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Aesop's Fables, translated by Laura Gibbs (2002)

Perry 529 (Phaedrus 5.7)

When a fatuous person gets carried away by the slightest breeze of fame and acquires an overly high estimation of his own worth, his ridiculous vanity soon makes him a laughing-stock.
There was a flute player named Prince who was more or less well-known, since he provided the musical accompaniment for Bathyllus the dancer. At one of their shows, I don't remember precisely which one, the stage machinery unexpectedly swung around and Prince tumbled down onto the stage. He broke his left leg and fell flat on his face (he must have been playing in the key of B-flat). They picked him up and carted him off the stage as he moaned and groaned. It took him several months to recover. Given that theatre-goers are such a sentimental and devoted lot, they began to miss him; after all, his flute playing had always roused the dancers to greater heights. A prominent citizen was about to stage a public performance and now that Prince was again able to walk using a cane, the man persuaded him with invitations (and a fee) to at least put in an appearance on the day of the show. As soon as Prince arrived, rumours of the flute player's return buzzed throughout the theatre: while some swore he was dead, others claimed that he was about to show himself to the entire audience in just a moment. Then the curtains parted and there was a thunderous clang announcing the arrival of the gods who made their usual speech, and then the chorus started in with a song that Prince did not recognize, since he had been away from the theatre for several months. The song's refrain went like this: 'Rejoice, O Rome: you are safe now that the prince is well!' The audience stood up to applaud. The flute player blew kisses to them, thinking that his fans were congratulating him on his recovery. The people in the front row seats realized the man's foolish mistake and with a roar of laughter they demanded an encore. The song was repeated, and our hero prostrated himself at full-length on the stage. The front rows continued their mock applause, while the crowd thought Prince was simply bowing in honour of the chorus. Eventually, however, the entire audience realized his mistake and at that point the 'Prince,' dressed in a white gown, his leg wrapped in a white bandage -- he even had white shoes on his feet! -- was tossed headfirst off the stage. His exit met with universal approval, since he had appropriated for himself the honours being paid to the prince of Rome, the divine Caesar himself.

Note: The performer is named 'Prince' (Latin princeps) which was an honorific title bestowed on the Caesars. The name Bathyllus suggests that this anecdote belongs to the time of Caesar Augustus (d. 14 C.E.), as Bathyllus was a favourite performer of Augustus's good friend Maecenas. The 'people in the front row seats' are the members of Rome's equestrian order of citizenry, who had seats set aside for their use in the theatre. The reference to 'B-flat' replaces an untranslatable play on words in the Latin: the musician breaks his left 'tibia,' a word which can also refer to one of the pipes in a pan-pipe.

Source: Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.
NOTE: New cover, with new ISBN, published in 2008; contents of book unchanged.