Aesop's Fables: Foxes, Part 1

Although there are many tricksters in Aesop's fables (you saw that even the lion can be a trickster), the fox is the greatest trickster of them all. Of course, that doesn't mean that he cannot be outfoxed, as you can see in the story of The Fox and the Stork. Sometimes, too, the fox is the voice of wisdom, seeing through the hypocrisy of others (as in the story of The Mask). The fox can also be quite a hypocrite as well, of course, as in the fable of "the sour grapes." This phrase has taken on a life of its own, but you need to know the fable to appreciate the subtle meaning of that proverb: "sour grapes" refers to someone who criticizes something not because it is bad, but simply because they cannot have it, as you will see in the fable.

[Notes by LKG]

These fables are part of the Aesop's Fables (Jacobs) unit. Story sources: The prose fables are from The Fables of Aesop by Joseph Jacobs (1894) and the limericks and illustrations are from The Baby's Own Aesop by W. J. Linton and illustrated by Walter Crane (1887).

Foxes, Part 1

Jacobs 19. The Fox and the Stork (Perry 426)

At one time the Fox and the Stork were on visiting terms and seemed very good friends. So the Fox invited the Stork to dinner, and for a joke put nothing before her but some soup in a very shallow dish. This the Fox could easily lap up, but the Stork could only wet the end of her long bill in it, and left the meal as hungry as when she began. "I am sorry," said the Fox, "the soup is not to your liking."

"Pray do not apologise," said the Stork. "I hope you will return this visit, and come and dine with me soon." So a day was appointed when the Fox should visit the Stork, but when they were seated at table all that was for their dinner was contained in a very long-necked jar with a narrow mouth in which the Fox could not insert his snout, so all he could manage to do was to lick the outside of the jar.

"I will not apologise for the dinner," said the Stork: "One bad turn deserves another."

Crane 15. The Fox and The Crane (Perry 426)

You have heard how Sir Fox treated Crane:
With soup in a plate. When again
They dined, a long bottle
Just suited Crane's throttle:
And Sir Fox licked the outside in vain.


~ ~ ~

Jacobs 20. The Fox and the Mask (Perry 27)

A Fox had by some means got into the store-room of a theatre. Suddenly he observed a face glaring down on him and began to be very frightened; but looking more closely he found it was only a Mask such as actors use to put over their face. "Ah," said the Fox, "you look very fine; it is a pity you have not got any brains."

Outside show is a poor substitute for inner worth.

Crane 28. The Fox and The Mask (Perry 27)

A Fox with his foot on a Mask,
Thus took the fair semblance to task.
"You're a real handsome face;
But what part of your case
Are your brains in, good Sir, let me ask?"


~ ~ ~

Jacobs 31. The Fox and the Grapes (Perry 15)

One hot summer's day a Fox was strolling through an orchard till he came to a bunch of Grapes just ripening on a vine which had been trained over a lofty branch. "Just the thing to quench my thirst," quoth he.

Drawing back a few paces, he took a run and a jump, and just missed the bunch.

Turning round again with a One, Two, Three, he jumped up, but with no greater success.

Again and again he tried after the tempting morsel, but at last had to give it up, and walked away with his nose in the air, saying: "I am sure they are sour."

It is easy to despise what you cannot get.

Crane 1. The Fox and The Grapes (Perry 15)

This Fox has a longing for grapes:
He jumps, but the bunch still escapes.
So he goes away sour,
And, 'tis said, to this hour
Declares that he's no taste for grapes.


Next page: Foxes, Part 2

(600 words)