Aesop's Fables

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

Court of the Lion King

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 700 words.

Since the fables often have animal characters, it is not surprising that the animals are sometimes organized into a kind of animal society - and it is the lion who is their king. But we are not talking Disney's The Lion King here. This lion is a very formidable character. One of the motifs here is "the lion's share", which is still a phrase people use all the time today even if they don't know the fable that it comes from. What do you think the "lion's share" means? Many people use the phrase as it just meant "the biggest portion" - but as you will see from the fables, it has a much more sinister meaning in Aesop.


An alliance made with the high and mighty can never be trusted. This little fable proves my point.
A cow and a she-goat and a long-suffering sheep decided to become the lion's companions. They went into the forest together and there they caught an extremely large stag which they divided into four portions. Then the lion said, 'I claim the first portion by right of my title, since I am called the king; the second portion you will give me as your partner; then, because I am strongest, the third portion is mine ... and woe betide anyone who dares to touch the fourth!'
In this way the wicked lion carried off all the spoils for himself.


The lion, the wolf, and the fox agreed to go hunting together. The fox caught a goose, the wolf caught a fat ram, and the lion caught a scrawny cow. Then it was time to eat. The lion told the wolf to divide their catch. The wolf said, 'Let each one take what he has caught: the lion will take the cow, I'll take the ram, and the fox will take the goose.' The lion was enraged and, raising his paw, he used his claws to strip the wolf's head of all its fur and skin. The lion then ordered the fox to divide the spoils. The fox said, 'My lord, you should eat as much of the fat ram as you want, since its meat is tender, then you should eat as much of the goose as you want, but you should eat the cow's flesh only in moderation, since it is so tough. Whatever is left over you can give to us, your servants.' 'Well done,' said the lion. 'Who taught you how to do such a good job of dividing the spoils?' The fox said, 'My lord, I have learned from my associate's red cap: his excoriated skull provides a very vivid lesson.' 


The lion had grown old and sick and was lying in his cave. All the animals, except for the fox, had come to visit their king. The wolf seized this opportunity to denounce the fox in front of the lion, complaining that the fox showed no respect for the lion, who was the common master of them all. Indeed, the fox had not even come to pay the ailing lion a visit! The fox arrived just in time to hear the end of the wolf's speech. The lion roared at the fox, but the fox asked for a chance to explain herself. 'After all,' said the fox, 'which one of all the animals assembled here has helped you as I have, travelling all over the world in order to seek out and discover from the doctors a remedy for your illness?' The lion ordered the fox to describe the remedy immediately, and the fox replied, 'You must flay a living wolf and wrap yourself in his skin while it is still warm.' When the wolf had been killed, the fox laughed and said, 'It is better to put your master in a good mood, not a bad one.'
The story shows that someone who plots against others falls into his own trap. 


A lion had gotten old and weak. He pretended to be sick, which was just a ruse to make the other animals come pay their respects so that he could eat them all up, one by one. The fox also came to see the lion, but she greeted him from outside the cave. The lion asked the fox why she didn't come in. The fox replied, 'Because I see the tracks of those going in, but none coming out.'
Other people's lives are lessons in how we can avoid danger: it is easy to enter the house of a powerful man, but once you are inside, it may already be too late to get out.

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

  • what happened to the cow, the goat, and the sheep who went hunting with the lion?
  • what happened to the fox and the wolf who went hunting with the lion?
  • what happened to the wolf who tried to get the fox into trouble?
  • why did the fox refuse to go into the cave of the lion?

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