Aesop's Fables: Insects, Snakes, Crabs

The fable of The Ant and the Grasshopper is one of Aesop's most famous. Like others you have seen, it shows the pitiless wisdom of the Aesopic world: the point is not that the ant should learn to be generous; instead, the point is that the grasshopper should not be so lazy. So too with the foolish man who warmed the snake; the point is not that the snake should be grateful; instead, the point is that the man should not expect gratitude from a snake, nor should the man seek to make friends with a snake who has both done injury to him and been injured by him. The snake, too, needs to avoid acting foolishly, as when it attacks something as insensible as a metal file.

Finally, there is a fable about a hypocritical crab, hypocrisy being a favorite topic in the world of Aesop. Here the conversation is between a parent and a child, providing a perfect example of "do as I say, not as I do," a parental failing as common in Aesop's day as it is in our own.

For the two-fable illustration, you will get the story of The Two Jars later.

[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).

Insects, Snakes, Crabs

Jacobs 36. The Ant and the Grasshopper (Perry 373)

In a field one summer's day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart's content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.

"Why not come and chat with me," said the Grasshopper, "instead of toiling and moiling in that way?"

"I am helping to lay up food for the winter," said the Ant, "and recommend you to do the same."

"Why bother about winter?" said the Grasshopper; we have got plenty of food at present." But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil.

When the winter came, the Grasshopper had no food and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew: It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.

~ ~ ~

Jacobs 6. The Man and the Serpent (Perry 51)

A Countryman's son by accident trod upon a Serpent's tail, which turned and bit him so that he died. The father in a rage got his axe, and pursuing the Serpent, cut off part of its tail. So the Serpent in revenge began stinging several of the Farmer's cattle and caused him severe loss.

Well, the Farmer thought it best to make it up with the Serpent, and brought food and honey to the mouth of its lair, and said to it: "Let's forget and forgive; perhaps you were right to punish my son and take vengeance on my cattle, but surely I was right in trying to revenge him; now that we are both satisfied, why should not we be friends again?"

"No, no," said the Serpent; "take away your gifts; you can never forget the death of your son, nor I the loss of my tail."

Injuries may be forgiven, but not forgotten.

~ ~ ~

Jacobs 17. The Woodman and the Serpent (Perry 176)

One wintry day a Woodman was tramping home from his work when he saw something black lying on the snow. When he came closer he saw it was a Serpent to all appearance dead. But he took it up and put it in his bosom to warm while he hurried home.

As soon as he got indoors, he put the Serpent down on the hearth before the fire. The children watched it and saw it slowly come to life again. Then one of them stooped down to stroke it, but the Serpent raised its head and put out its fangs and was about to sting the child to death. So the Woodman seized his axe, and with one stroke cut the Serpent in two.

"Ah," said he: "No gratitude from the wicked."

Crane 27. The Man and The Snake (Perry 176)

In pity he brought the poor Snake
To be warmed at his fire. A mistake!
For the ungrateful thing
Wife and children would sting.
I have known some as bad as the Snake.


~ ~ ~

Jacobs 26. The Serpent and the File (Perry 93)

A Serpent in the course of its wanderings came into an armourer's shop. As he glided over the floor he felt his skin pricked by a file lying there. In a rage he turned round upon it and tried to dart his fangs into it, but he could do no harm to heavy iron and had soon to give over his wrath.

It is useless attacking the insensible.

Crane 11. The Snake and The File (Perry 93)

A Snake, in a fix, tried a File
For a dinner. "'Tis not worth your while,"
Said the steel, "Don't mistake:
I'm accustomed to take;
To give's not the way of a File."


~ ~ ~

Jacobs 48. The Two Crabs (Perry 322)

One fine day two Crabs came out from their home to take a stroll on the sand.

"Child," said the mother, "you are walking very ungracefully. You should accustom yourself, to walking straight forward without twisting from side to side."

"Pray, mother," said the young one, "do but set the example yourself, and I will follow you."

Example is the best precept.

Crane 35. The Two Crabs (Perry 322)

"So awkward, so shambling a gait!"
Mrs. Crab did her daughter berate,
Who rejoined, "It is true
I am backward, but you
Needed lessons in walking quite late."


Next page: Frogs and Fish

(600 words)

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