Aesop's Fables

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

The Lion and the Mouse

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

There are not too many Aesop's fables with a truly happy ending: but this story is an exception to that rule. You are going to see here a foolish lion - far too proud and sure of himself. But this lion is luckier than most of the other characters in Aesop: he gets to learn his lesson, and he doesn't lose his life in the process!

Aesop's Fables, translated by Laura Gibbs (2002)
THE LION AND THE MOUSE (from medieval Latin fable by Ademar; Fable #150)

Some field-mice were playing in the woods where a lion was sleeping when one of the mice accidentally ran over the lion. The lion woke up and immediately grabbed the wretched little mouse with his paw. The mouse begged for mercy, since he had not meant to do the lion any harm. The lion decided that to kill such a tiny creature would be a cause for reproach rather than glory, so he forgave the mouse and let him go. A few days later, the lion fell into a pit and was trapped. He started to roar, and when the mouse heard him, he came running. Recognizing the lion in the trap, the mouse said to him, 'I have not forgotten the kindness that you showed me!' The mouse then began to gnaw at the cords binding the lion, cutting through the strands and undoing the clever ingenuity of the hunter's art. The mouse was thus able to restore the lion to the woods, setting him free from his captivity.
Let no one dare to harm even the smallest among us.

Aesop's Fables: Caxton (1484)
Of the lyon and of the rat

The myghty and puyssaunt must pardonne and forgyue to the lytyll and feble and ought to kepe hym fro al euylle For oftyme the lytyll may welgyue ayde and help to the grete wherof Esope reherceth to vs suche a fable Of a lyon whiche slepte in a forest and the rats disported and playd aboute hym It happed that the rat wente vpon the lyon wherfore the lyon awoke and within his clawes or ongles he tooke the rat And whanne the rat sawe hym thus taken & hold sayd thus to the lyon My lord pardonne me For of my deth nought ye shalle wynne For I supposed not to haue done to yow ony harme ne displaysyre Thenne thought the lyon in hym self that no worship ne glorye it were to put it to dethe wherfor he graunted his pardone and lete hym go within a lytell whyle After this it happed so that the same lyon was take at a grete trappe And as he sawe hym thus caught and taken he beganne to crye and make sorowe And thenne whan the rat herd hym crye he approched hym & demaunded of hym wherfor he cryed And the lyon ansuerd to hym Seest thow not how I am take and bound with this gynne Thenne sayd the ratte to hym My lord I wylle not be vnkynde but euer I shal remembre the grace whiche thou hast done to me And yf I can I shall now helpe the The ratte beganne to byte the lace or cord and so long he knawed it that the lace brake And thus the lyon escaped
Therfore this fable techeth vs how that a man myghty and puyssaunt ought to disprayse the lytyll For somtyme he that can no body hurte ne lette may at a nede gyue help and ayde to the grete

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

Upon the roaring of a Beast in the Wood, a Mouse ran presently out to see what News: and what was it but a Lion hamper’d in a Net! This Accident brought to her mind, how that she her self, but some few Days before, had fall’n under the Paw of a certain generous Lion, that let her go again. Upon a strict Enquiry into the Matter, she found this to be that very Lion, and so set herself presently to work upon the Couplings of the Net, gnaw’d the Threads to pieces, and in Gratitude deliver’d her Preserver.
THE MORAL Without good Nature and Gratitude, Men had as good live in a Wilderness as in a Society. There is no Subject so inconsiderable, but his Prince, at some time or other may have occasion for him: and it holds through the whole Scale of the Creation, that the Great and Little have need one of another.

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

  • why did the lion let the mouse go?
  • why did the lion need the mouse's help?
  • what are the possible morals for this story?

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