The Fables of Phædrus in Verse
Phædrus
Verse
1:31 h
Level 3
Gaius Julius Phaedrus (/ˈfiːdrəs/; Greek: Φαῖδρος; Phaîdros) was a 1st-century CE Roman fabulist and the first versifier of a collection of Aesop's fables into Latin. Few facts are known about him for certain and there was little mention of his work during late antiquity. The Fables of Phædrus in Verse is an English translation by Christopher Smart.

The Fables of Phædrus

Translated into English Verse

by
Phædrus

Translated by Christopher Smart, A.M.,


Book I

Prologue

What from the founder Esop fell,
In neat familiar verse I tell:
Twofold’s the genius of the page,
To make you smile and make you sage.
But if the critics we displease,
By wrangling brutes and talking trees,
Let them remember, ere they blame,
We’re working neither sin nor shame;
’Tis but a play to form the youth
By fiction, in the cause of truth.


Fable I.
The Wolf and the Lamb

By thirst incited; to the brook
The Wolf and Lamb themselves betook.
The Wolf high up the current drank,
The Lamb far lower down the bank.
Then, bent his rav’nous maw to cram,
The Wolf took umbrage at the Lamb.
“How dare you trouble all the flood,
And mingle my good drink with mud?”
“Sir,” says the Lambkin, sore afraid,
“How should I act, as you upbraid?
The thing you mention cannot be,
The stream descends from you to me.”
Abash’d by facts, says he, “I know
’Tis now exact six months ago
You strove my honest fame to blot” —
“Six months ago, sir, I was not.”
“Then ’twas th’ old ram thy sire,” he cried,
And so he tore him, till he died.
To those this fable I address
Who are determined to oppress,
And trump up any false pretence,
But they will injure innocence.


Fable II.
The Frogs Desiring a King

With equal laws when Athens throve,
The petulance of freedom drove
Their state to license, which o’erthrew
Those just restraints of old they knew.
Hence, as a factious discontent
Through every rank and order went,
Pisistratus the tyrant form’d
A party, and the fort he storm’d:
Which yoke, while all bemoan’d in grief,
(Not that he was a cruel chief,
But they unused to be controll’d)
Then Esop thus his fable told:
The Frogs, a freeborn people made,
From out their marsh with clamor pray’d
That Jove a monarch would assign
With power their manners to refine.
The sovereign smiled, and on their bog
Sent his petitioners a log,
Which, as it dash’d upon the place,
At first alarm’d the tim’rous race.
But ere it long had lain to cool,
One slily peep’d out of the pool,
And finding it a king in jest,
He boldly summon’d all the rest.
Now, void of fear, the tribe advanced,
And on the timber leap’d and danced,
And having let their fury loose,
In gross affronts and rank abuse,
Of Jove they sought another king,
For useless was this wooden thing.
Then he a water-snake empower’d,
Who one by one their race devour’d.
They try to make escape in vain,
Nor, dumb through fear, can they complain.
By stealth they Mercury depute,
That Jove would once more hear their suit,
And send their sinking state to save;
But he in wrath this answer gave:
“You scorn’d the good king that you had,
And therefore you shall bear the bad.”
Ye likewise, O Athenian friends,
Convinced to what impatience tends,
Though slavery be no common curse,
Be still, for fear of worse and worse.


Fable III.
The Vain Jackdaw

Lest any one himself should plume,
And on his neighbour’s worth presume;
But still let Nature’s garb prevail —
Esop has left this little tale:
A Daw, ambitious and absurd,
Pick’d up the quills of Juno’s bird;
And, with the gorgeous spoil adorn’d,
All his own sable brethren scorn’d,
And join’d the peacocks — who in scoff
Stripp’d the bold thief, and drove him off.
The Daw, thus roughly handled, went
To his own kind in discontent:
But they in turn contemn the spark,
And brand with many a shameful mark.
Then one he formerly disdain’d,
“Had you,” said he, “at home remain’d —
Content with Nature’s ways and will,
You had not felt the peacock’s bill;
Nor ’mongst the birds of your own dress
Had been deserted in distress.”


Fable IV.
The Dog in the River