Friday, May 2, 2014

Aesop's Fables: Cats and Weasels

These fables about cats and weasels also come from Christopher Smart's translation of the verse fables of the Roman poet Phaedrus, and I've again provided notes to clarify the plot.

[Notes by LKG]

These fables are part of the Aesop's Fables (English) unit. Story source: The Fables of Phaedrus, translated by Christopher Smart (1887).


Aesop's Fables: Cats and Weasels




As you will see in this fable, the Romans kept weasels around their houses to control mice and other vermin, so they had house-weasels rather than house-cats. 

The Man and the Weasel

A Weasel, by a person caught,
And, willing to get off, besought
The man to spare. "Be not severe
On him that keeps your pantry clear;
This were," says he, "a work of price,
Of those intolerable mice."

"If done entirely for my sake,
And good had been the plea you make:
But since, with all these pains and care,
You seize yourself the dainty fare
On which those vermin used to fall,
And then devour the mice and all,
Urge not a benefit in vain."

This said, the miscreant was slain.

The satire here those chaps will own,
Who, useful to themselves alone,
And bustling for a private end,
Would boast the merit of a friend.


Likewise, just as we are used to tales of "cat and mouse," the Romans told stories about weasels and mice, like this old weasel who is no longer strong enough to chase the mice and therefore seeks to catch them by trickery instead.

Weasel and Mouse

A Weasel, worn with years and lame,
That could not overtake its game,
Now with the nimble Mice to deal,
Disguised herself with barley meal.
Then negligent her limbs she spread
In a sly nook and lay for dead.

A Mouse that thought she there might feed,
Leapt up and perish'd in the deed;
A second in like manner died;
A third, and sundry more beside.

Then comes the brindled Mouse, a chap
That oft escaped both snare and trap,
And, seeing how the trick was played,
Thus to his crafty foe he said,
"So may'st thou prosper day and night,
As thou art not an errant bite."


The "battle of the mice and the weasels" was a famous mock-epic theme in both ancient Greece and ancient Rome; as you can see here in Phaedrus's account, things do not turn out well for the commanders of the mice army.

The Battle of the Mice and Weasels

The routed Mice upon a day
Fled from the Weasels in array,
But in the hurry of the flight,
What with their weakness and their fright,
Each scarce could get into his cave;
Howe'er, at last their lives they save.

But their commanders, who had tied
Horns to their heads in martial pride,
Which as a signal they design'd
For non-commission'd mice to mind,
Stick in the entrance as they go,
And there are taken by the foe,
Who, greedy of the victim, gluts
With mouse-flesh his ungodly guts.

Each great and national distress
Must chiefly mighty men oppress,
While folks subordinate and poor
Are by their littleness secure.



This fable features a cat at last, not a weasel . . . and this is a cat who is up to no good, in another tale of "divide and conquer."

The Eagle, the Cat, and the Sow

An Eagle built upon an oak;
A Cat and kittens had bespoke
A hole about the middle bough;
And underneath a woodland Sow
Had placed her pigs upon the ground.

Then treacherous Puss a method found
To overthrow, for her own good,
The peace of this chance neighbourhood.

First to the Eagle she ascends —
"Perdition on your head impends,
And, far too probable, on mine;
For you observe that grubbing Swine
Still works the tree to overset,
Us and our young with ease to get."

Thus having filled the Eagle's pate
With consternation very great,
Down creeps she to the Sow below —
"The Eagle is your deadly foe,
And is determined not to spare
Your pigs, when you shall take the air."

Here too a terror being spread,
By what this tattling gossip said,
She slyly to her kittens stole,
And rested snug within her hole.

Sneaking from thence with silent tread,
By night her family she fed
But look'd out sharply all the day,
Affecting terror and dismay.

The Eagle, lest the tree should fall,
Keeps to the boughs, nor stirs at all;
And anxious for her grunting race,
The Sow is loth to quit her place.

In short, they and their young ones starve
And leave a prey for Puss to carve.

Hence warn'd ye credulous and young:
Be cautious of a double tongue.

Next: Birds






(600 words)




No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments for Google accounts; you can also contact me at laura-gibbs@ou.edu.