Aesop's Fables

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

The Eagle and the Fox

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

This last fable is one of my very favorites, exactly because of the very different versions of the story that existed in antiquity. Pay careful attention to the ending of the different versions of this story, because you will find that there are two very different possible endings to the story!

Aesop's Fables, translated by Laura Gibbs (2002)
THE EAGLE AND THE FOX (from the medieval Greek fable by Syntipas; Fable #1)

The eagle befriended the fox but he later devoured the fox's pups. Since she had no power over the eagle, the fox prayed to the gods for justice. Then one day when a sacrifice was burning upon an altar, the eagle flew down and grabbed the sizzling meat to carry it off to his chicks. The meat was so hot that as soon as the chicks ate it, they died.
This fable shows that even if the victims of powerful and wicked people cannot get revenge directly, the gods will nevertheless inflict a punishment on them in response to their victims' prayers.

Aesop's Fables, translated by Laura Gibbs (2002)
THE EAGLE AND THE FOX (from the ancient Latin fable by Phaedrus)

Even a high and mighty person should beware of his inferiors; their ingenuity can find a way to take revenge.
There was once an eagle who stole the cubs of a fox and carried them off to her nest as food for her chicks to peck at. The mother fox set off in pursuit, begging the eagle not to impose this unbearable loss on such a miserable creature as herself. The eagle scoffed at her request, fully confident in the loftiness of her own position. The fox then snatched a burning faggot from the altar and completely surrounded the tree with flames, threatening pain to her enemy at the cost of her own flesh and blood. The eagle conceded: in order to snatch her chicks from the maw of death, she returned the fox's cubs unharmed.

Aesop's Fables: Caxton (1484)
Of the Egle and of the foxe

How the puyssaunt & myghty must doubte the feble Esope reherceth to vs suche a fable / Ther was an Egle whiche came ther as yong foxes were / and took awey one of them / and gaf hit to his yonge egles to fede them with The foxe wente after hym & praid hym to restore and gyue hym ageyne his yong foxe / And the Egle sayd that he wold not / For he was ouer hym lord and maister / And thenne the foxe fulle of shrewdnes and of malyce beganne to put to gyder grete habondaunce of strawe round aboute the tree / where vpon the egle and his yonge were in theyr nest / and kyndeled it with fyre / And whan the smoke and the flambe began to ryse vpward / the Egle ferdfulle and doubtyng the dethe of her lytylle egles restored ageyne the yonge foxe to his moder
This fable sheweth vs / how the myghty men oughte not to lette in ony thynge the smale folke / For the lytyll ryght ofte may lette and trouble the grete

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

There was a Bargain struck up betwixt an Eagle and a Fox to be wonderful good Neighbours and Friends. The one took up in a Thicket of Brushwood, and the other timber’d upon a Tree hard by. The Eagle one day when the Fox was abroad a foraging, fell into his Quarters, and carried away a whole Litter of Cubs at a Swoop. The Fox came time enough back to see the Eagle upon the Wing with her Prey in the Foot, and to send many a heavy Curse after her; but there was no overtaking her. It happen’d in a very short time after this, upon the sacrificing of a Goat, that the same Eagle made a swoop at a Piece of Flesh upon the Altar, and she took it away to her Young: But some live Coals it seems that stuck to’t, set the Nest on Fire. The Birds were not as yet fledged enough to shift for themselves, but upon sprawling and struggling to get clear of the Flame, down they tumbled, half-roasted, into the very Mouth of the Fox, that stood gaping under the Tree to see the End on’t: So that the Fox had the Satisfaction at last of devouring the Children of her Enemy in the very sight of the Dam.
THE MORAL. God reserves to himself the Punishment of faithless and oppressing Governors, and the vindication of his own Worship and Altars.

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

  • how did the eagle betray the fox?
  • what happens at the end of the story in the versions by Syntipas and Sir Roger L'Estrange?
  • what happens at the end of the story in the versions by Phaedrus and Caxton?

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