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. 203 to 220.
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 Hymettian bee, a mother of the combs,
Once with a gift approach’d the heavenly homes,
Honey for Jove, fresh-gather’d from the hives,
Honey, in which o’er smoke and age survives
A flow’ry scent. Delighted with the gift
Jove sware to grant the pray’r she might uplift.
“Grant me a sting, that if by men,” she said,
“Upon my combs rifling hand be laid,
I may, by stinging such, my hurters slay.”
Angry was Jove to hear the insect pray
For man’s destruction: yet, however loth,
He could but grant where he had pledged his oath.
The sting, however, which he gave, was such,
That when bees smite, they perish with the touch.
Her sting the life, that keeps her on the wing,
She leaves that life where’er she leaves her sting.
Fab. LXXX. — See Aristot. H. A. IX. 40. Pliny, H. A. XI. c. 17. Nicander Theriaca, v. 809. Virg. Georg. IV. 236, and Servius’s note there.204
A timid old man had a valiant boy,
And dream’d he saw a lion him destroy.
So fearing lest the dream should be fulfill’d,
A pleasant room for him he set to build:
And, as some solace for vexation sore,
Had wild beasts painted o’er each wall and door.
Among them was the lion’s picture shown.
So when on this the young man’s glance was thrown,
Rage and chagrin more fiercely on him press’d,
And standing near, the lion he addresst:
“O worst of brutes, because my father’ eye
In dreamy sleep did once behold a lie,
I am thus idly prison’ for a dream.
On thee what vengeance shall sufficient seem?”
Threatening the lion with his words so grand,
The young man through a panel thrust his hand,
205 To break a splint from a bush near the wall,
Meaning to burn the lion as tinder small:
But as the prickles chanced to wound his thumb,
Quick was the swelling to his waist to come.
And soon his anguish took his speech away:
O’er Acherons steam, poor wretch, another fare.
What fate allots thee, be resign’d to bear.
Nor seek by shifts thy destiny to cheat.
For what must come, ’tis best a man should meet.
Fab. LXXXI. — Compare the story of Atys and Adrastus, Herodot. I. 34-45.
A wild boar once stood at an old tree’s foot,
Whetting his tusks. The query Reynard put:
What fancy led him thus his tusks to whet,
No risk being near, no hunter to beset
206 His path — in fact, no need. The boar replied,
“I, like a fool, should wretchedly have died
Oft, had I sought arms but when danger prest.”
Man’s life is all a plot. Be ready, lest
Evil befall. Precaution’s ever best.
An answer to the quadrupeds once came,
That put their boasts of fruitfulness to shame.
In truth they went and tax’d the lioness,
Wishing against her to prove barrenness.
“Come tell thou us, how many cubs dost bear?”
She smiled, and met them with this answer rare,
“But one, yet he is thoroughbred all o’er.”
Than hosts of fools one man of sense is more.
A bald man in a wig did ride a race:
A sudden gust dislodged it from its place.
It flew aloft, by breezy motion borne,
And the by-standers laugh’d the man to scorn.
But said the bald-head, as he ceased to ride,
“What marvel if strange locks refused to bide
Where mine own hair had long deserted me?”
Vexed at the loss of goods let no man be:
For borrowers of this life’s things are we.
Fab. LXXXIV. — Sir G. C. Lewis suggests the omission of v. 2 in the text of this fable, and, for ὠκύπους, reading ἴππευεν in the end of v. 1.208
The Libyan crane and shameless fox agreed
That each by turns would with the other feed.
Sly Reynard only set some greasy broth
Before her guest, pour’d on a broad plate forth;
And bade her of the feast to take her fill.
Much fun she caused, as evermore her bill
With useless toil she struck against the ware,
Whilst of the broth it failed to gain a share.
The Libyan bird then sought to entertain
The roguish fox, and play the host would fain.
Of barley-meal a thin-necked jar was full,
And out of this her bill thrust in, could pull
Enough of food. So now the laugh had she
At Reynard, who stood gaping hungrily.
The fox’s snout would not the jar-neck fit.
For what you do to others, they’ll be quit.
A ploughman was half eaten up by lice.
Leaving his plough, he shook his garment twice.
When a third time they bit him shamelessly,
Wishing by all means of them to get free,
Lest cleanliness should loss-of-work require,
He doff’d his clothes, and threw them on the fire.
I would not have him thrice from fire abstain,
Who twice hath lost his wits by woman’s bane.
Fab. LXXXVI, — This fable is narrated nearly word for word by Sylla, in a speech recorded in Appian’s Civil Wars, Book I. p. 413, Steph. q. v.210
A brazier in his house a pet-dog kept;
And while the master forged, the spaniel slept;
But when the master dined, he rose from sleep,
A fawning watch for scraps and bones to keep.
The man once shook his staff in angry mood,
And said, “Most wretched of the canine brood,
What shall I do with such a slumbering cur,
From laziness so strong, so hard to stir?
Dost thou not know that toil alone doth send
Gifts that are good?”
I’d have thee, without end,
An idler’s ears with this sound warning fill;
’Tis idleness that makes a man fare ill.
It happen’d to a labourer to behold
A viper frozen by excessive cold,
At winter, in the fields. By pity press’d,
He lifted it and placed it in his breast,
Hoping to kindle vital warmth anew.
Away the viper, quick reviving, threw
Its numbness, and the friendly rustic stung,
Who said, a-dying, as from him he flung
The snake: “I spared the wretch. My doom is
When whole, I should have crush’d it ’neath my
Hoar Winter strung these words, to jeer at Spring:
“To none doth thine appearance quiet bring.
One to the groves, to fields another hies
In haste, or where the woodland valley lies.
To such the choices early flowers are treats,
Lilies, or roses ever-breathing sweets,
They cull to glad the eye, the wreath to twine:
These gifts hath Spring. But these are less than
For I, who ride upon the sea-dash’d prows,
Disturb the waves, the stormy wind arouse.
By me the rains and frozen hails are brought;
And lumps of snow to icy substance wrought;
So that all tarry, while I last, at home,
At hearth or board, and do not care to roam;
213 But revel in the sweet sound of the lyre,
Strains of melodious song, and youthful choir.
These are all Winter’s makeweights, you must know!
And granted that delight and praises flow
From men’s lips at thy name; yet while I shed
Charms o’er men’s homes, my name is cherishèd
By those who rightly judge, as sweet of sound.”
For thine, o’er strange goods, claim not higher
For e’en in these some beauty may be found.
Gibes at the snow-white swans the swallows threw,
Because they from men’s company withdrew,
But love to hover round the meads, and bide
By the marsh-pools, and by the river side,
214 Delighting most of all to dwell apart,
And keep remote from crowds their tuneful art.
“Our charm is in great cities, men and all,
In roof, and chamber, corridor and hall.”
Thus said the swallows, “And we chirp our tale
Most sweetly; yea, the old establish’d wail
Babbled from ancient days to th’ Attic race,
Of Athens and Pandion, Tereus, Thrace,
Exile and marriage, mutilated tongue.
Wrongs, writing-tablets, Itys slaughter’d young:
How we had long a shape with men the same,
But the, by transformation, birds became.”
More said the Attic maids in such-like strain,
Yet did the swans to answer scarcely deign,
Nor then till late. They hated wordy tales.
Their answer giv’n, of wit in no way fails.
“Oh, prating children of Athenian birth.
All men would seek lone corners of the earth,
From love of song, with gladness for our sakes,
When Zephyr, blowing soft and sweetly, makes
Our wings relax, and idly catch the breeze;
For such would list to honied melodies.
215 Therefore it is we sing some trifling song:
Albeit afar from every human throng,
And that but rarely. ’Tis our fairest boast
That measure in our strains we study most,
Nor let our muses mingle with the crowd,
But that of you men weary ’tis allowed,
Nor will your nearness calmly tolerate;
For your unmeasured twittering they hate.
Yet in all this ye suffer but your due,
Since with your tongues cut out, ’twere well ye
The charm of silence, and your prate gave o’er
Of shameful wrongs, which in the house ye bore.
But, not the less, ye babble most of all,
Yet no melodious utterance let fall;
For ever is the maimèd tongue deplored,
And Itys slain by Zethus with the sword.”
Fab. XC. — Compare with this fable, Fab. XII. Part I. According to Homer, Od. XIX. 517-23, Zethus, king of Thebes, married Aedon, daughter of Pandareus, and Itylus was the offspring of this union. She slew her son in mistake for the eldest child of Niobe, her husband’s brother’s wife. Sir G. C. Lewis suggests reading μητρὸς or Πρόκνης at the end of v. 42, for Ζήθου, and referring the whole, as is most natural, to the tragical tale of Tereus and Procne. Itylus was slain by the sword of Aedon, not of Zethus.216
A river on its stream two pots convey’d:
One was of brass, and one of clay was made.
The latter to the former, floating nigh,
Cried, “Float afar, and do not sail hard by:
“For if you nearer draw, I’m sure to break.
A poor man’s house is very apt to shake,
When men of greater power are dwelling near,
And injury from them may fairly fear.
Upon a wrestler’s foot once perch’d a flea.
He moved. It hopp’d and bit him sturdily.
Then was he wroth, and fain would it secure;
Again it hopp’d, and got off safe and sure.
The wrestler worried, though by bites of fleas,
Cried groaning, “Wilt not aid me, Hercules?”
It is mere insult to the Gods above
To pray them lesser evils to remove.
A flea, which bit his foot, annoy’d a man.
He caught it, and to ask of it began,
“Who art thou that thou dost so sharply bite,
And puncture all my body with delight?”
Said it to him: “My life I thus sustain.
Spare me: of no great harm can you complain.”
And he in anger made it this reply,
“Therefore by these hands thou shalt straightway
For what is evil, be it great or small,
I would not have exist, to hurt at all.”
Once of an ox a flea this question ask’d:
“Why do you bear by mortals to be task’d,
And daily toil for them, since surely you
Are a courageous brute, a fine one too?
Whereas I bite their flesh, though small to see,
And fearless drink their red blood greedily.”
The ox replied, “To men I know my debt.
From them I ever care and kindness met.
My forehead and my shoulders oft they stroke,
And scratch and rub me, pleasure to provoke.”
To the strong ox the flea then answer made,
“Ah! but to luckless me this rubbing trade,
You talk of, would result in death outright,
Whene’er upon me men’s nails chanced to light.”
We ever love the hand that doth us good.
But requite hurt with hurt, in vengeful mood.
A man of Athens on a summer’s day,
To Megara was fain to make his way
On a pack-ass, he hired for a fixt sum.
So as he journey’d, when midday was come,
What time the time the sun pours down his beaming heat,
Under the ass’s shade he sought retreat,
To shelter from the sun’s excessive rays.
But the ass-driver now his right gainsays;
“Th’ agreement was for seat, and not for shade.”
To which the other said, “that he had paid
For the whole ass, and so its shadow bought.”
So strifes about a shadow come to nought.
Fab. XCV. — For the proverb περὶ ὄνου σκιᾶς, see Lucian. Hermotim. 71; Aristoph. Vesp. 191, and the Scholiast there, who says that the fable was used by Menander, in one of his plays; and by Demosthenes, see Orat. De Pace, p. 63, notes, and Plat. Phædr. p. 203, and the notes of Ast and others. It seems, in all these passages, that the proverb refers to contentions about matters of the very slightest moment.