Aesop's Fables, translated by Laura Gibbs (2002)
110. THE LION AND THE UNICORN
Perry 645 (John of Sheppey
One day the lion pretended to be sick and went limping up to the unicorn,
his chief enemy. He greeted the unicorn and said to him, 'Let us put aside
all that we have done in the past, because I am no longer able to harm
anyone at all. As you can see, I am old and suffering from various ailments.
But before I die, I would very much like to speak with my wife who is
out in the desert. So, kind sir, if I might be so bold, I would like to
borrow your horn to use as a walking stick on my journey since it is just
the right length and very sturdy. I promise to return it to you as soon
as I reach my wife; I give you my word.' The unicorn believed the lion
and pitied his feigned distress, so he loaned the lion his horn and was
thus left defenceless. The lion then inflicted a serious wound on the
unicorn and laid him low. The unicorn said, 'You are guilty not so much
of cruelty as of treachery, since you repaid my favour with wickedness
and betrayed the promise you made me.' The lion said, 'You fool, don't
you know that the saying: / The man who prolongs his enemy's life / Takes
something from his own; clemency does not entail / Showing mercy to one's
enemies.' / The unicorn replied, 'You traitor, don't you know that in
the same book it is written: / Let the victory which we contrive by the
sword / Be an honourable victory or no victory at all; / Let not posterity
read that I won by guile; no perfidy / Should obscure my triumph.'
Therefore, as we read in Ecclesiasticus XII: Do not ever trust your
enemy. Always protect yourself from him, even if he comes to you humble
and supplicating. The truth of this is plain to see.
Note: The lion and unicorn are quoting from the twelfth-century Latin
of Chatillon, Alexandreis 2.471-3 and 4.361-6. John of Sheppey was
the Bishop of Rochester (d. 1360).
Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura
Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.
cover, with new ISBN, published in 2008; contents of book unchanged.