Illustrations by H.
Weir, J. Tenniel, E. Griset
Illustrations by H.
Weir, J. Tenniel, E. Griset
By R. WORTHINGTON.
LIFE OF ÆSOP.
The Life and History of Æsop is involved, like that of Homer, the
most famous of Greek poets, in much obscurity. Sardis, the capital of
Lydia; Samos, a Greek island; Mesembria, an ancient colony in Thrace;
and Cotiæum, the chief city of a province of Phrygia, contend for the
distinction of being the birthplace of Æsop. Although the honor thus
claimed cannot be definitely assigned to any one of these places, yet
there are a few incidents now generally accepted by scholars as
established facts, relating to the birth, life, and death of Æsop. He
is, by an almost universal consent, allowed to have been born about the
year 620 B.C., and to have been by
birth a slave. He was owned by two masters in succession, both
inhabitants of Samos, Xanthus and Jadmon, the latter of whom gave him
his liberty as a reward for his learning and wit. One of the privileges
of a freedman in the ancient republics of Greece was the permission to
take an active interest in public affairs; and Æsop, like the
philosophers Phædo, Menippus, and Epictetus, in later times, raised
himself from the indignity of a servile condition to a position of high
renown. In his desire alike to instruct and to be instructed, he
travelled through many countries, and among others came to Sardis, the
capital of the famous king of Lydia, the great patron in that day, of
learning and of learned men. He met at the court of Crœsus with Solon,
Thales, and other sages, and is related so to have pleased his royal
master, by the part he took in the conversations held with these
philosophers, that he applied to him an expression which has since
passed into a proverb, "μᾶλλον
ὁ Φρύξ"—"The Phrygian has spoken better than all."
On the invitation of Crœsus he fixed his residence at Sardis, and was
employed by that monarch in various difficult and delicate affairs of
state. In his discharge of these commissions he visited the different
petty republics of Greece. At one time he is found in Corinth, and at
another in Athens, endeavoring, by the narration of some of his wise
fables, to reconcile the inhabitants of those cities to the
administration of their respective rulers, Pariander and Pisistratus.
One of these ambassadorial missions, undertaken at the command of
Crœsus, was the occasion of his death. Having been sent to Delphi with a
large sum of gold for distribution among the citizens, he was so
provoked at their covetousness that he refused to divide the money, and
sent it back to his master. The Delphians, enraged at this treatment,
accused him of impiety, and, in spite of his sacred character as
ambassador, executed him as a public criminal. This cruel death of Æsop
was not unavenged. The citizens of Delphi were visited with a series of
calamities, until they made a public reparation of their crime; and "The
blood of Æsop" became a well-known adage, bearing witness to the truth
that deeds of wrong would not pass unpunished. Neither did the great
fabulist lack posthumous honors; for a statue was erected to his memory
at Athens, the work of Lysippus, one of the most famous of Greek
sculptors. Phædrus thus immortalizes the event:—
Æsopo ingentem statuam posuere Attici,
Servumque collocarunt æterna in basi:
Patere honoris scirent ut cuncti viam;
Nec generi tribui sed virtuti gloriam.
These few facts are all that can be relied on with any degree of
certainty, in reference to the birth, life, and death of Æsop. They were
first brought to light, after a patient search and diligent perusal of
ancient authors, by a Frenchman, M. Claude Gaspard Bachet de Mezeriac,
who declined the honor of being tutor to Louis XIII. of France, from his
desire to devote himself exclusively to literature. He published his
life of Æsop, Anno Domini 1632. The later investigations of a host of
English and German scholars have added very little to the facts given by
M. Mezeriac. The substantial truth of his statements has been confirmed
by later criticism and inquiry.
It remains to state, that prior to this publication of M. Mezeriac,
the life of Æsop was from the pen of Maximus Planudes, a monk of
Constantinople, who was sent on an embassy to Venice by the Byzantine
Emperor Andronicus the elder, and who wrote in the early part of the
fourteenth century. His life was prefixed to all the early editions of
these fables, and was republished as late as 1727 by Archdeacon Croxall
as the introduction to his edition of Æsop. This life by Planudes
contains, however, so small an amount of truth, and is so full of absurd
pictures of the grotesque deformity of Æsop, of wondrous apocryphal
stories, of lying legends, and gross anachronisms, that it is now
universally condemned as false, puerile, and unauthentic. It is given up
in the present day, by general consent, as unworthy of the slightest
The Wolf Turned Shepherd.
A wolf, finding that the sheep were so afraid of him that he could
not get near them, disguised himself in the dress of a shepherd, and
thus attired approached the flock. As he came near, he found the
shepherd fast asleep. As the sheep did not run away, he resolved to
imitate the voice of the shepherd. In trying to do so, he only howled,
and awoke the shepherd. As he could not run away, he was soon killed.
Those who attempt to act in disguise are apt to overdo it.
The Stag at the Pool.
A stag saw his shadow reflected in the water, and greatly admired the
size of his horns, but felt angry with himself for having such weak
feet. While he was thus contemplating himself, a Lion appeared at the
pool. The Stag betook himself to flight, and kept himself with ease at a
safe distance from the Lion, until he entered a wood and became
entangled with his horns. The Lion quickly came up with him and caught
him. When too late he thus reproached himself: "Woe is me! How have I
deceived myself! These feet which would have saved me I despised, and I
gloried in these antlers which have proved my destruction."
What is most truly valuable is often underrated.
The Fox and the Mask.
A fox entered the house of an actor, and, rummaging through all his
properties, came upon a Mask, an admirable imitation of a human head. He
placed his paws on it, and said: "What a beautiful head! yet it is of no
value, as it entirely wants brains."
A fair face is of little use without sense.
The Bear and the Fox.
A bear boasted very much of his philanthropy, saying "that of all
animals he was the most tender in his regard for man, for he had such
respect for him, that he would not even touch his dead body." A Fox
hearing these words said with a smile to the Bear: "Oh, that you would
eat the dead and not the living!"
We should not wait till a person is dead, to give him our respect.
The Wolf and the Lamb.
A Wolf, meeting with a Lamb astray from the fold, resolved not to lay
violent hands on him, but to find some plea, which should justify to the
Lamb himself his right to eat him. He then addressed him: "Sirrah, last
year you grossly insulted me." "Indeed," bleated the Lamb in a mournful
tone of voice, "I was not then born." Then said the Wolf: "You feed in
my pasture." "No, good sir," replied the Lamb, "I have not yet tasted
grass." Again said the Wolf: "You drink of my well." "No," exclaimed the
Lamb, "I never yet drank water, for as yet my mother's milk is both food
and drink to me." On which the Wolf seized him, and ate him up, saying:
"Well! I won't remain supperless, even though you refute every one of my
The tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny, and it is
useless for the innocent to try by reasoning to get justice, when the
oppressor intends to be unjust.
The One-Eyed Doe.
A Doe, blind of an eye, was accustomed to graze as near to the edge
of the sea as she possibly could, to secure greater safety. She turned
her eye towards the land, that she might perceive the approach of a
hunter or hound, and her injured eye towards the sea, from which she
entertained no anticipation of danger. Some boatmen, sailing by, saw
her, and, taking a successful aim, mortally wounded her. Said she: "O
wretched creature that I am! to take such precaution against the land,
and, after all, to find this seashore, to which I had come for safety,
so much more perilous."
Danger sometimes comes from a source that is least suspected.
The Dog, Cock and Fox.
A Dog and a Cock, traveling together, took shelter at night in a
thick wood. The Cock perched himself on a high branch, while the Dog
found a bed at the foot of the tree. When morning dawned, the Cock, as
usual, crowed very loudly. A Fox, hearing the sound, and wishing to make
a breakfast on him, came and stood under the branches, saying how
earnestly he desired to make the acquaintance of the owner of so sweet a
"If you will admit me," said he, "I should very much like to spend
the day with you."
The Cock said: "Sir, do me the favor to go round and wake up my
porter, that he may open the door, and let you in." On the Fox
approaching the tree, the Dog sprang out and caught him and quickly tore
him in pieces.
Those who try to entrap others are often caught by their own schemes.
The Mouse, the Frog, and the Hawk.
A Mouse, by an unlucky chance, formed an intimate acquaintance with a
Frog. The Frog one day, intent on mischief, bound the foot of the Mouse
tightly to his own. Thus joined together, the Frog led his friend toward
the pool in which he lived, until he reached the very brink, when
suddenly jumping in, he dragged the Mouse in with him. The Frog enjoyed
the water amazingly, and swam croaking about as if he had done a
meritorious action. The unhappy Mouse was soon suffocated with the
water, and his dead body floated about on the surface, tied to the foot
of the Frog. A Hawk observed it, and, pouncing upon it, carried it up
aloft. The Frog, being still fastened to the leg of the Mouse, was also
carried off a prisoner, and was eaten by the Hawk.
Harm hatch, harm catch.
The Dog and the Oyster.
A Dog, used to eating eggs, saw an Oyster, and opening his mouth to
its widest extent, swallowed it down with the utmost relish, supposing
it to be an egg. Soon afterwards suffering great pain in his stomach, he
said: "I deserve all this torment, for my folly in thinking that
everything round must be an egg."
Who acts in haste repents at leisure.
The Wolf and the Shepherds.
A Wolf passing by, saw some shepherds in a hut eating for their
dinner a haunch of mutton. Approaching them, he said: "What a clamor you
would raise, if I were to do as you are doing!"
Men are too apt to condemn in others the very things they practice
The Hares and the Frogs.
The Hares, oppressed with a sense of their own exceeding timidity,
and weary of the perpetual alarm to which they were exposed, with one
accord determined to put an end to themselves and their troubles, by
jumping from a lofty precipice into a deep lake below. As they scampered
off in a very numerous body to carry out their resolve, the Frogs lying
on the banks of the lake heard the noise of their feet, and rushed
helter-skelter to the deep water for safety. On seeing the rapid
disappearance of the Frogs, one of the Hares cried out to his
companions: "Stay, my friends, do not do as you intended; for you now
see that other creatures who yet live are more timorous than ourselves."
We are encouraged by seeing others that are worse off than ourselves.
The Lion and the Boar.
On a summer day, when the great heat induced a general thirst, a Lion
and a Boar came at the same moment to a small well to drink. They
fiercely disputed which of them should drink first, and were soon
engaged in the agonies of a mortal combat. On their stopping on a sudden
to take breath for the fiercer renewal of the strife, they saw some
Vultures waiting in the distance to feast on the one which should fall
first. They at once made up their quarrel, saying: "It is better for us
to make friends, than to become the food of Crows or Vultures, as will
certainly happen if we are disabled."
Those who strive are often watched by others who will take advantage
of their defeat to benefit themselves.
The Mischievous Dog.
A Dog used to run up quietly to the heels of those he met, and to
bite them without notice. His master sometimes suspended a bell about
his neck, that he might give notice of his presence wherever he went,
and sometimes he fastened a chain about his neck, to which was attached
a heavy clog, so that he could not be so quick at biting people's heels.
The Dog grew proud of his bell and clog, and went with them all over
the market-place. An old hound said to him: "Why do you make such an
exhibition of yourself? That bell and clog that you carry are not,
believe me, orders of merit, but, on the contrary, marks of disgrace, a
public notice to all men to avoid you as an ill-mannered dog."
Those who achieve notoriety often mistake it for fame.
The Quack Frog.
A Frog once made proclamation to all the beasts that he was a learned
physician, and able to heal all diseases. A Fox asked him: "How can you
pretend to prescribe for others, and you are unable to heal your own
lame gait and wrinkled skin?"
Those who pretend that they can mend others should first mend
themselves, and then they will be more readily believed.
The Ass, the Fox, and the Lion.
The Ass and the Fox, having entered into a partnership together, went
out into the forest to hunt. They had not proceeded far, when they met a
Lion. The Fox approached the Lion and promised to contrive for him the
capture of the Ass, if he would pledge his word that his own life should
be spared. On his assuring him that he would not injure him, the Fox led
the Ass to a deep pit, and contrived that he should fall into it. The
Lion, seeing that the Ass was secured, immediately clutched the Fox, and
then attacked the Ass at his leisure.
Traitors must expect treachery.
The Wolf and the Sheep.
A Wolf, being sick and maimed, called to a Sheep, who was passing,
and asked him to fetch some water from the stream. "For," he said, "if
you will bring me drink, I will find means to provide myself with meat."
"Yes," said the Sheep, "if I should bring you the draught, you would
doubtless make me provide the meat also."
Hypocritical speeches are easily seen through.
The Cock and the Jewel.
A Cock, scratching for food for himself and his hens, found a
precious stone; on which he said: "If thy owner had found thee, and not
I, he would have taken thee up, and have set thee in thy first estate;
but I have found thee for no purpose. I would rather have one barleycorn
than all the jewels in the world."
The Two Pots.
A river carried down in its stream two Pots, one made of earthenware,
and the other of brass. As they floated along on the surface of the
stream, the Earthen Pot said to the Brass Pot: "Pray keep at a distance,
and do not come near me, for if you touch me ever so slightly, I shall
be broken in pieces; and besides, I by no means wish to come near you."
Equals make the best friends.
The Gnat and the Lion.
A Gnat came and said to a Lion: "I do not the least fear you, nor are
you stronger than I am. For in what does your strength consist? You can
scratch with your claws, and bite with your teeth—so can a woman in her
quarrels. I repeat that I am altogether more powerful than you; and if
you doubt it, let us fight and see who will conquer." The Gnat, having
sounded his horn, fastened itself upon the Lion, and stung him on the
nostrils. The Lion, trying to crush him, tore himself with his claws,
until he punished himself severely. The Gnat thus prevailed over the
Lion, and buzzing about in a song of triumph, flew away. But shortly
afterwards he became entangled in the meshes of a cobweb, and was eaten
by a spider. He greatly lamented his fate, saying: "Woe is me, that I,
who can wage war successfully with the hugest beasts, should perish
myself from this spider."
The Widow and her Little Maidens.
A widow woman, fond of cleaning, had two little maidens to wait on
her. She was in the habit of waking them early in the morning, at
cockcrow. The maidens, being aggrieved by such excessive labor, resolved
to kill the cock who roused their mistress so early. When they had done
this, they found that they had only prepared for themselves greater
troubles, for their mistress, no longer hearing the cock, was unable to
tell the time, and so, woke them up to their work in the middle of the
Unlawful acts to escape trials only increase our troubles.
The Fox and the Lion.
A Fox who had never yet seen a Lion, when he fell in with him by a
certain chance for the first time in the forest, was so frightened that
he was near dying with fear. On his meeting with him for the second
time, he was still much alarmed, but not to the same extent as at first.
On seeing him the third time, he so increased in boldness that he went
up to him, and commenced a familiar conversation with him.
Acquaintance softens prejudices.
The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.
A Country Mouse invited a Town Mouse, an intimate friend, to pay him
a visit, and partake of his country fare. As they were on the bare
plough-lands, eating their wheat-stalks and roots pulled up from the
hedge-row, the Town Mouse said to his friend: "You live here the life of
the ants, while in my house is the horn of plenty. I am surrounded with
every luxury, and if you will come with me, as I much wish you would,
you shall have an ample share of my dainties." The Country Mouse was
easily persuaded, and returned to town with his friend. On his arrival,
the Town Mouse placed before him bread, barley, beans, dried figs,
honey, raisins, and, last of all, brought a dainty piece of cheese from
a basket. The Country Mouse, being much delighted at the sight of such
good cheer, expressed his satisfaction in warm terms, and lamented his
own hard fate. Just as they were beginning to eat, some one opened the
door, and they both ran off squeaking, as fast as they could, to a hole
so narrow that two could only find room in it by squeezing. They had
scarcely again begun their repast when some one else entered to take
something out of a cupboard, on which the two Mice, more frightened than
before, ran away and hid themselves. At last the Country Mouse, almost
famished, thus addressed his friend: "Although you have prepared for me
so dainty a feast, I must leave you to enjoy it by yourself. It is
surrounded by too many dangers to please me."
Better a little in safety, than an abundance surrounded by danger.
The Monkey and the Dolphin.
A Sailor, bound on a long voyage, took with him a Monkey to amuse him
while on shipboard. As he sailed off the coast of Greece, a violent
tempest arose, in which the ship was wrecked, and he, his Monkey and all
the crew were obliged to swim for their lives. A Dolphin saw the Monkey
contending with the waves, and supposing him to be a man (whom he is
always said to befriend), came and placed himself under him, to convey
him on his back in safety to the shore. When the Dolphin arrived with
his burden in sight of land not far from Athens, he demanded of the
Monkey if he were an Athenian, who answered that he was, and that he was
descended from one of the noblest families in that city.
The Dolphin then inquired if he knew the Piræus (the famous harbor of
Athens). The Monkey, supposing that a man was meant, and being obliged
to support his previous lie, answered that he knew him very well, and
that he was an intimate friend, who would, no doubt, be very glad to see
him. The Dolphin, indignant at these falsehoods, dipped the Monkey under
the water, and drowned him.
He who once begins to tell falsehoods is obliged to tell others to
make them appear true, and, sooner or later, they will get him into
The Game-cocks and the Partridge.
A Man had two Game-cocks in his poultry yard. One day, by chance, he
fell in with a tame Partridge for sale. He purchased it, and brought it
home that it might be reared with his Game-cocks. On its being put into
the poultry-yard, they struck at it, and followed it about, so that the
Partridge was grievously troubled in mind, and supposed that he was thus
badly treated because he was a stranger. Not long afterwards he saw the
Cocks fighting together, and not separating before one had well beaten
the other. He then said to himself: "I shall no longer distress myself
at being struck at by these Game-cocks, when I see that they cannot even
refrain from quarreling with each other."
Strangers should avoid those who quarrel among themselves.
The Boy and the Nettle.
A Boy was stung by a Nettle. He ran home and told his mother, saying:
"Although it pains me so much, I did but touch it ever so gently." "That
was just it," said his mother, "which caused it to sting you. The next
time you touch a Nettle, grasp it boldly, and it will be soft as silk to
your hand, and not in the least hurt you."
Whatever you do, do with all your might.
The Trumpeter taken Prisoner.
A Trumpeter, bravely leading on the soldiers, was captured by the
enemy. He cried out to his captors: "Pray spare me, and do not take my
life without cause or without injury. I have not slain a single man of
your troop. I have no arms, and carry nothing but this one brass
trumpet." "That is the very reason for which you should be put to
death," they said, "for while you do not fight yourself, your loud
trumpet stirs up all the other soldiers to battle."
He who incites strife is as guilty as they who strive.
The Fatal Marriage.
The Lion, touched with gratitude by the noble procedure of a Mouse,
and resolving not to be outdone in generosity by any wild beast
whatsoever, desired his little deliverer to name his own terms, for that
he might depend upon his complying with any proposal he should make. The
Mouse, fired with ambition at this gracious offer, did not so much
consider what was proper for him to ask, as what was in the powers of
his prince to grant; and so demanded his princely daughter, the young
lioness, in marriage. The Lion consented; but, when he would have given
the royal virgin into his possession, she, like a giddy thing as she
was, not minding how she walked, by chance set her paw upon her spouse,
who was coming to meet her, and crushed him to pieces.
Beware of unequal matches. Alliances prompted by ambition often prove
The Ass and the Charger.
An Ass congratulated a Horse on being so ungrudgingly and carefully
provided for, while he himself had scarcely enough to eat, nor even that
without hard work. But when war broke out, the heavy armed soldier
mounted the Horse, and rushed into the very midst of the enemy, and the
Horse, being wounded, fell dead on the battle-field. Then the Ass,
seeing all these things, changed his mind, and commiserated the Horse,
saying: "How much more fortunate am I than a charger. I can remain at
home in safety while he is exposed to all the perils of war."
Be not hasty to envy the condition of others.
The Vain Jackdaw.
Jupiter determined, it is said, to create a sovereign over the birds,
and made proclamation that, on a certain day, they should all present
themselves before him, when he would himself choose the most beautiful
among them to be king. The Jackdaw, knowing his own ugliness, searched
through the woods and fields, and collected the feathers which had
fallen from the wings of his companions, and stuck them in all parts of
his body. When the appointed day arrived, and the birds had assembled
before Jupiter, the Jackdaw also made his appearance in his
many-feathered finery. On Jupiter proposing to make him king, on account
of the beauty of his plumage, the birds indignantly protested, and each
plucking from him his own feathers, the Jackdaw was again nothing but a
Hope not to succeed in borrowed plumes.
The Milkmaid and her Pot of Milk.
A Maid was carrying her pail of milk to the farm-house, when she fell
a-musing. "The money for which this milk will be sold will buy at least
three hundred eggs. The eggs, allowing for all mishaps, will produce two
hundred and fifty chickens. The chickens will become ready for market
when poultry will fetch the highest price; so that by the end of the
year I shall have money enough to buy a new gown. In this dress I will
go to the Christmas junketings, when all the young fellows will propose
to me, but I will toss my head, and refuse them every one." At this
moment she tossed her head in unison with her thoughts, when down fell
the Milk-pot to the ground, and broke into a hundred pieces, and all her
fine schemes perished in a moment.
Count not your chickens before they are hatched.
The Playful Ass.
An Ass climbed up to the roof of a building, and, frisking about
there, broke in the tiling. The owner went up after him, and quickly
drove him down, beating him severely with a thick wooden cudgel. The Ass
said: "Why, I saw the Monkey do this very thing yesterday, and you all
laughed heartily, as if it afforded you very great amusement."
Those who do not know their right place must be taught it.
The Man and the Satyr.
A Man and a Satyr once formed a bond of alliance. One very cold
wintry day, as they talked together, the Man put his fingers to his
mouth and blew on them. On the Satyr inquiring the reason, he told him
that he did it to warm his hands. Later on in the day they sat down to
eat, the food prepared being quite scalding. The Man raised one of his
dishes towards his mouth and blew in it. On the Satyr again inquiring
the reason, he said that he did it to cool the meat. "I can no longer
consider you as a friend," said the Satyr; "a fellow who with the same
breath blows hot and cold I could never trust."
A man who talks for both sides is not to be trusted by either.