Aesop's Fables: Frogs

And here is the last page of the unit, featuring four more frog fables, this time from Christopher Smart's translation of the Roman poet Phaedrus. I've provided notes again 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: Frogs

This fable is inspired by the way that frogs can "puff themselves up," looking larger than they really are.

The Proud Frog

When poor men to expenses run
And ape their betters, they're undone.

An Ox the Frog a-grazing view'd,
And, envying his magnitude,
She puffs her wrinkled skin and tries
To vie with his enormous size,
Then asks her young to own at least
That she was bigger than the beast.

They answer, "No."

                             With might and main
She swells and strains, and swells again.
"Now for it, who has got the day?"

"The Ox is larger still," they say.
At length, with more and more ado,
She raged and puffed, and burst in two.

These frogs, by contrast, are very aware of just how big the bulls are, and what kind of trouble that can cause for them.

The Frogs and Bulls 

Men of low life are in distress
When great ones enmity profess.

There was a Bull-fight in the fen.
A Frog cried out in trouble then,
"Oh, what perdition on our race!"

"How," says another, "can the case
Be quite so desp'rate as you've said?
For they're contending who is head,
And lead a life from us disjoin'd,
Of sep'rate station, diverse kind."

"But he, who worsted shall retire,
Will come into this lowland mire
And with his hoof dash out our brains,
Wherefore their rage to us pertains."

Aesop himself makes an appearance in this fable, telling a story to rebuke the foolish people who are celebrating the wedding of a man they know to be a thief.

The Frogs and Sun 

When Esop saw, with inward grief,
The nuptials of a neighboring thief,
He thus his narrative begun:

Of old 'twas rumor'd that the Sun
Would take a wife; with hideous cries
The quer'lous Frogs alarm'd the skies.

Moved at their murmurs, Jove inquired
What was the thing that they desired?

When thus a tenant of the lake,
In terror, for his brethren spake:
"Ev'n now one Sun too much is found
And dries up all the pools around,
Till we thy creatures perish here.
But oh, how dreadfully severe
Should he at length be made a sire,
And propagate a race of fire!"

The frogs were right to worry about what might happen if there were more suns in the sky, but in the next fable, the frogs are very foolish, wanting to trade their liberty for a king. Jupiter is not impressed! Again, this is a fable told by Aesop this time, and the context is Athens in the sixth century B.C.E. when Pisistratus was a tyrant there (the Greek word for king is tyrannos).

The Frogs Desiring a King  

With equal laws when Athens throve,
The petulance of freedom drove
Their state to license, which overthrew
Those just restraints of old they knew.
Hence, as a factious discontent
Through every rank and order went,
Pisistratus the tyrant form'd
A party and the fort he storm'd.
Which yoke, while all bemoaned in grief
(Not that he was a cruel chief,
But they unused to be controlled)
Then Esop thus his fable told:

The Frogs, a freeborn people made,
From out their marsh with clamor pray'd
That Jove a monarch would assign
With power their manners to refine.

The sovereign smiled, and on their bog
Bent his petitioners a log,
Which, as it dash'd upon the place,
At first alarm'd the tim'rous race.

But ere it long had lain to cool,
One slily peep'd out of the pool,
And finding it a king in jest,
He boldly summoned all the rest.

Now, void of fear, the tribe advance,
And on the timber leap'd and danced,
And having let their fury loose,
In gross affronts and rank abuse,
Of Jove they sought another king,
For useless was this wooden thing.

Then he a water-snake empower'd,
Who one by one their race devoured.
They try to make escape in vain,
Nor, dumb through fear, can they complain.

By stealth they Mercury depute,
That Jove would once more hear their suit,
And send their sinking state to save,
But he in wrath this answer gave:
"You scorn'd the good king that you had,
And therefore you shall bear the bad."

Ye likewise, O Athenian friends,
Convinced to what impatience tends,
Though slavery be no common curse,
Be still, for fear of worse and worse.

(500 words)

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