<< Home Page | Oxford (Gibbs) Index

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

Perry 489 (Phaedrus 2.5)

There is a whole population of busybodies at Rome running all over the place excitedly, occupied without any true occupation, huffing and puffing at frivolous pursuits, and making much out of nothing. They are an annoyance to each other and utterly despised by everyone else. Yet I would like to try to correct this crowd, if possible, by means of a true story: it is one worth listening to.
Tiberius Caesar was on his way to Naples and had arrived at his estate in Misenum which had been built by Lucullus on a high hill overlooking the Sicilian sea on one side and the Tuscan sea on the other. When Caesar was walking about in the cheerful greenery, one of his household stewards turned up, dressed in a fancy fringed tunic of Egyptian cotton hanging down from his shoulders. The man began to sprinkle the sizzling hot ground with water from a wooden basin, making a great show of his diligence as Caesar's attendant, but everyone just laughed at him. The man then ran ahead to the next walkway, using some shortcuts known only to himself, and he started settling the dust in that spot as well. When Caesar recognized the man and realized what he was doing, he said, 'Hey you!' The man scampered up to Caesar, excited at the joyful prospect of what seemed a sure reward. Then Caesar's majestic person made the following joke: 'You have not accomplished much and your efforts have come to naught; if you want me to give you the slap that makes you a freedman, it will cost you much more than that!'

Note: Lucullus was a prominent Roman of the first century B.C.E., notorious for his luxurious way of life. Tiberius Caesar, successor to Augustus, reigned from 14 C.E. until his death in 37 C.E. The alapa was a ritual slap which formed part of the legal procedure for a slave's manumission in Rome.

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.