Book one

Das Mittelalter








Fable listing

to Book two
                                                 Book one

The Cicada and the Ant
The Crow and the Fox
The Wolf and the Dog
The Bag
The Swallow and the Little Birds
The Man and His Image
The Dragon of Many Heads and
The Dragon of Many Tails

The Thieves and the Mule
Simonides Preserved by the Gods
The Death and the Luckless Man
The Death and the Woodcutter
The Man Between Two Ages and Two Mistresses
The Fox and the Stork
The Boy and the Schoolmaster
The Cock and the Pearl
The Hornets and The Honeybees


the pictures seen in the fables are drawn by Grandville during 1803-1847.
he was a french native drawer, illustrator of books and caricaturist.


The Cicada and the Ant

The Cicada, having sung
All summer long,
Found herself wanting
When the north wind came.
Not a single morsel
Of fly or tiny worm.
She went begging for food
To her neighbour the Ant,
Asking her to lend her
Just a few grains to get by
Until the next season.
»I will pay you back, she said,
Before August, animal's honor,
Interest and principal.«
The Ant is no lender:
This is the least of her faults.
»What were you doing during the warm days?«
She said to this borrower.
»Night and day no matter what
I was singing, like it or not.«
»You were singing? I'm very glad:
Very well, start dancing now.«

The Crow and the Fox

Master Crow perched on a tree,
Was holding a cheese in his beak.
Master Fox attracted by the smell
Said something like this:
»Well, Hello Mister Crow!
How beautiful you are! how nice you seem to me!
Really, if your voice
Is like your plumage,
You are the phoenix of all the inhabitants of these woods.«
At these words, the Crow is overjoyed.
And in order to show off his beautiful voice,
He opens his beak wide, lets his prey fall
The Fox grabs it, and says: »My good man,
Learn that every flatterer
Lives at the expense of the one who listens to him.
This lesson, whitout doubt, is well worth a cheese.«
The Crow, ashamed and embarrassed,
Swore, but a little late, that he would not be taken again.

The Wolf and the Dog

The wolf grew gaunt-his bones stuck out-
Because for once the watchdogs never shut their eyes.
At last he took a drowsy mastiff by surprise,
A gorgeous, glossy-coated, oxlike layabout.
Sir Wolf would happily have set upon this giant
And ripped him all to shreds, but seeing his huge size
And his stout means of self-defense,
To challenge him to combat simply made no sense
And so instead he groveled, winningly compliant,
And told him how he envied him his plump physique.
»Dear boy, if being fat as I is what you seek,
It is entirely up to you,« the mastiff said.
»Just leave the woods and you'll improve your lot-
For there the only close associates you've got
Are stupid, ragged and ill-fed,
They live half-dead from hunger, just a bunch
Of desperate losers. Why? They've no free lunch,
No real security. There, all live by the knife.
But follow me and find the way to better life.«
»What must I do?« the wolf replied.
»Not much at all,« the mastiff said. »You wait outside
And chase off beggars from the door
And old lame types with walking sticks,
You lick your master's hand and fawn before
The family, and in return you get a mix
Of lovely leavings, bones of chicken or of squab,
And they will pat your head and scratch behind your ears.«

Picturing all this, the wolf's delight was such
Emotion overwhelmed him, and he began to sob.
But as they walked along together, through his tears
He saw the mastiff's neck looked raw and bare.
The wolf inquired, »What happened there?«
»Oh, nothing.« »That is nothing?« »Nothing much.«
»But, what?« »The collar they attach me with may be
What caused the little spot of soreness that you see.«
»Attach?« the wolf replied. »You mean you are not free
To go just where you want?« »Well, not always, no-
But does that matter?« »Matter! Yes, it matters so
That I refuse to touch one bite of your fine swill.
For even a treasure, that price would be too high for me!«
That said, the wolf ran off, and he is running still.

The Bag

Jupiter said one day: »Let all that live and breathe
Be summoned. Gather, ye, around my mighty feet!
If anyone perceives some flaw in how he's made,
Step forward fearlessly and speak-
I will repair my least mistake.
Come, Ape, you may speak first-and one can well see why.
Look at these animals. Compare the beauties of
Their features with your own.
Are you well satisfied?« »Who, me?« the ape replied.
»Why wouldn't I be? I have four legs, the same as them.
Till now, my portrait's given me no cause for shame.
But, take poor brother Bear, he's very crudely sketched-
He'd have to be upset to see himself in paint.«

The bear came next, and all expected some complaint.
But they were wrong. He was in love with his own shape.
And yet he criticised the elephant- his tail
Did not hang right, his ears should be pruned back,
He was a mass devoid of elegance and form.
Then, in his turn, the elephant,
Despite his fabled wisdom, spoke the very same.
According to his lights, Dame Whale
Was very grossly out of scale.
Dame Ant dismissed the mite as being much too small,
Though she herself was just colossal.

»Meeting adjourned!« said Jupiter. »You see defects
In all the world except yourselves.« In this parade,
Our species led the rest, for in our hearts we are
Lynx-eyed to others, mole-blind to ourselves,
Forgiving our trespasses, not our fellow man's:
We see our neighbors and ourselves with different eyes
The Sovereign Fabricator
Has made us each two bags to carry through the world-
The style today is just as it has always been.
The one behind we use to pack our faults away,
The one in front we carry other people's in.

The Swallow and the Little Birds

From flying far, a swallow grew
To know a lot-for those who've seen a lot well may
Have learned a lot along the way.
She had a gift for sensing winds before they blew,
And when a storm was hatching, she
Would warn the sailors out at sea.
One year, at planting time for hemp, she saw below
A farmer in his furrows, seeding row on row.
To all the smaller birds she cried, »Oh, now beware!
I see great danger coming-but for you, not me:
I know a place to hide, I have swift wings to flee.
But do you see that hand go whirling through the air?
The day is coming, all too soon,
When ruin springs from every seed that it has strewn.
For from those seeds wide nets will grow to catch your wings
And hidden snares with strangling strings,
And many and many a cruel machine
That will in its due season mean
Your lives are lost, your freedom done.
Beware both cage and cooking pan!
To save yourselves you must now plan
To peck those seeds up, every one.
Listen to me! Heed my words!«
But she was twitted by the birds,
Who said too many seeds already had been sown.
Then, when the hemp was showing green,
The swallow once more urged them, »Peck up every sprout
That pokes its evil tendril out,
Or you will reap perdition soon!«
»You babblebeak,« they said, »false prophet, crazy loon,
A fine task you have set for us!
The fields are wide. To pluck them clean
It would take myriads more of us.«
Then when the hemp was growing tall
The swallow warned again, »Now no good can befall.
The bad seed ripens all too fast.

And since you have not listened to one word I say
You soon will come to realise
That after seeding time is past,
And harvesting yet months away,
Then idle men will war on every bird that flies.
And then, since when their traps are set
It is the small birds that they get,
You must no longer dart and flit
But keep within your nests or fly to other lands.
Whir off like woodcocks, emulate the cranes in flight-
But as your wings allow you neither speed nor height
You cannot cross the waves and desert sands
To search as we for worlds where man has never been.
Your only sure salvation now must be to find
The hidden chinks in walls, and seal yourselves within.«
The little birds, who had no mind
To dwell on enterprise so daft,
Began to chitter noisily,
Much like the people of the Trojan state
Who never listened, only laughed,
Whenever crazed Cassandra made a prophecy:
They also met a Trojan fate,
And many a little bird was caught in slavery.

Because we listen to no promptings but our own
We fail to hear the warnings till the missile's flown.

The Man and His Image

A man who loved himself so much that no one else
Came close believed he was the handsomest of men.
If mirrors showed him otherwise, they must be false,
And in this error he lived happily. But then
Officious Fate, to cure this self-deception, placed
At every turn he took one more
Of those unspeaking judges women plead before-
Mirrors set in bedrooms, mirrors found in shops,
Mirrors in the hands of fops,
Mirrors spangling every skirt and top and waist.
What does our poor Narcissus do? He goes and hides
In some far region where he hopes no glass will show
Some aspect of himself he does not dare to know.
But he encounters here a stream whose current glides
From some pure source far down below.
For once, he sees himself, and his offended eyes
Perceive a shadow man, as vacant as a dream.
He wishes to avert his glance, but though he tries,
It is not easy doing so-
There is such beauty in the stream.

What I am getting at seems plain.
I speak to all, for this gross error of the mind
Is an affliction all are pleased to entertain.
The man so smitten with himself-in him I find
An image of our soul. And all those mirrors mean
The follies of our time, in which our sins are seen.
And as to that clear stream, why, look,
Dear friend, it is the Maxims of your book.

The Dragon of Many Heads and The Dragon of Many Tails

An envoy of the Turkish Porte,
So history says, once dared to claim
Before the Holy Roman court
That his reat sultan's forces put to shame
The armies of their emperor.
At which a shaggy Teuton knight was heard to roar
That this false was. Had not the emperor vassals
Who each, besides his several castles,
Had wealth enough to field an army of his own?
At which the subtle Asian said, »I have long known
That each elector's strength is held to be immense.
And knowing this brings to my mind
A strange yet true experience.
In a frontier garrison, once, encamped behind
The timbers of a palisade,
I felt the very blood within my veins run thin-
A hundred-headed dragon was trying to get in!
And yet there was no cause for me to be afraid.
The heads came thrusting in between the pales-but then
The single body they conjoined could not get through.
Then on the following day we were attacked anew
By yet another dragon-this one with a single head
But a vast plethora of tails.
First, the head pierced through, and then the writhing tails,
Their smaller strengths united by the one that led.
I would suggest that these two dragons show the powers
Of your great emperor, compared to ours.«

The Thieves and the Mule

Two thieves scuffled. They had stolen a mule.
One wished to keep him, the other to sell.
But while they were exchanging blows-
Lefts to the body, rights to the nose-
A third mule rustler came
And stole what each had tried to claim.

The mule can stand for some poor province,
The thieves being each some royal prince
(As of Transylvania, Hungary or the Turks),
Of whom one knows that when two fight, the third one lurks.
A little of their statesmanship is still too much.
And which one wins the province? Seldom one of these:
A fourth thief enters, engineers a peace
And in the process grabs full title to the beast.

Simonides Preserved by the Gods

Three sorts of beings one can never praise too much:
The gods, one's mistress and one's king.
An hoary jest, but still I find it has the ring
Of truth about it-praise is a feather's touch
That captivates all spirits with its pleasuring.
Many a beauty's favors yield to flattering.
Now see how the gods rewarded it in ancient times.

Simonides agreed to cobble up some rhymes
To puff an athlete, but he found the going hard.
The fellow spouted pointless stories by the yard,
His family was an absolutely boring one,
His father a bourgeois boor and he his father's son,
Small stuff as inspiration.
»Our hero's deeds I sing,« the laboring poet began,
But when he soon exhausted the little he had to say
He cast that theme aside and tried a different plan.
Castor and Pollux were invoked. He wrote that they
Eternally inspired all pugilists,
He eulogized their greatest bouts and reeled off lists
Of cities honored, victims flattened by their fists
Until, of all this heap of words,
Castor and Pollux had two thirds.
The athlete had promised to pay the poet one gold talent
But after reading the piece the gallant
Reduced it to one third. He stressed
That Castor and Pollux would have to pay the rest.
»They're good for it because they're gods, those two!
But no hard feelings, man, alright?
Come and have dinner. I'm planning a bash tonight
For just a very special few,
Including my family and all my closest friends.
Who knows? If you recite, it might pay dividends.«
Simonides accepted, possibly because
He feared to lose not just his fee but the applause.
When he arrived he found the crowd in festive mood,
All laughing and drinking and swilling food.

A servant rushed in. »Oh, please, Simonides, come out!«
He said. »Two strangers pound upon our gates and shout
That they must see the poet!« As he rose, all chewed
As usual. There at the door, straight from the starry sky,
He found the heroes of his ode, the Gemini.
Both thanked him, said they loved his poem and, as proof,
Warned him to get out of there, because the roof
Was imminently due to fall.
And so it did. A post gave way, the ceiling crashed
Upon the banquet and broke all
The flagons, cups and plates,
And bashed
Not just the serving platters but the servers' pates.
And then what iced the cake, poetic-justice-wise,
Was that a falling slab broke both the athlete's thighs
And most of the guests were badly maimed.
Of course, the incident was widely publicized-
A miracle, all said. The poet grew famed
And doubled his fee, as one divinely recognized.
Now members of the better class
Descended on the poet en masse
Offering any sum he'd please
To versify their family trees.

Which leads me back to my original text-
First, that it is wise to praise in every way
The gods and those most like them. Next,
The Muse need not be held in any less regard
For asking, having labored hard,
That she be given proper pay;
And, lastly, that we poets should know our art's high worth:
The great do themselves honor acknowledging our own-
Olympus and Parnassus, every age has shown,
Stand friends and brothers on this earth.

The Death and the Luckless Man

A luckless man, a loser every time,
Kept asking death to come.
»Oh, Death,« he'd say, »you're beautiful!
Come quick and finish off my lousy life!«
So Death decided she would pay a call.
She knocked at his door, came in and showed herself.
»What do I see?« he cried. »I hate the sight!
You're hideous! Meeting you face to face
Fills me with disgust and fright.
Oh, Death, do not come closer. Back! Go back!«

Mecaenas was a man of an uncommon grace.
He said once, »Though I should become a slack,
Pain-ridden, one-armed thing, lame and confined,
If life somehow remains in me, I am resigned.«
Oh, Death, don't ever come! says all of humankind.

The Death and the Woodcutter

Invisible beneath his bale of branches, bent
As much by years as by the weight upon his back,
A poor woodcutter hobbled, groaning as he went
Along the pathway winding to his wretched shack.
At last, when pain and effort had exhausted him,
He let his burden fall and, standing there, began
To catalogue his miseries. In all his time,
What pleasures had he ever known? Had any man
Been half so poor, so lacking bread, with never rest
From crying brats and grinding rent, demanding swarms
Of tax men, usurers, rough men-at-arms:
A picture of despair that left him so depressed
That he called out for death. And there at once she stood,
To ask what she might do for him today.
»Just help,« he said, »lift back this wood
Upon my back and then be gone without delay.«

Heaven puts all pains to rest-
Still, we prefer this earth instead.
The motto on our human crest
Reads, »Better to suffer than be dead.«

The Man Between Two Ages and Two Mistresses

A man of a middleish age,
And going gray on the side,
Considered he'd reached the stage
To dream of taking a bride,
And, since he was rich,
The question was which-
For myriads applied.
Which made our poky lover even slower-paced:
In making big decisions, never act in haste.
At last two widows led the contest for his heart,
One fresh and green, one past her prime-
Yet able to restore by art
The depredations caused by time.
With laughter, joking, sweetly smiling,
Each of the widows, all in fun,
Sought to give him a restyling:
That is, each played with his coiffure.
The older, wanting him more mature,
Plucked out his black hairs one by one.
The younger, not to be outdone,
Yanked all the gray that she could find,
Until of hair our man had none
Of either shade-but now was of a clearer mind.
»Lovelies,« he said, »a thousand compliments to both
For harvesting my overgrowth.
My gain exceeds my loss however,
For now there'll be no wedding, ever.
I would have lived, as you have shown,
After your fashion, not my own.
My head, though bald, is mine alone.
Thank you, darlings, for the lesson.«

The Fox and the Stork

Slick brother Fox once got to acting generous,
Asked sister Stork to dine at his expense-
She found a chinchwad's feast, short on ingredients.
The gentleman, quite parsimonious,
Served just clear broth, more nearly water,
Dished out so thinly on a platter
The long- beaked Stork could neither sip nor sup,
While Tricky instantly lapped every smidgeon up.
To pay him back for that rascality,
The Stork soon afterward in turn invited
The Fox to dine with her. »I'll be delighted,«
Fox said. »With friends, I totally eschew formality.«
He came to her door with perfect punctuality,
For foxes are never tardy when it's time to eat.
He flattered his hostess's savoir faire,
Told her he knew the meal would be a splendid treat,
Cooked to perfection, not overdone yet not too rare.
He found delightful the aroma of roast meat
Minced in miniature morsels. How tasty they would be!
But the banquet was presented-inconveniently,
In a tall, narrow vase with a neck so thin
That only the Stork's long beak went in-
For the gentleman's muzzle was too broad-gauged,
So he slunk homeward unassuaged,
Looking mortified as if he'd been caught skipping town
With a stolen hen, his tail adroop, his ears bent down.

Swindlers, I've written this for you:
Just wait-your turn is coming too!

The Boy and the Schoolmaster

In this next tale I use a fool as model
To show how stern remonstrance may be twaddle.

A little boy at play beside the Seine
Fell in and seemed about to perish when-
Thanks be to God-he found a willow tree
Just there, its branches trailing down where he
Could cling. Well, as he held on, terrified,
There came that way along the riverside
A Schoolmaster. The boy cried, »Help! I'm drowning!«
The pedant turned to see whence came the noise,
Then gave not help but scolding. Gravely frowning,
He said, »Now see what comes of foolish boys
Who act like young baboons. Henceforth, my lad,
You'll know there is a cost to being bad.
Unfortunate the parents of a child
Forever into mischief, running wild.
I weep for them. What trials they have in store!«
His lecture over, then he hauled the boy ashore.

The targets here for my disapprobation
Are lecturing pedants, moralising preachers:
Let them look here and see their silly features.
Their number passes all imagination,
God having blessed their powers of procreation.
Whatever situation might arise
Serves only to give their tongues brisk exercise.
Friend, save me from the danger first,
Then preach your sermon-do your worst.

The Cock and the Pearl

A cock one day scratched up
A pearl, which he gave to
A jeweler who Chanced by.
He said, »Well, I sup- pose it's nice, but I'd consider
The smallest grain of wheat much nicer.«
An ignorant dunce fell heir
To a precious manuscript, which he sold
To a neighboring book dealer.
He said, »It's nice, I'm told,
But I'd consider
The smallest grain of gold much nicer.«

The Hornets and The Honeybees

Who owned some honeycombs was in dispute.
Some hornets claimed that they were theirs,
A swarm of bees brought counter suit.
A wasp, expert in such affairs,
Agreed to judge. He soon discovered
It was not easy to adjudicate.
Witnesses told that as of late
They had observed the said combs covered
By certain creatures, winged, buzzing, elongate,
With tawny markings-like bees, to be exact.
Then the rebuttal: don't hornets look like bees, in fact?
The wasp, uncertain how to judge the evidence,
Subpoenaed a nest of ants nearby,
But found their testimony didn't clarify.
»So please the court, but all this makes no sense!«
A very prudent bee objected.
»In six more months of judgement pending
We'll be no closer to the ending,
And while we wait the honey sits there unprotected!
The judge must reach a decision at last.
Hasn't this bear cub nursed enough to be a bear?
The time for these maneuverings is past.
Have done with all this gibble gabble legalese!
Let both groups work, hornets and bees,
And soon enough we'll see how they will fare
At building perfect cells which each must fill
With sweetest honey made from nectar that they gather.«
The hornets by refusing proved they lacked the skill
For such creation, and thus not they but rather
The bees as rightful makers were adjudged entitled.

Would God all suits were just as simply settled,
That we might be like those Caucasian tribes
For whom plain common sense is all their code:
There would not then be such expense
That eats us up, that grinds us down,
That wears us out with its delays,
That leaves at last the lawyers dining on the oysters
And leaves the claimants sucking on the shells.