine your attention to the dead and leave the living alone."
❋ A hypocrite deceives you, or tries to.
An old peasant was sitting in a meadow watching his donkey, which was grazing close by, when all of a sudden he caught sight of armed men stealthily approaching. He jumped up in a moment, and begged the donkey to fly with him as fast as he could, "Or else," said he, "we shall both be captured by the enemy."
But the donkey just looked round lazily and said, "And if so, do you think they'll make me carry heavier loads than I have to now?"
"No," said his master.
"Oh, well, then," said the donkey, "I don't mind if they do take me, for I shan't be any worse off."
Two little frogs were playing about at the edge of a pool when an ox came down to the water to drink, and by accident trod on one of them and crushed the life out of him. When the old frog missed him, she asked his brother where he was.
"He is dead, mother," said the little frog. "A huge creature with four legs came to our pool this morning and trampled him down in the mud."
"Enormous, was he? Was he as big as this?" said the frog, puffing herself out to look as big as possible.
"Oh! yes, much bigger," was the answer.
The frog puffed herself out still more. "Was he as big as this?" said she.
"Oh! yes, yes, mother, MUCH bigger," said the little frog.
And yet again she puffed and puffed herself out till she was almost as round as a ball. "As big as...?" she began, but then she burst.