Fables - Aesop - ebook

Fables ebook

- aesop



Aesop's Fables, or the Aesopica, is a collection of Fables credited to Aesop, a slave and storyteller believed to have lived in ancient Greece between 620 and 564 BCE. Of diverse origins, the stories associated with his name have descended to modern times through a number of sources and continue to be reinterpreted in different verbal registers and in popular as well as artistic media. The Fables originally belonged to the oral tradition and were not collected for some three centuries after Aesop's death. By that time a variety of other stories, jokes and proverbs were being ascribed to him, although some of that material was from sources earlier than him or came from beyond the Greek cultural sphere. The process of inclusion has continued until the present, with some of the Fables unrecorded before the later Middle Ages and others arriving from outside Europe. The process is continuous and new stories are still being added to the Aesop corpus, even when they are demonstrably more recent work and sometimes from known authors. Manuscripts in Latin and Greek were important avenues of transmission, although poetical treatments in European vernaculars eventually formed another. On the arrival of printing, collections of Aesop's Fables were among the earliest books in a variety of languages. Through the means of later collections, and translations or adaptations of them, Aesop's reputation as a fabulist was transmitted throughout the world. Initially the Fables were addressed to adults and covered religious, social and political themes. They were also put to use as ethical guides and from the Renaissance onwards were particularly used for the education of children. Their ethical dimension was reinforced in the adult world through depiction in sculpture, painting and other illustrative means, as well as adaptation to drama and song. In addition, there have been reinterpretations of the meaning of Fables and changes in emphasis over time.

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Table of Contents


The Fox and the Grapes

The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs

The Cat and the Mice

The Mischievous Dog

The Charcoal-Burner and the Fuller

The Mice in Council

The Bat and the Weasels

The Dog and the Sow

The Fox and the Crow

The Horse and the Groom

The Wolf and the Lamb

The Peacock and the Crane

The Cat and the Birds

The Spendthrift and the Swallow

The Old Woman and the Doctor

The Moon and Her Mother

Mercury and the Woodman

The Ass, the Fox, and the Lion

The Lion and the Mouse

The Crow and the Pitcher

The Boys and the Frogs

The North Wind and the Sun

The Mistress and Her Servants

The Goods and the Ills

The Hares and the Frogs

The Fox and the Stork

The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

The Stag in the Ox-Stall

The Milkmaid and Her Pail

The Dolphins, the Whales, and the Sprat

The Fox and the Monkey

The Ass and the Lapdog

The Fir-Tree and the Bramble

The Frogs' Complaint Against the Sun

The Dog, the Cock, and the Fox

The Gnat and the Bull

The Bear and the Travellers

The Slave and the Lion

The Flea and the Man

The Bee and Jupiter

The Oak and the Reeds

The Blind Man and the Cub

The Boy and the Snails

The Apes and the Two Travellers

The Ass and His Burdens

The Shepherd's Boy and the Wolf

The Fox and the Goat

The Fisherman and the Sprat

The Boasting Traveller

The Crab and His Mother

The Ass and His Shadow

The Farmer and His Sons

The Dog and the Cook

The Monkey as King

The Thieves and the Cock

The Farmer and Fortune

Jupiter and the Monkey

Father and Sons

The Lamp

The Owl and the Birds

The Ass in the Lion's Skin

The She-Goats and Their Beards

The Old Lion

The Boy Bathing

The Quack Frog

The Swollen Fox

The Mouse, the Frog, and the Hawk

The Boy and the Nettles

The Peasant and the Apple-Tree

The Jackdaw and the Pigeons

Jupiter and the Tortoise

The Dog in the Manger

The Two Bags

The Oxen and the Axletrees

The Boy and the Filberts

The Frogs Asking for a King

The Olive-Tree and the Fig-Tree

The Lion and the Boar

The Walnut-Tree

The Man and the Lion

The Tortoise and the Eagle

The Kid on the Housetop

The Fox Without a Tail

The Vain Jackdaw

The Traveller and His Dog

The Shipwrecked Man and the Sea

The Wild Boar and the Fox

Mercury and the Sculptor

The Fawn and his Mother

The Fox and the Lion

The Eagle and His Captor

The Blacksmith and His Dog

The Stag at the Pool

The Dog and the Shadow

Mercury and the Tradesmen

The Mice and the Weasels

The Peacock and Juno

The Bear and the Fox

The Ass and the Old Peasant

The Ox and the Frog

The Man and the Image

Hercules and the Wagoner

The Pomegranate, the Apple-Tree, and the Bramble

The Lion, the Bear, and the Fox

The Blackamoor

The Two Soldiers and the Robber

The Lion and the Wild Ass

The Man and the Satyr

The Image-Seller

The Eagle and the Arrow

The Rich Man and the Tanner

The Wolf, the Mother, and Her Child

The Old Woman and the Wine-Jar

The Lioness and the Vixen

The Viper and the File

The Cat and the Cock

The Hare and the Tortoise

The Soldier and His Horse

The Oxen and the Butchers

The Wolf and the Lion

The Sheep, the Wolf, and the Stag

The Lion and the Three Bulls

The Horse and His Rider

The Goat and the Vine

The Two Pots

The Old Hound

The Clown and the Countryman

The Lark and the Farmer

The Lion and the Ass

The Prophet

The Hound and the Hare

The Lion, the Mouse, and the Fox

The Trumpeter Taken Prisoner

The Wolf and the Crane

The Eagle, the Cat, and the Wild Sow

The Wolf and the Sheep

The Tunny-Fish and the Dolphin

The Three Tradesmen

The Mouse and the Bull

The Hare and the Hound

The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse

The Lion and the Bull

The Wolf, the Fox, and the Ape

The Eagle and the Cocks

The Escaped Jackdaw

The Farmer and the Fox

Venus and the Cat

The Crow and the Swan

The Stag with One Eye

The Fly and the Draught-Mule

The Cock and the Jewel

The Wolf and the Shepherd

The Farmer and the Stork

The Charger and the Miller

The Grasshopper and the Owl

The Grasshopper and the Ants

The Farmer and the Viper

The Two Frogs

The Cobbler Turned Doctor

The Ass, the Cock, and the Lion

The Belly and the Members

The Bald Man and the Fly

The Ass and the Wolf

The Monkey and the Camel

The Sick Man and the Doctor

The Travellers and the Plane-Tree

The Flea and the Ox

The Birds, the Beasts, and the Bat

The Man and His Two Sweethearts

The Eagle, the Jackdaw, and the Shepherd

The Wolf and the Boy

The Miller, His son, and Their Ass

The Stag and the Vine

The Lamb Chased by a Wolf

The Archer and the Lion

The Wolf and the Goat

The Sick Stag

The Ass and the Mule

Brother and Sister

The Heifer and the Ox

The Kingdom of the Lion

The Ass and His Driver

The Lion and the Hare

The Wolves and the Dogs

The Bull and the Calf

The Trees and the Axe

The Astronomer

The Labourer and the Snake

The Cage-Bird and the Bat

The Ass and His Purchaser

The Kid and the Wolf

The Debtor and his Sow

The Bald Huntsman

The Herdsman and the Lost Bull

The Mule

The Hound and the Fox

The Father and His Daughters

The Thief and the Innkeeper

The Pack-Ass and the Wild Ass

The Ass and His Masters

The Pack-Ass, the Wild Ass, and the Lion

The Ant

The Frogs and the Well

The Crab and the Fox

The Fox and the Grasshopper

The Farmer, His Boy, and the Rooks

The Ass and the Dog

The Ass Carrying the Image

The Athenian and the Theban

The Goatherd and the Goat

The Sheep and the Dog

The Shepherd and the Wolf

The Lion, Jupiter, and the Elephant

The Pig and the Sheep

The Gardener and His Dog

The Rivers and the Sea

The Lion in Love

The Beekeeper

The Wolf and the Horse

The Bat, the Bramble, and the Seagull

The Dog and the Wolf

The Wasp and the Snake

The Eagle and the Beetle

The Fowler and the Lark

The Fisherman Piping

The Weasel and the Man

The Ploughman, the Ass, and the Ox

Demades and His Fable

The Monkey and the Dolphin

The Crow and the Snake

The Dogs and the Fox

The Nightingale and the Hawk

The Rose and the Amaranth

TheMan, the Horse, the Ox, and the Dog

The Wolves, the Sheep, and the Ram

The Swan

The Snake and Jupiter

The Wolf and His Shadow

The Ploughman and the Wolf

Mercury and the Man Bitten by an Ant

The Wily Lion

The Parrot and the Cat

The Stag and the Lion

The Impostor

The Dogs and the Hides

The Lion, the Fox, and the Ass

The Fowler, the Partridge, and the Cock

The Gnat and the Lion

The Farmer and His Dogs

The Eagle and the Fox

The Butcher and His Customers

Hercules and Minerva

The Fox Who Served a Lion

The Quack Doctor

The Lion, the Wolf, and the Fox

Hercules and Plutus

The Fox and the Leopard

The Fox and the Hedgehog

The Crow and the Raven

The Witch

The Old Man and Death

The Miser

The Foxes and the River

The Horse and the Stag

The Fox and the Bramble

The Fox and the Snake

The Lion, the Fox, and the Stag

The Man Who Lost His Spade

The Partridge and the Fowler

The Runaway Slave

The Hunter and the Woodman

The Serpent and the Eagle

The Rogue and the Oracle

The Horse and the Ass

The Dog Chasing a Wolf

Grief and His Due

The Hawk, the Kite, and the Pigeons

The Woman and the Farmer

Prometheus and the Making of Man

The Swallow and the Crow

The Hunter and the Horseman

The Goatherd and the Wild Goats

The Nightingale and the Swallow

The Traveller and Fortune


Aesop embodies an epigram not uncommon in human history; his fame is all the more deserved because he never deserved it. The firm foundations of common sense, the shrewd shots at uncommon sense, that characterise all the Fables, belong not him but to humanity. In the earliest human history whatever is authentic is universal: and whatever is universal is anonymous. In such cases there is always some central man who had first the trouble of collecting them, and afterwards the fame of creating them. He had the fame; and, on the whole, he earned the fame. There must have been something great and human, something of the human future and the human past, in such a man: even if he only used it to rob the past or deceive the future. The story of Arthur may have been really connected with the most fighting Christianity of falling Rome or with the most heathen traditions hidden in the hills of Wales. But the word "Mappe" or "Malory" will always mean King Arthur; even though we find older and better origins than the Mabinogian; or write later and worse versions than the Idylls of the King. The nursery fairy tales may have come out of Asia with the Indo-European race, now fortunately extinct; they may have been invented by some fine French lady or gentleman like Perrault: they may possibly even be what they profess to be. But we shall always call the best selection of such tales Grimm's Tales: simply because it is the best collection.

The historical Aesop, in so far as he was historical, would seem to have been a Phrygian slave, or at least one not to be specially and symbolically adorned with the Phrygian cap of liberty. He lived, if he did live, about the sixth century before Christ, in the time of that Croesus whose story we love and suspect like everything else in Herodotus. There are also stories of deformity of feature and a ready ribaldry of tongue: stories which (as the celebrated Cardinal said) explain, though they do not excuse, his having been hurled over a high precipice at Delphi. It is for those who read the Fables to judge whether he was really thrown over the cliff for being ugly and offensive, or rather for being highly moral and correct. But there is no kind of doubt that the general legend of him may justly rank him with a race too easily forgotten in our modern comparisons: the race of the great philosophic slaves. Aesop may have been a fiction like Uncle Remus: he was also, like Uncle Remus, a fact. It is a fact that slaves in the old world could be worshipped like Aesop, or loved like Uncle Remus. It is odd to note that both the great slaves told their best stories about beasts and birds.

But whatever be fairly due to Aesop, the human tradition called Fables is not due to him. This had gone on long before any sarcastic freedman from Phrygia had or had not been flung off a precipice; this has remained long after. It is to our advantage, indeed, to realise the distinction; because it makes Aesop more obviously effective than any other fabulist. Grimm's Tales, glorious as they are, were collected by two German students. And if we find it hard to be certain of a German student, at least we know more about him than We know about a Phrygian slave. The truth is, of course, that Aesop's Fables are not Aesop's fables, any more than Grimm's Fairy Tales were ever Grimm's fairy tales. But the fable and the fairy tale are things utterly distinct. There are many elements of difference; but the plainest is plain enough. There can be no good fable with human beings in it. There can be no good fairy tale without them.

Aesop, or Babrius (or whatever his name was), understood that, for a fable, all the persons must be impersonal. They must be like abstractions in algebra, or like pieces in chess. The lion must always be stronger than the wolf, just as four is always double of two. The fox in a fable must move crooked, as the knight in chess must move crooked. The sheep in a fable must march on, as the pawn in chess must march on. The fable must not allow for the crooked captures of the pawn; it must not allow for what Balzac called "the revolt of a sheep." The fairy tale, on the other hand, absolutely revolves on the pivot of human personality. If no hero were there to fight the dragons, we should not even know that they were dragons. If no adventurer were cast on the undiscovered island—it would remain undiscovered. If the miller's third son does not find the enchanted garden where the seven princesses stand white and frozen—why, then, they will remain white and frozen and enchanted. If there is no personal prince to find the Sleeping Beauty she will simply sleep. Fables repose upon quite the opposite idea; that everything is itself, and will in any case speak for itself. The wolf will be always wolfish; the fox will be always foxy. Something of the same sort may have been meant by the animal worship, in which Egyptian and Indian and many other great peoples have combined. Men do not, I think, love beetles or cats or crocodiles with a wholly personal love; they salute them as expressions of that abstract and anonymous energy in nature which to anyone is awful, and to an atheist must be frightful. So in all the fables that are or are not Aesop's all the animal forces drive like inanimate forces, like great rivers or growing trees. It is the limit and the loss of all such things that they cannot be anything but themselves: it is their tragedy that they could not lose their souls.

This is the immortal justification of the Fable: that we could not teach the plainest truths so simply without turning men into chessmen. We cannot talk of such simple things without using animals that do not talk at all. Suppose, for a moment, that you turn the wolf into a wolfish baron, or the fox into a foxy diplomatist. You will at once remember that even barons are human, you will be unable to forget that even diplomatists are men. You will always be looking for that accidental good-humour that should go with the brutality of any brutal man; for that allowance for all delicate things, including virtue, that should exist in any good diplomatist. Once put a thing on two legs instead of four and pluck it of feathers and you cannot help asking for a human being, either heroic, as in the fairy tales, or un-heroic, as in the modern novels.

But by using animals in this austere and arbitrary style as they are used on the shields of heraldry or the hieroglyphics of the ancients, men have really succeeded in handing down those tremendous truths that are called truisms. If the chivalric lion be red and rampant, it is rigidly red and rampant; if the sacred ibis stands anywhere on one leg, it stands on one leg forever. In this language, like a large animal alphabet, are written some of the first philosophic certainties of men. As the child learns A for Ass or B for Bull or C for Cow, so man has learnt here to connect the simpler and stronger creatures with the simpler and stronger truths. That a flowing stream cannot befoul its own fountain, and that anyone who says it does is a tyrant and a liar; that a mouse is too weak to fight a lion, but too strong for the cords that can hold a lion; that a fox who gets most out of a flat dish may easily get least out of a deep dish; that the crow whom the gods forbid to sing, the gods nevertheless provide with cheese; that when the goat insults from a mountain-top it is not the goat that insults, but the mountain: all these are deep truths deeply graven on the rocks wherever men have passed. It matters nothing how old they are, or how new; they are the alphabet of humanity, which like so many forms of primitive picture-writing employs any living symbol in preference to man. These ancient and universal tales are all of animals; as the latest discoveries in the oldest prehistoric caverns are all of animals. Man, in his simpler states, always felt that he himself was something too mysterious to be drawn. But the legend he carved under these cruder symbols was everywhere the same; and whether fables began with Aesop or began with Adam, whether they were German and medieval as Reynard the Fox, or as French and Renaissance as La Fontaine, the upshot is everywhere essentially the same: that superiority is always insolent, because it is always accidental; that pride goes before a fall; and that there is such a thing as being too clever by half. You will not find any other legend but this written upon the rocks by any hand of man. There is every type and time of fable: but there is only one moral to the fable; because there is only one moral to everything.



A hungry Fox saw some fine bunches of Grapes hanging from a vine that was trained along a high trellis, and did his best to reach them by jumping as high as he could into the air. But it was all in vain, for they were just out of reach: so he gave up trying, and walked away with an air of dignity and unconcern, remarking, "I thought those Grapes were ripe, but I see now they are quite sour."


A Man and his Wife had the good fortune to possess a Goose which laid a Golden Egg every day. Lucky though they were, they soon began to think they were not getting rich fast enough, and, imagining the bird must be made of gold inside, they decided to kill it in order to secure the whole store of precious metal at once. But when they cut it open they found it was just like any other goose. Thus, they neither got rich all at once, as they had hoped, nor enjoyed any longer the daily addition to their wealth.

Much wants more and loses all.


There was once a house that was overrun with Mice. A Cat heard of this, and said to herself, "That's the place for me," and off she went and took up her quarters in the house, and caught the Mice one by one and ate them. At last the Mice could stand it no longer, and they determined to take to their holes and stay there. "That's awkward," said the Cat to herself: "the only thing to do is to coax them out by a trick." So she considered a while, and then climbed up the wall and let herself hang down by her hind legs from a peg, and pretended to be dead. By and by a Mouse peeped out and saw the Cat hanging there. "Aha!" it cried, "you're very clever, madam, no doubt: but you may turn yourself into a bag of meal hanging there, if you like, yet you won't catch us coming anywhere near you."

If you are wise you won't be deceived by the innocent airs of those whom you have once found to be dangerous.


There was once a Dog who used to snap at people and bite them without any provocation, and who was a great nuisance to everyone who came to his master's house. So his master fastened a bell round his neck to warn people of his presence. The Dog was very proud of the bell, and strutted about tinkling it with immense satisfaction. But an old dog came up to him and said, "The fewer airs you give yourself the better, my friend. You don't think, do you, that your bell was given you as a reward of merit? On the contrary, it is a badge of disgrace."

Notoriety is often mistaken for fame.


There was once a Charcoal-burner who lived and worked by himself. A Fuller, however, happened to come and settle in the same neighbourhood; and the Charcoal-burner, having made his acquaintance and finding he was an agreeable sort of fellow, asked him if he would come and share his house: "We shall get to know one another better that way," he said, "and, beside, our household expenses will be diminished." The Fuller thanked him, but replied, "I couldn't think of it, sir: why, everything I take such pains to whiten would be blackened in no time by your charcoal."


Once upon a time all the Mice met together in Council, and discussed the best means of securing themselves against the attacks of the cat. After several suggestions had been debated, a Mouse of some standing and experience got up and said, "I think I have hit upon a plan which will ensure our safety in the future, provided you approve and carry it out. It is that we should fasten a bell round the neck of our enemy the cat, which will by its tinkling warn us of her approach." This proposal was warmly applauded, and it had been already decided to adopt it, when an old Mouse got upon his feet and said, "I agree with you all that the plan before us is an admirable one: but may I ask who is going to bell the cat?"


A Bat fell to the ground and was caught by a Weasel, and was just going to be killed and eaten when it begged to be let go. The Weasel said he couldn't do that because he was an enemy of all birds on principle. "Oh, but," said the Bat, "I'm not a bird at all: I'm a mouse." "So you are," said the Weasel, "now I come to look at you"; and he let it go. Some time after this the Bat was caught in just the same way by another Weasel, and, as before, begged for its life. "No," said the Weasel, "I never let a mouse go by any chance." "But I'm not a mouse," said the Bat; "I'm a bird." "Why, so you are," said the Weasel; and he too let the Bat go.

Look and see which way the wind blows before you commit yourself.