Aesop's Fables

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

Foolish People

Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 900 words.

So far the fables you have been reading have focused primarily on animal characters, but there are also some fine Aesop's fables that are not about foolish animals - but about foolish people. In fact, one of the stories you will read in this section is still quite well known: the story of the goose who laid the golden eggs. The story is not really about the goose: it is a story about the goose's foolish human owner!


When Thales the astronomer was gazing up at the sky, he fell into a pit. A Thracian slave woman, who was both wise and witty, is said to have made fun of him for being eager to know what was happening over his head while failing to notice what was right there at his feet.


There was a soothsayer who used to sit in the marketplace and predict the future. Someone suddenly appeared and told the soothsayer that the doors of his house had been forced open and that everything inside had been stolen. The soothsayer groaned and sprang to his feet, rushing off to his house. Someone saw him running and said, 'Hey you! You claim to be able to tell what is going to happen to other people in advance, so why were you not able to predict your own future?'
This is a fable for people who do a poor job of managing their own lives but who nevertheless make pronouncements about things that are none of their business.


A man had a hen that laid a golden egg for him each and every day. The man was not satisfied with this daily profit, and instead he foolishly grasped for more. Expecting to find a treasure inside, the man slaughtered the hen. When he found that the hen did not have a treasure inside her after all, he remarked to himself, 'While chasing after hopes of a treasure, I lost the profit I held in my hands!'
The fable shows that people often grasp for more than they need and thus lose the little they have.


There was a snake who used to lurk around the front door of a farmer's house. [As a result, the farmer became very rich.] One day the snake struck the man's son, biting him on the foot. The boy died on the spot. The boy's parents were filled with immense sorrow and the grief-stricken father seized his axe and tried to kill the malevolent snake. When the snake fled his pursuer, the man hurried after him, raising his weapon, determined to strike, but as the farmer was about to deal the snake a deadly blow, he missed and managed only to cut off the tip of his tail. The man was terrified at the thought that he might have killed the snake, so he took cakes and water along with honey and salt and called to the snake, wanting to make peace with him. The snake, however, only hissed softly at the farmer from where he had hidden himself in the rocks and said: 'Man, do not trouble yourself any longer: there can be no possible friendship between us any more. When I look upon my tail, I am in pain. The same is true for you: whenever you look again upon the grave of your son, you will not be able to live in peace with me.'
The fable shows that no one can put aside thoughts of hatred or revenge so long as he sees a reminder of the pain that he suffered.


A lion entered a farmer's yard and the farmer, wanting to capture the lion, shut the outer gate. The lion, unable to get out, first devoured all the sheep and then turned his attention to the cattle. The farmer became afraid for his own safety so he opened the door. After the lion had gone away, the farmer's wife saw the farmer groaning and said to him, 'It serves you right! Why did you want to shut yourself up with the sort of creature you should run away from, even at a distance?'
In the same way people who provoke those stronger than themselves must naturally suffer the consequences of their mistake.


A farmer picked up a viper that was half-dead from the cold. When the farmer had warmed the viper, the viper uncoiled and grabbed hold of the man's hand and with a fatal bite, he killed the man who had wanted to save him. As he was dying, the man spoke some words that are well worth remembering: 'Well, I got what I deserve for having shown kindness to a scoundrel!'


There are all kinds of stories showing us how women habitually strip a man of his possessions, regardless of whether they are in love with him or he with them.
There was a woman who had a middle-aged man as her lover and although she was no spring chicken herself, she concealed her age with exquisite grace. There was also a beautiful young girl who had caught the man's fancy. Both women wanted to seem a suitable partner for him, so they began plucking out his hair in turn. The man imagined that his looks were being improved by their attentions but in the end he went bald, since the young girl plucked out every one of his gray hairs, while the older woman plucked out all the black ones.

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

  • why did the Thracian woman make fun of the astronomer?
  • what happened to make the soothsayer look like a fool?
  • what happened to the man with the hen that laid golden eggs?
  • what happened to the man who had a lucky snake in his house?
  • what happened to the farmer who trapped a lion in his yard?
  • what happened to the man who warmed a frozen viper?
  • what happened to the man who had two mistresses?

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