Aesop's Fables: Family and Friends

The fables on this page are all about human beings, and they focus on relationships between family and friends. Most of the relationships here are not very positive ones; as you probably now expect, Aesop is more likely to teach lessons by means of negative examples rather than positive ones, although the story of the father and the bundle of sticks very elegantly combines both a negative example and a positive one into a single story.

In the moral to the story of the thief and the his mother, you will see a quotation from the Biblical Book of Proverbs: Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart therefrom. Although Aesop's fables originated in the pagan culture of ancient Greece, they were easily assimilated to later Christian culture, which is one of the factors in their long-lived success. It is not uncommon to find Aesop's fables from the Middle Ages and later that are equipped with morals that either quote or echo the teachings of the Bible. In this case, the story of the thief and his mother is an ancient Greek fable, but it was easy to add on the quotation from the Bible as the moral of the story, even putting the words into the mouth of one of the characters.

Of course, some other Aesop's fables are not very amenable to Biblical assimilation, like the funny story here about the man and his two lovers, one older woman, and one younger!

[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).

Family and Friends

Jacobs 44. The Man and His Mother (Perry 200)

A young Man had been caught in a daring act of theft and had been condemned to be executed for it. He expressed his desire to see his Mother, and to speak with her before he was led to execution, and of course this was granted.

When his Mother came to him he said: "I want to whisper to you," and when she brought her ear near him, he nearly bit it off.

All the bystanders were horrified, and asked him what he could mean by such brutal and inhuman conduct. "It is to punish her," he said. "When I was young I began with stealing little things, and brought them home to Mother. Instead of rebuking and punishing me, she laughed and said: "It will not be noticed." It is because of her that I am here to-day."

"He is right, woman," said the Priest; "the Lord hath said: Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart therefrom."

~ ~ ~

Jacobs 45. The Man and His Two Wives (Perry 31)

In the old days, when men were allowed to have many wives, a middle-aged Man had one wife that was old and one that was young; each loved him very much, and desired to see him like herself.

Now the Man's hair was turning grey, which the young Wife did not like, as it made him look too old for her husband. So every night she used to comb his hair and pick out the white ones.

But the elder Wife saw her husband growing grey with great pleasure, for she did not like to be mistaken for his mother. So every morning she used to arrange his hair and pick out as many of the black ones as she could.

The consequence was the Man soon found himself entirely bald.

Yield to all and you will soon have nothing to yield.

~ ~ ~

Jacobs 72. The Bundle of Sticks (Perry 53)

An old man on the point of death summoned his sons around him to give them some parting advice. He ordered his servants to bring in a faggot of sticks, and said to his eldest son: "Break it."

The son strained and strained, but with all his efforts was unable to break the Bundle.

The other sons also tried, but none of them was successful. "Untie the faggots," said the father, "and each of you take a stick."

When they had done so, he called out to them: "Now, break," and each stick was easily broken.

"You see my meaning," said their father.

Union gives strength.

Crane 57. The Bundle of Sticks (Perry 53)

To his sons, who fell out, father spake:
"This Bundle of Sticks you can't break;
Take them singly, with ease,
You may break as you please;
So, dissension your strength will unmake."


~ ~ ~

Jacobs 50. The Two Fellows and the Bear (Perry 65)

Two Fellows were travelling together through a wood, when a Bear rushed out upon them. One of the travellers happened to be in front, and he seized hold of the branch of a tree, and hid himself among the leaves. The other, seeing no help for it, threw himself flat down upon the ground, with his face in the dust.

The Bear, coming up to him, put his muzzle close to his ear, and sniffed and sniffed. But at last with a growl he shook his head and slouched off, for bears will not touch dead meat.

Then the fellow in the tree came down to his comrade, and, laughing, said "What was it that Master Bruin whispered to you?"

"He told me," said the other: "Never trust a friend who deserts you at a pinch."

(600 words)

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