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Note on the Text and Translation
Chronology of the Fables
Aesop, the Popular Favourite
II.Aetiologies, Paradoxes, Insults, and Jokes
Index of Perry Numbers
Index of Sources
AESOP, THE POPULAR FAVOURITE
Fable 1 (Chambry 96 = Perry 63)
Demades and the Athenians
The orator Demades was trying to address his Athenian audience. When he failed to get their attention, he asked if he might tell them an Aesop's fable. The audience agreed, so Demades began his story. ‘The goddess Demeter, a swallow, and an eel were walking together down the road. When they reached a river, the swallow flew up in the air and the eel jumped into the water.’ Demades then fell silent. The audience asked, ‘And what about the goddess Demeter?’ ‘As for Demeter,’ Demades replied, ‘she is angry at all of you for preferring Aesop's fables to politics!’
So it is that foolish people disregard important business in favour of frivolities.
Note: Demades (d. 319 B.C.E.) was an Athenian orator and diplomat. Demeter was a Greek agricultural goddess and was of special importance to the Athenians because of the cult of the Eleusinian Mysteries (see Fable 559).
Fable 2 (pseudo-Plutarch, Lives of the Ten Orators 848a = Perry 460)
Demosthenes and the Athenians
They say that during an assembly in Athens, Demosthenes was prevented from making his speech, so he told the audience he wanted to say just a few words. When the audience had fallen silent, Demosthenes began his tale. 'It was summertime, and a young man had hired a donkey to take him from Athens to Megara. At midday, when the sun was blazing hot, the young man and the donkey's driver both wanted to sit in the donkey's shadow. They began to jostle one another, fighting for the spot in the shade. The driver maintained that the man had rented the donkey but not his shadow, while the young man claimed that he had rented both the donkey and all the rights thereto.' Having told this much of the story, Demosthenes then turned his back on the audience and began to walk away. The Athenians shouted at him to stop and begged him to finish the story. 'Indeed!' said Demosthenes. 'You want to hear all about the donkey's shadow, but you refuse to pay attention when someone talks to you about serious matters!'
Note: Demosthenes (d. 322 B.C.E.) was a renowned orator of fourth-century Athens. Megara is a Greek city on the Saronic Gulf to the west of Athens. The 'donkey's shadow' was an ancient cliche for something of trivial importance (see, for example, Plato, Phaedrus 260c and Aristophanes, Wasps 191).
I. THE FABLES
FABLES ABOUT SLAVES AND MASTERS
Fable 3 (Babrius 100 = Perry 346 )
The Wolf, the dog, and the Collar
A comfortably plump dog happened to run into a wolf. The wolf asked the dog where he had been finding enough food to get so big and fat. ‘It is a man,’ said the dog, ‘who gives me all this food to eat.’ The wolf then asked him, ‘And what about that bare spot there on your neck?’ The dog replied, ‘My skin has been rubbed bare by the iron collar which my master forged and placed upon my neck.’ The wolf then jeered at the dog and said, ‘Keep your luxury to yourself then! I don't want anything to do with it, if my neck will have to chafe against a chain of iron!’
Note: Caxton (3.15) adds this epimythium: ‘Therfore there is no rychesse gretter than lyberte / For lyberte is better than alle the gold of the world.’
Fable 4 (Chambry 264 = Perry 183)
The Onager, the donkey, and the Driver
An onager saw a donkey standing in the sunshine. The onager approached the donkey and congratulated him on his good physical condition and excellent diet. Later on, the onager saw that same donkey bearing a load on his back and being harried by a driver who was beating the donkey from behind with a club. The onager then declared, ‘Well, I am certainly not going to admire your good fortune any longer, seeing as you pay such a high price for your prosperity!’
Note: The onager, or wild ass, once roamed the plains of central Asia. The word onager is from the Greek onos, ‘donkey’, and agros, ‘field’.