Aesop's Fables: Dogs and Cats

While you might first think of a dog as "man's best friend," the dog is not always a positive figure in Aesop's fables. The dog can be both greedy, as in The Dog and the Shadow, and spiteful, as in The Dog in the Manager. The "dog in the manager" is, like "the lion's share" and "sour grapes," one of those Aesop's fables that has become a proverb in its own right.

The cat, meanwhile, is an example of self-awareness and focus in the fable of The Fox and the Cat. This fable is inspired by an ancient Greek proverb about a hedgehog rather than a cat: "The the fox knows many little things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." You can read more about this proverb and fable at Wikipedia.

In The Cat and Venus, however, the cat's single-mindedness is a limitation rather than a strength; when transformed into a human, the cat cannot learn human tricks and instead sticks to her cat behaviors, allowing Venus (the goddesss of love, Greek Aphrodite) to win her argument with Jupiter (king of the gods, Greek Zeus).

Regarding the two-fable illustrations: you will get the fables of The Frog and the Bull and The Hen and the Fox later, while The Mice in Council comes on the next page!

[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).

Dogs and Cats

Jacobs 3. The Dog and the Shadow (Perry 133)

It happened that a Dog had got a piece of meat and was carrying it home in his mouth to eat it in peace. Now on his way home he had to cross a plank lying across a running brook.

As he crossed, he looked down and saw his own shadow reflected in the water beneath. Thinking it was another dog with another piece of meat, he made up his mind to have that also.

So he made a snap at the shadow in the water, but as he opened his mouth the piece of meat fell out, dropped into the water and was never seen more.

Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.

Crane 38. The Dog and the Shadow (Perry 133)

His image the Dog did not know,
Or his bone's, in the pond's painted show:
"T'other dog," so he thought,
"Has got more than he ought,"
So he snapped and his dinner saw go!


~ ~ ~

Jacobs 40. The Dog in the Manger (Perry 702)

A Dog looking out for its afternoon nap jumped into the Manger of an Ox and lay there cosily upon the straw. But soon the Ox, returning from its afternoon work, came up to the Manger and wanted to eat some of the straw. The Dog in a rage, being awakened from its slumber, stood up and barked at the Ox, and whenever it came near attempted to bite it.

At last the Ox had to give up the hope of getting at the straw, and went away muttering: "Ah, people often grudge others what they cannot enjoy themselves."

Crane 13. The Dog in The Manger (Perry 702)

A Cow sought a mouthful of hay;
But a Dog in the manger there lay,
And he snapped out "How now?"
When, most mildly, the Cow
Adventured a morsel to pray.


~ ~ ~

Jacobs 38. The Fox and the Cat (Perry 605)

A Fox was boasting to a Cat of its clever devices for escaping its enemies. "I have a whole bag of tricks," he said, "which contains a hundred ways of escaping my enemies."

"I have only one," said the Cat; "but I can generally manage with that."

Just at that moment they heard the cry of a pack of hounds coming towards them, and the Cat immediately scampered up a tree and hid herself in the boughs.

"This is my plan," said the Cat. "What are you going to do?"

The Fox thought first of one way, then of another, and while he was debating the hounds came nearer and nearer, and at last the Fox in his confusion was caught up by the hounds and soon killed by the huntsmen.

Miss Puss, who had been looking on, said: "Better one safe way than a hundred on which you cannot reckon."

Crane 52. The Cat and The Fox (Perry 605)

The Fox said "I can play when it fits
Many wiles that with man make me quits."
"But my trick's up a tree!"
Said the Cat, safe to see
Clever Fox hunted out of his wits.


~ ~ ~

Jacobs 76. The Cat-Maiden (Perry 50)

The gods were once disputing whether it was possible for a living being to change its nature. Jupiter said "Yes," but Venus said "No."

So, to try the question, Jupiter turned a Cat into a Maiden, and gave her to a young man for a wife. The wedding was duly performed and the young couple sat down to the wedding-feast.

"See," said Jupiter, to Venus, "how becomingly she behaves. Who could tell that yesterday she was but a Cat? Surely her nature is changed?"

"Wait a minute," replied Venus, and let loose a mouse into the room. No sooner did the bride see this than she jumped up from her seat and tried to pounce upon the mouse.

"Ah, you see," said Venus: "Nature will out."

Crane 49. The Cat and Venus (Perry 50)

Might his Cat be a woman, he said:
Venus changed her. The couple were wed,
But a mouse in her sight
Metamorphosed her quite,
And, for bride, a cat found he instead.


Next page: Mice

(700 words)

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