Aesop's Fables

Week 4: Ancient Greece - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

Foolish Animals

Reading time: 6 minutes. Word count: 1300 words.

When people think of Aesop's fables, they usually think of animals, and maybe even more specifically they think of talking animals. And it is true: the majority of the fables are about animals. In particular: they are about foolish animals who make some kind of stupid mistake! So as you read through these fables think about which character in the story is making a foolish mistake, and how do they realize that they have made a mistake? Does the fable indicate what causes the animal to make the mistake: is it a flaw in their character? are they tricked by another character? Do you find yourself relating to the character who makes the mistake - or do you feel yourself looking more at this character from the outside saying, "Oh man, what a stupid mistake!" Sometimes the fables seem to be didactic stories (teaching stories) - but other times they can be pretty mean, just making fun of someone's stupid mistake in order to get a good laugh.


A story about a fox and a raven which urges us not to trust anyone who is trying to deceive us.
The raven seized a piece of cheese and carried his spoils up to his perch high in a tree. A fox came up and walked in circles around the raven, planning a trick. 'What is this?' cried the fox. 'O raven, the elegant proportions of your body are remarkable, and you have a complexion that is worthy of the king of the birds! If only you had a voice to match, then you would be first among the fowl!' The fox said these things to trick the raven and the raven fell for it: he let out a great squawk and dropped his cheese. By thus showing off his voice, the raven let go of his spoils. The fox then grabbed the cheese and said, 'O raven, you do have a voice, but no brains to go with it!'
If you follow your enemies' advice, you will get hurt.


If you think a scoundrel will reward you for a job well done, you are making two mistakes: first, you are helping someone who doesn't deserve it, and second, you will be lucky to escape unharmed.
A wolf swallowed a bone which got stuck in his throat. The pain was excruciating, so the wolf started looking for someone who could be induced to remove the accursed thing in exchange for a reward. The wolf asked each of the animals if they would help him and finally the crane was convinced by the wolf's solemn promises. Trusting her long beak to the wolf's gaping maw, the crane carried out the dangerous cure. Yet when the crane demanded the promised reward, the wolf simply said, 'You ungrateful creature! You extracted your head unharmed from my mouth and still you ask for a reward?'


A story about a lion and a young woman, which teaches us not to indulge our desires.
A lion who had fallen in love with a young woman went to the woman's father to ask for her hand in marriage. The father was afraid to refuse the lion's offer, but asked him first to have his teeth and claws taken out; otherwise the lion could only arouse his daughter's terror. The lion was so in love with the woman that he agreed to the bargain. When the lion came back and approached the farmer, now naked and defenceless, the farmer clubbed him to death.
If you follow your enemies' advice, you will run into danger.


A stag had grown thirsty and went to a spring in order to drink some water. When he saw the reflection of his body in the water, he disparaged the slenderness of his legs but revelled in the shape and size of his horns. All of a sudden, some hunters appeared and began to chase him. As the stag ran along the level ground of the plain, he outdistanced his pursuers and beat them to the marsh by the river. Without thinking about what he was doing, the stag kept on going, but his horns became tangled in the overhanging branches and he was captured by the hunters. The stag groaned and said, 'Woe is me, wretched creature that I am! The thing that I disparaged could have saved me, while I have been destroyed by the very thing I boasted about.'
This fable shows that people should not praise themselves for something unless it is useful and beneficial.


A dog seized some meat from the butcher shop and ran away with it until he came to a river. When the dog was crossing the river, he saw the reflection of the meat in the water, and it seemed much larger than the meat he was carrying. He dropped his own piece of meat in order to try to snatch at the reflection. When the reflection disappeared, the dog went to grab the meat he had dropped but he was not able to find it anywhere, since a passing raven had immediately grabbed the meat and gobbled it up. The dog lamented his sorry condition and said, 'Woe is me! I foolishly abandoned what I had, in order to snatch at a phantom, and thus I ended up losing both that phantom and what I had to begin with.'
This fable is about greedy people who grasp at more than they need.


A story about a donkey, urging us not to yearn for more than we deserve.
A donkey wanted to appear to be a lion. Since he could not change his nature, he tried to realize his dreams by a change of costume, and like a lion he wreaked havoc on the fruits of the farmers' labour. But when a gust of wind blew up, it stripped the lion bare of his disguise. As soon as the farmers whose crops he had eaten saw that he was just a donkey, they came and clubbed him to death.
Adornments that do not belong to you can be dangerous.


A donkey used to see the master's pet puppy dog fawning on him day in and day out. The puppy ate his fill of food from the master's table and was also given many treats by the household servants. The donkey said to himself, 'If my master and all the servants are so fond of that nasty little dog, then imagine what will happen if I do as the dog does. After all, I am better than a dog, much more talented and useful in so many ways! Yes, pure water from the sacred fountains will be mine to drink, and elegant food will be mine to eat, since I am far superior to that little dog. It is time for me to enjoy the finer things in life and to command the respect of everyone around me!'
As the donkey was reflecting on his situation, he saw the master coming in. He let out a great 'hee-haw' and quickly ran to meet him, leaping up and putting his two front feet on his master's shoulders, licking the master with his tongue and tearing the master's clothes with his hooves. The master collapsed under the donkey's weight and at the sound of the master's shout all the servants came running. They grabbed sticks and stones and attacked the donkey, beating him senseless and breaking his back and his legs. Then they chased him off to the stables, exhausted and barely alive.
Unworthy people should not try to usurp the position of their superiors.


During the wintertime, an ant was living off the grain that he had stored up for himself during the summer. The cricket came to the ant and asked him to share some of his grain. The ant said to the cricket, 'And what were you doing all summer long, since you weren't gathering grain to eat?' The cricket replied, 'Because I was busy singing I didn't have time for the harvest.' The ant laughed at the cricket's reply, and hid his heaps of grain deeper in the ground. 'Since you sang like a fool in the summer,' said the ant, 'you better be prepared to dance the winter away!'
This fable depicts lazy, careless people who indulge in foolish pastimes, and therefore lose out.


Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • how did the fox trick the raven?
  • why was it stupid for the crane to help the wolf?
  • what happened to the lion who fell in love with the farmer's daughter?
  • what happened to the stag who admired its reflection in the water?
  • what happened to the dog who saw its reflection in the water?
  • what happened to the donkey in the lion's skin?
  • what happened to the donkey who imitated the little dog?
  • why did the ant refuse to help the cricket?

Source: Laura Gibbs, translator. Aesop's Fables (2003). Weblink.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM