Aesop: The Grasshopper and the Ant

After the story of how the grasshopper's singing annoyed the owl, I feel obliged to the follow that with the famous fable of the grasshopper and the ant.

I have collected lots of different English versions and illustrations, and here is the one by  V. S. Vernon Jones:


One fine day in winter some Ants were busy drying their store of corn, which had got rather damp during a long spell of rain.

Presently up came a Grasshopper and begged them to spare her a few grains, "For," she said, "I'm simply starving."

The Ants stopped work for a moment, though this was against their principles. "May we ask," said they, "what you were doing with yourself all last summer? Why didn't you collect a store of food for the winter?"

"The fact is," replied the Grasshopper, "I was so busy singing that I hadn't the time."

"If you spent the summer singing," replied the Ants, "you can't do better than spend the winter dancing." And they chuckled and went on with their work.

The Vernon-Jones book is by Arthur Rackham:

There are quite a few versions which are critical of the ant's selfishness, as you can see here in the version by Charles Bennett:


As a rich purse-proud Ant was airing himself at the foot of an old oak tree, beneath the roots of which lay his vast bonded warehouses of Corn, up came a poor starveling Grasshopper to solicit a grain of barley. The selfish Ant told him he should have laboured in Summer if he would not have wanted in Winter.

"But," said the poor Chirper, "I was not idle: I sung out the whole season. I did my best to amuse you and your fellow-husbandmen while you were getting in your harvest."

"If that is the case," returned the Ant with unpardonable callousness, "you may make a merry year of it, and dance in Winter to the tune you sang in Summer."

MORAL. As the world dispenses its payments, it is decreed that the Poet who sings for his breakfast shall whistle for his dinner.

Here is Bennett's illustration:


Aesop: The Owl and the Grasshopper

I was wondering how to follow up the story of the sneaky meals served by the fox and the stork, and the first fable that came to mind is the fable of an owl and a noisy insect, who is sometimes a cicada, and sometimes a grasshopper.. If you have noisy neighbors, you will sympathize with the owl, but please don't do what the owl does!

I've collected different English versions and illustrations of the story, and the one I chose for this post is by Jenny H. Stickeny, illustrated by Charles Livingston Bull.


An Owl, who was sitting in a hollow tree, dozing away a long summer afternoon, was much disturbed by a rogue of a Grasshopper, singing in the grass below. So far from moving away at the request of the Owl, or keeping quiet, the Grasshopper sang all the more, saying that honest people got their sleep at night.

The Owl waited in silence for a while, and then artfully addressed the Grasshopper thus: "I suppose I ought to be angry with you, my dear, for I confess I would rather sleep than listen to your singing. But if one cannot be allowed to sleep, it is something to be kept awake by such a pleasant little pipe as yours. And now it occurs to me that I have some delicious nectar with which to reward a musician who sings so sweetly. If you will take the trouble to come up, you shall have a drop. It will clear your voice nicely."

The silly Grasshopper came hopping up to the Owl, who at once caught and killed him, and so finished her nap in comfort.


Aesop: The Fox and the Stork

Yesterday's fable featured the wolf and the long-beaked bird, which might be a stork or a crane or a heron... the beak is the thing! There's another famous Aesop's fable about a bird with a beak, usually a crane or stork, who outsmarts the fox, whose obviously does not have a long beak like a bird!

I've collected many English versions and illustrations of the fox and the long-beaked bird, and I especially like this short-and-sweet English translation of the Latin fable by the Roman poet Phaedrus:


Harm should be done to no man; but if anyone do an injury, this Fable shows that he may be visited with a like return.

A Fox is said to have given a Stork the first invitation to a banquet, and to have placed before her some thin broth in a flat dish, of which the hungry Stork could in no way get a taste.

Having invited the Fox in return, she set before him a narrow-mouthed jar, full of minced meat: and, thrusting her beak into it, satisfied herself, while she tormented her guest with hunger; who, after having in vain licked the neck of the jar, as we have heard, thus addressed the foreign bird:

“Everyone is bound to bear patiently the results of his own example.” 

Here are two illustrations that show both phases of the story; one by Walter Crane and one by Charles Robinson:


Aesop: The Wolf and the Crane

As promised, here is the Aesop's fable about the wolf with the bone stuck in his throat that is very similar to the jataka story about the lion with the bone stuck in his throat. A big different, as you will see, is that Aesop's bird is not as smart as the Buddha-bird!

In some versions of the Aesop's fable the bird is a stork, while in other versions the bird is a crane, and in other versions a heron. Any long-beaked bird will do! I've collected different English versions and illustrations here, and the one I've chosen to include is the version by Thomas James:


A Wolf had got a bone stuck in his throat, and in the greatest agony ran up and down, beseeching every animal he met to relieve him, at the same time hinting at a very handsome reward to the successful operator.

A Crane, moved by his entreaties and promises, ventured her long neck down the Wolf’s throat, and drew out the bone. She then modestly asked for the promised reward.

To which, the Wolf, grinning and showing his teeth, replied with seeming indignation, "Ungrateful Creature! To ask for any other reward than that you have put your head into a Wolf’s jaws, and brought it safe out again!"

Those who are charitable only in the hope of a return, must not be surprised if, in their dealings with evil men, they meet with more jeers than thanks. 

Here is an illustration by Grandville:


India: The Lion and the Crane

One of my goals this year is to include fables from India as part of this blog, and I wanted to include one here that is very close in spirit to Aesop's fables: this is the story of the lion with a bone stuck in his throat, as told by the Buddha (called Bodhisatta in the Pali language). Tomorrow I'll share the Aesop's fable about the wolf with the bone in his throat which is both like, and also unlike, this story from India.

This is a jataka story, which means it is a "birth story" of the Buddha, a story of one of his past lives. In this story of the past, the Buddha was born as a white crane, and a very wise crane at that!

I am using the version found in Joseph Jacobs' book of Indian fairy tales, which I have slightly shortened here:


The Bodhisatta was at one time born in the region of Himalayas as a white crane.

It chanced that as a lion was eating meat a bone stuck in his throat. The lion's throat became swollen so that he could not take food, and his suffering was terrible.

The crane aw the lion as he was perched on a tree looking for food, and asked, "What ails you, friend?"

The lion told him.

The crane said, "I could free you from that bone, friend, but dare not enter your mouth for fear you might eat me."

"Don't be afraid, friend, I won't eat you; please just save my life."

"Very well," says the crane, and caused the lion to lie down on his left side. But the crane also thought to himself, "Who knows what this fellow will do?" So he placed a small stick upright between the lion's two jaws that the lion could not close his mouth. Then, inserting his head inside the lion's mouth, the crane struck one end of the bone with his beak, and so the bone dropped and fell out.

As soon as the crane had caused the bone to fall, he got out of the lion's mouth, striking the stick with his beak so that it also fell out. The crane then settled on a branch.

The lion got well, and one day was eating a buffalo he had killed. The crane thought "I will test him," and settled on a branch just over the lion. He spoke the following verses to the lion:

A service have we done thee
To the best of our ability,
King of the Beasts! Your Majesty!
What return shall we get from thee?

In reply the Lion spoke the second verse:

I feed on blood, I say,
And I always hunt for prey,
'Tis much that thou art still alive
And, though in my teeth, thou did survive.

Then in reply the crane said the other verses:

He's unkind, ungrateful, and also rude;
In him there is no gratitude.
The lion's friendship is not won
Even by a good deed done.
Better softly go away:
He gives no reason I should stay.

And having thus spoken the crane flew away.

The illustration is by John Batten:


Aesop: The Hawk and the Farmer

After yesterday's fable about the bloodthirsty hawk and the poor pigeons, I thought I would share a different story about a hawk and a pigeon, one in which a quick-witted human character intervenes, and the hawk learns a fatal lesson. The Golden Rule tells us "to do unto others as you would have them do unto you." In this case, though, the fable is about the negative version: "do not do unto others what you would not have done to you."

This is one of the Aesop's fables that comes from the neo-Latin writer known as Abstemius; I had shared a fable from Abstemius here earlier: The Bear and the Bees.

Abstemius calls this fable De accipitre columbam insequente, About the Hawk Pursuing the Dove. I've collected various English-language versions and  illustrations, and the one I want to share here is the one in Croxall's Aesop:


A hawk, pursuing a pigeon over a corn-field with great eagerness and force, threw himself into a net, which a husbandman had planted there to take the crows; who, being employed not far off, and seeing the hawk fluttering in the net, came and took him.

But just as he was going to kill him, the hawk besought him to let him go, assuring him that he was only following a pigeon, and neither intended, nor had done any harm to him.

To whom the farmer replied, “And what harm had the poor pigeon done to you?”

Upon which he wrung his head off immediately.

Here's the illustration from Francis Barlow:


Aesop: The Hawk, The Kite, and the Pigeons

The fable from India that I shared last time was about the frog who foolishly trusted the snake to carry him around, so I thought I would follow that up with the story of the doves (or pigeons) who foolishly put their trust in a hawk (or a kite), thinking he would protect them from their enemies. As the doves soon realize, this was a big mistake!

I've collected different English versions and illustrations here, including this very short version from Townsend's Aesop:


The Pigeons, terrified by the appearance of a Kite, called upon the Hawk to defend them. He at once consented.

When they had admitted him into the cote, they found that he made more havoc and slew a larger number of them in one day than the Kite could pounce upon in a whole year.

Avoid a remedy that is worse than the disease.

~ ~ ~

And here is an English prose translation of the version by the ancient Roman poet Phaedrus. In this version, the pigeons elect the kite as their king:


He who entrusts himself to the protection of a wicked man, while he seeks assistance, meets with destruction.

Some Pigeons, having often escaped from a Kite, and by their swiftness of wing avoided death, the spoiler had recourse to stratagem, and by a crafty device of this nature, deceived the harmless race. “Why do you prefer to live a life of anxiety, rather than conclude a treaty, and make me your king, who can ensure your safety from every injury?”

They, putting confidence in him, entrusted themselves to the Kite, who, on obtaining the sovereignty, began to devour them one by one, and to exercise authority with his cruel talons.

Then said one of those that were left: “Deservedly are we smitten.”

This illustration is by Paul Bransom: