Aesop's Fables: Birds, Part 2

On this page, you see some very wise birds like the swallow who gives a lesson to the other birds or the nightingale who gives a lesson to the workman. The eagle at the moment of his death reflects philosophically on the cause of his demise. The rooster, meanwhile, is able to elude death by outfoxing the fox.

For foolishness, the bat finds out that he acted very foolishly by trying to pretend to be both beast and bird.

But what to make of the rooster in the story of The Cock and the Pearl? That is an Aesop's fable that has been interpreted in two very different ways. For some, the rooster is foolish, not able to understand the value of the treasure he has found. For others, the rooster is an emblem of practicality: he prefers something he can eat as opposed to a glittering trinket. See what you think of the two different versions of the story on this page and where they come down on the interpretation of the bird's behavior.

[Notes by LKG]

These fables are part of the Aesop's Fables (Jacobs) unit. Story sources: The prose fables are from The Fables of Aesop by Joseph Jacobs (1894) and the limericks and illustrations are from The Baby's Own Aesop by W. J. Linton and illustrated by Walter Crane (1887).

Birds, Part 2

Jacobs 12. The Swallow and the Other Birds (Perry 39)

It happened that a Countryman was sowing some hemp seeds in a field where a Swallow and some other birds were hopping about picking up their food.

"Beware of that man," quoth the Swallow.

"Why, what is he doing?" said the others.

"That is hemp seed he is sowing; be careful to pick up every one of the seeds, or else you will repent it."

The birds paid no heed to the Swallow's words, and by and by the hemp grew up and was made into cord, and of the cords nets were made, and many a bird that had despised the Swallow's advice was caught in nets made out of that very hemp.

"What did I tell you?" said the Swallow.

Destroy the seed of evil, or it will grow up to your ruin.

~ ~ ~

Jacobs 58. The Labourer and the Nightingale (Perry 627)

A Labourer lay listening to a Nightingale's song throughout the summer night. So pleased was he with it that the next night he set a trap for it and captured it. "Now that I have caught thee," he cried, "thou shalt always sing to me."

"We Nightingales never sing in a cage," said the bird.

"Then I'll eat thee." said the Labourer. "I have always heard say that a nightingale on toast is dainty morsel."

"Nay, kill me not," said the Nightingale; "but let me free, and I'll tell thee three things far better worth than my poor body."

The Labourer let him loose, and he flew up to a branch of a tree and said: "Never believe a captive's promise; that's one thing. Then again: Keep what you have. And third piece of advice is: Sorrow not over what is lost forever."

Then the song-bird flew away.

~ ~ ~

Jacobs 75. The Eagle and the Arrow (Perry 276)

An Eagle was soaring through the air when suddenly it heard the whizz of an Arrow, and felt itself wounded to death. Slowly it fluttered down to the earth, with its life-blood pouring out of it.

Looking down upon the Arrow with which it had been pierced, it found that the shaft of the Arrow had been feathered with one of its own plumes.

"Alas!" it cried, as it died: "We often give our enemies the means for our own destruction."

~ ~ ~

Jacobs 1. The Cock and the Pearl (Perry 503)

A cock was once strutting up and down the farmyard among the hens when suddenly he espied something shinning amid the straw.

"Ho! ho!" quoth he, "that's for me," and soon rooted it out from beneath the straw.

What did it turn out to be but a Pearl that by some chance had been lost in the yard?

"You may be a treasure," quoth Master Cock, "to men that prize you, but for me I would rather have a single barley-corn than a peck of pearls."

Precious things are for those that can prize them.

Crane 2. The Cock and The Pearl (Perry 503)

A Rooster, while scratching for grain,
Found a Pearl. He just paused to explain
That a jewel's no good
To a fowl wanting food,
And then kicked it aside with disdain.


~ ~ ~

Jacobs 59. The Fox, the Cock, and the Dog (Perry 671)

One moonlight night a Fox was prowling about a farmer's hen-coop, and saw a Cock roosting high up beyond his reach.

"Good news, good news!" he cried.

"Why, what is that?" said the Cock.

"King Lion has declared a universal truce. No beast may hurt a bird henceforth, but all shall dwell together in brotherly friendship."

"Why, that is good news," said the Cock, "and there I see some one coming, with whom we can share the good tidings." And so saying he craned his neck forward and looked afar off.

"What is it you see?" said the Fox.

"It is only my master's Dog that is coming towards us. What, going so soon?" he continued, as the Fox began to turn away as soon as he had heard the news. "Will you not stop and congratulate the Dog on the reign of universal peace?"

"I would gladly do so," said the Fox, "but I fear he may not have heard of King Lion's decree."

Cunning often outwits itself.

~ ~ ~

Jacobs 24. The Bat, the Birds, and the Beasts (Perry 566)

A great conflict was about to come off between the Birds and the Beasts. When the two armies were collected together the Bat hesitated which to join.

The Birds that passed his perch said: "Come with us," but he said: "I am a Beast."

Later on, some Beasts who were passing underneath him looked up and said: "Come with us," but he said: "I am a Bird."

Luckily at the last moment peace was made, and no battle took place, so the Bat came to the Birds and wished to join in the rejoicings, but they all turned against him and he had to fly away.

He then went to the Beasts, but soon had to beat a retreat, or else they would have torn him to pieces.

"Ah," said the Bat, "I see now: He that is neither one thing nor the other has no friends."

Crane 45. Neither Beast Nor Bird (Perry 566)

A Beast he would be or a Bird,
As might suit, thought the Bat: but he erred.
When the battle was done,
He found that no on
Would take him for friend at his word.


(800 words)

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