Aesop's Fables: People Wise and Foolish, Part 2

You will probably be familiar with several of the fables on this page. The most famous is The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs, although you might not have realized that the story is an ancient Aesop's fable.

Another famous story on this page is the one about the milkmaid imagining her future wealth. This story, however, is not part of the ancient Aesopic tradition, but instead is a story borrowed from India via the Middle East; it only became part of the Aesopic tradition when it was adapted by the French poet La Fontaine in his highly successful fables in verse.

Most of La Fontaine's fables are from the ancient Aesopic tradition, but he also included similar types of didactic tales that originated in India and then reach Europe via Arabic and/or Jewish sources in the Middle Ages. Likewise, the first story on this page is also from an eastern source; you can see different versions of the story collected by Dan Ashliman here: The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey. There is also a detailed article about this wonderful fable in Wikipedia.

[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).

People Wise and Foolish, Part 2

Jacobs 62. The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey (Perry 721)

A Man and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: "You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?"

So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: "See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides."

So the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn't gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: "Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along."

Well, the Man didn't know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said: "Aren't you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yoursu and your hulking son?"

The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey's feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders.

They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together he was drowned.

"That will teach you," said an old man who had followed them: "Please all, and you will please none."

Crane 22. The Man That Pleased None (Perry 721)

Through the town this good Man and his Son
Strove to ride as to please every one:
Self, Son or both tried,
Then the Ass had a ride;
While the world, at their efforts, poked fun.


~ ~ ~

Jacobs 18. The Bald Man and the Fly (Perry 525)

There was once a Bald Man who sat down after work on a hot summer's day. A Fly came up and kept buzzing about his bald pate, and stinging him from time to time.

The Man aimed a blow at his little enemy, but - whack! - his palm came on his head instead; again the Fly tormented him, but this time the Man was wiser and said: "You will only injure yourself if you take notice of despicable enemies."

~ ~ ~

Jacobs 77. The Milkmaid and Her Pail (not in Perry)

Patty the Milkmaid was going to market carrying her milk in a Pail on her head. As she went along she began calculating what she would do with the money she would get for the milk.

"I'll buy some fowls from Farmer Brown," said she, "and they will lay eggs each morning, which I will sell to the parson's wife. With the money that I get from the sale of these eggs I'll buy myself a new dimity frock and a chip hat; and when I go to market, won't all the young men come up and speak to me! Polly Shaw will be that jealous; but I don't care. I shall just look at her and toss my head like this."

As she spoke she tossed her head back, the Pail fell off it, and all the milk was spilt. So she had to go home and tell her mother what had occurred.

"Ah, my child," said the mother: "Do not count your chickens before they are hatched."

~ ~ ~

Jacobs 63. The Miser and His Gold (Perry 225)

Once upon a time there was a Miser who used to hide his gold at the foot of a tree in his garden; but every week he used to go and dig it up and gloat over his gains.

A robber, who had noticed this, went and dug up the gold and decamped with it. When the Miser next came to gloat over his treasures, he found nothing but the empty hole. He tore his hair, and raised such an outcry that all the neighbours came around him, and he told them how he used to come and visit his gold.

"Did you ever take any of it out?" asked one of them.

"Nay," said he, "I only came to look at it."

"Then come again and look at the hole," said a neighbour; "it will do you just as much good."

Wealth unused might as well not exist.

Crane 20. The Miser and His Gold (Perry 225)

He buried his Gold in a hole.
One saw, and the treasure he stole.
Said another, "What matter?
Don't raise such a clatter,
You can still go and sit by the hole."


~ ~ ~

Jacobs 57. The Goose With the Golden Eggs (Perry 87)

One day a countryman going to the nest of his Goose found there an egg all yellow and glittering. When he took it up it was as heavy as lead and he was going to throw it away, because he thought a trick had been played upon him. But he took it home on second thoughts, and soon found to his delight that it was an egg of pure gold.

Every morning the same thing occurred, and he soon became rich by selling his eggs.

As he grew rich he grew greedy and, thinking to get at once all the gold the Goose could give, he killed it and opened it only to find nothing.

Greed oft o'er reaches itself.

Crane 21. The Golden Eggs (Perry 87)

A golden egg, one every day,
That simpleton's Goose used to lay;
So he killed the poor thing,
Swifter fortune to bring,
And dined off his fortune that day.


(900 words)