Aesop's Fables, translated by Laura Gibbs (2002)
588. THE COBBLER AND THE KING
Perry 475 (Phaedrus
An untalented cobbler had gone completely broke, so he set up shop as
a doctor in a town where no one knew him. By marketing an 'antidote' with
a fictitious name and making all sorts of extravagant claims, the cobbler
gained a wide reputation. When the king of the city had grave need of
a doctor, he decided to put this man to the test: he called for a goblet,
filled it with water and pretended to mix the doctor's antidote together
with a fatal poison. The king then ordered the doctor to drink the mixture,
offering him a reward if he would do so. The prospect of death scared
the cobbler into confessing that he had no knowledge of medicine whatsoever
and that he had in fact acquired his fame only thanks to universal gullibility.
The king then assembled the people and said to them, 'Are you completely
out of your minds? You willingly trusted this man in matters of life and
death when he could not even be trusted in matters of boots and shoes!'
I would say this story is well suited to situations in which swindlers
take advantage of other people's foolishness.
Note: The punch line in Latin depends on the dual meaning of caput,
both 'head' but also 'life': the king makes fun of the people for having
trusted their heads (lives) to the very man to whom they would not even
trust their feet. Cobblers were proverbially incapable of taking up
other professions: 'don't let the cobbler make pronouncements on anything
above the sole' (Valerius
Maximus 8.12.3; cf. the English proverb, 'let the cobbler stick
to his last.').
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.