Aesop's Fables

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

The Wolf and the Lamb

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

The story of the wolf and the lamb at the stream is a great example of the pitiless "Realpolitik" of the world of Aesop. What is the moral of a story with such a brutal ending? What is the point of telling such a story? Is this story making fun of the wolf? Making fun of the lamb? Making fun of both of them? Or is this a deeply felt protest against injustice? You will have to decide what you think about it. What moral would you apply to this story?

Aesop's Fables, translated by Laura Gibbs (2002)
THE WOLF AND THE LAMB (from the ancient Greek fable by Babrius; Fable #155)

A wolf once saw a lamb who had wandered away from the flock. He did not want to rush upon the lamb and seize him violently. Instead, he sought a reasonable complaint to justify his hatred. 'You insulted me last year, when you were small' said the wolf. The lamb replied, 'How could I have insulted you last year? I'm not even a year old.' The wolf continued, 'Well, are you not cropping the grass of this field which belongs to me?' The lamb said, 'No, I haven't eaten any grass; I have not even begun to graze.' Finally the wolf exclaimed, 'But didn't you drink from the fountain which I drink from?' The lamb answered, 'It is my mother's breast that gives me my drink.' The wolf then seized the lamb and as he chewed he said, 'You are not going to make this wolf go without his dinner, even if you are able to easily refute every one of my charges!'

Aesop's Fables: Caxton (1484)
Of the wulf and of the lambe

Of the Innocent and of the shrewe Esope reherceth to vs suche a fable how it was so that the lambe and the wulf had bothe thurst and went bothe to a Ryuer for to drynke It happed that the wulf dranke aboue & the lambe dranke bynethe And as the wulf sawe and perceyued the lambe he sayd with a hyghe voys Ha knaue why hast thou troubled and fowled my water whiche I shold now drynke Allas my lord sauf your grece For the water cometh fro yow toward me Thenne sayd the wulf to the lambe Hast thow no shame ne drede to curse me And the lambe sayd My lord with your leue And the wulf sayd ageyne Hit is not syxe monethes passyd that thy fader dyd to me as moche And the lambe ansuerd yet was I not at that tyme born And the wlf said ageyne to hym Thou hast ete my fader And the lambe ansuerd I haue no teeth Thenne said the wulf thou arte wel lyke thy fader and for his synne & mysded thow shalt deye The wulf thenne toke the lambe and ete hym
This fable sheweth that the euylle man retcheth not by what maner he may robbe & destroye the good & innocent man

Aesop's Fables: Sir Roger L'Estrange (1692)

As a Wolf was lapping at the Head of a Fountain, he spy'd a Lamb paddling at the same time a good way off down the Stream. The Wolf had no sooner the Prey in his eye, but away he runs open-mouth to't. Villain (says he) how dare you lie muddling the Water that I'm a drinking? Indeed, says the poor Lamb, I did not think that my drinking here below could have foul'd your Water so far above. Nay, says t'other, you'll never leave your chopping of Logick, till your Skin's turn'd over your Ears, as your Father's was, a matter of six months ago, for prating at this saucy rate; you remember it full well, Sirrah. If you'll believe me, Sir, (quoth the innocent Lamb, with fear and trembling) I was not come into the World then. Why thou Impudence, cries the Wolf, hast thou neither Shame nor Conscience? But it runs in the Blood of your whole Race, Sirrah, to hate our Family; and therefore since Fortune has brought us together so conveniently, you shall e'en pay some of your Forefathers Scores before you and I part. And so without any more ado, he leap'd at the Throat of the miserable helpless Lamb, and tore him immediately to pieces.
THE MORAL OF THE TWO FABLES ABOVE. 'Tis an easy Matter to find a Staff to beat a Dog. Innocence is no Protection against the arbitrary Cruelty of a tyrannical Power; But Reason and Conscience are yet so sacred, that the greatest Villanies are still countenanc'd under that Cloke and Colour.

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

  • why did the wolf tell lies about the lamb?
  • how did the lamb try to defend itself?
  • what happened to the lamb in the end?

Source: Laura Gibbs, translator. Aesop's Fables (2003). Weblink.
Source: Sir Roger L'Estrange published his edition of Aesop's fables in 1692 (modern reprint: 1906). Weblink.
Source: Caxton published his edition of Aesop's fables in 1484. There are modern reprints by Joseph Jacobs (1889) and more recently by Robert Lenaghan (1967). 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