Aesop's Fables: Insects

No animal is too small for Aesop! Here are some of the fables of Phaedrus with insects as characters, translated into English verse by Christopher Smart, with some notes from me 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: Insects

In this fable, a boastful fly seeks to drive the mule, but the mule knows that it is the human driver, not the fly, who holds the reins and the whip.

The Fly and the Mule 

A Fly that sat upon the beam
Rated the Mule: "Why, sure you dream?
Pray get on faster with the cart
Or I shall sting you till you smart!"

She answers: "All this talk I hear
With small attention, but must fear
Him who upon the box sustains
The pliant whip and holds the reins.
Cease then your pertness — for I know
When to give back and when to go."

This tale derides the talking crew,
Whose empty threats are all they do.

This time the boastful fly is rebuked by a hard-working ant.

The Ant and the Fly 

An Ant and Fly had sharp dispute
Which creature was of most repute,
When thus began the flaunting Fly:
"Are you so laudible as I ?
I, ere the sacrifice is carved,
Precede the gods — first come, first served —
Before the altar take my place,
And in all temples show my face,
Whene'er I please I set me down
Upon the head that wears a crown.
I with impunity can taste
The kiss of matrons fair and chaste,
And pleasure without labor claim;
Say, trollop, canst thou do the same?"

"The feasts of gods are glorious fare,
No doubt, to those who're welcome there,
But not for such detested things.
You talk of matron's lips and kings;
I, who with wakeful care and pains
Against the winter hoard my grains,
Thee feeding upon ordure view.
The altars you frequent, 'tis true,
But still are driv'n away from thence
And elsewhere as of much offence.
A life of toil you will not lead,
And so have nothing when you need.
Besides all this, you talk with pride
Of things that modesty should hide.
You plague me here, while days increase,
But when the winter comes you cease.
Me, when the cold thy life bereaves,
A plenteous magazine receives.
I think I need no more advance
To cure you of your arrogance."

The tenor of this tale infers
Two very diff'rent characters:
Of men self-praised and falsely vain,
And men of real worth in grain.

In this funny little story, an owl finally manages to put a stop to the singing of its noisy neighbor, the grasshopper.

The Owl and the Grasshopper

Those who will not the forms obey
To be obliging in their way
Must often punishment abide
For their ill-nature and their pride.

A Grasshopper, in rank ill-will,
Was very loud and very shrill
Against a sapient Owl's repose,
Who was compelled by day to doze
Within a hollow oak's retreat,
As wont by night to quest for meat,
She is desired to hold her peace.

But at the word her cries increase;
Again requested to abate
Her noise, she's more importunate.

The Owl perceiving no redress,
And that her words were less and less
Accounted of, no longer pray'd,
But thus an artifice essay'd.

"Since 'tis impossible to nod,
While harping like the Delphian god,
You charm our ears, stead of a nap,
A batch of nectar will I tap,
Which lately from Minerva came;
Now if you do not scorn the same,
Together let us bumpers ply."

The Grasshopper, extremely dry,
And, finding she had hit the key
That gain'd applause, approach'd with glee,
At which the Owl upon her flew
And quick the trembling vixen slew.

Thus by her death she was adjudged
To give what in her life she grudged.

(500 words)

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