Aesop's Fables: Foxes

Here you have some more of Christopher Smart's rhyming translations of the ancient verse fables of the Roman poet Phaedrus. As poetry can sometimes be a bit harder to follow than prose, I have provided a brief note for each poem to help make the plot more clear.

[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: Foxes

This famous fable shows the fox as a trickster, able to deceive the credulous crow. The poet refers to the fox as "Renard," which is the fox's name in the French tradition. You can read more about the French fox at Wikipedia.

The Fox and the Crow

His folly in repentance ends,
Who to a flatt'ring knave attends.
A Crow, her hunger to appease,
Had from a window stolen some cheese
And, sitting on a lofty pine
In state, was just about to dine.

This when a Fox observed below,
He thus harangued the foolish Crow:
'Lady, how beauteous to the view
Those glossy plumes of sable hue!
Thy features how divinely fair!
With what a shape and what an air!
Could you but frame your voice to sing,
You'd have no rival on the wing.'

But she, now willing to display
Her talents in the vocal way,
Let go the cheese of luscious taste,
Which Renard seized with greedy haste.
The grudging dupe now sees at last
That for her folly she must fast.

This fable shows the fox as a trickster, but this time the fox is out-foxed by another trickster: the stork.

The Fox and the Stork

One should do injury to none,
But he that has th' assault begun,
Ought, says the fabulist, to find
The dread of being served in kind.

A Fox to sup within his cave
The Stork an invitation gave,
Where, in a shallow dish, was pour'd
Some broth, which he himself devoured,
While the poor hungry Stork was fain
Inevitably to abstain.

The Stork, in turn, the Fox invites,
And brings her liver and her lights
In a tall flagon, finely minced,
And, thrusting in her beak, convinced
The Fox that he in grief must fast,
While she enjoy'd the rich repast.
Then, as in vain he lick'd the neck,
The Stork was heard her guest to check,
'That every one the fruits should bear
Of their example is but fair."

In this fable, the fox is a much more sympathetic character, cast in the role of a mother desperate to get her children back from the cruel eagle.

The Fox and Eagle

Howe'er exalted in your sphere,
There's something from the mean to fear
For, if their property you wrong,
The poor's revenge is quick and strong.

When on a time an Eagle stole
The cubs from out a Fox's hole
And bore them to her young away
That they might feast upon the prey,
The dam pursues the winged thief
And deprecates so great a grief,
But, safe upon the lofty tree,
The Eagle scorn'd the Fox's plea.

With that the Fox perceived at hand
An altar, whence she snatched a brand
And, compassing with flames the wood,
Put her in terror for her brood.
She therefore, lest her house should burn,
Submissive did the cubs return.

This famous fable about the fox is the origin of the phrase "sour grapes," although, as you will see, the grapes are not sour at all!

The Fox and the Grapes

An hungry Fox with fierce attack
Sprang on a Vine, but tumbled back
Nor could attain the point in view,
So near the sky the bunches grew.

As he went off, "They're scurvy stuff,"
Says he, "and not half ripe enough —
And I 've more rev'rence for my tripes
Than to torment them with the gripes."

For those this tale is very pat
Who lessen what they can't come at.

In this fable, the fox is a figure of wisdom, teaching a valuable lesson to a foolish dragon. Then, at the end of the story, the poet Phaedrus appends a kind of sermon addressed to people who, like the dragon, watch their riches without spending them.

The Fox and the Dragon

A Fox was throwing up the soil,
And while with his assiduous toil
He burrow'd deep into the ground,
A Dragon in his den he found,
A-watching hidden treasure there —
Whom seeing, Renard speaks him fair:
"First, for your pardon I apply
For breaking on your privacy;
Then, as you very plainly see
That gold is of no use to me,
Your gentle leave let me obtain
To ask you, what can be the gain
Of all this care, and what the fruit,
That you should not with sleep recruit
Your spirits, but your life consume
Thus in an everlasting gloom?"

"'Tis not my profit here to stay,"
He cries; " but I must Jove obey."

"What! Will you therefore nothing take
Yourself, nor others welcome make?"

"Ev'n so the fates decree." — "Then, sir,
Have patience, whilst I do aver
That he who like affections knows
Is born with all the gods his foes.
Since to that place you needs must speed,
Where all your ancestors precede,
Why in the blindness of your heart
Do you torment your noble part?"

All this to thee do I indite,
Thou grudging churl, thy heir's delight,
Who robb'st the gods of incense due,
Thyself of food and raiment too;
Who hear'st the harp with sullen mien,
To whom the piper gives the spleen;
Who'rt full of heavy groans and sighs
When in their price provisions rise;
Who with thy frauds heaven's patience tire
To make thy heap a little higher,
And, lest death thank thee, in thy will
Hast tax'd the undertaker's bill.

And the final fable brings us back around to the fox as trickster again; this time, the victim is a credulous goat.

The Fox and the Goat

A crafty knave will make escape,
When once he gets into a scrape,
Still meditating self-defence,
At any other man's expense.

A Fox by some disaster fell
Into a deep and fenced well;
A thirsty Goat came down in haste
And ask'd about the water's taste,
If it was plentiful and sweet?

At which the Fox, in rank deceit,
"So great the solace of the run,
I thought I never should have done.
Be quick, my friend, your sorrows drown."
This said, the silly Goat comes down.

The subtle Fox herself avails
And by his horns the mound she scales,
And leaves the Goat in all the mire
To gratify his heart's desire.

Next: More Foxes

(700 words)

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