Aesop's Fables: Wolves

These fables in verse 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: Wolves

This fable is about the injustice of the world which, this time, takes the form of a wolf who is unimpressed by a lamb's protestations of innocence.

The Wolf and the Lamb

BY thirst incited, to the brook
The Wolf and Lamb themselves betook.
The Wolf high up the current drank,
The Lamb far lower down the bank.

Then, bent his ravenous maw to cram,
The Wolf took umbrage at the Lamb.
"How dare you trouble all the flood,
And mingle my good drink with mud?"

"Sir," says the Lambkin, sore afraid,
"How should I act, as you upbraid?
The thing you mention cannot be;
The stream descends from you to me."

Abash'd by facts, says he, "I know
'Tis now exact six months ago
You strove my honest fame to blot."

"Six months ago, sir, I was not."

"Then 'twas th' old ram, thy sire," he cried,
And so he tore him till he died.

To those this fable I address
Who are determined to oppress,
And trump up any false pretence,
But they will injure innocence.

In this fable, the crane also encounters the injustice of the wolf, and does so even more recklessly than the lamb!

The Wolf and Crane

Who for his merit seeks a price
From men of violence and vice
Is twice a fool — first so declared
As for the worthless he has cared;
Then after all, his honest aim
Must end in punishment and shame.

A bone the Wolf devoured in haste,
Stuck in his greedy throat so fast
That, tortured with the pain, he roar'd
And ev'ry beast around implored
That who a remedy could find
Should have a premium to his mind.

A Crane was wrought upon to trust
His oath at length — and down she thrust
Her neck into his throat impure
And so perform'd a desp'rate cure.

At which, when she desired her fee,
"You base, ungrateful minx," says he,
"Whom I, so kind, forbore to kill,
And now, forsooth, you'd bring your bill!"

In this fable, the sheep is more discerning than either the lamb or the crane!

The Sheep, the Stag, and the Wolf

When one rogue would another get
For surety in a case of debt,
'Tis not the thing t' accept the terms,
But dread th' event, the tale affirms.

A Stag approached the Sheep to treat
For one good bushel of her wheat.
"The honest Wolf will give his bond."

At which, beginning to despond,
"The Wolf" (cries she) "'s a vagrant bite,
And you are quickly out of sight;
Where shall I find or him or you
Upon the day the debt is due?"

The sheep in this fable, unfortunately, is not able to win the justice she deserves when falsely accused by a dog and a wolf, although the gods intervene to provide a kind of justice in the end.

The Sheep, the Dog, and the Wolf

Liars are liable to rue
The mischief they 're so prone to do.

The Sheep a Dog unjustly dunn'd
One loaf directly to refund,
Which he the Dog to the said Sheep
Had given in confidence to keep.

The Wolf was summoned, and he swore
It was not one, but ten or more.

The Sheep was therefore cast at law
To pay for things she never saw.

But, lo! ere many days ensued,
Dead in a ditch the Wolf she view'd;
"This, this," she cried, "is Heaven's decree
Of justice on a wretch like thee."

The wolf is a very different kind of symbol in this fable: he no longer represents brute and selfish injustice but instead . . . freedom! The wolf here gets the name "Isengrim" (or "Isgrim") which is the name he has in the Latin and French tradition, just as you earlier saw "Renard" as the name for the fox. You can read more about Latin Ysengrimus at Wikipedia.

The Dog and the Wolf

I will, as briefly as I may,
The sweets of liberty display.

A Wolf half famish'd, chanced to see
A Dog, as fat as dog could be.
For one day, meeting on the road,
They mutual compliments bestowed.

" Prithee," says Isgrim, faint and weak,
"How came you so well fed and sleek?
I starve, though stronger of the two."

"It will be just as well with you,"
The Dog quite cool and frank replied,
"If with my master you'll abide."

"For what?"

                         "Why merely to attend,
And from night thieves the door defend."

"I gladly will accept the post.
What! Shall I bear with snow and frost
And all this rough inclement plight,
Rather than have a home at night,
And feed on plenty at my ease?"

"Come, then, with me" — the Wolf agrees.
But as they went, the mark he found
Where the Dog's collar had been bound.

"What's this, my friend?"
                         "Why, nothing."
Be more explicit, sir, I pray."

"I'm somewhat fierce and apt to bite;
Therefore they hold me pretty tight
That in the day-time I may sleep
And night by night my vigils keep.
At eveningtide they let me out,
And then I freely walk about.
Bread comes without a care of mine;
I from my master's table dine;
The servants throw me many a scrap,
With choice of pot-liquor to lap,
So, I've my bellyful, you find."

"But can you go where you've a mind?"

"Not always, to be flat and plain."

"Then, Dog, enjoy your post again,
For to remain this servile thing,
Old Isgrim would not be a king."

(700 words)

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