Aesop's Fables: Mice

The fable of "belling the cat" is another story that has become a proverb in its own right.  The fable of the city mouse and the country mouse, meanwhile, shows the mice facing dangers other than cats, thus posing the question: is good food worth putting your life in peril?

Finally, the story of The Lion and the Mouse comes in two different versions here, as you can see in Walter Crane's illustration. First, there is the traditional story of the mouse saves the lion from danger, one of the most positive Aesop's fables that you will find. Someone, though, long ago decided to write a sequel to the story, in which the mouse requests a very foolish reward: he wants to marry the lion's daughter! As you might imagine, things do not turn out at all well for the mouse. For another illustration that shows the mouse under the paw of his bride, see Barlow's Aesop.

[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).


Jacobs 67. Belling the Cat (Perry 613)

Long ago, the mice had a general council to consider what measures they could take to outwit their common enemy, the Cat. Some said this, and some said that; but at last a young mouse got up and said he had a proposal to make, which he thought would meet the case.

"You will all agree," said he, "that our chief danger consists in the sly and treacherous manner in which the enemy approaches us. Now, if we could receive some signal of her approach, we could easily escape from her. I venture, therefore, to propose that a small bell be procured, and attached by a ribbon round the neck of the Cat. By this means we should always know when she was about, and could easily retire while she was in the neighbourhood."

This proposal met with general applause, until an old mouse got up and said: "That is all very well, but who is to bell the Cat?"

The mice looked at one another and nobody spoke.

Then the old mouse said: "It is easy to propose impossible remedies."

Crane 50. Mice in Council (Perry 613)

Against Cat sat a Council of Mice.
Every Mouse came out prompt with advice,
And a bell on Cat's throat
Would have met a round vote,
Had the bell-hanger not been so nice.


~ ~ ~

Jacobs 7. The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse (Perry 352)

Now you must know that a Town Mouse once upon a time went on a visit to his cousin in the country. He was rough and ready, this cousin, but he loved his town friend and made him heartily welcome. Beans and bacon, cheese and bread, were all he had to offer, but he offered them freely.

The Town Mouse rather turned up his long nose at this country fare, and said: "I cannot understand, Cousin, how you can put up with such poor food as this, but of course you cannot expect anything better in the country; come you with me and I will show you how to live. When you have been in town a week you will wonder how you could ever have stood a country life."

No sooner said than done: the two mice set off for the town and arrived at the Town Mouse's residence late at night. "You will want some refreshment after our long journey," said the polite Town Mouse, and took his friend into the grand dining-room. There they found the remains of a fine feast, and soon the two mice were eating up jellies and cakes and all that was nice.

Suddenly they heard growling and barking.

"What is that?" said the Country Mouse.

"It is only the dogs of the house," answered the other.

"Only!" said the Country Mouse. "I do not like that music at my dinner."

Just at that moment the door flew open, in came two huge mastiffs, and the two mice had to scamper down and run off.

"Good-bye, Cousin," said the Country Mouse.

"What! going so soon?" said the other.

"Yes," he replied. "Better beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear."

~ ~ ~

Jacobs 11. The Lion and the Mouse (Perry 150)

Once when a Lion was asleep a little Mouse began running up and down upon him; this soon wakened the Lion, who placed his huge paw upon him, and opened his big jaws to swallow him.

"Pardon, O King," cried the little Mouse: "forgive me this time, I shall never forget it: who knows but what I may be able to do you a turn some of these days?"

The Lion was so tickled at the idea of the Mouse being able to help him that he lifted up his paw and let him go.

Some time after the Lion was caught in a trap, and the hunters who desired to carry him alive to the king, tied him to a tree while they went in search of a wagon to carry him on.

Just then the little Mouse happened to pass by and, seeing the sad plight in which the Lion was, went up to him and soon gnawed away the ropes that bound the King of the Beasts. "Was I not right?" said the little Mouse.

Little friends may prove great friends.

Crane 7. The Mouse and The Lion (Perry 150)

A poor thing the Mouse was, and yet,
When the Lion got caught in a net,
All his strength was no use.
'Twas the poor little Mouse
Who nibbled him out of the net."


Crane 8. The Married Mouse (Perry 150)

So the Mouse had Miss Lion for bride;
Very great was his joy and his pride:
But it chanced that she put
On her husband her foot,
And the weight was too much so he died.


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