From Fables of Babrius, in Two Parts, translated into English Verse from the text of Sir G. C. Lewis, by the Rev. John Davies, M.A., London: Lockwood & Co.,1860; pp. 3 to 39.
THE FABLES OF BABRIUS,
IN TWO PARTS.
Translated into English verse from the text of Sir G. C. Lewis.
REV. JOHN DAVIES, M.A.
The race of just men flourish’d first, of old;
Its name, son Branchus, was the “age of gold.”
* * * * *
Third after these was born a brazen race,
And next the god-sprung heroes found their place;
Fifth came a stock depraved, an iron root.
But ’twas the golden age, when every brute
Had voice articulate, in speech was skill’d,
And the mid-forests with its synods fill’d.
The tongues of rock and pine-leaf then were free;
To ship and sailor then would speak the sea;
Sparrows with farmers would shrewd talk maintain;
Earth gave all fruits, nor ask’d for toil again.
Mortals and gods were wont to mix as friends.
To which conclusion all the teaching tends
Of sage old Æsop; him, to whom belong
Fables set forth in free, outspoken song,
These should a place in thy remembrance get;
Therefore for thee this honeycomb I set,
Desirous, as I hive it, to assuage
The harsh Iambic’s bitterness and rage.
The Fable. Royal Alexander’s son!
Is a device by Syrians old begun.
Belus and Ninus ruled, when it was young.
And clever Æsop to th’ Hellenic tongue
Gave fables first. The like Cybisas spake
To Libyans. I, in mine, old forms forsake,
And, with gold cheek-piece bitting fiery horse,
Commend my mythiambic to the course.
Yet I no sooner had unbarr’d the door,
Than others enter’d. Theirs the Muse to soar
In griffin-like productions, over-wise;
Tho’ past mine own their knowledge doth not rise.
Now I in simple speech my fables set,
Nor care the famed Iambic’s teeth to whet.
Rather to dull their edge, to soothe their stings,
Aims he, who now this second volume sings.
Proem II. — Cybisas, or Cybissus. Theon and Apthonius, later teachers of rhetoric, mention Cybissus the Libyan, and Connis the Cilician, as fabulists. Cf. Muller and Donaldson, Gr. Lit. i. 193. Fables of the Phrygians, Cilicians, and Cyprians, are mentioned by Greek writers. See Bernhardy, Vol. I. p. 58.5
A skilful archer the hill country sought,
Intent on sport. His coming quickly brought
To every wild beast fear and headlong flight.
The lion only tarried to invite
The archer’s onslaught. “Haste not! Prythee stay,”
The stranger said; “nor hope to win the day.
“Learn from mine envoy, whom you soon shall meet,
“Your wisest plan.” Forth sped his arrow fleet
From no great distance; and was buried deep
In the beast’s flank. Afraid his post to keep
The wounded lion straight essay’d to fly
To where the lonesome woodland thickets lie.
But, lo! A fox was standing at his side,
Who urg’d him still the archer’s shafts to bide.
“Not so!” the lion said; “beguile not me!
“Yon envoy came but now so bitterly,
“That doubly fierce his master needs must be.”
Trenching his vineyard once a husbandman
His mattock lost; and to inquire began,
If it had gone by any workman’s theft.
But each denied. When no resource was left,
To put them on their oaths, he took them all
Up to the city. ’Tis our wont to call
The country gods poor folks: but those who dwell
In walls, we deem, are true, and order well.
Now in a fountain in the foregate street
The party stay’d to rest, and wash’d their feet.
Just then the crier rich rewards was telling
To him who’d show who robb’d the sacred dwelling.
The farmer heard, and said, “My journey’s vain!
“If the god knows not, who has robbed his fane,
“And but from men, for bribes, the news receives,
“How can he know, or find out, other thieves?”
A Goatherd wish’d to gather home his flock;
Some came; some tarried; on a cleft of rock
The fragrant shoots of mastich and goatsrue
One she-goat into disobedience drew.
Quickly the hireling lifted up a stone,
Which brake her horn, tho’ from a distance thrown.
And now he sued her: “Goat and fellow-slave,
“By Pan, the patron of these glens, I crave,
“Do not thou to my lord this act proclaim,
“I meant not that the stone should take good aim.”
“Nay, how,” said she, “a plain fact can I hide?
“My horn is telltale, tho’ my tongue be tied.”
His late-cast net ashore a fisher drew,
Enclosing fish, not all alike nor few;
The smallest, taking flight, contrived to get
Safe through the bottom of the meshy net,
Whilst in the ship the greater emptied lay.
’Tis surely safe, and farthest from harm’s way,
To be but small: for you shall seldom see
The high in rank escape calamity.
Two Tanagræan cocks a fight began;
Their spirit is, ’tis said, as that of man;
Of these the beaten bird, a mass of blows,
For shame into a corner creeping goes;
9 The other to the housetop quickly flew,
And there in triumph flapped his wings, and crew.
But him an eagle lifted from the roof,
And bore away. His fellow gain’d a proof
That oft the wages of defeat are best,
None else remain’d the hens to interest.
Wherefore, O man, beware of boastfulness,
Should fortune lift thee, others to depress,
Many are saved by lack of her caress.
A fisherman, who all the seashore drain’d,
While he with slender rod sweet life maintain’d,
Once caught with horsehair line a tiny fish,
Ill-suited for the frying-pan or dish.
The gasping fish its captor thus besought:
“What am I worth? For what shall I be bought?
10 “I’m not half-grown! whom on yon rocky shore
“My mother in the sea-weed lately bore.
“Now let me go; oh, kill me not in vain,
“And you shall catch me when you come again,
“On sea-weed food ere then grown large and fine,
“And meet to grace a board, where rich men dine.”
As thus she prayed, she raised a piteous moan
And panted much; but the old man was stone.
Vain was her hope with winning words to plead;
He said, while piercing her with ruthless reed:
“Who holds not fast a small but certain prize,
Is but a fool, to seek uncertainties.”
A man, who kept a horse, along the way
Unladen used to lead him, and to lay
His burden on an aged ass, who groaned,
And coming to the horse his fate bemoaned.
11 “Wouldst thou but share my load, I might survive,”
Said he, “but else I sha’n’t be long alive.”
“Move on,” the other cried; “don’t worry me!”
The ass crept on reproved; and presently
Sank under toil, and died as he had said;
His master therefore set the horse instead
Beside him, shifted all the weight, and laid
This and the ass’s skin, when it was flay’d,
With all its trappings, on the horse’s back:
He cried, “Ah, ill advised! alack, alack!
“I would not bear a part, however small;
“And now constraint hath laid upon me all.”
An Arab, having heap’d his camel’s back,
Ask’d if he chose to take the upward track
Or downward; and the beast had sense to say,
“Am I cut off then from the level way?”
A fisher play’d the pipes with wondrous skill,
And hoping shoals of fish, of their own will.
Would to the sweet sound of his piping throng,
Let down his net, and piped a tuneful song.
But when his breath was spent, his piping nought,
He cast again, and fish in numbers caught.
These panting here and there ashore he spied,
And, as he wash’d his net, thus sharply cried;
“Dance without music now! Had ye been wise,
“Ye had before danced to my melodies.”
Indifference is oft a losing game;
But when you catch the prize, at which you aim,
Then is your time to ridicule and blame.
A man, enamour’d of his ugly slave,
An arrant slut, to her for asking gave
Whate’er she would. Hence, as more gauds she wins,
And trails fine purple o’er her slattern shins,
At wife and mistress she defiance flings;
But Venus, as the cause of these good things,
With lamps she fain would honour, and each day
Make offering, supplicate, pay vows, and pray;
Till to her came the goddess, in her sleep,
And, while the house was hush’d in slumber deep,
Said, “Thank me not, as tho’ I’d made thee fair;
“To him that thinks thee so, a hate I bear.”
Whoso in what is foul can beauty find,
Is surely God-abhorr’d, and halt in mind.
A man, that on his vines’ and orchards’ foe,
The fox, a strange affront design’d to throw,
Bandag’d its tail with tow, applied a light,
And sent it forth. Now Heaven’s just oversight
Led the flame-bearer to its captor’s fields;
It was the time for crops, when harvest yields
A hopeful prospect of abundant share;
The man pursued, deploring wasted care;
And Ceres did not bless his threshing-floor.
One should be meek, and ne’er be vexèd sore.
Anger, a vengeance worth avoidance hath,
That bringeth damage to the quick-to-wrath.
Far from men’s fields the swallow forth had flown,
When she espied amid the woodlands lone
The nightingale, sweet songstress. Her lament
Was Itys to his doom untimely sent.
Each knew the other through the mournful strain,
Flew to embrace, and in sweet talk remain.
Then said the swallow, “Dearest, liv’st thou still?
Ne’er have I seen thee, since thy Thracian ill.
Some cruel fate hath ever come between;
Our virgin lives till now apart have been.
Come to the fields: revisit homes of men:
Come dwell with me, a comrade dear, again,
Where thou shalt charm the swains, no savage brood:
Dwell near men’s haunts, and quit the open wood:
One roof, one chamber, sure, can house the two,
Or dost prefer the nightly frozen dew,
16 And day-god’s heat? a wild-wood life and drear?
Come, clever songstress, to the light more near.”
To whom the sweet-voiced nightingale replied:
“Still on these lonesome ridges let me bide;
Nor seek to part me from the mountain glen;
I shun, since Athens, man, and haunts of men;
To mix with them, their dwelling place to view,
Stirs up old grief, and opens woes anew.”
Some consolation for an evil lot
Lies in the wise words, in song, in crowds forgot.
But sore the pang, when, where you once were great,
Again men see you, housed in mean estate.
Fab. XII. — This fable is based on the mythical story of Procne, Philomela, and Itys. The former of the sisters was transformed into a swallow, the latter into a nightingale. And the fable expresses the habits of each bird, the one building its nest near men’s homes, and under their roofs, the other apart in far retreats. See Ov. Met. vi. 668. For a full account of the legend, the English reader may consult Grote’s History of Greece, Vol. I. p. 269-271. Compare also Babrius, Part II, Fab. XXXVII. and Part II, Fab. XC on the same subject.
Ibid, v. 22 — Philomela’s woes began after she had left Athens, on a visit to her sister Procne, whose husband Tereus conceived for her a fatal passion, which caused all the tragic tale, on which the Greek poets so much delight to dwell.
Thin nets a farmer o’er his furrows spread,
And caught the cranes that on his tillage fed:
And him a limping stork began to pray,
Who fell with them into the farmer’s way:
17 “I am no crane: I don’t consume the grain:
That I’m a stork is from my colour plain;
A stork, than which no better bird doth live:
I to my father aid and succour give.”
The man replied: “Good stork, I cannot tell
“Your ways of life: but this I know full well,
I caught you with the spoilers of my seed:
With them, with whom I found you, you must bleed.”
Walk with the bad, and hate will be as strong
’Gainst you as them, e’en though you no man wrong.
A bear for man was boasting fondness rare,
Whose corpse, he urged, he was not wont to tear.
To whom quoth Reynard, “Were the choice my
“You should tear corpses, but let life alone;
“Let none that hurt my life, my death bemoan.”
A Theban and Athenian took one road,
And thence, no marvel, conversation flow’d.
They came to speak of heroes, in their walk,
And, after long and needless talk,
The Theban fain Alcmena’s son would prove
Greatest of men, and now of gods above.
Th’ Athenian argued, that far nobler fate
Was that of Theseus, so divine his state,
Compared with Herc’les and his servile lot:
And soon the wordy talker victory got.
The other, Theban-like, in words outmatch’d,
Thus, with rough wit, the argument despatch’d:
“There: you prevail! So then may we displease
Theseus: and you Athenians Hercules!”
A country nurse, to fright her babe to peace,
Said, “Wolf shall have thee, or thy cries must cease.”
The wolf o’erheard, believed the scolding crone,
And stay’d in hopes to find the feast his own.
But evening came; the babe was hush’d to rest:
The wolf still gaped, with rav’ning hunger prest.
At last his hopes to utter dulness grew:
Then to his anxious helpmate he withdrew.
“How cam’st thou empty?” said she. He replied,
“Because upon a female I relied.”
A cat that ambush’d for some house-birds lay,
Swung itself, baglike, from a peg one day.
’Twas seen by a sagacious shrewd-tongued cock,
Which shrilly thus began the cat to mock;
“Full many bags I’ve noticed heretofore:
But none the grinders of a live cat bore.”
Betwixt the North wind and the Sun arose
A contest, which would soonest of his clothes
Strip a wayfaring clown, so runs the tale.
First Boreas blows an almost Thracian gale,
Thinking perforce to steal the man’s capote:
He loos’d it not: but as the cold wind smote
21 More sharply, tighter round him drew the folds,
And sheltered by a crag his station holds.
But now the Sun at first peer’d gently forth,
And thaw’d the chills of the uncanny north;
Then in their turn his beams more amply plied,
Till sudden heat the clown’s endurance tried:
Stripping himself, away his cloak he flung:
The Sun from Boreas thus a triumph wrung.
The fable means, “My son, at mildness aim:
Persuasion more results than force may claim.”
There hung some bunches of the purple grape
On a hill-side. A cunning fox, agape
For these full clusters, many times essay’d
To cull their dark bloom, many vain leaps made.
22 They were quite ripe, and for the vintage fit:
But when his leaps did not avail a whit,
He journey’d on, and thus his grief composed:
“The bunch was sour, not ripe, as I supposed.”
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.”
Some oxen wish’d the butcher tribe to kill,
Who boasted a to them destructive skill.
But when they met, and now for direful fray
Whetted their horns, an ox of ancient day
Among them, who for years had borne the plough,
Said, “These at least have hands experienced, how
To kill and carve us, not to hack and hew:
But if we chance on men to slaughter new,
We shall die twice. One will not lack to fell
The ox, but one perhaps to do it well.”
A man in haste from present woes to flee
Should see his path from worse disaster free.
A man on whom mid-age its mark had set, —
He was no longer young, nor old as yet, —
Was wont to brush his black hair mixt with grey,
And then in Love’s sweet revels spend his day.
He wooed two loves, a young one and an old;
The young one was desirous to behold
Her lover youthful. Age would mate with age.
Hence evermore the damsel strove to wage
War against each grey hair she chanc’d to find:
The elder tried to leave no black behind;
Til each in turn, by plucking out his hair,
Young love and old, had left him bald and bare.
Woe worth the man entrapp’d by woman’s lure,
For such are ever pluck’d and stripp’d, be sure.
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.
Hence, it would seem, this lesson we are taught,
Not to uplift a vow devoid of thought,
By instant trouble’s pressure overwrought.
The Sun’s espousals were at summer’s prime,
Hence all the beasts enjoy’d a jovial time.
The frogs too led the dance in march and mere,
Till a toad check’d them, saying, “Nought is here
“To call for joy, bur rather grief and moan,
For if he dries each spring, while yet alone,
How by this union are we not undone,
If like himself he should beget a son?”
Many o’er trifles needlessly exult,
For which too often sorrow will result.
To end their days the hares made up their mind,
And since they were of beasts the feeblest kind,
Timid of heart, and dull in all but flight,
To hide themselves in some dark pool from light.
But as to a broad swamp they drew more near,
Upon its margin hosts of frogs appear,
Which into slimy depths affrighted leap.
As the hares paused, one said, “Your courage keep.
Let us return! To die we need not seek,
For here are others than ourselves more weak.”
A farmer’s land, fresh sown with wheaten grain,
Was being wasted by the hurtful crane.
Long did the farmer lift an empty sling,
By fear alone their troop discomfiting.
But when they found he only smote the air,
To fly at his approach they did not care:
Till he no longer made a feint to throw,
But laid with stones the greater number low.
Quitting the corn, the rest began to cry,
“Come, to the land of pygmies let us fly.
This man, it seems, content no more with fright,
Is now beginning to put forth his might.”
A man had trapped a weasel, which to drown,
He in a water-vessel tied it down.
But when she said, “How shamefully my aid
In catching mice and lizards have you paid!”
“I own the debt,” cried he; “but did not you
Stifle each bird, and rob each dwelling too,
And empty every meat-pot? You shall die!
For I’m more hurt than profited thereby.”
An ox at water once a toadling crush’d,
Whose dam, then absent, quickly homeward rush’d,
And question’d all its brethren where it was:
“Mother, ’tis dead. Before its time, alas,
30 Beneath the hoof of a huge quadruped
’Twas trampled down!” “Was it as large,” she said,
“As this?” She tried her proper size to strain.
“Mother,” cried they, “forbear! nor fume in vain.
You’ll rend yourself in sunder, ere you rise,
Howe’er you ape it, to that monster’s size.”
Once an old horse was sold to work the mill:
And yok’d each eve a grinder’s task to fill.
At last it groan’d and said: “What courses past,
Round what strange millers’ turns I wheel at last!”
Be not too much with fortune’s hopes elate:
Age ends for many in a troubled state.
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.”
Between the cats and mice of old there raged
A truceless war: a feud no blood assuaged.
The cats were victors. And the vanquished mice
Deem’d this the cause, and this their army’s vice,
32 A lack of leaders of distinguisht front,
And discipline, to meet the battle’s brunt.
Then chose they mice for rank, might, counsel, famed,
And, as to prowess, more than all unblamed.
Who marshalling their squadrons soon devise
A mimic phalanx, troops, and companies.
Now, all array’d and marshall’d, forth there stood
A mouse, and challenged all the feline brood.
Thin straws from mud walls every chief had bound
Before his brows. Beheld of all around,
They took the lead, the foremost of the host:
Alas! again the mice the day have lost.
Safe to their holes the undistinguish’d fled:
But for each vainly-ornamented head
The narrow entrance proved, alack, too small:
Alone outside were ta’en the heroes all.
Meetly o’er them the foe a trophy set:
For each mouse-chief a feline captor met.
Our fable’s moral is, that safety lies
Less in high rank that that which most despise.
Fab. XXXI. — See preface with reference to the confusion between αἴλουρος and γαλῆ, observable in Babrius and elsewhere. And see Notes and Queries. Vol. VIII. p. 261-3. “The ancient names of the cat.”33
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.
The Pleiads set, ’twas time to cast the seed:
A farmer sow’d his fallow: then took heed
To watch and guard it; for a countless host
Of black and croaking daws had o’er it cross’d,
34 And starlings, bent the tillage to destroy.
With empty sling there follow’d him a boy.
Now with the starlings ’twas the usual thing,
To list the farmer calling for his sling;
And fly ere he discharged it. Hence he sought
A new device, and thus the stripling taught
To act. “My lad, since we must needs outwit
“This clever race of birds, a plan I’ve hit.
So when they come, and I for bread shall ask,
To hand the sling, not bread, will be your task.”
The starlings came, and on the tillage fed;
And he, as was agreed on, ask’d for bread.
They did not fly. The lad supplied the stones
And sling. The old man aim’d and brake the bones
Of many a starling: shoulders, crowns, and shins:
Till from his land the remnant flight begins.
Some cranes that met them ask’d them “how they
Then said a daw: “Of base mankind beware!
Each speaks to other, words unlike his deeds.”
Dread is the race that but by guile succeeds.
Fab. XXXIII. — The Pleiads were the daughters (seven in number) of Atlas and Pleione. They were transformed into a cluster of stars at the back of Taurus, whose rising was in April or May, and their setting in November. Theocr. Id. xiii. 25. Virg. Georg. iv. 231. Hesiod (Works and Days, 384) places the time for ploughing at the season of their setting.35
What time with vineboughs men the broad-floor strew,
A bull to Ceres once the rustics slew.
Tables of meat and casks of wine were there;
But one poor lad had gorged too large a share
Of the bull’s entrails. Swoln he homeward hies,
And sore bewails his stomach’s weight and size.
Once in his mother’s arms, “Alas!” cried he.
“What is’t?” she said. “Oh, all is o’er with me!
My wretched fate is present death, no doubt;
For, mother, see, my bowels gushing out.”
“Don’t try to keep it down!” the dame replied;
“’Tis not your own, dear! but the bull’s, inside!”
So when an orphan’s substance guardians spend,
And retribution comes to a faithless friend,
To such, deep-groaning at disgorging hour,
Methinks this fable one might quote with power.
Twins at each birth the female monkey bears,
Yet gives not them her love in equal shares.
For, by her illstarr’d fondness one opprest
Is kill’d with kindness in her rugged breast.
The other as a useless idiot thrown
Adrift, an outcast, thrives when left alone.
Men’s natures oft are such, that friendliness
In them than hate is to be chosen less.
A mountain-wind tore from its roots an oak,
A wondrous old-world plant, with sweeping stroke;
And lodg’d it in a stream, where to and fro
The eddies sway’d it. Close beside there grow
37 Upon the bank, by rippling water fed,
Unnumber’d reeds. “’Twas strange,” the stout oak
“That plants so frail and feeble did not fall,
While giant oaks are riven up roots and all.”
Sagely the reed made answer: “Marvel not:
Through struggling with the blasts, a fall you got:
If but our slender tops the light breeze fill,
We meekly bend us with a yielding will.”
So spake the reed. Our fable, look you, shows
’Tis best to bow to might, and not t’ oppose.
A heifer yet unbroken, roaming free,
A bull hard-work’d in ploughing chanced to see;
And said, “Poor wretch, how grievous is thy toil!”
Nought said the bull, but still upturn’d the soil.
38 Soon, when the rustics held their solemn feast,
The aged bull to pasture went released;
But ropes that bound its horns the heifer drew,
That it with blood the altar might bedew.
To whom this sentence then the elder spoke:
“’Twas for this end they kept thee from the yoke.
Young before old, thou dost the altar deck;
The axe, and not the yoke, will bruise thy neck.”
Some woodmen, bent a forest pine to split,
Into each fissure sundry wedges fit,
To keep the void, and render work more light.
Out groan’d the pine, “Why should I vent my spite
Against the axe, which never touch’d my root,
So much as these curst wedges, mine own fruit;
Which rend me through, inserted here and there!”
39 A fable this, intended to declare,
That not so dreadful is a stranger’s blow,
As wrongs which men receive from those they know.
’Twixt whales and dolphins there was difference
And to them came a crab to mediate.
Just as, in states, if one of small renown
Should act peacemaker for each rival crown.