Aesop's Children

A selection of fables depicting the relationship between children and adults

edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2011

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  1. The Crab and His Mother
  2. 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.

    Example is better than precept.

  3. The Farmer and His Sons
  4. A farmer, being at death's door, and desiring to impart to his sons a secret of much moment, called them round him and said, "My sons, I am shortly about to die; I would have you know, therefore, that in my vineyard there lies a hidden treasure. Dig, and you will find it."

    As soon as their father was dead, the sons took spade and fork and turned up the soil of the vineyard over and over again, in their search for the treasure which they supposed to lie buried there. They found none, however; but the vines, after so thorough a digging, produced a crop such as had never before been seen.

  5. Jupiter and the Monkey
  6. Jupiter issued a proclamation to all the beasts, and offered a prize to the one who, in his judgment, produced the most beautiful offspring. Among the rest came the monkey, carrying a baby monkey in her arms, a hairless, flat-nosed little fright. When they saw it, the gods all burst into peal on peal of laughter. But the monkey hugged her little one to her, and said, "Jupiter may give the prize to whomsoever he likes. But I shall always think my baby the most beautiful of them all."

  7. Father and Sons
  8. A certain man had several sons who were always quarreling with one another, and, try as he might, he could not get them to live together in harmony. So he determined to convince them of their folly by the following means. Bidding them fetch a bundle of sticks, he invited each in turn to break it across his knee. All tried and all failed. And then he undid the bundle, and handed them the sticks one by one, when they had no difficulty at all in breaking them.

    "There, my boys," said he, "united you will be more than a match for your enemies. But if you quarrel and separate, your weakness will put you at the mercy of those who attack you."

    Union is strength.

  9. The Boy Bathing
  10. A boy was bathing in a river and got out of his depth, and was in great danger of being drowned. A man who was passing along a road heard his cries for help, and went to the riverside and began to scold him for being so careless as to get into deep water, but made no attempt to help him.

    "Oh, sir," cried the boy, "please help me first and scold me afterwards."

    Give assistance, not advice, in a crisis.

  11. The Boy and the Nettles
  12. A boy was gathering berries from a hedge when his hand was stung by a nettle. Smarting with the pain, he ran to tell his mother, and said to her between his sobs, "I only touched it ever so lightly, mother."

    "That's just why you got stung, my son," she said. "If you had grasped it firmly, it wouldn't have hurt you in the least."

  13. The Boy and the Filberts
  14. A boy put his hand into a jar of filberts, and grasped as many as his fist could possibly hold. But when he tried to pull it out again, he found he couldn't do so, for the neck of the jar was too small to allow of the passage of so large a handful. Unwilling to lose his nuts but unable to withdraw his hand, he burst into tears.

    A bystander, who saw where the trouble lay, said to him, "Come, my boy, don't be so greedy. Be content with half the amount, and you'll be able to get your hand out without difficulty."

    Do not attempt too much at once.

  15. The Fawn and His Mother
  16. A hind said to her fawn, who was now well grown and strong, "My son, nature has given you a powerful body and a stout pair of horns, and I can't think why you are such a coward as to run away from the hounds."

    Just then they both heard the sound of a pack in full cry, but at a considerable distance. "You stay where you are," said the Hind. "Never mind me." And with that she ran off as fast as her legs could carry her.

  17. The Ox and the Frog
  18. Two little frogs were playing about at the edge of a pool when an ox came down to the water to drink, and by accident trod on one of them and crushed the life out of him. When the old frog missed him, she asked his brother where he was.

    "He is dead, mother," said the little frog; "an enormous big creature with four legs came to our pool this morning and trampled him down in the mud."

    "Enormous, was he? Was he as big as this?" said the frog, puffing herself out to look as big as possible.

    "Oh! yes, much bigger," was the answer.

    The Frog puffed herself out still more. "Was he as big as this?" said she. "Oh! yes, yes, mother, MUCH bigger," said the little frog.

    And yet again she puffed and puffed herself out till she was almost as round as a ball. "As big as...?" she began -- but then she burst.

  19. The Wolf, the Mother, and Her Child
  20. A hungry wolf was prowling about in search of food. By and by, attracted by the cries of a child, he came to a cottage. As he crouched beneath the window, he heard the mother say to the child, "Stop crying, do, or I'll throw you to the Wolf."

    Thinking she really meant what she said, he waited there a long time in the expectation of satisfying his hunger. In the evening he heard the mother fondling her child and saying, "If the naughty Wolf comes, he shan't get my little one. Daddy will kill him."

    The wolf got up in much disgust and walked away. "As for the people in that house," said he to himself, "you can't believe a word they say."

  21. The Lioness and the Vixen
  22. A lioness and a vixen were talking together about their young, as mothers will, and saying how healthy and well-grown they were, and what beautiful coats they had, and how they were the image of their parents.

    "My litter of cubs is a joy to see," said the fox; and then she added, rather maliciously, "But I notice you never have more than one."

    "No," said the lioness grimly, "but that one's a lion."

    Quality, not quantity.

  23. The Miller, His Son, and Their Ass
  24. 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.

  25. Brother and Sister
  26. A certain man had two children, a boy and a girl; and the boy was as good-looking as the girl was plain. One day, as they were playing together in their mother's chamber, they chanced upon a mirror and saw their own features for the first time. The boy saw what a handsome fellow he was, and began to boast to his sister about his good looks. She, on her part, was ready to cry with vexation when she was aware of her plainness, and took his remarks as an insult to herself. Running to her father, she told him of her brother's conceit, and accused him of meddling with his mother's things.

    He laughed and kissed them both, and said, "My children, learn from now onwards to make a good use of the glass. You, my boy, strive to be as good as it shows you to be handsome; and you, my girl, resolve to make up for the plainness of your features by the sweetness of your disposition."

  27. The Bull and the Calf
  28. A full-grown bull was struggling to force his huge bulk through the narrow entrance to a cow-house where his stall was, when a young calf came up and said to him, "If you'll step aside a moment, I'll show you the way to get through."

    The bull turned upon him an amused look. "I knew that way," said he, "before you were born."

  29. The Father and His Daughters
  30. A man had two daughters, one of whom he gave in marriage to a gardener, and the other to a potter. After a time he thought he would go and see how they were getting on; and first he went to the gardener's wife. He asked her how she was, and how things were going with herself and her husband.

    She replied that on the whole they were doing very well. "But," she continued, "I do wish we could have some good heavy rain. The garden wants it badly."

    Then he went on to the potter's wife and made the same inquiries of her. She replied that she and her husband had nothing to complain of. "But," she went on, "I do wish we could have some nice dry weather, to dry the pottery."

    Her father looked at her with a humorous expression on his face. "You want dry weather," he said, "and your sister wants rain. I was going to ask in my prayers that your wishes should be granted; but now it strikes me I had better not refer to the subject."

Source for the above fables: Aesop's Fables, translated by V. S. Vernon Jones, edited by D. L. Ashliman (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2003). This translation was first published in 1912.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Revised October 5, 2011.