Friday, May 2, 2014

Aesop's Fables: The Gods

This page contains a sampling of English verse translations of the fables of Babrius, a Greek poet whose collection of Aesop's fables is one of our most important sources for the ancient Aesopic tradition. You can read more about Babrius at Wikipedia.

Babrius's poems are usually short, even very short, and they sometimes tell the events of the story in a very abbreviated manner, so I have provided a brief note for each poem to help make the plot more clear. 

As always with poetry, you will probably enjoy the poems more if you read them out loud!


These fables are part of the Aesop's Fables (English) unit. Story source: The Fables of Babrius translated by James Davies (1860).


Aesop's Fables: The Gods




In this fable, Jupiter is judge in a beauty contest among the baby animals.

Jupiter and the Monkey
A baby show with prizes Jove decreed
For all the beasts and gave the choice due heed.
A monkey mother came among the rest,
A naked, snub-nosed pug upon her breast
She bore, in mother's fashion. At the sight,
Assembled gods were moved to laugh outright.
Said she, "Jove knoweth where his prize will fall;
I know my child's the beauty of them all!"
This Fable will a general law attest:
That each one deems that what's his own is best.


In this fable, Jupiter engages in an archery competition with his son, Apollo, but it turns out Jupiter is so huge in size that he can stride as far as Apollo can shoot!

Apollo and Jupiter
Said the far darter to the gods on high,
"Not one can farther shoot or throw than I."
In sport, great Jove Apollo's challenge took,
And quick the lots in Mars' cap Hermes shook.
Luck was with Phoebus. Soon the golden bow
And string he circles, lets the arrow go,
And shoots within the Gardens of the West.
Said Jove, when the same range his feet had prest,
"Space fails me, boy. To what point can I shoot?"
Thus without shaft he won the arrow's fruit.


This fable is a variation of the story of Pandora's box, but in this time the present is given to a man who cannot restrain his curiosity.

Jove's Cask
Jove in a cask all blessings pack'd and hid,
A charge for man, but first secured the lid.
Unbridled man, agog to scan the gift
And its contents, essay'd the top to lift.
Releas'd, each blessing mounted to the sky
And would not bide below when free to fly.
Hope only tarried. Her the lid secured
When closed at last. And thus hath Hope endured
In human homes. In her sole form we see
Earnest of all the goods that then did flee.


This fable plays on the word "herm" in Greek. Herms were statues of Hermes (called Mercury by the Romans) which served various purposes, honoring the dead sometimes, and sometimes in honor of the god Mercury himself. In this fable, the god Mercury contemplates his fate in the form of a statue!

The Sculptor and Mercury
A man had wrought a Mercury for sale
In marble. Would-be buyers did not fail.
One for a pillar (he'd just lost a son)
To buy it wish'd; for a god's statue, one.
Night came, yet it the sculptor had not sold.
So he agreed at morn again t' unfold
The statue, if they'd come. In slumber deep
He gazed on Hermes at the Gates of Sleep,
Who said, "Good measure of my worth you take,
Since god or corpse of me you mean to make."


Many people worshiped the demigod Hercules (sometimes called Alcides), and this fable shows what happens when a wagon driver calls upon the god for help. He learns that "god helps them that help themselves." 

The Carter and Hercules
A carter from the village drove his wain,
And when it fell into a rugged lane,
Inactive stood nor lent a helping hand,
But to that God whom of the heavenly band
He really honour'd most, Alcides, pray'd.
"Push at your wheels," the God appearing said,
"And goad your team, but, when you pray again,
Help yourself likewise, or you'll pray in vain."


Here a cattle driver asks the local woodland gods such as Hermes and Pan to find one of his bulls that had gotten lost, but he is terrified when he finds a lion is the thief.

The Drover that Lost a Bull
To a far forest for a bull that stray'd,
A well horn'd beast, a drover quest had made.
Then to the mountain nymphs and gods around,
Hermes and Pan, he sware, in case he found
The thief, a lamb should fall a sacrifice.
Crossing a hill, his noble bull he spies,
Feasting a lion. Then he vows in grief,
To add an ox, if he escape the thief.


A cat who falls in love with a man begs Venus, the goddess of love, to turn her into a woman so that he can marry her. Venus agrees, but things do not go as planned!

The Cat and Venus
A cat that loved a handsome man was blest
By the Loves' mother granting her request:
To change her shape permission Venus gave
For lovely woman's, such who would not rave
Unless he won. 'Twas now the man's to bend
To love and marriage. At the banquet's end,
A mouse ran past. Down the deep couch's side,
Intent upon its capture, sprang the bride.
The nuptials ceased. Love vanish'd from among
His mocking sports, for nature was too strong.


In this fable, the goddess Fortune (Luck) tries to save a man from certain disaster, knowing that he will blame "Bad Luck" for the mishap, rather than taking the blame himself.

The Workman and Fortune
Close to a well a workman slept one night,
Unwittingly. But Fortune met his sight.
He seem'd to hear, "What ho there, sirrah, wake!
Lest of thy tumble I the blame should take
Among mankind and earn an uglier name:
For each man's trips and haps I bear the blame,
Howe'er his own the fault, 'tis just the same."

Next: More Gods






(600 words)










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