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Perry's Index to the Aesopica

Fables exist in many versions; here is one version in English:


A woman had lost her beloved husband of many years and had laid his body in the ground. It was impossible to tear her away from his grave, and she filled her days with weeping. Everyone repeated glowingly that this woman was an example of a truly faithful wife. Meanwhile, some men who had pillaged the temple of Jupiter were condemned to death for their crime against the god. After they had been crucified, soldiers were stationed by the crosses so that the families of the executed criminals could not recover their bodies. This all took place next to the tomb where the woman had secluded herself. One of the guards happened to be thirsty and asked the woman's maidservant to bring him some water in the middle of the night. As it happened, the maid had been helping her mistress prepare for bed, as the widow had maintained her vigil long into the night and was still sitting up by the light of the lamp. The door was open just a crack and when the soldier peeped inside, he saw a woman of exceptional beauty. He was immediately enthralled and inflamed with lust, and an irresistible desire began gradually to well up inside him. His crafty ingenuity found a thousand reasons to see the widow again and again. Acquiescing to this regular daily contact, the widow slowly but surely became more and more inclined towards her guest, and soon an even closer bond united her heart to his. While the guard was spending his nights in the widow's embrace, one of the corpses was spirited away from the cross. The soldier was upset and told the woman what had happened. That exemplary woman said, 'Don't worry!' and with these words, she handed over her husband's corpse to be nailed to the cross, so that the soldier would not be punished for dereliction of duty.
That is how debauchery besieges a bastion of fair repute.

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.


There are two fables of "graveyard seduction." In Perry 388, a man pretends to be lamenting his dead wife in order to seduce a widow who is mourning her dead husband; while they are making love, the man's oxen are stolen and he bursts into tears: "now I really have a reason to weep!" In Perry 543, "The Widow of Ephesus," a soldier who is guarding a criminal's corpse seduces a woman who is mourning her husband. While they are making love, the criminal's corpse is stolen away and so they take the widow's husband's body, and hang it up in place of the stolen corpse.

Perry 543: Caxton 3.9 [English]
Perry 543: Gibbs (Oxford) 577 [English]
Perry 543: Steinhowel 3.9 [Latin, illustrated] Mannheim University Library
Perry 543: Phaedrus 6.15 [Latin]
Perry 543: Rom. Anglicus 29 [Latin]
Perry 543: Rom. Nil. (rhythmica) 2.13 [Latin]
Perry 543: Walter of England 48 [Latin]

You can find a compilation of Perry's index to the Aesopica in the gigantic appendix to his edition of Babrius and Phaedrus for the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1965). This book is an absolute must for anyone interested in the Aesopic fable tradition. Invaluable.