<< Home Page | Oxford (Gibbs) Index

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

Perry 336 (Babrius 95)

There was a lion who had fallen ill and was lying in a stony ravine, his sluggish limbs stretched out upon the ground. A friendly fox kept him company, and one day the lion said to her, 'I suppose you want me to survive, so listen: I've got a craving for the deer who lives in that dense thicket of pines there in the wilds of the forest. At the moment I no longer have the strength to go hunting after deer myself, but if you would agree to lay a trap with that honeyed speech of yours, the deer could be within my grasp.' The sly fox went off and found the deer in the wild woodlands, gambolling in a meadow of tender grass. The fox prostrated herself before the deer and greeted her, saying that she had come to relay some auspicious information. 'As you know,' the fox said, 'the lion is my neighbour, but he is very sick and about to die, so he has been thinking about who will be king of the beasts after he is gone. The boar is an idiot, the bear is lazy, the leopard is impulsive, the tiger is a loner who keeps to himself... but he thinks that the deer would make a most worthy ruler, since she has an impressive appearance and lives a long time. And the antlers of the deer can scare away all kinds of snakes, why, the antlers of the deer are like trees, not at all like the horns of a bull! Need I say more? You have been duly elected: you will rule over the beasts of the hills. When that finally happens, O Mistress, remember that it was the fox who was the first to inform you. That is why I came here, and now good-bye, my dear. I need to hurry back to the lion so that he won't be looking for me again; he relies on my advice in absolutely everything. And I think it would be good if you also obeyed that venerable old head. You need to come to his bedside and comfort him in his trouble. Even little things can sway the thoughts of those who are in the last hours of life; the souls of the dying can be seen in their eyes.' This is what the sly fox said to the deer, and the deer's heart swelled at the sound of those deceitful words. She came to the hollow cave of the beast, with no idea of what lay in store for her. The lion recklessly sprang up from his bed and launched a hasty attack, but he only managed to slash the deer's ears with his pointed claws as the wretched creature ran straight out the door and disappeared into the depths of the woods. The fox wrung her hands in frustration, since her efforts had proved utterly futile. As for the lion, he groaned and chewed at thin air, equally beset by both hunger and despair. Once again he summoned the fox and asked her to find yet another trick to use to catch the deer. The fox plumbed the very depths of her cunning and then said, 'This is a difficult task indeed. But nevertheless I will carry out your command!' The fox then set off after the deer, keen as a hound on the trail, devising elaborate traps and all kinds of mischief. Whenever she ran into a shepherd, the fox would ask if he had happened to see a bleeding deer on the run. And when the shepherd had indeed caught a glimpse of the deer, he would point the fox in the right direction. She finally found the deer concealed in the shade, where she had stopped to catch her breath. The fox stood and stared at the deer, eyebrows raised, the very incarnation of shamelessness. A shiver ran down the deer's spine and her legs quivered as she angrily said to the fox, 'Oh you abominable creature! If you dare to come near me or utter so much as a single word, you will live to regret it! Go find some other simpletons that you can outfox; pick someone else to be king and put him on the throne!' But the fox was undaunted and said to the deer, 'Can you really be so mean spirited? So overcome by fear? So suspicious of your friends? The lion only wanted what was good for you! In an attempt to rouse you from your former idleness, he tugged at your ear, as a father might do on his deathbed. He wanted to bestow on you every precept you would need in order to take charge of such a kingdom, but you could not even withstand the touch of his feeble hand! Instead, you violently turned aside, inflicting a serious wound on yourself. As for the lion, at this moment he is even more upset than you are. Now that he has found you to be so untrustworthy and scatter-brained, he says that the wolf will be appointed king. Alas alack, what a wicked master he will be! What shall I do then? You are the one who has brought these evils upon all of us. But come, you must be more brave in the future and not let yourself be as easily frightened as some sheep from the flock. I swear these things to you by all the leaves on the trees and by every spring of water: I want to serve you and only you! There is nothing hostile about the lion's behaviour; his heartfelt wish is to make you queen of all the animals!' With these coaxing words, the fox persuaded the tawny deer to enter once again into that very abode of death. As soon as the lion had the deer trapped in the depths of his den, he enjoyed a full course meal, greedily devouring the flesh of the deer, drinking the marrow from her bones and feasting on her entrails. The fox, meanwhile, stood there waiting; after having delivered the deer, she was craving a share in the spoils. She stealthily grabbed the brains of the deer which had fallen to the ground and gobbled them up: this, then, was the booty which that sly boots got for her work. The lion, meanwhile, had made an inventory of all the deer's parts, and the brains were nowhere to be found. He searched around his couch and all over the house. Then the fox confounded the truth of the matter and said, 'That deer had no brains, so don't waste your time looking for them. What kind of brains do you expect from a creature who would come not once but twice into the den of a lion?'

Note: Babrius has taken a traditional Aesopic joke about the heart as a seat of intelligence (see the preceding two fables for similar examples) and expanded the story at unprecedented length, anticipating in many ways the later medieval beast epic. The belief about the power of the deer's antlers to drive away snakes, as well as her long life, were popular legends in Greece and Rome, although these details are extraneous to the actual plot of this story. A story with the same plot but different characters -- lion, jackal, and donkey -- comprises Book 4 of the Panchatantra.

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.