Old Folks in Aesop's Fables

Selected and edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2006


  1. The Mischievous Dog

  2. The Mice in Council

  3. The Old Woman and the Doctor

  4. The Crab and His Mother

  5. The Old Lion

  6. The Peasant and the Apple Tree

  7. The Mice and the Weasels

  8. The Ass and the Old Peasant

  9. The Old Woman and the Wine Jar

  10. The Oxen and the Butchers

  11. The Old Hound

  12. The Charger and the Miller

  13. The Man and His Two Mistresses

  14. The Miller, His Son, and Their Ass

  15. The Man, the Horse, the Ox, and the Dog

  16. The Wolves, the Sheep, and the Ram

  17. The Swan

  18. The Old Man and Death

  19. The Sick Lion

  20. The Bundle of Sticks

  21. The Cat and the Mice

  22. The Bald Knight

  23. Death and Cupid

  24. The Hunted Beaver

  25. The Farmer and His Sons

  26. The Sick Stag

  27. The Two Rats

  28. The Old Trout, the Young Trout, and the Salmon

  29. Links to related sites

The Mischievous Dog

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 disgrace."

Moral: Notoriety is often mistaken for fame.

The Mice in Council

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?"

The Old Woman and the Doctor

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."

The Crab and His Mother

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.

The Old Lion

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."

The Peasant and the Apple Tree

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.

The Mice and the Weasels

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 their pursuers.

Moral: Greatness carries its own penalties.

The Ass and the Old Peasant

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 worse off."

The Old Woman and the Wine Jar

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."

The Oxen and the Butchers

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."

The Old Hound

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."

The Charger and the Miller

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."

The Man and His Two Mistresses

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.

The Miller, His Son, and Their Ass

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.

The Man, the Horse, the Ox, and the Dog

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, the Sheep, and the Ram

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

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 sing."

The Old Man and Death

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."

The Sick Lion

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.

The Bundle of Sticks

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 their father.

Moral: Union gives strength.

The Cat and the Mice

A certain house was much infested by mice. The owner brought home a cat, 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.

The Bald Knight

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.

Death and Cupid

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 Hunted Beaver

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.

The Farmer and His Sons

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.

The Sick Stag

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.

The Two Rats

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.

The Old Trout, the Young Trout, and the Salmon

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.

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Revised December 1, 2006.