Aesop's Fables

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

More Aetiologies

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 900 words.

In this section you read two more stories that have an aetiological conclusion - so, for example, if you have ever wondered just why dogs are always sniffing each other's behinds, you are about to find out! You will notice also that these two stories are more elaborate than the aetiological stories you just read on the previous page.


Once upon a time, the dogs sent ambassadors to Jupiter to ask him to improve the conditions of their life and to save them from being mistreated by people who fed them nothing but bread that was full of bran, compelling them to satisfy their hunger with unspeakable filth. The ambassadors set out on their mission but were hardly swift of foot: instead they sniffed for food in heaps of manure and did not even come when called. With considerable difficulty Mercury found them at last and dragged them into heaven. The dogs were wild with excitement but when they glimpsed the face of mighty Jupiter, they were stricken with fear and covered the floors of the palace with shit. They were chased out with clubs and went outside, but Jupiter would not let them depart.
Meanwhile, the dogs back home were surprised when their ambassadors did not return. After a while they concluded that the mission must have ended in an embarrassing failure, so the dogs ordered that other ambassadors be appointed in their place. Eventually they learned the full story of their predecessors' shitty performance, and they were afraid that something similar might happen once again, so this time they stuffed the dogs' behinds full of perfume. The ambassadors received their orders and were sent on their journey; as soon as they requested an audience in heaven, it was granted. The supreme father of the gods took his seat and as he rattled his thunderbolt, the universe quaked. The dogs were startled by the sudden upheaval and promptly pooped, their shit now mixed with perfume. The gods all demanded that the dogs pay for this outrage so Jupiter issued the following decree before punishing the dogs: 'A king cannot refuse ambassadors leave to depart, and it is hard to decide on a penalty that suits their behaviour, but their insolent prank cannot go unrewarded: accordingly, I will not prevent their departure, but I condemn them to a starvation diet, so that they will be able to keep control of their bowels. Meanwhile, those dogs who twice appointed such incontinent incompetents as their ambassadors will forever be humiliated by mankind.'
As a result, dogs of this later age are still on the look-out for their ambassadors, so whenever a strange dog crosses their path, they take a whiff of his behind.


As he was being chased by an eagle, the hare ran to the dung beetle, begging the beetle to save him. The beetle implored the eagle to respect the hare's asylum, solemnly compelling him by the sacred name of Zeus and pleading with the eagle not to disregard him simply because of his small size. But the eagle brushed the beetle aside with a flick of his wing and grabbed the hare, tearing him to pieces and devouring him.
The beetle was enraged and flew off together with the eagle to find the nest in which the eagle kept his eggs. After the eagle was gone, the beetle smashed all the eggs. When the eagle came back, he was dreadfully upset and looked for the creature who had smashed the eggs, intending to tear him to pieces. When it was time for the eagle to nest again, he put his eggs in an even higher place, but the beetle flew all the way up to the nest, smashed the eggs, and went away. The eagle grieved for his little ones and said that this must be the result of some angry plot of Zeus to exterminate the eagle race.
When the next season came, the eagle did not feel secure keeping the eggs in his nest and instead went up to Olympus and placed the eggs in Zeus's lap. The eagle said to Zeus, 'Twice my eggs have been destroyed; this time, I am leaving them here under your protection.' When the beetle found out what the eagle had done, he stuffed himself with dung and went straight up to Zeus and flew right into his face. At the sight of this filthy creature, Zeus was startled and leaped to his feet, forgetting that he held the eagle's eggs inside his lap. As a result, the eggs were broken once again.
Zeus then learned of the wrong that had been done to the beetle, and when the eagle returned, Zeus said to him, 'It is only right that you have lost your little ones, since you mistreated the beetle!' The beetle said, 'The eagle treated me badly, but he also acted very impiously towards you, O Zeus! The eagle did not fear to violate your sacred name, and he killed the one who had taken refuge with me. I will not cease until I have punished the eagle completely!'
Zeus did not want the race of eagles to be wiped out, so he urged the beetle to relent. When his efforts to persuade the beetle failed, Zeus changed the breeding season of the eagles, so that it would take place at a time when the beetles were not found above ground.

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

  • why do dogs sniff each others' behinds?
  • why did the beetle seek revenge against the eagle?
  • why does the eagle lays its eggs when the dung beetle is hibernating?

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