Aesop's Fables

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

The Flock

Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 1000 words.

Even more important than the fables about the animal kingdom are the fables about the flock. There are many, many Aesop's fables about sheep and shepherds and sheepdogs... and wolves! One of the fables that is still pretty widely known, in fact, is the story of the "boy who cried wolf," which is one of the stories you will find in this section.


The wolves wanted to make friends with the dogs, so they said, 'Since we have so much in common, why don't you treat us as your brothers and friends? It is merely our attitude that divides us. We wolves all live a life of freedom, while you dogs are the slaves of people who make you wear collars around your necks and who beat you with sticks whenever it pleases them. And that is not your only hardship: you even have to guard their flocks and, what's worse, when they are eating their dinner, they toss you nothing but the bones as your share. If you will agree to our bargain, you can turn everything over to us and we'll eat our fill together.' Right away the dogs agreed, so the wolves attacked the flock, and right away they killed the dogs, so that the flock could not call out for help against the wolves.
The fable shows that these are the wages of people who betray their country.


The wolves sent messengers to the sheep, offering to swear a sacred oath of everlasting peace if the sheep would just agree to hand over the dogs for punishment. It was all because of the dogs, said the wolves, that the sheep and the wolves were at war with one another. The flock of sheep, those foolish creatures who bleat at everything, were ready to send the dogs away but there was an old ram among them whose deep fleece shivered and stood on end. 'What kind of negotiation is this!' he exclaimed. 'How can I hope to survive in your company unless we have guards? Even now, with the dogs keeping watch, I cannot graze in safety.'


A shepherd found some wolf cubs and he brought them up, thinking that the fully grown wolves would both guard his flock and steal other people's sheep to bring back to his sheepfold. But when the cubs grew up, the first thing they did was to destroy the man's own flock. The man groaned and said, 'It serves me right! Why didn't I kill them when they were little?'
The story shows that when people harbor a criminal they become his first victims without even realizing it.


A wolf followed along after a flock of sheep without doing them any harm. At first the shepherd kept his eye on the wolf as a potential enemy to the flock and never let him out of his sight. But as the wolf continued to accompany the shepherd and did not make any kind of attempt to raid the flock, the shepherd eventually began to regard the wolf more as a guardian of the flock than as a threat. Then, when the shepherd happened to have to go to town, he commended the sheep to the wolf in his absence. The wolf seized his chance and attacked the sheep, slaughtering most of the flock. When the shepherd came back and saw that his flock had been utterly destroyed, he said, 'It serves me right! How could I have ever trusted my sheep to a wolf?'
The same is true of people: if you entrust your bank deposits to greedy men, you are certain to get robbed.


Relatives and friends who cannot agree with one another will come to a bad end, as the following fable tells us.
Some wethers had been gathered together in a flock with the rams. Although the sheep realized that the butcher had come into the flock, they pretended not to see him. Even when they saw one of their own seized by the butcher's deadly hands and taken away to be slaughtered, still the sheep were not afraid. Foolishly, they said to one another, 'He keeps his hands off me, he keeps his hands off you; let him take whom he takes.' In the end, there was only one sheep left. This is what he reportedly said to the butcher when he saw that he too was about to be taken away: 'We deserve to be slaughtered one after another since we didn't realize what was happening until it was too late. The fact is, as soon as we saw you here in our midst, back when we were all together, we should have killed you at once by smashing you between our horns.'
This fable shows that people who do not keep an eye out for their own safety will be utterly destroyed by evil.

Note: This fable is strikingly similar to the 'first they came' parable of Pastor Martin Niemoeller (1892-1984): 'First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.'


There was a boy tending the sheep who would continually go up to the embankment and shout, 'Help, there's a wolf!' The farmers would all come running only to find out that what the boy said was not true. Then one day there really was a wolf but when the boy shouted, they didn't believe him and no one came to his aid. The whole flock was eaten by the wolf.
The story shows that this is how liars are rewarded: even if they tell the truth, no one believes them.


This is one of Aesop's fables. A wolf saw some shepherds eating a lamb in their tent. He approached the shepherds and said, 'Why, what a great uproar there would be if I were to do the same thing!'

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

  • why happened when the dogs made a peace treaty with the wolves?
  • why did the ram not want to make peace with the wolves?
  • what happened when the shepherd decided to raise a wolf cub?
  • what happened when the shepherd let the wolf watch his sheep?
  • what happened when the sheep decided not to attack the butcher?
  • what happened to the boy who cried "wolf"?
  • why does the wolf accuse the shepherds of being hypocrites?

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