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. 39 to 70.
THE FABLES OF BABRIUS,
IN TWO PARTS.
Translated into English verse from the text of Sir G. C. Lewis.
REV. JOHN DAVIES, M.A.
’Tis said a lizard burst its back in twain
In vain attempts a dragon’s size t’ attain.
Hurt to thyself will be thy certain fate,
If men far higher thou shouldst imitate.
High feast a cit was holding, at the end
Of sacrifice. His house-dog ask’d a friend,
Whom he had met, to come and share his meal.
He came. The cook upraised him by the heel
And toss’d him o’er the wall into the street.
Whom when each dog did with the question greet.
“What cheer?” He said, “What more could be
When I scarce know by what way I retired?”
An antler’d stag, athirst in midday heat,
Drank of a silent pool beneath his feet.
At these and at his hoofs he felt disdain,
As the clear stream reflected them again.
41 Not thus his horns with swelling heart he eyed;
But Nemesis was near, to chasten pride.
For soon a train of huntsmen fill’d the ground,
With ample nets and keenly-scenting hound.
He saw and fled, nor stay’d to quench his thirst,
And with fleet foot across the champain burst.
A thickly-tangled wood at last he gain’d,
And found his antlers in its boughs detain’d.
“Mistaken wretch!” he cried, “with scorn to treat,
In pride of treacherous horns, my saving feet;
Had those been true, these had secured retreat.”
When you on your affairs deliberate,
Hold nought beforehand in a certain state.
Yet cast off nought as hopeless in disgust,
Our greatest traitors oft are hopes we trust.
Three bulls together in one pasture grazed:
Of seizing these a lion’s hopes were raised.
He thought their union all his aims would foil,
So with deep-festering slanders to embroil
The friends he bent his mind. Asunder they
Became, in turns, the lion’s easy prey.
If thou wouldst live securely to the end,
Distrust a foe, but hold thou fast a friend.
’Twas snowy weather: and a goatherd led
Into a cave, he deem’d untenanted,
His goats, all-white with snow descending thick;
But thither, as he found, had come more quick
43 Some hornèd wild goats, a far larger stock,
And finer, too, than his accustom’d flock.
Green shoots to them he soon began to fling:
But to his own let tedious famine cling;
Till, when the sky grew clear, he found dead.
Meanwhile the wild goats hurried off to tread
The trackless thickets of unpastured heights.
Hence ridicule upon the goatherd lights,
Returning goat-less. Seeking prizes new,
He lost the profit of his old one too.
A stag, whose lissome joints grew stiff, had made
A grassy couch outside a woodland shade.
Hence ample fodder to his need he found.
Till soon, to see their neighbour, gathered round
Whole tribes of beasts: (a right good neighbour he!)
Each came, and each with his supplies made free
44 By thoughtless nibbling, ere it sought the wood.
Thus sank, not by disease, but want of food,
A stag that scarce had yet two crow-lives told:
Had he lack’d friends, he haply had died old!
Fab. XLVI. v. 9, 10. — The stag was anciently supposed to be an exceedingly long lived animal; but the opinion is confuted by Aristotle, H. A. vi. 29, and by later experience. Its life is at most from thirty-five to forty years in duration, according to Buffon and Cuvier.
Among old worthies lived an ancient man
With many sons: and since his life began
To wane at last, that truth might so be taught,
He bade that there should be before him brought
A bundle of thin rods. ’Twas soon at hand.
“Now use,” said he, “the strength you each command,
To break the sticks, my sons, thus closely bound.”
“Well,” he rejoined, when force in vain was found,
Then take them one by one.” Each broke with ease.
“E’en thus,” he cried, “my children, if ye please
To live in union, none have power to mar
Your bond of strength, e’en though superior far.
45 But if ’twixt brothers’ hearts exists a breach,
The single rod pourtrays the fate of each.”
Love between brothers is man’s best of gifts,
And oft the humble to high fortune lifts.
Close to a well a workman slept one night,
Unwittingly. But Fortune met his sight.
He seem’d to hear; “What ho, there, sirrah, wake!
Lest of thy tumble I the blame should take
Among mankind, and earn an uglier name:
For each man’s trips and haps I bear the blame,
Howe’er his own the fault, ’tis just the same.”
Hard on a fox a hunter in full chase
Was pressing. Reynard, needing breathing-space,
Spying a woodman, cried, “By those who save,
’Neath yonder just-fell’d poplars let me crave
A shelter. To the field betray me not.”
The woodman sware. The fox a shelter got.
The hunger came, and of the man would know,
“Did the fox enter there, or onward go?”
Said he, “I saw not;” but his finger showed
Meanwhile to Reynard’s hiding-place the road.
In haste at once the hunter passing on
Believed the words. Her hottest danger gone,
Our fox began from out the poplar-heap
With fawning tail, but spiteful grin, to peep.
The old man said, “You owe your life to me.
’Twas I from risk of capture set you free;
47 Be grateful therefore.” “To be sure,” she cried,
“For the vast help, I saw your acts supplied.
Farewell! The Oath-god will exact his due.
If your voice saved me, yet your finger slew.”
Let none (Heaven’s purpose errs not) think to flee
The sure deserts of secret perjury.
A widow kept at home a single sheep:
Out of whose fleece a larger gain to reap
She clipp’d it rudely, press’d the shears too near
Its flesh, and kept them not from wounding clear.
The smarting sheep cried: “Do not torture me,
My blood in weight will small addition be.
Nay, mistress, nay! My flesh if you require,
To kill me quick, a practis’d butcher hire.
But if ’tis fleece and wool, not flesh, you need,
Shearers will shear me, yet not make me bleed.”
Strong bulls to town upon their shoulders drew
A four-wheel’d wain. Its creakings were not few.
Then was the driver wroth; and drawing near,
He spoke so plain, it could not choose but hear.
“Thou worst of goods, will not thy groaning cease,
Though they whose shoulders draw thee, hold their
It is a base man’s way, to raise a moan,
As if the toil of others were his own!
A hapless fox fell in a wild wolf’s way,
And pray’d him her old life to spare, not slay.
“I will, by Pan, I will;” the wolf replied,
If in thy next three words thou hast not lied.”
49 “Well: first then,” said she, “would we had not
Next, that a blind wolf had my path beset!
And third and last,” she added, “go for ever!
“I trust from this day forth to meet thee never!”
With a she-ass, best shift his means allow’d,
A tiller yoked his only ox, and plough’d.
When these he was preparing to unyoke,
Their work being over, thus the ass bespoke
The ox: “Who carries home the old man’s gear?”
“The beast whose wont it is,” said he, “’tis clear.”
A baby-show with prizes Jove decreed
For all the beasts, and gave the choice due heed.
A monkey-mother came among the rest;
A naked, snub-nosed pug upon her breast
She bore, in mother’s fashion. At the sight
Assembled Gods were moved to laugh outright.
Said she, “Jove knoweth where his prize will fall!
“I know, my child’s the beauty of them all.”
This Fable with a general law attest,
That each one deems that what’s his own, is best
Hermes had laden once a cart with lies,
And much deceit, and divers villanies.
This he essay’d to drive from race to race,
Passing near every nation’s dwelling-place.
And giving each a share. He came at last
To the Arabian land. As this he passed,
Down brake his wagon suddenly, ’tis said,
And stuck. The Arabs, eager for a raid,
And hoping here a merchant’s precious load,
Rifled the wain, nor sent it on its road
To other tribes beyond them. Hence I find
That false and knavish is each Arab’s mind.
And, as experience proves, to Arab tongue
No particle of truth hath ever hung.
Jove in a cask all blessings pack’d and hid,
A charge for man: but first secured the lid.
Unbridled man, agog to scan the gift
And its contents, essay’d the top to lift.
Releas’d, each blessing mounted to the sky
And would not bide below, when free to fly.
Hope only tarried. Her the lid secured,
When closed at last. And thus hath Hope endured
In human homes. In her sole form we see
Earnest of all the goods, that then did flee.
Fab. LVIII. — In this fable Babrius follows the later version of the story of Pandora’s Box, i.e. that it was full of goods not of ills. The old version is mentioned in Hesiod, Works and Days, 94-105. There, however, we read of Hope being left behind after the rest. As also, in Theognis, 1131-1146, we read of Hope remaining alone on earth, after Faith, and Modesty and the Graces had removed to Heaven.
Pallas, ’tis said, with Neptune and with Jove,
Which should create a thing most perfect, strove.
53 Jove makes the choicest of created things,
A man. A dwelling to him Pallas brings:
Neptune a bull. They gave the umpire’s post
To Momus: Heaven as yet he had not lost.
And he, as was his nature, hating all,
At blaming the bull’s horns to work must fall,
Because they were not set beneath his eyes,
For then he’d see to strike. Man lost the prize,
Because not open was his breast, but closed,
Else each would see his neighbour’s plans exposed:
He blamed the house, because no wheels were made
Of iron at its base; that it, convey’d
To other climes might pass with roving lord.
What purports then to us the Fable’s word?
Prefer not thou to carp: but strive to do.
Momus will nought in pleasant aspect view.
A mouse into a lid-less broth-pot fell:
Choked with the grease, and bidding life farewell,
He said: “My fill of meat and drink have I,
And all good things: ’tis time that I should die.”
Thou art that dainty mouse among mankind,
If hurtful sweets are not by thee declined.
A huntsman going laden from the hill,
A fisher too, whose fish his basket fill,
As luck would have it, chanced one day to meet,
And lo! the hunger thought the fish a treat;
55 The fisherman preferr’d the hunter’s game.
So they exchanged their spoil. They did the same,
Each for a time, to suit the other’s taste,
With all they took: till some one said, “You’ll waste
And mar by use the present charm of these:
And each again will seek what used to please.”
A mule, in lazy manger fed on hay,
And fresh with corn, began to leap and say,
Kicking his heels, “A racer is my dam,
And I for her a match in fleetness am.”
Yet with sad visage soon his course he check’d,
Constrain’d his sire, the ass, to recollect.
A good man for a hero’s fane assign’d
Space in his court-yard. Here he loved to bind
Wreaths on the altars, rich libations pay,
And, sacrificing oft, devoutly pray.
“Loved hero, hail! thy fellow-lodger bless
With plenteous gifts.” At midnight his address
Met answer. “Heroes can vouchsafe no good
To man; for these ’twere meet the Gods were sued.
’Tis rather all the ills that fall to men,
That we dispense: when seeking evil then,
Pray us! Ask one, and many I’ll bestow.
So now to whom to sacrifice you know!”
Fab. LXIII. — Ancient writers, such as Xenocrates, Empedocles, and to a certain extent Plato, treat the remnants of the half wicked silver age as dæmons; not good, as Hesiod held and represented them, but malignant and wicked. See Grote H. G. i. pp. 95-7. Ibid. 570-1, note. Here the heroes are confounded with these dæmons. Compare Plut. Quæst. Græc. c. vi. p. 292, where it appears that with the Locrians at Opus δαίμων was equivalent to Ἥρως.
For the custom of wreathing the altars with fillets, alluded to in v. 3 of this fable, compare Theocr. Id. xxvi. 3-9, Horat. Od. iv. xi. 6, i. xix. 13. Virg. Ecl. viii. 64.57
A fir-tree and a bramble disagreed,
For the fir always paid to self the meed
Of praise. “I’m fine, well-grown in point of size:
And my straight top is neighbour to the skies.
’Tis I, am roof of mansions, keel of ships:
So much my comeliness all trees outstrips.”
To whom the bramble said, “Keep well in view
The axe, whose business is thy trunk to hew,
And saws, that cut thee: haply thou’lt prefer
To be the bramble, rather than the fir.”
All men of mark more rank and credit gain
Than meaner folks, but still more risks sustain.
To a bright-plumaged peacock, smart and vain,
This sharp retort fell from an ashen crane.
“Through these dull wings, whose colour you decry,
I scram aloft, in starry heights I fly.
You, cock-like, flap your wings. The tail you spread,
With all its gold, is never seen o’erhead.”
Rather would I in threadbare coat aspire,
Than live inglorious, tho’ in rich attire.
Prometheus was a God, an elder God:
Man, the brutes’ lord, he fashion’d of the sod,
’Tis said, and round his neck two wallets hung,
Full of all ills, that rise mankind among:
59 One, holding others’ faults, in front was thrown:
The larger, slung behind him, held his own.
Hence others’ falls, methinks, men clearly see:
But when one should look homeward, blind are we.
Fab. LXVI. — Babrius here adheres to the later fable, about Prometheus creating men, traces of which occur in Callimachus, and elsewhere. He places him among the Gods, but the Gods of the earliest period. For other fables in Babrius on the subject of Prometheus making men, see Part II, Fab. 64, which gives a similar version of the creation of man by him, to that of Horace, Od. i. xvi. 13, Fertur Prometheus addere principi, &c.
Chase-partners were the lion and wild ass:
That did in prowess, this in speed surpass:
A booty of fat beasts their hunt supplied,
Which into three the lion would divide.
“This first,” said he, “as foremost, I shall take
In right of kinghood. That my equal stake
Marks as my part. And, for the hindmost lot,
’Twill cause you hurt, unless you flee, I wot.”
Measure your strength, nor, with a man more strong,
To company, or partnership belong.
Said the far-darter to the Gods on high,
“Not one can farther shoot or throw than I.”
In sport great Jove Apollo’s challenge took,
And quick the lots in Mars’ cap Hermes shook.
Luck was with Phœbus. Soon the golden bow
And string he circles; lets the arrow go,
And shoots within the gardens of the West.
Said Jove, when the same range his feet had prest,
“Space fails me, boy. To what point can I shoot?”
Thus without shaft he won the arrow’s fruit.
Fab. LXVIII. 4. — For the custom of placing the lots in a helmet, compare Hom. Il. vii. 176, where the lots are placed in Agamemnon’s helmet, which is then shaken by Nestor.
Ibid. 7. — The garden of Hesperus, or of the Hesperides, was in the more early writers placed at the remotest bound of the earth, afterwards at the extreme west, on the coast of Libya. Hesiod, Theog. 215, Plin. H. N. vi. 36, Virg. Æn. iv. 484, Ov. Met. iv. 632-8.61
A dog, no novice in the chase, pursued
A rough-pawed hare, disturb’d from tangled wood,
And soon was left behind. A goatherd near,
“Fine runners beat you!” said, the hound to jeer.
Said he, “One needs must use far more despatch
To save one’s own, than other lives to snatch.”
The Gods were wedding. Each had found a mate.
To War it chanced till last of all to wait.
And so with Insolence, left all alone,
In love he fell, and won her for his own.
So runs the Fable. Hence, devoted swain,
Where’er she goes, he follows in her train.
62 Oh then may Insolence, most apt to smile
On Commons, and to lead them wrong the while,
Be ever from our states and nations far,
For close behind her comes her husband, War.
A countryman beheld a crowded ship
Its prow beneath the arching surges dip;
“Would thou hadst ne’er been ploughed,” he cried,
Harsh element, of which all men complain.”
The sea o’erheard, assumed a woman’s tone,
And said, “I pray you, leave my name alone.
For ’tis not I that cause you all these woes:
But every blast that round about me blows,
See me and sail me, yonder winds removed,
And gentler than your earth you’ll own me proved.”
Bad natures oft turn many goods to worse,
Thus e’en a blessing comes to seem a curse.
Fab. LXXI. — Compare Cicero Pro Cluentio, c. 49, Herodot. vii. 16.63
A contest in Heaven’s courts for beauty’s prize,
Bright Iris, who with the Gods’ tidings hies,
Proclaim’d to birds. The news soon spread to all,
And to himself each hoped the meed would fall.
Rose from a rock, that rarely goat had scaled,
A spring, whose clear wave ne’er in summer fail’d.
To it resorted all the feather’d race,
Intent on washing, each, its wings and face,
Shaking its wings, its plumage combing clean;
When, lo! a jackdaw to approach was seen,
A crow’s now-ancient son. From ev’ry plume
And each wet shoulder he made haste to assume
A stolen feather. Soon his various guise
In the Gods’ sight the eagle’s form outvies.
Him Jove, astonished, victor had declared,
Had not the swallow, Pallas-like, unbared
64 The cheating rogue, her feathers quick to claim;
“Pray,” said the daw, “expose me not to shame.”
To pluck him, next, the thrush and turtle-dove,
Tomb-haunting lark, and jay, together strove;
The hawk, a-watch for birds not yet full grown,
Nay, all the birds. Thus was the jackdaw known.
My son, array thee in thy proper dress:
For borrow’d clothes will leave thee garmentless.
Fab. LXXII. v. 6. — Grote, in his History of Greece, Vol. II. p. 289, remarks upon the inadequacy and irregularity of the supply of water in the low grounds of Greece. “Most of the rivers are torrents in the early spring, and dry before the end of the summer. Rain runs of as rapidly as it falls, and springs are rare.” Horace refers to this fable of the daw in his Epistles, i. iii. 18-20.
Of old far other was the kite’s shrill cry!
Till once she heard a horse neigh tunefully.
She needs must ape the steed; and then nor heard
Her former voice, nor that which she preferred.
A horse, an ox, a dog, distrest by cold,
To seek the warmth of a man’s house made bold.
He let them enter by his open’d door,
And was not slack to give them of his store,
Warming his guests withal beside his hearth:
The horse found corn, of vetch the ox no dearth,
While the dog shared the table of his host.
Then fain would they requite their supper’s cost;
And so its life’s chief habit each bestows.
The horse gave first. Hence each among us glows
With leaping spirit in our early prime.
The ox came next. Therefore, at mid-life’s time,
Man toils, and dearly loves to hoard and save.
The dog, ’tis said, life’s latest features gave.
Whence, Branchus, each, as age steals o’er him, grows
Peevish apace, caressing only those
To whom he looks for food. A stranger’s face
Provokes his bark, and never wins his grace.
There lived a quack. And all but he could tell
A sick man not to fear; he’d soon be well:
“Diseases run their time, but then are over;”
The doctor came and said, “You won’t recover!
Make all your preparations. You must die!
I scorn to cheat: I’m not the man to lie.
To morrow at the most you’ll scarce get o’er!”
He said, nor visited his patient more.
But, lo! the man from his disorder rose,
Pallid, and somewhat shaky on his toes.
Taking his walk, the doctor met him so:
“Good morrow! How goes on the world below?”
“Oh! deadly lively! Lethe’s draught is flat!
But if you’d know what hell’s high powers were at,
Doctors just now incurr’d their fiercest threats,
Because each sick man well so quickly gets.
67 They were proscribing all. Among the first
They talk’d of posting you. But forth I burst
A little timid from the shadowy crowd,
And suppliant before their sceptres bow’d;
And sware to them the truth I could not hide,
You were no doctor, but had been belied.”
A knight his charger pamper’d day by day,
So long as war was rife, with corn and hay,
As his brave comrade in the battle’s din;
But when war ceas’d, and peace at last came in,
When from his deme the knight drew pay no more,
Oft from the woods to town his charger bore
Huge logs of timber, and with various load
Toil’d as a hireling on a weary road;
68 On sorry chaff he barely life preserv’d,
And yoked for draught, no longer knighthood serv’d.
But war again was heard without the walls,
On each to burnish arms the trumpet calls,
To whet his steel, his war-horse to array:
Again our knight has bridled for the fray
His charger, led for him to take the field,
But its weak limbs began to sink and yield.
“Go rank thyself with infantry,” it said:
“If thou could’st me from horse to ass degrade,
“Nor more can I my former self be made.”
A crow upon his perch was munching cheese,
When a sly fox by arguments like these,
To suit herself, beguiled him of his prize :—
“Fair are thy plumes, good crow, and bright thine
69 “Charming thy neck, and eagle’s breast thou hast,
“In talons thou art by no brute surpass’d.
“’Tis strange that dumb should be a bird so smart!”
The flatter’d crow became elate in heart,
And, cawing, from his mouth the cheese let fall;
This Reynard snatch’d, and tauntingly did call,
“’Tis true thou wast not dumb, for thou canst speak,
“Yet, spite of all thou hast, thy mind is weak.”
A sick crow to its weeping mother said,
“Weep not, but pray the Gods that from the bed
“Of sad disease and suffering I may rise.”
“Will any God,” said she, “child, hear my cries,
“And save thee? Is there one of whom ’tis true,
“His altar never has been robb’d by you?”
Tray from the shambles stole a piece of meat;
And, as he cross’d a stream, upon its sheet
Of crystal saw the shadow magnified;
Which, letting go the flesh, to grasp he tried.
He gain’d nor it, nor that which he had lost,
And, supperless, again the river cross’d.
All avaricious men consume in vain
Uncertain lives, in fleeting hope of gain.