Fables européennes

“L’histoire n’est qu’une fable convenue.”

Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle, écrivain français, 18ème siècle

Partout en Europe, les enfants doivent une grande partie de leur éducation, non pas aux enseignants et à leurs manuels, mais aux fables. Qui peut oublier la tortue endurante, la fourmi travailleuse ou le corbeau naïf qui ont tant façonné nos enfances ? Nous avons peut-être fini par détester le lièvre arrogant, le loup vicieux et la cigale paresseuse pour leurs défauts moraux et pour ce qu’ils ont fait à leurs compagnons animaux. Mais peut-être nous ont-elles aussi enseigné une leçon – contre la procrastination la méchanceté ou les caprices. Contrairement aux contes de fées, les fables contiennent une morale claire, avec des animaux utilisés pour présenter les traits humains de manière allégorique. Les fables ont fleuri dans les salons de l’Europe du XVIIIe siècle – avec La Fontaine et Lessing en tête, relançant le genre développé durant la Grèce antique par Ésope. Mais d’autres fabulistes moins connus ont donné au genre des trésors littéraires remarquables. Ce ne sont peut-être pas les références dont vous avez entendu parler dans votre pays, mais elles nous livrent toutes une histoire fabuleuse sur des personnages aussi méconnus que le chameau, le paon ou l’éléphant…

Portugal

Le Grillon et le Canari
O Grilo e o Canário
Écrit par João de Deus, 1911

Qu’est-ce que le Grillon et le Canari ont en commun ? Ils chantent tous les deux ! Mais l’un de manière mélodieuse, et l’autre d’un ton monotone. Bien que son chant soit moins beau, le Grillon a quelque chose de plus important encore : sa liberté. Nous devons cette fable assez méconnue au poète du XIXe siècle João de Deus.

Á janella, para alegrar
A frontaria d’um modesto lar,
Uma senhora
Tinha um canario mais um grillo.
E pleno dia, quando o sol brilhava,
O canario cantava
Que era um encanto ouvil-o.
Mas o outro cantor,
Como se tambem fôra
Músico de valor,
Impertinente
Repetia continuamente
O seau monótono e ruidoso trillo.

Aconteceu, porém,
Que se travaram de razões
O grillo e o canario.
E diz este (solene, como quem,
Tendo firmes as suas convicções,
Já lhe sobrasse a paciencia
Para calar, prudente ou temerario,
O que sentia em sua consciência) :
« Porque motivo
« Insistes n’esse teu canto enfadonho,
« Onde não ha palipitação d’um sonho,
« Nenhum génio inventivo ?
« Aqui de perto
« Eu canto. E não te basta
« Ouvir-me a mim cantar?
« Pois não é certo
« Que a melodia é vasta
« E variada a fórma de gorgear ? »

O grillo ouviu, ouviu…
Reflectiu,
E respondeu depois :

« Tudo no mundo tem razão de ser,
« Se cada qual occupa o seu logar ;
« Entre nós dois,
« Só ha que ver
« Que não se está onde se deve estar.

« Cantasses tu em plena liberdade,
« Na rama d’uma arvore subida,
« Era maior a tua magestade
« E mais alegre a tua vida ! »

Por minha parte
(Sem nenhuma vaidade pessoal,
« Que eu não consegui nunca fazer arte)
« Sempre direi que não ficava mal,
« Lá pelos campos d’onde vim,
« Este meu canto, repetido, igual,
« Este meu canto tal et qual assim
« Que apenas val’
« Pelo que diz de mim ! »

Tinha razão o grillo. Com effeito,
A vida é, no conjunto, uma harmonia,
Em que a verdade é Deus, uno e perfeito.
Toda a expressão da natureza é bella!
E toda ella,
Quando não fôr,
Nem poder ser motivo de alegria,
Que ao menos sirva a compensar na dôr.

Pois que, de resto, o mal,
Principal
Só existe
E consiste
Em alterar a ordem natural.

A sa fenêtre, sans trop de façon
Sur la façade d’une modeste maison,
Une dame
Avait un canari et un grillon.
Et au milieu de la journée, quand le soleil brillait,
Le canari chantait
Cela donnait plaisir au cœur.
Mais de l’autre chanteur,
Comme si lui aussi, se croyait
Musicien de valeur,
Répétait impertinemment
Et continuellement
Son cri monotone et bruyant.

C’est ainsi, que par la belle saison,
En vinrent à converser sans raison
Le Canari et le Grillon.
Et le premier (solennel et patibulaire,
Tenant ferme à ses convictions,
Et toujours avec assez de patience
Silencieux, prudent et téméraire,
Dit ce qu’il ressentait en conscience) :
« Pourquoi donc insister
« sur cette mélodie ennuyeuse,
« qui ne montre ni pensée rêveuse,
« Ni le moindre génie futé ?
« Écoute donc avec entrain
« Mon chant, son faste
« M’entends-tu chanter ?
« Car, n’est-il pas certain
« Que la mélodie est vaste
« Et les manières de vocaliser variées ? »

Le Grillon écoutait, écoutait…
Et réfléchissait,
Avant de répondre à peine plus tard :

« Tout dans le monde a une raison d’être,
« Si chacun occupe sa place;
« Et entre nous deux,
« Il n’y a qu’à voir
« Que tu n’es pas là où tu devrais être.

« Tu devrais chanter en toute liberté,
« Sur la branche d’un arbre sauvage,
« Plus grande en serait ta majesté
« Et ta vie, plus sage ! »

Pour ma part,
(Sans aucune vanité déplacée,
« Je n’ai jamais prétendu faire de l’art)
« Je dirai toujours que mon chant n’avait pas l’air mauvais,
« Là, dans les champs où je suis né,
« Cette chanson à moi, répétée sans peine,
« Cette chanson à moi telle qu’elle est
« Ne vaut juste à peine
« Ce que tu en dis de moi ! »

Le Grillon avait raison. En effet,
La vie est, dans l’ensemble, une harmonie,
Dans lequel la vérité est Dieu, un et parfait.
Toute l’expression de la nature est infinie !
Et tout d’elle,
Quand elle n’est pas existentielle,
Si elle n’est pas cause de douceur,
Peut au moins servir à compenser la douleur.

Pour le reste, le mal,
Essentiel
Juste existe
Et simplement consiste
A vouloir changer l’ordre naturel.

Espagne

La Grenouille et la Poule
La Rana y la Gallina
Écrit par Tomás de Iriarte, 1782

La Grenouille et la Poule sont des voisins turbulents. La Poule aime chanter chaque fois qu’elle pond un œuf, tandis que la Grenouille croasse toute la nuit sans raison. Cette fable raconte leur querelle et leur point de rupture. Elle a été écrite par Tomás de Iriarte, un célèbre fabuliste espagnol du 18ème siècle. Ses Fábulas literarias (1782) sont composées en vers et sont réputées pour leurs attaques humoristiques contre les habitudes littéraires de l’époque.

Desde su charco, una parlera rana
oyó cacarear a una gallina.
«¡Vaya! -le dijo-; no creyera, hermana,
que fueras tan incómoda vecina.
Y con toda esa bulla, ¿qué hay de nuevo?»
«Nada, sino anunciar que pongo un huevo».

«¿Un huevo sólo? ¡Y alborotas tanto!»
«Un huevo sólo, sí, señora mía.
¿Te espantas de eso, cuando no me espanto
de oírte cómo graznas noche y día?
Yo, porque sirvo de algo, lo publico;
tú, que de nada sirves, calla el pico».

De la mare où elle vivait, une Grenouille babillarde entendit caqueter une Poule.
Je n’aurais pas cru ma chère, lui dit-elle, que vous fussiez une voisine si incommode. À quoi bon tant de bruit ? Qu’y a-t-il de nouveau ?

Rien, dit la Poule, j’annonçais seulement que je ponds un oeuf.
Quoi ! Pour un oeuf vous dérangez autant ?

Oui madame la Grenouille, pour un oeuf je fais tant de bruit. Cela vous surprend tandis que moi je ne m’étonne point de vous entrendre croasser jour et nuit.
Moi, comme je suis utile, je le célèbre; toi qui ne sers à rien, tais-toi.

On accepte le bruit de celui qui travaille; celui qui ne fait rien, qu’il se taise.

France

Le Corbeau et le Renard
Écrit par Jean de La Fontaine, 1668

Un Corbeau se retire sur une branche pour savourer le délicieux fromage qu’il vient de trouver. Un Renard, avide et rusé, le voulant pour lui-même, loue la beauté du Corbeau et demande si sa voix est douce. Le Corbeau tombe dans le piège de la flatterie : ouvrant son bec pour chanter, il fait tomber le fromage dans la gueule grande ouverte du Renard. Le Corbeau et le Renard est peut-être l’une des fables modernes les plus connues, empruntée et réinventée au fil des siècles depuis la mort de Jean de La Fontaine.

Maître Corbeau, sur un arbre perché,
Tenait en son bec un fromage.
Maître Renard, par l’odeur alléché,
Lui tint à peu près ce langage :
Et bonjour, Monsieur du Corbeau.
Que vous êtes joli ! que vous me semblez beau !
Sans mentir, si votre ramage
Se rapporte à votre plumage,
Vous êtes le Phénix des hôtes de ces bois.
À ces mots, le Corbeau ne se sent pas de joie ;
Et pour montrer sa belle voix,
Il ouvre un large bec, laisse tomber sa proie.
Le Renard s’en saisit, et dit : Mon bon Monsieur,
Apprenez que tout flatteur
Vit aux dépens de celui qui l’écoute.
Cette leçon vaut bien un fromage, sans doute.

Le Corbeau honteux et confus
Jura, mais un peu tard, qu’on ne l’y prendrait plus.

Islande

Introuvable

L’Islande, connue comme une terre de légendes et de sagas, semble avoir boudé les fables – en tout cas, dans le format que nous connaissons, tel que développé par Ésope et ressuscité par La Fontaine. Les fables ne semblent pas être parvenues au Pays du feu et de la glace, ou du moins pas autant que sur le reste du vieux continent. Mais si vous connaissez une fable originale d’Islande, faites-le nous savoir ici et aidez-nous à élargir cette liste !

Irlande

L’Histoire Vraie du Lièvre et de la Tortue
The True History of the Hare and the Tortoise
Écrit par Lord Dunsany, 1915

Ce classique de 1915 est, certes, la vieille fable, mais racontée avec un flair politique contemporain et une touche drôle et cynique. Edward Plunkett, 18e baron de Dunsany, était un écrivain irlandais prolifique. Il a produit cette version alternative de la fable d’Esope comme une sorte de satire politique, où chaque parti adopte des slogans dénués de sens et où le vainqueur ne doit rien au mérite, avec des conséquences dévastatrices lorsqu’un désastre, sous la forme d’un incendie de forêt, frappe.

For a long time there was doubt with acrimony among the beasts as to whether the Hare or the Tortoise could run the swifter. Some said the Hare was the swifter of the two because he had such long ears, and others said the Tortoise was the swifter because anyone whose shell was so hard as that should be able to run hard too.

And lo, the forces of estrangement and disorder perpetually postponed a decisive contest.

But when there was nearly war among the beasts, at last an arrangement was come to and it was decided that the Hare and the Tortoise should run a race of five hundred yards so that all should see who was right.
“Ridiculous nonsense!” said the Hare, and it was all his backers could do to get him to run.
“The contest is most welcome to me,” said the Tortoise, “I shall not shirk it.”

O, how his backers cheered.

Feeling ran high on the day of the race; the goose rushed at the fox and nearly pecked him. Both sides spoke loudly of the approaching victory up to the very moment of the race.
“I am absolutely confident of success,” said the Tortoise. But the Hare said nothing, he looked bored and cross. Some of his supporters deserted him then and went to the other side, who were loudly cheering the Tortoise’s inspiriting words. But many remained with the Hare. “We shall not be disappointed in him,” they said. “A beast with such long ears is bound to win.”
“Run hard,” said the supporters of the Tortoise.

And “run hard” became a kind of catch-phrase which everybody repeated to one another. “Hard shell and hard living. That’s what the country wants. Run hard,” they said. And these words were never uttered but multitudes cheered from their hearts.

Then they were off, and suddenly there was a hush.

The Hare dashed off for about a hundred yards, then he looked round to see where his rival was.
“It is rather absurd,” he said, “to race with a Tortoise.” And he sat down and scratched himself. “Run hard! Run hard!” shouted some.
“Let him rest,” shouted others. And “let him rest” became a catch-phrase too.

And after a while his rival drew near to him.
“There comes that damned Tortoise,” said the Hare, and he got up and ran as hard as could be so that he should not let the Tortoise beat him.
“Those ears will win,” said his friends. “Those ears will win; and establish upon an incontestable footing the truth of what we have said.” And some of them turned to the backers of the Tortoise and said: “What about your beast now?”
“Run hard,” they replied. “Run hard.”

The Hare ran on for nearly three hundred yards, nearly in fact as far as the winning-post, when it suddenly struck him what a fool he looked running races with a
Tortoise who was nowhere in sight, and he sat down again and scratched.
“Run hard. Run hard,” said the crowd, and “Let him rest.”
“Whatever is the use of it?” said the Hare, and this time he stopped for good. Some say he slept.

There was desperate excitement for an hour or two, and then the Tortoise won.

”Run hard. Run hard,” shouted his backers. “Hard shell and hard living: that’s what has done it.” And then they asked the Tortoise what his achievement signified, and he went and asked the Turtle. And the Turtle said, “It is a glorious victory for the forces of swiftness.” And then the Tortoise repeated it to his friends. And all the beasts said nothing else for years. And even to this day, “a glorious victory for the forces of swiftness” is a catch-phrase in the house of the snail.

And the reason that this version of the race is not widely known is that very few of those that witnessed it survived the great forest-fire that happened shortly after.
It came up over the weald by night with a great wind. The Hare and the Tortoise and a very few of the beasts saw it far off from a high bare hill that was at the edge of the trees, and they hurriedly called a meeting to decide what messenger they should send to warn the beasts in the forest.

They sent the Tortoise.

Pendant longtemps, les bêtes doutèrent avec acrimonie de savoir qui, du Lièvre ou de la Tortue, pouvait courir le plus vite. Certains dirent que le Lièvre était le plus rapide des deux parce qu’il avait de longues oreilles, et d’autres affirmèrent que la Tortue était sans doute la plus rapide parce que quiconque pouvait supporter une carapace aussi dure devait être aussi capable de courir vite.

Et pendant longtemps, l’éloignement et le désordre reportèrent perpétuellement ce débat pourtant décisif.

Mais quand il y eut presque la guerre entre les bêtes, un arrangement fut enfin conclu et il fut décidé que le Lièvre et la Tortue durent entreprendre une course de cinq cents mètres pour que tous puissent enfin départager qui avait raison.
« C’est absurde ! », dit le Lièvre, mais c’est bien là tout ce que ses soutiens pouvaient dire pour le faire courir.
« Ce défi est le bienvenu pour moi », déclara la Tortue, « je ne vais pas me défiler. »

O, comment ses soutiens l’applaudir alors.

Les émotions furent vives le jour de la course; l’Oie se précipitant même à un moment sur le Renard et faillit le piquer de son bec. Les deux parties parlaient haut et fort de la victoire imminente de leur poulain jusqu’au moment même de la course.
« Je suis absolument convaincu de ma victoire », déclara la Tortue.
Mais le Lièvre, ennuyé, ne disait rien, il avait l’air contrarié. Certains de ses partisans l’abandonnèrent alors et rejoignirent l’autre camp, qui applaudissaient bruyamment les paroles inspirantes de la Tortue. Beaucoup restèrent toutefois avec le Lièvre. « Nous ne serons pas déçus de lui », dirent-ils. « Une bête avec de si longues oreilles est vouée à gagner. »
« Courez dur », déclarèrent les partisans de la Tortue.

Et « courir dur » devint une sorte de slogan que tout le monde répétait. « Carapace forte et vie dure. C’est ce que veut le pays. Courez dur », dirent-ils une fois. Et ces mots ne furent plus prononcés mais des multitudes les acclamaient encore de leur cœur.

Puis ils s’élancèrent tout à coup et il y eut le silence.

Le Lièvre s’élança sur une centaine de mètres, puis il regarda autour de lui pour voir où était son rival.
« Tout ceci est absurde », dit-il alors, « courir contre une tortue ». Et il s’assit pour se gratter. « Courez dur ! Courez dur ! » crièrent certains.
« Laissez-le se reposer », hurlèrent d’autres. Et « laissez-le se reposer » devint également un slogan.

Et au bout d’un moment, son rival s’approcha de lui.
« Voilà cette maudite tortue », dit le Lièvre, et il se leva et courut aussi fort que possible pour ne pas laisser la Tortue le battre.
« Ces oreilles gagneront », déclamèrent ses amis. « Ces oreilles gagneront; et établiront une bonne fois pour toute la vérité que nous soutenons ». D’autres se tournèrent vers les soutiens de la Tortue et dirent : « Et votre bête, qu’en-est-il ? »
« Courez dur », répondirent-ils. « Courez dur. »

Le Lièvre courut sur près de trois cents mètres, presque en fait aussi loin que le poteau gagnant, quand, soudainement il se dit qu’il était un imbécile de courir ainsi, contre une
Tortue qui n’était nulle part en vue, et il se rassit pour se gratter.
« Courez dur. Courez dur », dit la foule, et « laissez-le se reposer. »
« Quelle en est l’utilité ? » dit le lièvre, et cette fois il s’arrêta pour de bon. Certains dirent même qu’il s’endormit.

Il y eut une excitation désespérée pendant une heure ou deux, puis la Tortue gagna.

« Courez dur. Courez dur », crièrent ses soutiens. « Une carapace forte et une vie dure : c’est ainsi fait. » Et puis ils demandèrent à la Tortue ce que signifiait son exploit. Et la Tortue dit : « C’est une glorieuse victoire pour les forces de la rapidité. » Et la Tortue le répéta à ses amis. Et toutes les bêtes ne dirent rien d’autre pendant des années. Et même à ce jour, « C’est une glorieuse victoire pour les forces de la rapidité. » est un slogan de la maison des Escargots.

Et la raison pour laquelle cette version de la course est largement méconnue est que très peu de ceux qui en ont été témoins ont survécu au grand incendie de forêt qui s’est produit peu de temps après.
Il vint par-dessus la mer une nuit de grand vent. Le Lièvre et la Tortue et un très petit nombre de bêtes le virent au loin, d’une haute colline nue qui était à la lisière des arbres, et ils convoquèrent à la hâte une réunion pour décider quel messager devait partir avertir les bêtes dans la forêt.

Il envoyèrent la Tortue.

Royaume-Uni

L’Éléphant et le Libraire
Écrit par John Gay, 1727

Un Éléphant parcourt une librairie, choisissant des livres dans ses rayons et lisant les œuvres riches et variées à sa portée – de la littérature grecque à l’histoire naturelle. Cependant, l’Éléphant, sage et érudit, rejette les œuvres écrites par les hommes et les considèrent comme inexactes. En 1727, John Gay a écrit L’Éléphant et le Libraire parmi ses Cinquante et une Fables en Vers destinées au prince William, alors âgé de six ans, dans l’espoir que cela pourrait lui ouvrir le droit à quelques avantages personnels…

The traveller whose undaunted soul
Sails o’er the seas from pole to pole
Sees many wonders, which become
So wonderful they strike one dumb,
When we in their description view
Monsters which Adam never knew.
Yet, on the other hand, the sceptic
Supplies his moral antiseptic;
Denying unto truths belief,
With groans which give his ears relief:
But truth is stranger far than fiction,
And outlives sceptic contradiction.
Read Pliny or old Aldrovandus,
If—they would say—you understand us.
Let other monsters stand avaunt,
And read we of the elephant.
As one of these, in days of yore,
Rummaged a stall of antique lore
Of parchment rolls—not modern binding—
He found a roll; the which unwinding,
He saw all birds and beasts portrayed
Which Nature’s bounteous hand had made,
With forms and sentiments, to wit—
All by the hand of man down writ.
The elephant, with great attention,
Remarked upon that great invention:
“Man is endowed with reason; beasts
Allowed their instinct—that at least:
But here’s an author owning neither—
No reason and no instinct either:
He thinks he has all natures known,
And yet he does not know his own.
Now here’s the spaniel—who is drawn
The master spirit sprung to fawn.
Pooh, pooh! a courtier in his calling
Must fawn more deeply for enthralling.
Now there’s the fox—his attribute
To plunder—as we say, ‘to loot.’
Pooh, pooh! a lawyer at that vice
Would outfox Reynard in a trice.
Then come the wolf and tiger’s brood;
He bans them for their gust of blood.
Pooh, pooh! he bloodier is than they;
They slay for hunger—he for pay.”
A publisher, who heard him speak,
And saw him read Parsee and Greek,
Thought he had found a prize: “Dear sir,
If you against mankind will stir,
And write upon the wrongs of Siam,
No man is better pay than I am;
Or, since ’tis plain that you know true Greek,
To make an onslaught on the rubrick.”
Twisting his trunk up like a wipsy,
“Friend,” said the elephant, “you’re tipsy:
Put up your purse again—be wise;
Leave man mankind to criticise.
Be sure you ne’er will lack a pen
Amidst the bustling sons of men;
For, like to game cocks and such cattle,
Authors run unprovoked to battle,
And never cease to fight and fray them
Whilst there’s a publisher to pay them.

Norway

The Bear and the Fox
Bjørnen og reven
Written by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Engebretsen Moe, 1842

Why is the Bear stumpy-tailed? How did the Fox trick him into losing his appendage? This 19th century fable might give you a clue… It was written by the inseparable duo Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Engebretsen Moe. Scholars of their work say the vigour comes from Asbjørnsen and the charm from Moe, but perhaps they just wrote together for so long that their styles of literary expression became near identical. 

Bjørnen møtte en gang reven, som kom luskende med et knippe fisk han hadde stjålet.

“Hvor har du fått det fra?” spurte bjørnen.

“Jeg har vært ute og fisket, herr bjørn!” svarte reven.

Så fikk bjørnen også lyst til å lære å fiske, og ba reven si hvordan han skulle bære seg at.

“Det er en simpel kunst for deg,” sa reven, “og den er snart lært. Du skal bare gå ut på isen, hugge deg et hull og stikke rumpa nedi; og så må du holde den der bra lenge. Du må ikke bry deg om at det svir litt i den; det er når fisken biter; dess lenger du kan holde den der, dess mer fisk får du. Og rett som det er, skal du tverrykke opp!”

Ja, bjørnen gjorde som reven hadde sagt, og holdt rumpa lenge, lenge nedi hullet, til den var frosset vel fast; så tverrykket han den – tvert av, og nå går han der stubbrumpet den dag i dag.

One day the Bear met the Fox, who came slinking along with a string of fish he had stolen.

“Where did you get those from?” asked the Bear.

“Oh! my Lord Bruin, I’ve been out fishing and caught them,” said the Fox.

So the Bear had a mind to learn to fish too, and bade the Fox tell him how he was to set about it.

“Oh! it’s an easy craft for you,” answered the Fox, “and soon learnt. You’ve only got to go upon the ice, and cut a hole and stick your tail down into it; and so you must go on holding it there as long as you can. You’re not to mind if your tail smarts a little; that’s when the fish bite. The longer you hold it there the more fish you’ll get; and then all at once out with it, with a cross pull sideways, and with a strong pull too.”

Yes; the Bear did as the Fox had said, and held his tail a long, long time down in the hole, till it was fast frozen in. Then he pulled it out with a cross pull, and it snapped short off. That’s why Bruin goes about with a stumpy tail this very day.

Sweden

The dance of the Bear
Björndansen
Re-written by Anna Maria Lenngren, 1799

A dancing Bear performs the ballet in front of the other animals. His unnatural lumbering dance is mocked by everyone  — except, to the Bear’s chagrin, a praiseful Pig. Anna Maria Lenngren’s Björndansen is one of the most acclaimed works in the history of the Swedish fable. But it is not totally new. It is a skilful recasting of El Oso, la Mona y el Cerdo (The Bear, the Ape, and the Swine), one of the 67 verse fables in Tomás de Iriarte’s innovative Fábulas literarias.

På en vauxhall ibland djuren
björnen en gång – som man vet –
i baletten och i turen
visade sin skicklighet.
Man kritiken nu ej glömde:
var och en i den tog del.
Hund och katt om dansen dömde,
funno alla något fel.

“Fåfängt söker man sig skapa
till vad ej naturen vill!
ropte en bedagad apa.
“Kära nalle, bjud ej till!”

Hare, häst och hjort med andra
gjorde löje åt hans språng.
Själva åsnan fann att klandra
vid hans pas de rigodon.

Elefanten ville tycka
genren icke vald så rätt,
men att kanske han gjort lycka
i en tåglig menuett.

“Nej, till ingen dans han passar!”
sade äntligt djurens kung.
“Ingen grace i svans och tassar …
attityden stel och tung!”

Björnen trodde – märken felet
av en granskning föga fin –
någon avund med i spelet,
och for fort och höll god min.

Oförmodat fram ur hopen
mot dansören lopp en so
med de gälla bifallsropen:
“Excellent! Bravissimo!”

Under smädelsen och grinet
björnen modet än behöll.
Men vid bifallet av svinet …
vem kan undra om det föll!

In the pleasure gardens one glorious day
A blustering Bear tried to dance the ballet.
The Bear stepped out, he was so proud
To show his skills ’fore a critical crowd

The Bird and the Snake, the Dog and the Cat
And all other beasts saw him fall promptly flat.
The Donkey, the Duck and a tall stiff-necked Swan
Managed to fault his poor rigaudon,
As the Hare, the Horse, the Deer and the Sheep
All fell about laughing at his lumbering leap.
“You dance and you prance in an unnatural shape,
Good God, make it stop!,” cried a frosty old ape.

The Elephant asked if the wrong style he’d got:
Would he maybe fare better with a stately gavotte?
“No, no dance at all!”, judged the kingly Lion
“There’s no grace in his frame, his paws are of iron.”

The Bear heard the critics, and fled from the game
Wishing he’d done better, but feeling no shame.

But then came unexpected praise for his jig
“Excellent! Bravo!,” clapped an arriving Pig.
All other insults, he’d take fair and square
But the applause of the piggy was too much to Bear.

Finland

The Bear as Judge
Karhu tuomarina
Collected by Eero Salmelainen, 1852

A dispute arose between the Wolf, the Fox, the Cat, and the Hare. Unable to settle matters by themselves, they summoned the Bear to judge. But his way of resolving the conflict might surprise you … Finnish writer Eero Salmelainen spent part of his life collecting fairy tales and fables from his native country, which he published in a collection called Tales and Fables of the Finns. The fable The Bear as Judge was among the most popular at the time.

Eläinten kesken, joita oli susi, kettu, kissa ja jänis, nousi kerran riita, eivätkä sopineet itse asialta. Haettiin silloin karhu tuomariksi, että se heidän riitansa ratkaisisi. Karhu tuli ja kysyi riiteleviltä: “Mitä te keskustelette?” — “Me keskustelemme siitä, kuinka monta neuvoa meillä kullakin hengenvaarassa ompi”, vastasivat toiset. “No, montako neuvoa sinulla on?” kysyi karhu ensinnä sudelta. “Sata”, vastasi susi. “Entä sinulla?” kysyy karhu ketulta. Tämä vastasi: “Tuhat.” — “Onkos sinulla monta?” kysyy karhu vuoronsa jänikseltä. “Ei minulla ole kuin pitkät jäljet”, vastasi tämä. “Montakos on neuvoa sinulla?” — “Ei kuin yksi”, vastasi kissa.
Karhu tuosta kävi koettamaan nyt, kuinka kukin hengenhädässä neuvoillaan aikaan tulisi. Ensinnäkin tarttui suteen kiinni ja pusersi sen kohta hengettömäksi. Kettu pyörähti ympäri kun näki, mitenkä sudelle kävi, ja karhu sai vain hännästä vähäsen kiinni, josta vieläkin on ketun hännässä valkoinen pilkka. Jänis, jolla oli pitkät sääret, pääsi karkuun ja pakeni pois. Kissa kiipesi puuhun ja lauloi sieltä: “Sataneuvo saatiin, tuhatneuvo tyssättiin, pitkäsääri juosta saapi, yksineuvo puuhun pääsi, pitää siinä paikkansa.” — Sen pituinen se.

A dispute arose among a number of animals, namely the wolf, the fox, the cat, and the hare. Unable to settle matters by themselves, they summoned the bear to act as judge.
The bear asked, “What are you quarreling about?”

“We are arguing how many ways each of us has to save his life in time of danger,” they answered.

The bear first asked the wolf, “Now, how many ways do you have to escape?”

“A hundred,” said the Wolf.

“And you?” he asked the fox.

“A thousand,” the Fox answered.

Then the bear asked the hare, “How many do you know?”

“I have only my fast legs,” was the answer.

Finally the bear asked the cat, “How many ways to escape do you know?”

“Only one,” answered the cat.

Then the bear decided to put them all to the test in order to see how each one would save himself in time of danger. He suddenly threw himself at the wolf and crushed him half to death. Seeing what had happened to the wolf, the fox started to run away, but the bear grabbed him by the tip of his tail, and even to this day the fox has a white spot on his tail. The hare, with his fast legs, escaped by running away.

The cat climbed a tree, and from his high perch sang down, “The one who knows a hundred ways was captured; the one who knows a thousand ways was injured; Longlegs must run on forever; and the one who has only one way to escape sits high in a tree and holds his own.”

So it is.

Denmark

The Slain Duck
Den dræbte And
Written by Hans Vilhelm Kaalund, 1845

“Remember to cherish, if you still have a mother!” Many Danes know by heart the final line from the fable Den Dræbte And, which is part of Hans Vilhelm Kaalund’s Fables for Children dating back to 1845. Kaalund’s animal fables have become profoundly well-known classics at home – even if they didn’t get the international attention of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. In this sad fable, the little ducklings are left alone after their mother was shot by the evil hunter. Prepare your handkerchief…

I Skoven risled den klare Aa;
En blodig Vildand bag Sivet laae,
Af Jægerens Bøsse var den dræbt,
Den havde sig hen til Reden slæbt.
Nu stod omkring den de Ællinger smaae,
De kunde det sletikke ret forstaae,
De krøb under Vingen, men den var slap —
„Vaagn op, søde Moder, rab, rab, rab, rab!”
Saa aabned de alle Smaanæbene vidt:
„Vi ere saa sultne, giv os lidt!”
Men moderløs’ vare de arme Smaae —
O har du en Moder, da skjøn derpaa!

Where the forest grows, as the river Aa flows
A wild duck bleeds, amid the reeds
This poor one, hit by a hunter’s gun
Lurched back to her nest, before eternal rest
And where she lay dying, stood her ducklings, crying
Unable any to comprehend, how their mother’d met her end,
The tragic things, crouched beneath her limp wings,
Called their mother back, “wake up! Quack, quack!”
This came to no good, their beaks had no food—
Only their cries were shared to each other
Oh, remember to cherish, if you still have a mother!

Netherlands

The Pheasant and the Peacock
De fasiano et pavone
Collected by Gerard Leeu, 1480

The birds decided to elect one of their number to be first among them: but the vote divided opinion, and both the Pheasant and the Peacock were elected. The Eagle is responsible for deciding between them, but who will he choose? This fable was collected by the Dutch printer Gerard Leeu in 1480. He published the Dialogus creaturarum, a collection of 122 Latin-language fables which, as the title implies, took the form of conversations among animals.

Volucres in divisione fecerunt electionem et elegerunt fasianum et pavonem, ipsi vero per electionem simul quaestionabantur et bona sua disperdebant. Ea propter aves ad aquilam concurrerunt dicentes: fecimus nos electionem, sed ut judex da confirmationem, ut electi comprobentur. Aquila vero electos citavit volens examinare electionera. Sed fasianus avis est quaedam ab Graecia primum asportata, cujus caro suavis est ad comedendum. Hic quamplurimum se magnificabat dicens: o juste judex, ut cernis, nimis sum delicatus, puleber et variatus, caro mea aromatizata super omnia sapit et redolet, pro quo mihi convenit principatus. Pavo autem se pro viribus defendebat dicens: non, domine, est ita, ut fasiarius asserit, quoniam pulchrior eo sum, magnus et cristatus, cauda mea mihi sublimatum reddit honorem. Et hoc dicens caudam sursura erexit sicque gloriabatur. Aquila vero haec omnia intelligens ait pavoni: tu, pavo, te vituperasti, cum caudam sursum erexisti, quia turpes pedes nobis ostendisti, ob hoc non es dignus principari. Demum ad fasianum inquit: tu autem lacrymosus es ac debilis nec cantare scis, idcirco propter defectum oculorum tuorum te privo principatu. Sic enim uterque privati permanserunt dicentes: non est dignus principari, qui quaerit qusestionari. Hoc enim, ut cernimus, saepissime accidit in electis, quando propter quaestiones electionis vitia sua homines rimantur, propter quod saepe spoliantur et diffamantur. Unde non est bonum quaestionem agere propter primatum honoris, quia dicit Gregorius: desiderium primatus ex jactantia cordis nascitur et quicunque desideraverit primatum in terris, inveniet confusionem in ccelis. Hoc enim periculum praesidendi vitandum est pro viribus, quia dicit Gregorius: quantum in superiori loco pastor est, tantum in periculo majori versatur. Quapropter antiqui principes non patiebantur filios suos praefici, nisi possent proficere. Ut narrat Helinandus historiographus de Ælio Adriano. Qui cum de senatore esset creatus imperator et obsecraute senatu, ut filium suum Augustum Caesarem secum nominaret, sufficere enim debet, inquit, ut ego invitus regnaverim, cum non meruerim, principatus enim non sanguini debetur, sed meritis. Et saepe inutilis reguo est, qui rex nascitur. Procul dubio parentum aftectum uescit, qui parvulos suos importabili mole superjecta exstinguit, hoc enim est suffocare filios, non pro meritis promovere. Alendi sunt enim et virtutibus exercendi, ut, cum in iis profecerint , probentur illos virtutibus antecedere , quos debent honore anteire. Implebant enim opere illud praeceptum Eccles. VII: noli quaerere fieri judex, nisi valeas virtute irrumpere iniquitatem. Unde in Policratico libro VI 0 dicitur, quod Octavianus, cum filii sui sufficere possent ad magnam gloriam promerendam, noluit eos honoribus extollere, nisi sufficienter suam et alieuam curam possent per virtutem protegere. Unde eos ad gradum militarem, ad cursum, ad saltum, ad usum natandi et jaciendi lapides manu vel funda exercitari praecepit, filias vero suas in lanificio instituit, ut, si praeter spem in extremam paupertatem eas fortuna projecisset, vitam per artem possent sustentare , nam nendi et texendi vestes. fiugendi et componendi non modo artem, sed usum habebant. Sic praecipitur Eccles. VII° : si tibi sint filii, erudi eos, et sequitur, si tibi filiae sunt, serva corpus illarum.

The birds decided to elect one of their number to be the first among them: but it divided opinion, and both the pheasant and the peacock were elected. The birds said to the Eagle, “You be the judge, and confirm who’s the right choice”. The pheasant made much of himself, and said “My delicious meat and delightful smell are the best there are, so I must be the foremost”.
But the peacock defended himself as best he could, and said, “That’s not right, I’m more beautiful than he is: my tail gives me the highest rank”.
The Eagle saw through everything, and said “Oh, Peacock, you did yourself a bad turn by turning up your tail, because then you showed us how ugly your feet are. So you can’t be worthy to rule”. Then he said to the pheasant, “But you are whiny and feeble and can’t sing. So because of your weak eyes I remove  leadership from you”. 

And they both lost all their power, and understood that “No-one is worthy to rule whose nature doesn’t stand up to a closer examination”.

We often see how people show up their faults in an election campaign, and end up with a bad reputation: so it’s not a good idea to set great store by honour and position…

Belgium

The swing of the Goat and the Cow
Bok et vatche swigne
Written by Horace Piérard, 1950

The Goat and the Cow dance gaily to the sound of the Rabbit’s drum, and are not scared off by fear of death. The moral of this story? Seeking constant pleasure may be understandable for beasts, but we humans are condemned to worry. We owe this fable to the Baron d’Fleuru – a pseudonym for the Walloon writer Henri Pétrez. He published his collection of Fôves in 1950 as part of a revival of the Walloon language. 

Li ptit lapén fwait voler les maketes
A tour di brès
I rtaene li pea d’ bådet,
Tape sol ceke do tabeur, rén n’ l’ arestêye
Flayant sins mzeure, erlayant å truviè d’ tot.

L’ lapén s’ è fout.
I fwait do brut: c’ est çk’ on dmande po ses gadjes,
Fåt fé danser Bea Bok et Mamzele Vatche.

I si skeujnut sins s’ ocuper des bratches,
Et çki conte por zels : ès cotoide, zoupler, piter.

Li vatche pinse: ” Si m’ laecea doet tourner a makêye
Les djins del cinse n’ åront k’ a s’ passer d’ mes modêyes;
Rén n’ våt por mi, bén boere, bon mindjî, s’ amuzer. “

Li bok ni pinse a rén, i s’ è done, cwè k’ i sûwe,
I n’ fåt nén dmander s’ i pûwe !

Emacralêye pa l’ odeur
Li vatche riboele: ” Mi ptit, estoz bén conte mi keur ?
– Oyi, m’ grosse, respond l’ bok dj’ inmreut dimeurer dsu
Disk’ a m’ tote dierinne eure !

– Taijh’ vos, savoz, crolé, ni cåzez nén d’ moru.
I gn a k’ ça ki m’ trecasse.

– C’ est a manire di dvize, dji so ttafwait come vos.
Dji trimbele e pinsant k’ on djoû fåt k’ on trepasse.
Tchessons radmint lon d’ nos
Çou ki nos dene l’ angouxhe
Po n’ pinser k’ å plaijhi.
Såtlons, ridons ! Bouxhe dissu l’ djaze, lapén, rambouxhe !
Nos n’ srons nén les prumîs nåjhis ! “

I n’ è manke nén k’ ont peu del mwârt
Co bråmint dpus ki d’ l’ alumwâr,
Et ki n’ ont k’ les plaijhis dins l’ tiesse !
I gn a nén k’ les biesses ki sont biesses.

Little Rabbit, he heartily beats on his drum
Twirling his drumsticks, a donkey-skin thrum
On the circle the little one beats and he smacks
Without any limits, without trouble or tax

He sounds his noise, to earn his keep;
He must make Mr Goat and Mrs Cow leap;
As they dance and prance without having a care
And they jump and saunter in the green open air

Said Cow: “Why should I not frolic and eat hour after hour?
For what good would it be if my milk turned sour?”

As Goat gambols around, he won’t even think,
Of how he perspires, and how he must stink!

Cow, entranced by his earthy bouquet
Said, “You’re in my heart, and there you shall stay!”
And Goat replied “Sure! Till my last dying day!”

“Don’t speak of such things as death,” said the cow,
“For this is all that will bother me now.”

Said the Goat, “Don’t worry, I know just what you mean
I tremble to think of one day not being
So let’s frolic and jump to this rabbit’s drumbeat
Forget the bitter and think of the sweet!”

There are many of us who fear we will pass
But dumb pleasure’s only meant for the bestial class.

Luxembourg

Mouse Ketti
D’Maus Ketti
Written by Auguste Liesch, 1936

Ketti, a sweet-natured field mouse from the south, receives her rather snobbish cousin Mim from Clausen, in the capital. Unhappy with the hearty food being served, Mim invites her rural cousin Ketti to the city, to discover all the first-class delicacies she won’t stop praising. The fable, inspired by Aesop and also based on a tale in Horace’s Satires, illustrates the incompatibility of city and country life. Written by Auguste Liesch and published in 1936, D’Maus Ketti remains one of the most famous stories in Luxembourgish literature. 

Germany

The Peacocks and the Crow
Die Pfauen und die Krähe
Written by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, 1759

A Crow disguises itself as a Peacock but is soon exposed by the true birds, who fall on him without mercy. This fable by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing stems from Aesop’s “The Bird in Borrowed Feathers”. But the  Enlightenment thinker refused to see servile acceptance of class status as a valuable moral lesson. Instead, in this retelling, the Peacocks pluck out not only the false feathers, but also the Crow’s own splendid plumage.

Eine stolze Krähe schmückte sich mit den ausgefallenen Federn der farbigen Pfaue und mischte sich kühn, als sie genug geschmückt zu sein glaubte, unter diese glänzenden Vögel der Juno. Sie ward erkannt, und schnell fielen die Pfaue mit scharfen Schnäbeln auf sie, ihr den betrügerischen Putz auszureißen.

“Lasset nach!” schrie sie endlich, “ihr habt nun alle das Eurige wieder.” Doch die Pfaue, welche einige von den eigenen glänzenden Schwingfedern der Krähe bemerkt hatten, versetzten: “Schweig, armselige Närrin, auch diese können nicht dein sein!” – und hackten weiter.

A foolish crow adorned herself with the discarded
plumage of the peacock, and when she considered 
itself ornamented enough, mingled with the brilliant birds of Juno; but she was quickly recognised, the peacocks, with their sharp bills, soon stripped her of her deceptive apparel.

“Stop!” the crow at last exclaimed, “you
have now got back all that belongs to you.” But
the peacocks, detecting a few bright feathers
from the crow’s own plumage, answered, “Be silent,
impostor, these cannot belong to you.”

Austria

Jupiter and the Tortoise
Iuppiter et testudo
Collected by Pantaleon Candidus, 1604

The king of the gods invited all the animals to his wedding but the Tortoise never arrived. In punishment for her weak excuse – that she preferred being at home – Jupiter made her carry her house about forever after. The story appears among Aesop’s Fables but the Austrian fabulist Pantaleon Candidus was among the firsts to translate it into Latin as part of his fable collection Centum et quinquaginta fabulae of 1604.

Connubio sibi Iunonem cum ducere vellet,
Iuppiter, et taedas concelebrare sacras,
Et simul omnia, ad haec, anim alia, festa, vocasset:
Adfuerunt studio, singula bruta, bono.
Sola moram traxit testudo: rogata, quid esset,
Curadeo longam, traxerit illa moram?
Respondit: Sua cuique domus carissima semper.
Poena hac, iratus quam decus ipse ferit:
Ut, quocumque loco sit, iter quocumque capessat,
In tergo propriam, baiulet illa domum.
Unde et tardigrada, et domiporta et sanguine cassa,
Testudo, antiquis indigetata fuit.
Aularum utiliter quidam splendoribus, ante,
Exiguas, magnis, res posuisse solent.
Cueictando proceres timeas incandere, bilem
Namque mora in nasum coneit, ut ipsa fames.
Molliter, offensas studoas placere laquendo:
Sermo ferox aliis soepe movet siemachum.

Jupiter was about to marry, and determined to celebrate the event by inviting all the animals to a banquet.

They all came except the Tortoise, who did not put in an appearance, much to Jupiter’s surprise.

So when he next saw the Tortoise he asked him why he had not been at the banquet.

“I don’t care for going out,” said the Tortoise; “there’s no place like home.”

Jupiter was so annoyed by this reply that he decreed that from that time forth the Tortoise should carry his house upon his back, and never be able to get away from home even if he wished to.

Switzerland

The Fox and the Snail
Der Fuchs und die Schnecke
Written by Otto Sutermeister, 1873

You all know Aesop’s fable about the Hare and the Tortoise – and even its Irish variant. But have you ever heard the Swiss version, the Fox and the Snail? In this fable by Swiss folklorist Otto Sutermeister, the protagonists engage in a race to decide who will get faster to St. Gallen. The Snail may be the slower, but he’s also the smarter. 

Meister Fuchs hatte einmal an einem warmen Sommertag in der Schwägalp gelagert; da erblickte er neben sich eine Schnecke. Der trug er flugs eine Wette an: wer von ihnen beiden schneller nach St. Gallen laufen könne. Topp, sagte die Schnecke und machte sich ohne Verzug auf den Weg – zwar ein wenig langsam, denn das Haus auf dem Rücken nahm sie gewohnheitshalber auch mit. Der Fuchs hingegen lagerte sich allfort gemächlich, um erst am kühlen Abend abzuziehn, und so schlummerte er ein. Diesen Anlaß benützte die Schnecke und verkroch sich heimlich in seinen dicken Zottelschwanz. Gegen Abend begab sich nun der Fuchs auf den Weg und war verwundert, daß er der Schnecke nirgends begegnete. Er vermutete, sie werde einen kürzern Weg eingeschlagen haben. Als er aber vor dem Tore von St. Gallen noch immer nichts von ihr sah, da wandte er sich stolz um und rief höhnisch: »Schneck, kommst bald?«

»Ich bin schon da!« antwortete die Schnecke; denn sie hatte sich unvermerkt aus seinem Schwanz losgemacht und schlich gerade unterm Tor durch. Da mußte der hochmütige Fuchs die Wette verloren geben.

One warm summer’s day Master Fox was resting at Schwäg Meadow. He saw a snail next to him and immediately proposed a wager as to which of them could run faster to St. Gallen.

“You’re on!” said the snail, and set forth immediately — a little slowly to be sure, for he was carrying his house with him on his back, as was his custom.

The fox, in contrast, continued his rest, intending to start off in the cool of the evening, and he dozed off. The snail took advantage of this circumstance and secretly crept into the fox’s thick bushy tail. As evening approached, the fox took off and was surprised that the snail was nowhere to be seen. He presumed that he had covered a little bit of the course already.

When he reached St. Gallen’s gate and could still see nothing of the snail, he turned around proudly and called out tauntingly, “Snail, are you coming soon?”

“I’m already here!” answered the snail, for without being seen, he had removed himself from the fox’s tail and crept through the bottom of the gate.

Thus the proud fox had to admit that he had lost.

Italy

The Mouse Turned Hermit
Il Topo Romito
Written by Lorenzo Pignotti, 1786

A Mouse decides to withdraw from the world and go and settle alone inside the best cheese in the world – a wheel of Parmesan. His life goes well until the poor starving mice come begging him for help. This rather long fable was written by Lorenzo Pignotti. He achieved a literary success with the verse fables of Favole e novelle and is regarded by many critics as the best of Italian fabulist of all times.

O beata solitudo!

Quando l’inverno nel canton del fuoco
La Nonna mia ponevasi a filare,
Per trattenermi seco in festa, e in gioco ,
Mi soleva la sera raccontare
Cento e cento novelle grazìose,
Piene di strane, e di bizzarre cose.

Or le ranocchie contro i topi armate,
Del lupo, della volpe i fatti, i detti,
Le avventure dell’Orco, e delle Fate,
E le burle de’ spiriti folletti,
Narrar sapea con sì dolci maniere,
Ch’ io non capiva in me dal gran piacere.

Or mia Nonna sovviemmi, che una volta,
Dopo averla pregata, e ripregata,
Con mille dolci nomi a me rivolta
Alfine aprì la bocca sua sdentata ;
Prima sputò tre volte, e poi tossì,
Indi a parlare incominciò così.

C’ era una volta un topo , il qual bramoso
Di ritrarsi dal mondo tristo e rio,
Cercò d’un santo e placido riposo,
E alle cose terrene disse addio,
E per trarsi da loro assai lontano,
Entrò dentro d’un cacio Parmigiano

E sapendo, che al ciel poco è gradito
L’uom che si vive colle mani al fianco,
Non stava punto in ozio il buon romito,
E di lavorar mai non era stanco,
Ed andava ogni giorno santamente
Intorno intorno esercitando il dente.

In pochi giorni egli distese, il pelo,
E grasso diventò quanto un guardiano.
Ah son felici i giusti, e amico il cielo
Dispensa i suoi favori a larga mano
Sopra tutto quel popolo devoto,
Che d’ esser suo fedele fia fatto voto.

Nacque intanto fra’ topi io quella etade
Una fiera e terribil carestia,
Chiuse eran tutte ne’ granaj le biade,
Nè di sussister si trovava via,
Chè il crudel rodilardo d’ogn’ intorno
Minaccioso scorreva e notte e giorno.

Onde furon dal pubblico mandati
Cercando aita in questa parte e in quella
Col sacco sulle spalle i deputati,
Che giunser del romito anco alla cella,
Gli fecero un patetico discorso,
E gli chiesero un poco di soccorso.

O cari figli miei , disse il romito,
Alle mortali o buone, o ree venture
Io più non penso, ed ho dal cor bandito
Tutti gli affetti e le mondane cure ;
Nel mio ritiro sol vivo giocondo,
Onde non mi parlate più del mondo.

Povero e nudo cosa mai può fare
Un solitario chiuso in queste mura,
Se non in favor vostro il ciel pregare,
Ch’ abbia pietà della comun sventura ?
Sperate in lui, ch’ ei sol salvar vi può :
Ciò detto, l’ uscio in faccia a Ior serrò.

O cara Nonna mia, le dissi allora,
Il vostro topo è tutto Fra Pasquale,
Che nella cella tacito dimora,
Ch’ ha una pancia sì grossa e sì badiale,
Che mangia tanto, e predica il digiuno,
Che chiede sempre, e nulla dà a nessuno.

Tacci, la buona vecchia allor gridò,
O tristarello ; e chi a pensare a male,
Contro d’ un religioso t’insegnò,
Ed a sparlar così dì Fra Pasquale ?
O mondo tristo ! o mondo pien d’ inganni !
Ah la malizia viene avanti gli anni !

Se ti sento parlar più in tal maniera,
Vo’ che tu vegga se sarà bel gioco.
Così parlò la vecchia, e fe’ una cera,
Che a dirla schietta la mi piacque poco ;
Ond’ io credei che fosse prudenziale
Lasciar vivere in pace Fra Pasquale.

O beloved solitude!

In winter when my grandmother sat spinning,
Close in the corner by the chimney-side,
To many a tale, still ending, still beginning,
She made me list with eyes and mouth full wide,
Wondering at all the monstrous things she told,
Things quite as monstrous as herself was old.

She told me how the frogs and mice went fighting,
And every word and deed of wolves and foxes,
Of ghosts and witches in dead night delighting,
Of fairy spirits rummaging in boxes ;
And this in her own strain of fearful joy,
While I stood by, a happy frightened boy,

One night, quite sulky, not a word she utter’d,
Spinning away as mute as any fish,
Except that now and then she growl’d and mutter’d ;
At last I begged and prayed, till, to my wish,
She cleared her pipes, spat thrice, coughed for a while,
And thus began with something like a smile :

“Once upon a time there was a mouse, ” quoth she,
“Who, sick of worldly tears and laughter, grew
Enamour’d of a sainted privacy ;
To all terrestrial things he bade adieu,
And entered, far from mouse, or cat, or man,
A thick – wall’d cheese, the best of Parmesan.

And, good soul ! knowing that the root of evil
Is idleness, that bane of heavenly grace,
Our hermit laboured hard against the devil,
Unweariedly, in that same sacred place,
Where further in he toiled, and further yet,
With teeth for holy nibbling sharply set.

His fur-skin jacket soon became distended,
And his plump sides could vie with any friar’s :
Happy the pious who, by heaven befriended,
Reap the full harvest of their just desires !
And happier they, whom an eterna! vow
Shuts from the world, who live – we know not how !

Just at that time, driven to the very brink
Of dire destruction , was the mousal nation ;
Corn was lock’d up, fast, close, without a chink,
No hope appeared to save them from starvation,
For who could dare grimalkin’s whisker’d chaps,
And long-clawed paws, in search of random scraps ?

Then was a solemn deputation sent
From one and all to every neighbouring house,
Each with a bag upon his shoulder went,
And last they came unto our hermit-mouse,
Where, squeaking out a chorus at his door,
They begg’d him to take pity on the poor.

“O my dear children,” said the anchorite,
“On mortal happiness and transient cares
No more I bend my thoughts, no more delight
In sublunary, worldly, vain affairs ;
These things have I forsworn, and must, though loth,
Reprove your striving thus against my oath .

“Poor, helpless as I am, what can I do ?
A solitary tenant of these walls ;
What can I more than breathe my prayers for you ?
And heaven oft listens when the pious calls !
Go, my dear children, leave me here to pray,
Go, go, and take your empty bags away.”

“Ho ! grandmother,” cried I, “this matches well,
This mouse of yours so snug within his cheese,
With many a monk as snug within his cell,
Swollen up with plenty and a life of ease,
Who takes but cannot give to a poor sinner,
Proclaims a fast and hurries home to dinner.

“Ah , hold your tongue !” the good old dame screamed out,
“You jackanapes ! who taught you thus to prate ?
How is’t you dare to slander the devout ?
Men in so blessed, so sanctified a state !
Oh , wretched world ! Ah, hold your wicked tongue !
Alas ! that sin should be in one so young !

“If e’er you talk so naughtily again,
I promise you ’twill be a bitter day ! “
So spoke my grandmother , nor spoke in vain ;
She look’d so fierce I’d not a word to say ;
And still I’m silent as I hope to thrive,
For many grandmothers are yet alive.

Czechia

A Little Fable
Kleine Fabel
Written by Franz Kafka

A Mouse, on a verge of death, tells the tale of his life – until the only place left to visit is the greedy cat. This shorter-than-short story, only one paragraph long, was not published during Kafka’s lifetime and first appeared in Beim Bau der Chinesischen Mauer  in 1931. It is truly Kafkaesque – a word that sends an eerie feeling through our hearts whenever we hear it.

„Ach“, sagte die Maus, „die Welt wird enger mit jedem Tag. Zuerst war sie so breit, daß ich Angst hatte, ich lief weiter und war glücklich, daß ich endlich rechts und links in der Ferne Mauern sah, aber diese langen Mauern eilen so schnell aufeinander zu, daß ich schon im letzten Zimmer bin, und dort im Winkel steht die Falle, in die ich laufe.“

– „Du mußt nur die Laufrichtung ändern“, sagte die Katze und fraß sie.

“Alas”, said the mouse, “the whole world grows smaller every day. In the beginning it was so big that I was afraid, I kept running and running, and I was glad when I saw walls far away to the right and left, but these long walls have narrowed so quickly that I am in the last chamber already, and there in the corner stands the trap that I am running into.”

“You only need to change your direction,” said the cat, and ate it up.

Slovakia

The Hare and the Fox
Zajac a líška
Written by Jonáš Záborský, 1866

The Hare has a tragic fate, forced to constantly flee from his predators. Even when he manages to escape the hunters, the Fox catches up to explain why he is destined to be prey. This dark and purely Slovak fable was written by Jonáš Záborský in the great tradition of the European fabulists. The most important part of Záborský’s work is a picaresque, grotesque prose, in which he deals with the contrast between abstract standards and the reality of life.

Pred strelcom prchnucí zajac rýchlopätý
bol od líšky, striehnucej medzi krovím, jatý.
„Ach, čo som,“ úpel biednik, „zavinil vo svete,
že ma takto všetci prenasledujete?“
„Tys’ dobrák,“ stisla líška ho mocne pod laby;
len jednu veľkú vinu máš, tú — že si slabý.“

A fast-moving Hare fleeing from the Hunters
Was caught by the Fox between two bushes.
“Oh, what is become of me?” cried the Hare.
“What did I do to the world
That you all persecute me so?”
“You are good,” said the Fox pressing hard on his heels.
“With only one major sin: you are weak.”

Poland

The Eagle and the Hawk
Orzeł i jastrząb
Written by Ignacy Krasicki, 1779

A world where the strong win and the weak lose is an immutable order, reckoned Polish fabulist Ignacy Krasicki. This is precisely the moral of his short fable Orzeł i jastrząb, leaving the poor obliging Hawk victim of his own kindness. Krasicki’s parables have been described as being “like Jean de La Fontaine’s fables, amongst the best ever written, while in colour they are distinctly original, because Polish.”

Orzeł, nie chcąc się podłym polowaniem bawić, Postanowił 􏰀astrzębia na wróble wyprawić.
Przynosił 􏰀astrząb wróble, 􏰀adł 􏰀e orzeł smacznie; Zaprawiony na koniec przysmaczkiem nieznacznie, Kiedy go coraz żywszy apetyt przenika —
Z􏰀adł ptaszka na śniadanie, na obiad ptasznika.

Eagle, not wishing to incommode himself with chase,
Decided to send hawk after sparrows in his place.
Hawk brought him the sparrows, eagle ate them with pleasure;
At last, not quite sated with the dainties to measure,
Feeling his appetite growing keener and keener—
Eagle ate fowl for breakfast, the fowler for dinner.

Lithuania

The Crow and his Chicks
Varną ir varniukus
Unknown author

A Crow had to take his offspring across a lake. Halfway across, he would however pose the same riddle. The wrong answer means an instant, deadly dunk in the water. Why such cruelty? You’ll have to read the fable in full to understand this mystery. In Lithuania the most popular fables – including this – reflect on the parent-child relationship. 

Varna po vieną nešė į kitą ežero krantą savo vaikus. Perskridusi pusę kelio virš vandens ji klausia pirmojo varniuko:
-Sūnau, ar kai aš pasensiu, tu mane taip neši kaip aš tave dabar nešu?
-Taip, tėveli, nešiu, -atsako šis, kai staiga varna jį paleidžia iš snapo. Varniukas nuskęsta ežere.
Taip pat pasikartoja su antruoju varniuku.
Trečią kartą varnas neša per ežerą trečią savo vaiką ir jo paklausia to paties. Varniukas atsako:
-Ne, tėvai, aš tavęs nenešiu, nes turėsiu savo vaikus nešti.
Ir tėvas saugiai perneša jį.

The Crow was carrying his chicks one by one to the other side of the lake. Halfway over the water, he asked his eldest child:
– Son, when I grow old, will you carry me as I do now?
– Yes, dad, I will carry you,” the chick replied.
Suddenly the Crow released him from his beak; The chick drowned in the lake.
The Crow repeated the same question to his second chick and, getting the same answer, released him the same way to sink in the deep water.
The Crow carried his third chick across the lake and asked him the same question. But this third chick replied:
– No, Father, I will not carry you because I will have to carry my own chicks.
And Father Crow carries him safely across the lake.

Latvia

Five Cats
Pieci kaķi
Written by Vilma Delle, 1920

Cats are quarrelsome creatures : they cannot never agree to work together to get the firewood they need to cook their porridge. The Latvian fable about the five cats is one of those which parents read to their children as a bedtime story, and which they are always asked to read again. Latvians have always loved this fable with its messages encouraging the virtues of kindness and diligence. Evil is also present, yet good always wins.

Pieci kaķi sarunāja
Putru vārīt vakarā:
Pieniņš būtu, katliņš būtu,
Tikai malka jāgādā.

Incis, Mincis, Pincis, Brencis,
Mazais Miķis, arī tas,
Visi pieci žipu – ripu
Mežā braukti sapošas.

Divi vilka, divi stūma.
Piektais grožu turētājs.
Naigi vilka, naigi stūma
Eku – šeku priedulājs.

Tūdaļ ņiprie mežinieki
Brangu priedi nolūko:
Aši – knaši klātu stājas,
Grib ar astēm nocirst to.

Cirta, cirta, ilgi cirta,
Astes līkas atcirtās;
Cirta, cirta, ilgi cirta,
I ne skaidas neradās.

Kaķi gauži noskumuši,
Mājā vilkās ņaudēdami:
Nava – nava, nava – nava,
Nav ne skala iekuram.

Pārbraukuši, sasēduši
Visi pieci gudrot sāk;
Groza galvu, kasa galvu,
Gudro, kā nu kurais māk.

Melnais Miķis, pastarītis,
Ekur gaiša galva šim:
Sak, lai malka, kur tā malka,
Žagariņus vedīsim!

Visi pieci žipu – ripu
Mežā vēlreiz aizauļo;
Žagariņi, sprunguliņi –
Tavu labu iekuriņu.

Ne pa labi, ne pa kreisi
Kaķi apkārt neskatās;
Vezums sakrauts šiem ar kaudzi,
Ne pa jokam velkams tas.

Brīnās zaķi, vāverēni:
Kam tā dižā murrāšan’?
Nu jau irr, nu jau irr
Īsta kaķu malka gan! –

Tumsa virsū krīt ar joni,
Incis Mincis guni kur;
Pincis, Brencis putru maisa,
Miķis piena poda tur.

Izvārīja, padzesēja,
Visi apkārt sasēdās:
Ēda, ēda balto putru,
Vēderiņi pacēlās.

Kad bij mutes nomazgātas,
Cits pie cita sagūla;
Piekusuši, paēduši
Saldā miegā iegrima.

Ļausim viņiem izgulēties,
Bērni, klusu paliksim!
Ko šie darīs uzcēlušies
To par visiem minēsim.

Five cats once had a thought:
A pot of porridge would be good.
We’ve got milk, a pot’s been bought
Just have to cut some firewood.

Five cats went to the forest to cut firewood.
They cut and cut, but ended up with nothing.
Tails raised they came back home.
They came back home and looked around, but there was really no firewood at all.

They went to the forest again and came back with a log each;
one log was short, another small, the third was neither.

Finally, all five of them started the fire, made some porridge and devoured it greedily.
Presently they cooked their meal,
There was food enough for all:
They ate and ate with so much zeal
That their bellies looked like balls.
They ate so much that they could hardly walk and decided to just go to sleep.

Let’s go and look whether they might still be asleep. 

Estonia

The Red Cow
Punik
Witten by Jakob Tamm, 1954

Two bulls are fighting each other. The stronger may seem to be winning, but the fight weakens him in turn: showing that only fools resolve conflicts by force. Discussion is a virtue, says this atypical Estonian fable by Jakob Tamm, a 19th century poet and translator. Tamm wrote widely applicable fables (Punik, ‘The Red Cow’, and Siga, ‘The Pig’) and his translations were seen as part of the diversification of Estonian verse culture at the end of the 19th century.

Kord Päitsik puskis Punikut,
kes teab, mis tulu sellest saada ihkas?
Võib-olla, et ta Punikut vast vihkas,
või vaigistas ehk muidu südant võimikut.
Ta oli Punikust ju kõvem palju.
Ja kus näib teine nõdrem ees,
sääl iga kergatski on mees!
Mis tegi aga Punik? Hoobi sai ta valju –
see oli tarvis kätte tasuda,
kuid kuidas õiendada kangemaga:
ei või ju vastu hakata!
Ta vaatab ümber: ees tal Kirjak vaga…
See oli nõdrem temast – seda teadis ta –
ja selle kallale siis tormas tuhinaga.

Ma ütlen lisaks veel:
Nii pole ükski aasal karja hulgas lugu,
kus trooni pääl on tõpra meel, –
vaid säälgi juhtub nii, kus inimeste sugu:
et see, kes kangem, rusub kehvemat,
ja kehvem – jälle kehvemat.

We miss the translation of this fable unfortunately. If you’re Estonian and willing to give a helping hand, we’ll appreciate your help. Write to us here.

Belarus

The Proud Pig
Ганарысты Парсюк
Written by Kandrat Krapiva, 1927

The truth is sometimes difficult to accept. Especially coming from a pig who thinks he is superior. When his nephew lets him know that he has a stain on his muzzle, his reaction is far from grateful…  Fables became the pinnacle of Kandrat Krapiva’s multifaceted poetry,  enriching the fund of classical Belarusian literature. He was a Belarusian writer, playwright, social activist, and literary critic who won two Stalin Prizes in 1941 and 1951.

Бывае, праўда вочы коле…
Раз гнаў пастух свіней у поле.
Адзін вялізарны Парсюк,
Які абегаў вёску ўсю,
За раніцу абшнырыў завуголле,
Цяпер такі меў выгляд важны,
Што носа не дастаць і сажнем —
Вышэй за ўсіх ён сам сябе лічыў,
А што ў самога на лычы,
Не бачыў гэтага, аднак.
I вось адзін тут Падсвінак,
Які заўважыў бруд раней,
I кажа: — Дзядзечка, твой лыч у брудзе!
Нязграбна гэта й між свіней,
А што ж, калі заўважаць людзі?
Парсюк наставіў хіб, Парсюк раз’юшан:
— Цераз цябе я чырванець прымушан!
Такое мне сказаць асмеляцца нямногія,
Ды гэта ж — дэмагогія! —
Парсюк наш лаецца, не дараваць клянецца:
— I месца мокрага,— крычыць,— не застанецца!
Ты мой свінячы гонар закрануў! —
I так ён Падсвінака грызянуў,
Што той за сажняў пяць адскочыў.
Парсюк не надта быў ахвочы
Глядзецца праўдзе ў вочы.

It can be unpleasant to see the truth…
One day a shepherd led his pigs to pasture
One of the plumper Piglets
Looked so important,
That he did not doubt his superiority
for a single moment.
But he had run through the village that morning
Rummaging from corner to corner of the yards
Now his snout was covered with mud,
But the Piglet saw nothing.
So another piglet
Seeing the spots on his nose
Said to him: Uncle! Your snout is all dirty,
This kind of makeup sludge doesn’t suit pigs.
What would the Humans say if they saw you?
Red with anger, the Piglet roared.
How dare you! This is prejudice!
Showing him his teeth, he said:
How dare you undermine my piggy honour!
I will smash you to pieces!
He bit the other and leapt,
Sending him soaring back.
In all honesty, the Piglet
Doesn’t like to see the truth in front of his eyes.

Ukraine

The Swan and the Geese
Лебедь і гуси
Written by Yevhen Hrebinka, 1834

It is a well known fact: a group of friends can quickly become devious and gang up against a poor innocent. And this is all the more true when it comes to Geese, with their jealous and sly character… The Swan and the Geese is a beautiful fable in verse by the greatest Ukrainian classicist writer of fables Yevhen Hrebinka. His fables are considered masterful because of the skillful use of a narrator and of vernacular language.

На ставі пишно Лебедь плив,
А Гуси сірії край його поринали.
“Хіба оцей біляк вас з глузду звів? —
Один Гусак загомонів,-
Чого ви, братця, так баньки повитріщали?
Ми попеласті всі, а він один між нас
Своє пиндючить пір’я білеї
Коли б ви тілько захотіли,
Щоб разом, стало бить, вся беседа взялась,
Ми б панича сього якраз перемастили”.
І завелась на ставі геркотня,
Гусине діло закипіло:
Таскають, грязь і глей,зо дна
Да мажуть Лебедя, щоб пір’я посіріло.
Обмазали кругом — і трохи галас стих;
А Лебедь плись на дно — і випурнув як сніг.

Upon a pond, a Swan was floating proudly;
Grey Geese beside him swam and gabbled loudly.
“Has this white bird turned all your heads, forsooth?”
One Goose cried out, in sibilance uncouth.
“Why do you stare at him with bulging sight
When we are grey and he alone is white?
If with one mind we act, in filthy fuss,
We can smear up this dude to look like us.”
To this appeal the goose-flock all respond;
There rose a mighty hubbub in the pond;
Up from the depths they drag the slime and clay
And smear the Swan to make its feathers grey.
The deed was done: the gabbling tongues grew slow;
Then the Swan dived – and rose as white as snow.

Romania

The Deer and his Fawn
Cerbul şi puiul lui
Written by Dimitrie Ţichindeal

‘How come the Deer, with his long legs and big horns, always avoids quarrels, and prefers to escape when hunted by the Dogs?’ This 19th century fable, in the form of a father-and-son conversation, was written by Dimitrie Ţichindeal – the pioneer of the literary genre in Romania. In his collection, Ţichindeal emphasized the fight against injustice, and in particular the overcoming of centuries-old oppression in Transylvania, which was under Austrian rule at the time.

Pre cerb l-au întrebat puiul lui:
— taică! Cum e aceasta că tu eşti cu mult mai mare decât cânii şi ai coarne mari şi totuşi cum auzi cânii lătrând începi a fugi?
— oh, fătul mieu! au răspuns bătrânul cerb – cânii sunt gâlcevitori, iară eu din fire sunt urâtoriu de gâl- ceavă, apoi mai voesc a mă da în laturi.
norocos iaste omul acela carele e aşa alcătuit de nu se mânie lesne şi carele poate în vrémea mâniei a pre- judeca, care uraşte gâlceava şi de ea se feriaşte, acela scapă şi se izbăvéşte de multe răutăţi şi de nepăciuiri în viaţa sa.

The Fawn asked his father the Deer:
“Father, how is it that you run when you hear the dogs barking? You are so much larger than they, and have big horns.”
“Oh, my child!” replied the old Deer. “The dogs are quarrelsome, and by nature I hate quarrels, so I choose to step aside.”
Lucky is the man whose constitution does not rise easily to conflict, who can foresee the time of anger, and seeks to avoid the hated quarrel. He escapes and quenches many evils and misfortunes in his life.

Moldova

The Bear, the Bird, the Monkey and the Snake
Ursul, pasărea, şarpele şi momiţa
Written by Gheorghe Asachi

A wild mountain Bear wanted to make a career in the court of the Lion. He asks for advice from the Bird, the Monkey and the Snake. Who will he eventually listen to? You’ll need to read the fable by Gheorghe Asachi to find out! The 19th century fabulist was one of the founders of the Moldovan short story. He led numerous literary magazines and was a cultural guide in various fields: theatre, academia, the media and literature.

Un sălbatic urs de munte,
Cu ochi mici şi lată frunte,
Vrând să-şi facă o carieră
În a curţii naltă sferă,
Unde trăia vite o mie
Sub a leului domnie,
De vecini au întrebat
Cum să între la palat?
Mergi, momiţa au zis, sărind,
Pasărea i-au spus cântând,
Şarpele-i dă un alt plan:
Vrând a fi bun curtezan,
Mergi pe pântece, vecine,
Târâindu-te ca mine!

A wild mountain Bear,
With small eyes and high forehead,
Wanted his career
At the high court
Where a thousand cattle lived
Under the Lion’s reign.
He asked his neighbours
How to enter the palace.
Go jumping!, said the Monkey;
The bird counselled him to sing;
But the Snake offered thus:
He who wishes to be a good courtier,
Go on your belly, neighbour,
And crawl like me!

Hungary

The White Cock and the Red Cock
Megszakadás
Written by András Fáy, 1820

The White Cock and the Red Cock were enemies, endlessly locked in a dispute over who could crow the loudest. Enter the Stork who finds an ingenious way to overcome their childish fight… while making fun at them at the same time. On account of their originality, dry humor and hard realism, András Fáy’s fables (his Mesék, first published in 1820caused him to be regarded as the Hungarian Aesop.lockd in 

Egy fejér és veres kakas, esküdt ellenek valának, ‘s pártjaikra szakíták a’ major többi baromfiát is. Minden magocska, minden enyhelyecske felett megvívott a’ két párt egymással ; perlés, gúny, rágalom, czivódás, napi renden valának közte. — A’ gólya csodálva szemlélte ezt az óltetöröl.

— Min bomlottatok igy öszve, barátném? kérdé a’ kacsát ; tán a’ módok felett ágaztok el, miknélfogva görénytöl, héjjától, rókától végkép menekülhetnétek? — Korán sem, felel a’ récze ; vi tank alkalma fontosabb, tudniilik : ama veres kakas, vagy eme fejér, kukuríkol-e hangosabban? — Botorok! mond a’ gólya, egy bagoly-fészket ismerek; tanácslom : ennek egy hetes fia eleibe vigyétek peretöket; majd eligazitja!

The White Cock and the Red Cock were sworn enemies and they split the entire farmyard into two factions. There were fights over every grain of corn and every shady nook; high words, sneering innuendo, slanderous aspersions and heated altercations were the order of the day. The stork looked on in wonder from his high perch on the barn roof.

“My friend,” he said to the duck, “will you tell me what is the subject of your quarrel? Have you, perhaps, different notions as to the best way of averting for ever all danger from weasel, hawk or fox?”

“Oh, no,” answered the duck, “it is a much more important question which divides us, namely, the question of which can crow loudest, the Red Cock or the White.”

“You fools,” said the stork, “I’ll tell you what. There’s a week-old owl in a nest not far off. Go and lay the matter before him; it will not take him a minute to decide the matter for you.”

Slovenia

The Fox Preaches to the Hens
Lisica pridiga kokošim
Told by Dorina Čunkina, published by Milko Matičetov, 1973

One day the starving Fox entered a courtyard full of hens. He disguised himself to address the crowd of hens, preaching for revolt against their exploitative owners who seek only their eggs and flesh. But the Dog on duty soon realises the true nature of this impostor… The Little Beasts of Rezija and their instructive fables by Dr. Milko Matičetov have been a part of childhood of many generations of young Slovene readers for over 40 years.

Nekega dne lisica je bila sestradana in je šla, se je približala kmetiji. In je našla prilo, ki se je sušilo. In si je vzela od tam šal, si ga dala čez glavo in se zakrila prav dol do peta, si je skrila tudi rep.
In potem je vstopila na dvorišče. Tam je bilo dosti kokoši. Jih je spravila tje zad za kurnik in je začela pridigati:
»Neumne živali, ki stojite tu! Za kaj? Za prgišče moke, ki vam ga dajejo enkrat na dan, jim morate nesti velike sklede jajc in oni pijejo jajca. Pa še to: ko jim pade na misel, si narejajo gostije iz vas!«
Je tako vneto pridigala, da je bila kar penasta. In kokoši so rekle:
»Glej glej, prav tako je! Ja, ja, prav ima! Eh, to je vse res, prav tako je! Ja, ja!«
»Neumne živali, projdite z mano, gremo na te njive, tam je dosti črvov, tam je dosti jedače, tam je koruza, je vse! In še to : kar boste znesle, boste lahko popile same, ne da bi bilo treba, da bi se kdorkoli krepčal z vašimi jajci!«
In vse kokoši so ploskale: »Ja, ja tako in konec!«
Tedaj pes, ta, ki je varoval dvor, si je mislil:
»Kam neki so šle vse kokoši? Hej, jaz moram iti gledat!«
Tedaj je šel tje za kurnik in ko je videl zborovanje, je spoznal tudi, kdo pridiga.
Tedaj je šel the zad za lisico, počasi počasi, da bi ga ne slišala, je prišel blizu nje in privzdignil šal. Takrat se je pokazal lep dolg rep.
Kokoši so to videle, so začele vreščati in so se razbežale ena sem, ena tje, in so vriskale in –
Me vidiš, me ne vidiš – ni bilo nobene več tu.
Tedaj lisica je rekla:
»Kaj pa je, kam greste? Pojdite sèm, kaj je? Kam hodijo, kaj delajo? Le zakaj bežite?«
Tedaj pes tam zadaj za njo je rekel:
»Bežijo, ker so spoznale plevána, ki pridiga!«

One day the Fox was starving and went to the farm, where he found laundry drying. He took a scarf, put it over his head and pulled it right down, so that it also covered his tail.
Then he entered the courtyard, where there were a lot of hens. He set himself behind the chicken coop and began to preach:
“Stupid animals standing here! For what? For a handful of flour they give you once a day, you have to carry large bowls of eggs to them which they eat! Also: first chance they get, they’ll make a meal out of you!”
He preached so passionately that he started to froth. And the Hens replied:
“Hear hear, it’s true! Yeah, yeah, he’s right! Eh, that’s all true, so it is! Yeah yeah!”
“Stupid animals, come with me, let’s go to these fields, there are lots of worms, there is a lot of food, there is corn, there is everything! And one more thing: everything you can carry, you will be able to eat it for yourself, without anyone enjoying the fruits of your work!”
And all the Hens applauded, “Yeah, yeah so it should be!”
Later the Dog who was guarding the court, thought to himself:
“Where did all the Hens go? Hey, I have to go and see!”
He went for the chicken coop, but when he saw the assembly, he realized who was preaching.
He therefore went to the back of the Fox, slowly so as not to be heard. He came close to his back and pulled off his scarf. That’s when a nice long tail showed up.
The Hens saw it, began to scream and run away, one here, one there, and screamed and run. There was soon no one to be seen.
The Fox naturally wondered:
“Where are you going? What is this? Where do they go, what do they do? Why are you running away?”
But the Dog in is back answered to him:
“They are fleeing because they just met a weed who could preach!”

Croatia

The Dervish, the Little Bird, and the Benefactor-Hawk
Derviš, ptičica i soko-dobrotvor
Written by Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić, 1943

A dervish is thinking about paradise in a grove. But over him a bird on a branch is crying: His nest is ruined and his mother is dead… What will happen to the poor creature? This original fable by Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić discusses what powerful people can do to help the weakest. Brlić-Mažuranić, often regarded as the best Croatian writer for children usually described the conflict between the small and the big. In her literary world, the small always overpowers the big.

Razmišlja neki derviš o raju…
Ali nad njime, u istome gaju,
Cvili na grani ostavljen ptić.

Propalo gnijezdo, mrtva je mati,
Gladom i hladom mališ se pati,
Krilca ga gola ne mogu dić.

Dršće siroče, uda mu strepe,
Prvi će vjetrić da ga otepe,
Svijet je pod njime strahotan grob!

Golube sitni! Jadniče mali!
Derviš pod stablom Alaha hvali,
Ne vidi tvoju žalostnu kob!

Ali uto iznenada
Šušnula dva krila meka,
A dervišu ponad glave
Kliznu hitra sjenka neka – –
Sokol je tuj!

Vrisnu od straha golo siroče,
Kano da vapi: – Pobožni oče,
Molitvu pusti, jecanje čuj!

Ali derviš svetim mirom Ovu stvarcu prima:
– Na tom svijetu svaki stvorak
Svoju sudbu ima –
Kakova je čija sudba, Tako mu i biva,
Ele, soko ovog ptića
Progutat će živa! –

Sveti čovo eto tako
Ptičju sudbu riješi lako –
Al se na to nešto zbilo,
Što ga čudom začudilo.

Dok je golo ptiče drhtalo od strave,
Dotle sivi soko – čuda velikoga –
Poče da ga hrani, a iz kljuna svoga:
Mekano i nježno poput majke prave.
I još dvaput, triput sađe soko s grane,

Da donese ptiću okrepe i hrane –
A golišan, blažen, krilašcima trepti,
Otvoreni kljunić prima, guta, hlepti.

Lahor šapće: – Čudo! čudo!
Zadivljeno šušti gaj…
Samo derviš tankim smiješkom
Prati čudni prizor taj:

– Nije ovo samo tako…
To su viši znaci s neba,
Ti pomozi, mudrost sveta!
Odgonetat ovo treba! –
Zamisli se. Oči sklopi.
Gladi rukom bradu rijetku,
Misli časak, pa uskliknu:
– Riješio sam zagonetku!
Poruku mi Alah šalje:

– Nemoj, sinko, da se patiš dalje,
Da u selo silaziš po hranu,
Nego sjedni kao ptić na granu.
Lijepo čekaj da te ja poslužim,
Za tvoj akšam da ti se odužim, –
Gle, ja hranim ništetnoga ptića,
Golog ptića od dva, od tri dana,
Kolko više hraniti ću tebe,
Zaslužnoga, mudroga insana.

Pa moj derviš od tog časa
Niti makac sa svog mjesta.
Zabrinuto selo pita:
Kud to vrijedni starac nesta?

A on, valaj, kako sio,
Tako sjedi i sve čeka,
Hoće li sa neba saći
Čudotvorna ptica neka,
Da ga pita, da ga hrani,
Kano ptičicu na grani.

Ali ništa!

Sve u gaju ko i prije,
Svatko vodi brigu svoju:
Sebi traže šturci hranu,
Sebi svoje pjesme poju,

A i djetlić, tuj i tamo,
Sebi kljuca bubu koju.

Čeka derviš dan, dva dana,
Čeka heftu, čeka drugu,
Ali tada, gladan, jadan,
Stade tužit svoju tugu:

– Alah, oj Alah! Što li je ovo?
Kad ćeš iskupit zadano slovo?
Grči se gladna utroba moja,
Čeka ne tebe ptičica tvoja!

Al mramorkom šuti sve oko njega,
Sveta je strava pala nad gaj…
Tad dubravom tamnom zaječi s brijega:

– Gledo si čudo pred sobom na grani,
Gdje dobrotvor soko ptičicu hrani.
Pa od te dvije ptice, kako sam veliš,
Svakako jednom učinit se želiš!

I biraš bez straha ulogu svoju:
Hoćeš da glumiš ptičicu moju!

A ne bi li tebi ličilo više
Da dobrotvor soko budeš, derviše?!
Da posvetiš svoju mantiju svetu,
Da otareš koju suzu po svijetu!?

We have tried translating this fable from Croatian to English but failed achieving a satisfactory result. If you are Croatian and willing to help us in this endeavour, please reach out to us!

Serbia – Bosnia and Herzegovina – Montenegro – Kosovo

The two Billy Goats
Dva jarca
Written by Dimitrije “Dositej” Obradović, 1788

Two stubborn Billy Goats try to cross a stream using a log, but both refuse to give way. With inevitable consequences … Dositej Obradović is often regarded as the Serbian La Fontaine. His work consisted mainly of translations, the most famous of which were his 1788 translations of some of Aesop’s Fables. Obradović nevertheless included corresponding moral instructions with each tale, as well as Serbian folk proverbs and popular expressions to help the reader relate to the message.

Preko dubokog potoka namestili ljudi brvno. Srela se na brvnu dva jarca.
-Skloni se !- viknu jedan.
-Skloni se ti, ja neću! – reče drugi.
– E, da vidimo ko će se skloniti! – reče prvi i savi rogove spreman za bitku. I drugi se isto tako naroguši. Grunuše rogovima jedan na drugoga i oba padoše u vodu.

Onto a log, placed to ford a deep river, came two billy-goats.
– Get away! shouted the first.
– I won’t! Get away yourself! answered the other.
– Let’s see who gets away! Said the first, lowering his horns ready for battle.
The second one also crouched. They bleated and screamed at each other as they charged inward, and both fell into the water.

Albania

The Bear and the Fox
Ariu e Dhelpra
Written by Ferit Lamaj, 1995

A Bear is caught red-handed: two witnesses saw him near the cottage. What can he say in his defence? This cunning fable tells you how to get out of a complicated situation – in true Albanian spirit. We owe it to “the Albanian Aesop” Ferit Lamaj who has won numerous international awards and published more than 2,000 fables in 50 books. With humour and irony , the author satirises everyday life in Albania.

E pandehur, te kane pare
drejt kotecit duke ngare
nje kerriç e nje gomar.
me nje fjale , dy deshmitare…
Ç’ke te thuash me ne fund?
dhe ariu putren tund.

“S’e mohoj , eshte e vertete
qe me pane ata dy vete.
Mirepo une , ne me latë,
do te sillja ne gjykate
nja dyqind qe s’me kane pare…
Apo jo , zoti gjyqtar?”

“Mr Bear, against you
I call witnesses two!
A donkey and ass
Saw the crime come to pass
Now these two beasts agreed
It was you:
                    how do you plead?”

The Bear took the floor
With a shake of his paw
“These witnesses two
Saw the crime: it is true.
Mr Judge, by your leave
You’ll have to believe:
Though you found two who saw the plot
I’ll find you two hundred who’ll swear they did not.”

Bulgaria

The Black Bird and the Fox
Косе Босе
Written by Ran Bosilek, 1959

Косе Босе is a little blackbird – a character in a popular Bulgarian fable by Ran Bosilek, who wrote children’s books in the early half of the 20th century. In this fable, the poor little Blackbird is taken hostage by the Fox, who asks him for an egg each time he passes near her tree. And when she has no more eggs to offer him, the Fox promises to eat her. Enter the Dog to save the day…

Направило си Косенцето Босенцето гнезденце. Снесло си яйчица.

Дошла Кума Лиса под гнездото и рекла:

— Косе Босе, дай ми едно яйчице! Дойдоха ми тате и мама на гости. Ще им сваря чорбица.

Косенцето ù дало едно яйчице.

На другия ден пак дошла Кума Лиса и рекла:

— Косе Босе, дай ми яйчице. Дойдоха ми кака и бате на гости.

Косенцето пак ù дало.

Днес тъй, утре тъй — останало на Косенцето само едно яйчице. Дошла пак Кума Лиса и рекла:

— Косенце Босенце, дай ми яйчице!

— Нямам, Лиске — отговорило Косенцето.

— Като нямаш, тебе ще изям!

Заплакало Косенцето. Дало си и последното яйчице.

На сутринта минало куче през гората. То видяло Косенцето, че плаче, и попитало:

— Защо плачеш, Косе Босе?

— Как да не плача, кученце. Всяка сутрин идва Кума Лиса и ми взема по едно яйчице. Взе ми ги всичките. Не можах да си отвъдя пиленца. Тази сутрин пак ще дойде. Нямам какво да ù дам. Сега мене ще изяде.

— Не плачи, Косе Босе! Аз ще се скрия ей тука в шумата. Като дойде Кума Лиса да ти иска яйчице, ти ù речи: „Нямам, Лиске, яйчице. Ей там в шумата има кокошчица. Нея вземи!“

Кучето се скрило в шумата. Дошла Кума Лиса и рекла:

— Косе Босе, дай ми яйчице!

— Нямам, Лиске, яйчице. Имам една кокошчица ей там в шумата. Ако искаш, вземи нея.

Кума Лиса се зарадвала и взела да рови из шумата. Кучето изскочило и я подгонило.

Тя бяга, то я гони, тя бяга, то я гони — най-после стигнала до дупката си и се скрила.

Кучето клекнало пред дупката. Чакало да се подаде Кума Лиса, да я хване за шията. Кума Лиса не знаела, че кучето я варди отвън, и взела да пита краката си:

— Я кажете, краченца, как викахте, когато ви гонеше кучето?

— Беж, Лиске, да бягаме, беж, Лиске, да бягаме!

— Мили какини краченца, кака ще им купи чехлички! Ами вие, очички, как викахте?

— И ние тъй викахме: „Беж, Лиске, да бягаме, беж, Лиске, да бягаме!“

— Мили какини очички, кака ще им купи очилца. Ами вие, ушички, как викахте?

— И ние тъй викахме: „Беж, Лиске, да бягаме!“

— Мили какини ушички, кака ще им купи обички! А ти, опашчице, как викаше?

— Дръж, куче, Лиса за опашката, дръж, куче, Лиса за опашката.

— Тъй ли! Чакай да те дам на кучето! — и Кума Лиса си подала опашката навън.

Кучето я хванало за опашката и почнало да я тегли. Лиса се дърпа навътре, кучето тегли навън. Тя навътре, то навън. Най-после я издърпало и — скок върху нея — разкъсало и кожухчето.

There was a little Blackbird who made a nest to lay eggs. Hearing about this, the Fox visited the little bird and asked for an egg. The Fox said:
– Little Blackbird, give me an egg!
The Bird gave it to the Fox. But the Fox came again the other day and asked for another egg.
– Little Blackbird, my parents visited me. Give me one egg to make a soup!
Day by day the little Blackbird gave an egg after an egg. But the terrible thing happened – only one egg was left to the Bird.
The next day the Fox came again and the little bird said:
– I only have one egg left, Foxy.
– Then I‘ll eat you, little bird! answered the Fox.
So the little Blackbird gave him the last egg. And no egg was left to the bird.
In the morning the little Blackbird started crying. There was no egg in her nest. Meanwhile two old women passed by her tree. When they saw the crying Bird they gave her an advice:
– Don‘t cry Little Bird! We’ll help you. We will put our dog in the nearest bush, cover him with leaves and when the Fox comes just tell him to open this basket with eggs.
The next morning the Fox came again:
– Give me an egg! said the Fox.
– I haven‘t any egg left!
– I‘ll eat you then! said the Fox.
– Don‘t do this! I have a basket full of eggs over there. It is under this bush… said the little bird.
The Fox went to the bush, took away the leaves, but the Dog suddenly jumped from it. The Fox ran away quickly and hid in the nearest hole and the Dog waited by the hole to catch the Fox.
The Fox said to his legs:
– My dear legs what did you do to me running so quickly?
– Run, run! answered the legs. The Fox promised the legs to buy them new shoes.
– And you, my hands what do you need to save me?
-Run, run! answered the hands. The Fox promised to buy them new bracelets.
Then the Fox asked his eyes the same question. The eyes gave the same answer. And the Fox promised them new glasses.
Finally he asked his tail, but unfortunately the tail said:
– The Dog, see if he catches you by the tail!
Hearing this, the Fox put his tail out of the hole thinking that the Dog wasn‘t there.
Oh what happened next?
The Dog pulled the Fox outside the hole by his tail.
And ate him.
So the Little Blackbird was saved.

North Macedonia

The Fox and the Sour Grapes
De Vulpe et Vua
Written by Gaius Julius Phaedrus, 15 BCE

A Fox tries to get grapes to eat but cannot reach them, and retires in disgust saying he didn’t want them anyway. Talk about sour grapes – this is how the expression came to be! Gaius Julius Phaedrus was the first fabulist to versify Aesop’s fables into Latin. He was born in Macedonia and came to Rome as a slave before being freed by Augustus. His fables became extremely popular in the Middle Ages, long after his death.

Fame coacta uulpes alta in uinea
uuam adpetebat, summis saliens uiribus.
Quam tangere ut non potuit, discedens ait:
“Nondum matura es; nolo acerbam sumere.”
Qui, facere quae non possunt, uerbis eleuant,
adscribere hoc debebunt exemplum sibi.

An hungry Fox with fierce attack
Sprang on a Vine, but tumbled back,
Nor could attain the point in view,
So near the sky the bunches grew.
As he went off, “They’re scurvy stuff,”
Says he, “and not half ripe enough–
And I ‘ve more rev’rence for my tripes
Than to torment them with the gripes.”
For those this tale is very pat
Who lessen what they can’t come at.

Greece

The Ant and the Grasshopper
Το μυρμήγκι και η ακρίδα
Credited to Aesop, collected by Babrius, 2nd century

If a lazy grasshopper prefers to sing and dance rather than forage like his friends the ants, he soon learns to regret it when winter comes. This classic Aesop’s fable, familiar to teachers and students alike, travelled through centuries and has been adapted into hundreds of variants. Aesop was allegedly a Greek writer who may be  historical or merely legendary. He was said to have lived in the six century B.C. perhaps as a Phrygian slave who spent time pondering life’s simple truths, and writing  moralizing stories involving animals with specific traits.

Χειμῶνος ὥρῃ σῖτον ἐκ μυχοῦ σύρων
ἔψυχε μύρμηξ, ὃν θέρους σεσωρεύκει.
τέττιξ δὲ τοῦτον ἱκέτευε λιμώττων
δοῦναί τι καὐτῷ τῆς τροφῆς, ὅπως ζήσῃ.
“τί οὖν ἐποίεις” φησί “τῷ θέρει τούτῳ;”
“οὐκ ἐσχόλαζον, ἀλλὰ διετέλουν ᾄδων.”
γελάσας δ’ ὁ μύρμηξ τόν τε πυρὸν ἐγκλείων
“χειμῶνος ὀρχοῦ” φησίν “εἰ θέρους ηὔλεις.”

In a field one summer’s day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.

“Why not come and chat with me,” said the Grasshopper, “instead of toiling and moiling in that way?”

“I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the Ant, “and recommend you to do the same.”

“Why bother about winter?” said the Grasshopper; “We have got plenty of food at present.” But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil.

When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food and found itself dying of hunger – while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew: It is best to prepare for days of need.

Turkey

The Camel and the Mouse
Fare ile Deve
Written by Djelāl ed-Dīn Muḥammed Rūmī, 13th century

A small Mouse once caught a Camel’s head-rope in its paws and went off with it. But danger was looming when they both needed to cross a river… The Camel and the Mouse is a fable by Rūmī, the celebrated thirteenth-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic. Like Aesop, Rūmī saw in animals’ true nature lessons to guide his fellow Sufis. The Mouse’s lesson in humility and dozens and dozens of other fables appear in his impossibly long, twenty-six-thousand-verse-poem the Masnavi.

Bir fare, bir devenin yularından tutmuş, kurula kurula yola düzülmüştü. Gururundan kabına sığamıyordu, kendi kendi söyleniyordu.

—Ben ne büyük kılavuzum, koca deveyi yularından tutmuş, çekip götürüyorum, derken önlerine koca bir ırmak gelmişti. Fare, ırmağı görünce durdu. Suya dalsa, kuşkusuz boğulurdu. Deve, farenin durduğunu görünce:

—Hayrola dostum, dedi. Niçin durdun? Dal şu ırmağa, karşı tarafa geçelim.

Fare, utancından kaçacak delik arıyordu… Boynunu büktü:

—Ben bu ırmağı nasıl geçerim, görmüyor musun su çok derin? dedi.

Deve:

—Hele bir görelim, ne kadarmış bu su, diyerek ırmağa daldı. Su ancak dizlerine kadar çıkmıştı. Güldü fareye:

— A korkak cüce!… Derin dediğin su, ancak diz boyu… Korkacak ne var, haydi dal suya da karşıya geçelim…
Fare titriyordu. Deveye yalvardı:

—Ey büyük üstat! Dizden dize fark var. Bu ırmak sana diz boyu ama, bana koca bir deniz… Sana iki adımlık bir su birikintisi, bana aşılamayan bir nehir…

Deve dayanamadı, konuştu:

—Öyleyse bir daha küstahlık edeyim deme. Boynundan büyük işlere girişme… Haydi, titreyip durma, sıçra da hörgücüme bin. Seni de, senin gibi yüzlercesini de karşıya geçirebilirim. Bu sana bir ders olsun…

İnsan kendini iyi bilmeli, hele aldatıcı gurura hiç kapılmamalıdır.

Une souris très fière et sûre d’elle s’empara un jour de la bride d’un chameau et ordonna à ce dernier de se mettre en marche.
Le chameau étant de nature docile avanca sans rechigner. La souris en fut remplie plus encore d’orgueil cependant que le chameau l’observait amusé par tant d’arrogance. Puis, ils arrivèrent devant une rivière et la souris s’arrêta.

Ô mon amie ! Toi mon guide, dit le chameau, pourquoi t’arrêtes-tu ? Marche donc !

La souris ennuyée répondit :
Cette rivière me semble bien profonde et je crains fort de me noyer.
Le chameau qui vit que la souris tremblait proposa :
– Laisse-moi faire, je vais essayer !
Et il s’avanca dans l’eau.
– Mais vois-tu donc , l’eau n’est pas profonde. Elle monte à peine à mes jarrets.

La souris de répondre:
Ce qui t’apparaît comme une fourmi est pour moi un dragon. Si l’eau t’arrive aux jarrets, elle dépasse sans doute ma tête de plusieurs centaines de mètres.

Alors le chameau lui dit :
Dans ce cas, cesse d’être orgueilleuse et de te prendre pour un guide. Ne te compare pas au chameau et mesure-toi aux autres souris, mais à sur moi !
La souris qui compris alors son orgueil

“Je regrette et implore ton pardon !” dit la souris, je t’en prie, fais-moi traverser ce ruisseau !

Ce que fit le chameau avant qu’ils ne deviennent les meilleurs amis du monde.

With many thanks to Jack Schickler for using a bit of his magic to edit this article and translate many fables into English! And another big thank you to Nejc for helping out in finding this inspiring Slovenian fable.

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