The Fox and the Cat
or
The Fox and the Hedgehog

and other fables of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 105
and similar stories
about the dangers of being too clever
selected and edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2001-2013

The fox knows many things;
the hedgehog one big thing.
(Archilochus)
The fox knows many things,
the hedgehog but one,
but it is enough.
(Greek proverb)
Here's a good rule of thumb:
Too clever is dumb.
(Ogden Nash)


Contents

  1. The Fish That Were Too Clever (India, The Panchatantra).

  2. The Crow and the Swan (India, The Mahabharata).

  3. The Fox and the Cat (Aesop).

  4. The Cat and Fox (Jean de La Fontaine).

  5. The Fox and the Cat (Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm).

  6. The Seven-Witted Fox and the One-Witted Owl (Romania).

  7. The Fox and His Bagful of Wits and the One-Witted Hedgehog (Romania).

  8. The Fox and the Hedgehog (South Slavonic).

  9. The Fox and the Hedgehog (Greece).

  10. The Bear as Judge (Finland).

  11. Two Losses (Georgia).

  12. Can You Swim? (England).


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


The Fish That Were Too Clever

The Panchatantra

Two fish lived in a pond. Their names were Satabuddhi (having the understanding of a hundred) and Sahasrabuddhi (having the understanding of a thousand). The two of them had a frog for a friend, whose name was Ekabuddhi (having the understanding of one).

For a time they would enjoy friendly conversation on the bank, and then they would return to the water. One day when they had gathered for conversation, some fishermen came by just as the sun was setting. They were carrying nets in their hands and many dead fish on their heads.

When the fishermen saw the pond, they said to one another, "There seem to be a lot of fish in this pond, and the water is very low. Let us come back here tomorrow morning!" After saying this, they went home.

These words struck the three friends like a thunderbolt, and they took counsel with one another.

The frog said, "Oh, my dear Satabuddhi and Sahasrabuddhi, what shall we do? Should we flee, or stay here?"

Hearing this, Sahasrabuddhi laughed and said, "Oh, my friend, don't be afraid of words alone! They probably will not come back. But even if they do come back, I will be able to protect myself and you as well, through the power of my understanding, for I know many pathways through the water."

After hearing this, Satabuddhi said, "Yes, what Sahasrabuddhi says is correct, for one rightly says: Where neither the wind nor the sun's rays have found a way, intelligent understanding will quickly make a path. And also: Everything on earth is subject to the understanding of those with intelligence. Why should one abandon the place of one's birth that has been passed down from generation to generation, just because of words? We must not retreat a single step! I will protect you through the power of my understanding."

The frog said, "I have but one wit, and it is advising me to flee. This very day I shall go with my wife to another pond."

After saying this, as soon as it was night, the frog went to another pond.

Early the next day the fishermen came like servants of the god of death and spread their nets over the pond. All the fish, turtles, frogs, crabs, and other water creatures were caught in the nets and captured, also Satabuddhi and Sahasrabuddhi, although they fled, and through their knowledge of the various paths escaped for a while by swimming to and fro. But they too, together with their wives, fell into a net and were killed.

That afternoon the fishermen happily set forth toward home. Because of his weight, one of them carried Satabuddhi on his head. They tied Sahasrabuddhi onto a string and dragged him along behind.

The frog Ekabuddhi, who had climbed onto the bank of his pond, said to his wife, "Look, dear! Mr. Hundred-Wit lies on someone's head, and Mr. Thousand-Wit is hanging from a string. But Mr. Single-Wit, my dear, is playing here in the clear water."




The Crow and the Swan

The Mahabharata

There lived on the other side of the ocean a Vaicya (commoner) who had an abundance of wealth and corn. He performed sacrifices, made liberal gifts, was peaceful, devoted to the duties of his own order, and pure in habits and mind. He had many sons whom he loved, and was kind unto all creatures. He lived fearlessly in the dominions of a king that was guided by virtue.

There was a crow that lived on the refuse of the dishes set before those well-behaved young children of the Vaicya. Those Vaicya children always gave the crow meat and curds, and milk, and sugared milk with rice, and honey, and butter. Thus fed with the refuse of their dishes by the young children of that Vaicya, the crow became arrogant and came to disregard all birds that were equal to him or even superior.

It chanced that on a time certain swans of cheerful hearts, of great speed and capable of going everywhere at will and equal unto Garuda himself in range and speed of flight, came to that side of the ocean.

The Vaicya boys, beholding those swans, addressed the crow and said, "O ranger of the skies, thou art superior to all winged creatures!"

Deceived by those children of little understanding, that oviparous creature, from folly and pride, regarded their words to be true. Proud of the refuse of the children's dishes upon which he fed, the crow then, alighting in the midst of those swans capable of traversing great distances, desired to enquire as to who amongst them was their leader.

The foolish crow at last challenged him amongst those birds of tireless wings whom he regarded their leader, saying, "Let us compete in flight!"

Hearing those words of the raving crow, the swans that had been assembled there, those foremost of birds endued with great strength, began to laugh.

The swans then, that were capable of going everywhere at will, addressed the crow, saying, "We are swans, having our abode in the Manasa lake. We traverse the whole earth, and amongst winged creatures we are always applauded for the length of the distances we traverse! Being, as thou art, only a crow, how canst thou, O fool, challenge a swan endued with might, capable of going everywhere at will, and doing large distances in course of his flight? Tell us, O crow, how thou shalt fly with us!"

The boastful crow, in consequence of the foolishness of his species, repeatedly finding fault with the words of that swan, at last gave this answer. The crow said, "I shall, without doubt, fly, displaying a hundred and one different kinds of motion! Doing every hundred Yojanas in a separate and beautiful kind of motion, I shall display all those motions! Rising up, and swooping down, and whirling around, and coursing straight, and proceeding gently, and advancing steadily, and performing the diverse courses up and down in a slanting direction, and floating still, and wheeling around, and receding back, and soaring high, and darting forward, and soaring upwards with fiercer velocity, and once more proceeding gently and then proceeding with great impetuosity, and once again swooping down and whirling around, and advancing steadily, and rising up and up by jerks, and soaring straight, and once more falling down, and wheeling in a circle, and rushing proudly, and diverse other kinds of motion, -- these all I shall display in the sight of all you! Ye shall then witness my strength! With one of these different kinds of motion I shall presently rise into the sky. Point out duly, ye swans, by which of these motions I shall course through space. Settling the kind of motion amongst yourselves, you will have to course with me. Adopting all those different motions, ye shall have to course with me through supportless space!"

The crow having said these words, one of the swans addressed him. The swan spoke, "Thou, O crow, wilt doubtless fly the hundred and one different kinds of flight! I shall, however, fly in that one kind of motion that all other birds know, for I do not, O crow, know any other! As regards thee, O thou of red eyes, fly thou in any kind of course that thou likest!"

At these words, those crows that bad been assembled there laughed aloud, saying, "How will the swan by only one kind of flight get the better of a hundred different kinds of flight?"

Then those two, viz., the swan and the crow, rose into the sky, challenging each other. Capable of going everywhere at will, the swan proceeded in one kind of motion, while the crow coursed in a hundred different kinds. And the swan flew and the crow also flew, causing each other to wonder at his skill and each speaking highly of his own achievements.

Beholding the diverse kinds of flight at successive instants of time, the crows that were there were filled with great joy and began to caw more loudly. The swans also laughed in mockery, uttering many remarks disagreeable to the crows. And they began to soar and alight repeatedly, here and there. And they began to come down and rise up from tree-tops and the surface of the earth. And they uttered diverse cries indicative of their victory.

The swan, however, with that one kind of slow motion with which he was familiar began to traverse the skies. For a moment, therefore, he seemed to yield to the crow.

The crows, at this, disregarding the swans, said these words: "That swan amongst you which has soared into the sky, is evidently yielding!"

Hearing these words, the soaring swan flew westwards with great velocity to the ocean. Then fear entered the heart of the crow who became almost senseless at not seeing any island or trees whereon to perch when tired. And the crow thought within his heart as to where he should alight when tired, upon that vast expanse of water. The ocean, being as it is the abode of countless creatures, is irresistible. Dwelt in by hundreds of monsters, it is grander than space. Nothing can exceed it in depth! Men know that the waters of the ocean are as limitless as space. For the extent of its waters, what is a crow to it?

The swan, having traversed a great distance in a moment, looked back at the crow, and, though capable, could not leave him behind. Having transgressed the crow, the swan cast his eyes on him and waited, thinking, "Let the crow come up."

The crow then, exceedingly tired, came up to the swan.

Beholding him succumbing, and about to sink, and desirous of rescuing him in remembrance of the practices of good folks, the swan addressed him in these words: "Thou hadst repeatedly spoken of many kinds of flight while speaking on the subject! Thou wouldst not speak of this, thy present motion, because of its having been a mystery to us? What is the name of this kind of flight, O crow, that thou hast now adopted? Thou touchest the waters with thy wings and beak repeatedly. Which amongst those diverse kinds of flight is this, O crow, that thou art now practicing? Come, come, quickly, O crow, for I am waiting for thee!"

Exceedingly afflicted, and touching the water with his wings and beak, the crow, beheld in that state by the swan, addressed the latter. Indeed, not seeing the limit of that watery expanse, and sinking down in fatigue, and exhausted with the effort of his flight, the crow said unto the swan, "We are crows, we wander hither and thither, crying caw, caw! O swan, I seek thy protection, placing my life-breaths at thy hands! Oh, take me to the shores of the ocean!"

Exceedingly afflicted, and touching the ocean with his wings and beak, the crow, very much fatigued, suddenly fell down. Beholding him fallen upon the waters of the ocean with a melancholy heart, the swan, addressing the crow who was on the point of death, said these words: "Remember, O crow, what thou hadst said in praise of thyself! Thy words even were that thou wouldst course through the sky in a hundred and one different kinds of flight. Thou, therefore, that wouldst fly a hundred different kinds of flight, thou that art superior to me, alas, why then art thou tired and fallen down on the ocean?"

Overcome with weakness, the crow then, casting his eyes upwards at the swan, and seeking to gratify him, replied, saying, "Proud of the remains of others' dishes upon which I fed, I had, O swan, regarded myself as the equal of Garuda, and had disregarded all crows and many other birds! I now, however, seek thy protection and place my life-breaths at thy hands! Oh, take me to the shores of some island! If, O swan, I can, O lord, return in safety to my own country, I will never again disregard anybody! Oh, rescue me now from this calamity!"

Him that said so and was so melancholy and weeping and deprived of his senses, him that was sinking in the ocean, uttering cries of caw, caw, him so drenched by the water and so disgusting to look at and trembling with fear, the swan, without a word, took up with his feet and slowly caused to ride on his back. Having caused the crow whose senses had deserted him to ride upon his back, the swan quickly returned to that island whence thy had both flown, challenging each other. Placing down that ranger of the sky on dry land and comforting him, the swan, fleet as the mind, proceeded to the region he desired. Thus was that crow, fed on the remains of others' dinners, vanquished by the swan. The crow, then, casting off the pride of might and energy, adopted a life of peace and quiet.




The Fox and the Cat

Aesop

A fox was boasting to a cat of its clever devices for escaping its enemies.

"I have a whole bag of tricks," he said, "which contains a hundred ways of escaping my enemies."

"I have only one," said the cat. "But I can generally manage with that."

Just at that moment they heard the cry of a pack of hounds coming towards them, and the cat immediately scampered up a tree and hid herself in the boughs.

"This is my plan," said the cat. "What are you going to do?"

The fox thought first of one way, then of another, and while he was debating, the hounds came nearer and nearer, and at last the fox in his confusion was caught up by the hounds and soon killed by the huntsmen.

Miss Puss, who had been looking on, said, "Better one safe way than a hundred on which you cannot reckon."




The Cat and Fox

Jean de La Fontaine

The cat and fox, each like a little saint,
On pious pilgrimage together went;
Two real Tartufes, two Patelins, birds of prey,
Soft-footed rogues, who paid or cleared the way,
Picking the bones of poultry, stealing cheese,
Rivalling each other. They the road to ease,
For it was tedious and long,
Oft shortened by contentions sharp and strong.

Dispute's a very happy source;
Without it restless souls would sleep of course.

Our pilgrims with it made each other hoarse,
Quarrelled their fill, then dirt on neighbours cast.

Reynard said to the cat at last:
"Pretender, are you bettor skilled than I,
Who could with tricks a hundred cats supply?"

"No," said the cat, "I only boast of one,
But that's worth any thousand known."

Ready again their quarrel to begin,
With "Yes" and "No," through thick and thin,
The pack alarmed them, silencing their din.

"Friend," cried the cat, "now search your cunning brain,
Examine all your tricks, and search again
For some sure plan -- mine's ready, do you see?"
He said, and quick sprang up a lofty tree.

Sly Reynard played a hundred pranks in vain,
Entered a hundred holes -- escaped assault,
Put Finder and his brothers in default;
He sought asylum all around,
But he nowhere asylum found.

They watched the burrow where he hid so sly,
And smoked him out -- two terriers were nigh,
Who worried him as he went bounding by.

Avoid too many schemes; there ruin lies;
For while we choose, the happy moment flies.

Have but one plan, and let that plan be wise.




The Fox and the Cat

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

It happened that the cat met Mr. Fox in the woods. She thought, "He is intelligent and well experienced, and is highly regarded in the world," so she spoke to him in a friendly manner, "Good-day, my dear Mr. Fox. How is it going? How are you? How are you getting by in these hard times?"

The fox, filled with arrogance, examined the cat from head to feet, and for a long time did not know whether he should give an answer. At last he said, "Oh, you poor beard-licker, you speckled fool, you hungry mouse hunter, what are you thinking? Have you the nerve to ask how I am doing? What do you know? How many tricks do you understand?"

"I understand only one," answered the cat, modestly.

"What kind of a trick is it?" asked the fox.

"When the dogs are chasing me, I can jump into a tree and save myself."

"Is that all?" said the fox. "I am master of a hundred tricks, and in addition to that I have a sackful of cunning. I feel sorry for you. Come with me, and I will teach you how one escapes from the dogs."

Just then a hunter came by with four dogs. The cat jumped nimbly up a tree, and sat down at its top, where the branches and foliage completely hid her.

"Untie your sack, Mr. Fox, untie your sack," the cat shouted to him, but the dogs had already seized him, and were holding him fast.

"Oh, Mr. Fox," shouted the cat. "You and your hundred tricks are left in the lurch. If you had been able to climb like I can, you would not have lost your life."




The Seven-Witted Fox and the One-Witted Owl

Romania

One day the owl met a fox, and the latter bragged about his intelligence and cleverness, and said that he was very cunning and slim.

The owl asked him, "Brother mine, how many minds (wits) have you?"

"Seven," he said, boastingly.

"No wonder you are so clever. I have only one," said the owl.

A short time afterwards the owl again met the fox, but this time he was running for his life. The hunters were after him, and the hounds were trying to catch him. Running as fast as his legs could carry him, he at last managed to slip into a hole.

The owl followed him, and seeing him there, exhausted, asked him, "How many minds (wits) have you?"

And he replied, "Six. I have lost one by the chase."

Meanwhile the hunters and dogs came nearer and nearer, so they could hear the baying of the dogs. The fox did not know what to do.

The owl asked him, "How many minds (wits) have you now, old fellow?"

"Oh, I have lost all my minds (wits). I have none left."

"Where is your cunning of which you bragged?"

"It is not kind of you, now, to go for a poor fellow when the dogs are at his heels, and there is no escape for him."

"Well," said the owl, "I have but one mind (wit), and I will see whether I cannot save you with my one wit. It is my turn. I am going to lie down here at the entrance as though dead. When the hunters come, they will see me and get hold of me and talk about me. Meanwhile they will forget you, and in the midst of the trouble, you just dash out and run for your life."

It happened just as the owl had said.

No sooner did the hunters come up and find the owl than they said, "What is this ugly bird doing here? And a dead one to boot."

And whilst they were busy with the owl, trying to get hold of it to throw it away, off went the fox through them and escaped.

Soon afterwards the owl met him again, and she said, "How have your seven minds (wits) helped you when in time of danger? It is like that with people who have too much. They often have nothing when they want it most, but you see, I had only one mind (wit), but a strong one and not a dissolute one like yours, and that saved both you and me."




The Fox and His Bagful of Wits and the One-Witted Hedgehog

Romania

I do not know how he managed it, but a fox one day got into a poultry yard, and there he ate his fill. Some time afterwards, going along to the poultry yard, the hedgehog met him.

"Where are you going, brother?"

"I am going to eat my fill."

"Surely you cannot get it just as you like."

"Oh," he said, "you just come with me, and I will show you. I know my way, and there is plenty for me and for you, and some to leave behind for another time."

The hedgehog, who was a wise old fellow, said to the fox, "Now, be careful. Are you sure that the owners of the poultry yard will let you in again so easily?"

"Don't you trouble," said the fox. "I know my business. You just come with me."

And the hedgehog went with him. But the people of the poultry yard were not such fools as the fox had taken them for, and just where the fox had got in last time they had dug a deep pit, and into that the fox and the hedgehog tumbled.

When they found themselves at the bottom of the pit, the hedgehog turned to the fox and said, "Well, you clever fellow, is that the proper way to get into the poultry yard? Did I not warn you?"

"What is the good of talking?" replied the fox. "We are here now, and we must see how to get out of it."

"But you are so clever, and I am only a poor old fool."

"Never mind. You were always a wise one. Can you help me?"

"No," he said. "I cannot help you. This sudden fall has upset me, and I feel queer and sick."

"What," cried the fox. "You are not going to be sick here. That is more than I can stand. Out you go!"

So he got hold of the hedgehog by the snout, and the hedgehog coiled himself up with his little paws into a little ball round the fox's mouth. The fox lifted up his head with a jerk and threw the little fellow out of the pit.

As soon as he saw himself safely out of the pit, the little hedgehog, bending over the mouth of the pit, said, chuckling to the fox, "Where is your wisdom, you fool? You boast that you have a bagful of wits, whilst it is I who get myself out of the pit, though I have only a little wit."

"Oh," said the fox, whining, "do have pity on me! You are such a clever old fellow. Help me out of it too."

"Well, said the hedgehog, "I will help you. Now, you pretend to be dead, and when the people come and find you stiff and stark, and a nasty smell about you, they will say, 'The fox has died, and his carcass is rotting. It is going to make all the poultry yard offensive.' They will take you and throw you out. And then see whither your way lies."

The fox did as the hedgehog had advised him, and when the people came and found him in that state, they hauled him out and threw him out of the yard onto the road. Quicker than you could clap your hands, the fox was on his legs, and he ran as if the ground was burning under him.

Since then the fox and the hedgehog are good friends.




The Fox and the Hedgehog

South Slavonic

A fox meeting a hedgehog asked him, "How many wits have you?"

And he replied, "Only three. But how many have you?"

"I," boasted the fox," have seventy-seven."

As they were talking and walking along, not noticing where they were going, they fell into a deep hole which the peasants had dug.

The fox asked the hedgehog to save him.

The hedgehog said, "I have only three wits. Perhaps you will save me first, then I will see about you afterwards," and he asked the fox to pitch him out of the hole.

The fox did so, and then asked the hedgehog whether he could help him.

The hedgehog said, "I cannot help you with three, if you cannot help yourself with seventy-seven."

And so the fox was caught in the morning by the peasants and killed.




The Fox and the Hedgehog

Greece

Once in the fall time a hedgehog and a fox ran into one another, and the fox said to the hedgehog, "Come with me to the vineyard to steal some grapes."

The hedgehog answered, "No, I am afraid of the traps that they have set out there."

The fox said, "Have no fear. You'll come to no harm, because I have three bags full of tricks."

So they went there together and ate until they were full, but just as they were leaving, the fox caught herself in an iron trap. She called out, "Help me, Hedgehog! I'm caught in a trap."

He said, "Empty the tricks out of your bag, so I can free you."

The fox said, "I jumped over a ditch, and all my tricks fell out. Don't you know even one?"

The hedgehog replied, "I know two of them. The one is that when the farmer comes, just play dead; the other is that while you are playing dead you should let a mighty fart."

The fox did what the hedgehog had advised, and when the farmer came by, he thought that the fox was already stinky rotten and threw her out of the vineyard. Thus she escaped.

Another time the fox again asked the hedgehog to go with her the vineyard and eat grapes. Because everything had worked out so well the first time, he went with her this time as well. After they had eaten until they were full and were about to leave, the hedgehog caught himself in a trap.

He called out, "Help me, Mistress Fox, I'm caught in a trap. Empty out your tricks and free me from the trap."

The fox replied, "I jumped over a ditch again, and all my tricks fell out."

The hedgehog said, "Since I am about to die, forgive me of my sins."

The fox said, "If you will forgive me all of my sins against you, then I will ask God to forgive you of all your sins."

Then the hedgehog asked, "Come closer and we'll hug one another, because we have lived together for such a long time."

The fox went to him, and they hugged one another. Then the hedgehog said, "You should also kiss me on the mouth."

The fox did so, but the hedgehog grabbed hold of her tongue with his teeth and held her there until the farmer came by. When the farmer saw how the hedgehog had caught the fox he laughed, then he killed the fox and let the hedgehog run away.




The Bear as Judge

Finland

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 the disputants, "What are you quarreling about?"

"We are arguing about the question as to 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," was the answer.

"And you?" he asked the fox.

"A thousand," he 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.




Two Losses

Georgia

During a great storm at sea, a learned man heard the skipper giving his orders, but could not understand a word. When the danger was past, he asked the skipper in what language he had spoken.

The sailor replied: "In my mother tongue, of course!"

The scholar expressed his regret that a man should have wasted half his life without learning to speak grammatically and intelligibly. A few hours later the storm arose again, and this time the ship sprang a leak and began to founder. Then the captain went to the scholar and asked if he could swim.

The man of books replied that he had never learned.

"I am sorry, sir, for you will lose your whole life. The ship will go to the bottom in a minute, and my crew and I shall swim ashore. You would have done well if you had spent a little of your time in learning to swim."




Can You Swim?

England

I [John Ellerthorpe] once heard of a professor who was being ferried across a river by a boatman, who was no scholar.

So the professor said, "Can you write, my man?"

"No, sir," said the boatmam.

"Then you have lost one third of your life," said the professor. "Can you read?" again asked he of the boatman.

"No," replied the latter, "I can't read."

"Then you have lost the half of your life," said the professor.

Now came the boatman's turn. "Can you swim?" said the boatman to the professor.

"No," was his reply.

"Then," said the boatman, "you have lost the whole of your life, for the boat is sinking and you'll be drowned."




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

Revised June 5, 2013.