Old Folks in Aesop's Fables
Selected and edited by
D. L. Ashliman
- The Mischievous Dog
- The Mice in Council
- The Old Woman and the Doctor
- The Crab and His Mother
- The Old Lion
- The Peasant and the Apple Tree
- The Mice and the Weasels
- The Ass and the Old Peasant
- The Old Woman and the Wine Jar
- The Oxen and the Butchers
- The Old Hound
- The Charger and the Miller
- The Man and His Two Mistresses
- The Miller, His Son, and Their Ass
- The Man, the Horse, the Ox, and the Dog
- The Wolves, the Sheep, and the Ram
- The Swan
- The Old Man and Death
- The Sick Lion
- The Bundle of Sticks
- The Cat and the Mice
- The Bald Knight
- Death and Cupid
- The Hunted Beaver
- The Farmer and His Sons
- The Sick Stag
- The Two Rats
- The Old Trout, the Young Trout, and the Salmon
- Links to related sites
- Fables 1-18: Aesop's Fables. Translated by V. S. Vernon Jones.
London: Heinemann, 1912.
- Fables 19-20: The Fables of Aesop. Edited by Joseph Jacobs.
London and New York: Macmillan, 1894.
- Fables 21-28: The Fables of Aesop. Based on the texts of
L'Estrange and Croxall. New York and Boston:
Books, Inc., n.d.
- Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore,
fairy tales, and mythology.
There was once a dog who used to snap at people and bite them without any
provocation, and who was a great nuisance to
everyone who came to his master's house. So his master fastened a bell
round his neck to warn people of his presence.
The dog was very proud of the bell, and strutted about tinkling it with
immense satisfaction. But an old dog came up
to him and said, "The fewer airs you give yourself the better, my friend.
You don't think, do you, that your bell was
given you as a reward of merit? On the contrary, it is a badge of
Moral: Notoriety is often mistaken for fame.
Once upon a time all the mice met together in council and discussed the
best means of securing themselves against the
attacks of the cat. After several suggestions had been debated, a mouse of
some standing and experience got up and
said, "I think I have hit upon a plan which will ensure our safety in the
future, provided you approve and carry it
out. It is that we should fasten a bell round the neck of our enemy the
cat, which will by its tinkling warn us of her
approach." This proposal was warmly applauded, and it had been already
decided to adopt it, when an old mouse got upon
his feet and said, "I agree with you all that the plan before us is an
admirable one. But may I ask who is going to
bell the cat?"
An old woman became almost totally blind from a disease of the eyes, and,
after consulting a doctor, made an agreement
with him in the presence of witnesses that she should pay him a high fee
if he cured her, while if he failed he was to
receive nothing. The doctor accordingly prescribed a course of treatment,
and every time he paid her a visit he took
away with him some article out of the house, until at last, when he
visited her for the last time, and the cure was
complete, there was nothing left.
When the old woman saw that the house was empty she refused to pay him his
fee; and, after repeated refusals on her
part, he sued her before the magistrates for payment of her debt. On being
brought into court she was ready with her
defense. "The claimant," said she, "has stated the facts about our
agreement correctly. I undertook to pay him a fee
if he cured me, and he, on his part, promised to charge nothing if he
failed. Now, he says I am cured. But I say that
I am blinder than ever, and I can prove what I say. When my eyes were bad
I could at any rate see well enough to be
aware that my house contained a certain amount of furniture and other
things. But now, when according to him I am
cured, I am entirely unable to see anything there at all."
An old crab said to her son, "Why do you walk sideways like that, my son?
You ought to walk straight." The young crab
replied, "Show me how, dear mother, and I'll follow your example." The old
crab tried, but tried in vain, and then saw
how foolish she had been to find fault with her child.
Moral: Example is better than precept.
A lion, enfeebled by age and no longer able to procure food for himself by
force, determined to do so by cunning.
Betaking himself to a cave, he lay down inside and feigned to be sick; and
whenever any of the other animals entered
to inquire after his health, he sprang upon them and devoured them. Many
lost their lives in this way, till one day a
fox called at the cave, and, having a suspicion of the truth, addressed
the lion from outside instead of going in, and
asked him how he did. He replied that he was in a very bad way. "But,"
said he, "why do you stand outside? Pray come
in." "I should have done so," answered the fox, "if I hadn't noticed that
all the footprints point towards the cave
and none the other way."
A peasant had an apple tree growing in his garden, which bore no fruit,
but merely served to provide a shelter from
the heat for the sparrows and grasshoppers which sat and chirped in its
branches. Disappointed at its barrenness he
determined to cut it down, and went and fetched his ax for the purpose.
But when the sparrows and the grasshoppers saw
what he was about to do, they begged him to spare it, and said to him, "If
you destroy the tree we shall have to seek
shelter elsewhere, and you will no longer have our merry chirping to
enliven your work in the garden."
He, however, refused to listen to them, and set to work with a will to cut
through the trunk. A few strokes showed
that it was hollow inside and contained a swarm of bees and a large store
of honey. Delighted with his find he threw
down his ax, saying, "The old tree is worth keeping after all."
Moral: Utility is most men's test of worth.
There was war between the mice and the weasels, in which the mice always
got the worst of it, numbers of them being
killed and eaten by the weasels. So they called a council of war, in which
an old mouse got up and said, "It's no
wonder we are always beaten, for we have no generals to plan our battles
and direct our movements in the field."
Acting on his advice, they chose the biggest mice to be their leaders, and
these, in order to be distinguished from
the rank and file, provided themselves with helmets bearing large plumes
of straw. They then led out the mice to
battle, confident of victory; but they were defeated as usual, and were
soon scampering as fast as they could to their
holes. All made their way to safety without difficulty except the leaders,
who were so hampered by the badges of their
rank that they could not get into their holes, and fell easy victims to
Moral: Greatness carries its own penalties.
An old peasant was sitting in a meadow watching his ass, which was grazing
close by, when all of a sudden he caught
sight of armed men stealthily approaching. He jumped up in a moment, and
begged the ass to fly with him as fast as he
could, "Or else," said he, "we shall both be captured by the enemy." But
the ass just looked round lazily and said,
"And if so, do you think they'll make me carry heavier loads than I have
to now?" "No," said his master. "Oh, well,
then," said the ass, "I don't mind if they do take me, for I shan't be any
An old woman picked up an empty wine jar which had once contained a rare
and costly wine, and which still retained
some traces of its exquisite bouquet. She raised it to her nose and
sniffed at it again and again. "Ah," she cried,
"how delicious must have been the liquid which has left behind so
ravishing a smell."
Once upon a time the oxen determined to be revenged upon the butchers for
the havoc they wrought in their ranks, and
plotted to put them to death on a given day. They were all gathered
together discussing how best to carry out the
plan, and the more violent of them were engaged in sharpening their horns
for the fray, when an old ox got up upon his
feet and said, "My brothers, you have good reason, I know, to hate these
butchers, but, at any rate, they understand
their trade and do what they have to do without causing unnecessary pain.
But if we kill them, others, who have no
experience, will be set to slaughter us, and will by their bungling
inflict great sufferings upon us. For you may be
sure that even though all the butchers perish, mankind will never go
without their beef."
A hound who had served his master well for years, and had run down many a
quarry in his time, began to lose his
strength and speed owing to age. One day, when out hunting, his master
started a powerful wild boar and set the hound
at him. The latter seized the beast by the ear, but his teeth were gone
and he could not retain his hold; so the boar
escaped. His master began to scold him severely, but the hound interrupted
him with these words, "My will is as strong
as ever, master, but my body is old and feeble. You ought to honor me for
what I have been instead of abusing me for
what I am."
A horse who had been used to carry his rider into battle felt himself
growing old and chose to work in a mill instead.
He now no longer found himself stepping out proudly to the beating of the
drums, but was compelled to slave away all
day grinding the corn. Bewailing his hard lot, he said one day to the
miller, "Ah me! I was once a splendid war horse
gaily caparisoned, and attended by a groom whose sole duty was to see to
my wants. How different is my present
condition! I wish I had never given up the battlefield for the mill." The
miller replied with asperity, "It's no use
your regretting the past. Fortune has many ups and downs. You must just
take them as they come."
A man of middle age, whose hair was turning grey, had two mistresses, an
old woman and a young one. The elder of the
two didn't like having a lover who looked so much younger than herself;
so, whenever he came to see her, she used to
pull the dark hairs out of his head to make him look old. The younger, on
the other hand, didn't like him to look so
much older than herself, and took every opportunity of pulling out the
grey hairs, to make him look young. Between
them, they left not a hair in his head, and he became perfectly bald.
A miller, accompanied by his young son, was driving his ass to market in
hopes of finding a purchaser for him. On the
road they met a troop of girls, laughing and talking, who exclaimed, "Did
you ever see such a pair of fools? To be
trudging along the dusty road when they might be riding!"
The miller thought there was sense in what they said; so he made his son
mount the ass, and himself walked at the
side. Presently they met some of his old cronies, who greeted them and
said, "You'll spoil that son of yours, letting
him ride while you toil along on foot! Make him walk, young lazybones!
It'll do him all the good in the world."
The miller followed their advice, and took his son's place on the back of
the ass, while the boy trudged along behind.
They had not gone far when they overtook a party of women and children,
and the miller heard them say, "What a selfish
old man! He himself rides in comfort, but lets his poor little boy follow
as best he can on his own legs!"
So he made his son get up behind him. Further along the road they met some
travelers, who asked the miller whether the
ass he was riding was his own property, or a beast hired for the occasion.
He replied that it was his own, and that he
was taking it to market to sell. "Good heavens!" said they. "With a load
like that the poor beast will be so exhausted
by the time he gets there that no one will look at him. Why, you'd do
better to carry him!"
"Anything to please you," said the old man. "We can but try." So they got
off, tied the ass's legs together with a
rope and slung him on a pole, and at last reached the town, carrying him
between them. This was so absurd a sight that
the people ran out in crowds to laugh at it, and chaffed the father and
son unmercifully, some even calling them
lunatics. They had then got to a bridge over the river, where the ass,
frightened by the noise and his unusual
situation, kicked and struggled till he broke the ropes that bound him,
and fell into the water and was drowned.
Whereupon the unfortunate miller, vexed and ashamed, made the best of his
way home again, convinced that in trying to
please all, he had pleased none, and had lost his ass into the bargain.
One winter's day during a severe storm a horse, an ox, and a dog came and
begged for shelter in the house of a man. He
readily admitted them, and, as they were cold and wet, he lit a fire for
their comfort; and he put oats before the
horse, and hay before the ox, while he fed the dog with the remains of his
own dinner. When the storm abated, and they
were about to depart, they determined to show their gratitude in the
following way. They divided the life of man among
them, and each endowed one part of it with the qualities which were
peculiarly his own. The horse took youth, and
hence young men are high-mettled and impatient of restraint; the ox took
middle age, and accordingly men in middle
life are steady and hard-working; while the dog took old age, which is the
reason why old men are so often peevish and
ill-tempered, and, like dogs, attached chiefly to those who look to their
comfort, while they are disposed to snap at
those who are unfamiliar or distasteful to them.
The wolves sent a deputation to the sheep with proposals for a lasting
peace between them, on condition of their
giving up the sheepdogs to instant death. The foolish sheep agreed to the
terms; but an old ram, whose years had
brought him wisdom, interfered and said, "How can we expect to live at
peace with you? Why, even with the dogs at hand
to protect us, we are never secure from your murderous attacks!"
The swan is said to sing but once in its life -- when it knows that it is
about to die. A certain man who had heard of
the song of the swan one day saw one of these birds for sale in the
market, and bought it and took it home with him. A
few days later he had some friends to dinner, and produced the swan, and
bade it sing for their entertainment; but the
swan remained silent. In course of time, when it was growing old, it
became aware of its approaching end and broke
into a sweet, sad song. When its owner heard it, he said angrily, "If the
creature only sings when it is about to die,
what a fool I was that day I wanted to hear its song! I ought to have
wrung its neck instead of merely inviting it to
An old man cut himself a bundle of sticks in a wood and started to carry
them home. He had a long way to go, and was
tired out before he had got much more than halfway. Casting his burden on
the ground, he called upon Death to come and
release him from his life of toil. The words were scarcely out of his
mouth when, much to his dismay, Death stood
before him and professed his readiness to serve him. He was almost
frightened out of his wits, but he had enough
presence of mind to stammer out, "Good sir, if you'd be so kind, pray help
me up with my burden again."
A lion had come to the end of his days and lay sick unto death at the
mouth of his cave, gasping for breath. The
animals, his subjects, came round him and drew nearer as he grew more and
more helpless. When they saw him on the
point of death they thought to themselves, "Now is the time to pay off old
grudges." So the boar came up and drove at
him with his tusks; then a bull gored him with his horns; still the lion
lay helpless before them: so the ass, feeling
quite safe from danger, came up, and turning his tail to the lion kicked
up his heels into his face. "This is a double
death," growled the lion.
Moral: Only cowards insult dying majesty.
An old man on the point of death summoned his sons around him to give
them some parting advice. He ordered his
servants to bring in a faggot of sticks, and said to his eldest son,
"Break it." The son strained and strained, but
with all his efforts was unable to break the bundle. The other sons also
tried, but none of them was successful.
"Untie the faggots," said the father, "and each of you take a stick." When
they had done so, he called out to them,
"Now, break," and each stick was easily broken. "You see my meaning," said
Moral: Union gives strength.
A certain house was much infested by mice. The owner brought home a
famous mouser, who soon made such havoc
among the little folk that those who were left stayed closely in the upper
shelves. Then the cat grew hungry and thin,
and, driven by her wit's end, hung by her hind legs to a peg in the wall
and pretended to be dead in order that the
mice would no longer be afraid to come near her.
An old mouse came to the edge of the shelf, and, seeing through the trick,
cried out, "Ah ha, Mrs. Pussy! We should
not come near you, even if your skin were stuffed with straw."
Moral: Old birds are not to be caught with chaff.
A certain knight, who wore a wig to conceal his baldness, was out hunting
one day. A sudden gust of wind carried away
his wig and showed his bald pate. His friends all laughed heartily at the
odd figure he made, but the old fellow, so
far from being put out, laughed as heartily as any of them. "Is it any
wonder," said he, "that another man's hair
shouldn't keep on my head when my own wouldn't stay there?"
Moral: Every event has its reason.
Cupid, one sultry summer's noon, tired with play and faint with heat, went
into a cool grotto to repose himself. This
happened to be the cave of Death. He threw himself carelessly down upon
the floor, and his quiver turning upside down,
all the arrows fell out and mingled with those of Death, which lay
scattered about the place. When he awoke he
gathered them up as well as he could; but they were so intermingled that
although he knew the proper number to take,
he could not rightly distinguish his own. Hence he took up some of the
arrows which belonged to Death, and left some
of his. This is the reason why that we now and then see the hearts of the
old and decrepit transfixed with the bolts
of Love; and with great grief and surprise sometimes see youth and beauty
smitten with the darts of Death.
Moral: Death and Love strike unexpectedly.
The stones of the beaver was once thought to be of use in medicine, and
the animal was often hunted on that account. A
shrewd old fellow of the race, being hard pressed by the dogs, and knowing
well why they were after him, had the
resolution and the presence of mind to bite off his stones and leave them
behind him, and thus escaped with his life.
Moral: The skin is nearer than the cloak.
A certain farmer, lying at the point of death, called his sons around him,
and gave into their charge his fields and
vineyards, telling them that a treasure lay hidden somewhere in them,
within a foot of the surface of the ground. His
sons thought he spoke of money which he had hidden, and after he was
buried, they dug most industriously all over the
estate, but found nothing. The soil being so well loosened, however, the
succeeding crops were of unequalled richness,
and the sons then found out what their father had in view in telling them
to dig for hidden treasure.
Moral: Industry is fortune's right hand.
A stag, whose joints had become stiff with old age, was at great pains to
get together a large heap of fodder --
enough, as he thought, to last him for the remainder of his days. He
stretched himself out upon it, and, now dozing,
now nibbling, made up his mind to wait quietly for the end.
He had always been of a gay and lively turn, and had made in his time many
friends. These now came in great numbers to
see him and wish him farewell. While engaged in friendly talk over past
adventures and old times, what more natural
than that they should help themselves to a little of the food which seemed
so plentifully stored around? The end of
the matter was, that the poor stag died not so much of sickness or of old
age as for sheer want of the food which his
friends had eaten for him.
Moral: Thoughtless friends bring more hurt than profit.
A cunning old rat discovered in his rounds a most tempting piece of
cheese, which was placed in a trap. But being well
aware that if he touched it he would be caught, he slyly sought one of his
young friends, and, under the mask of
friendship, informed him of the prize. "I cannot use it myself," said he,
"for I have just made a hearty meal."
The inexperienced youngster thanked him with gratitude for the news, and
heedlessly sprang upon the tempting bait; on
which the trap closed and instantly destroyed him. his companion, being
now quite secure, quietly ate up the cheese.
Moral: Do not listen to every passer-by.
A fisherman, in the month of May, stood angling on the bank of a river
with an artificial fly. He threw his bait with
so much art that a young trout was rushing towards it, when she was
prevented by her mother. "Stop, child!" said she.
"Never be too hasty where there is a possibility of danger. Take due time
to consider, before you risk an action that
may be fatal. How do you know whether that is indeed a fly, or the snare
of an enemy? Let someone else make the
experiment before you. If it be a fly, he will very probably elude the
first attack, and then the second may be made
if not with success, at least with safety."
She had no sooner uttered this caution than a salmon seized upon the
pretended fly, and was captured.
Moral: Do not rush into a strange position.
Revised December 1, 2006.