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The Lion, the Monkey, and the Two Asses

(Recueil 2, Livre 11, Fable 5)



The lion, for his kingdom's sake,

In morals would some lessons take,

And therefore called, one summer's day,

The monkey, master of the arts,

An animal of brilliant parts,

To hear what he could say.

"Great king," the monkey thus began,

"To reign on the wisest plan

Requires a prince to set his zeal,

And passion for the public weal,

Distinctly and quite high above

A certain feeling called self-love,

The parent of all vices,

In creatures of all sizes.

To will this feeling from one's breast away,

Is not the easy labour of a day;

It's much to moderate its tyrant sway.

By that your majesty august,

Will execute your royal trust,

From folly free and anything unjust."

"Give me," replied the king,

"Example of each thing."

"Each species," said the sage,

"And I begin with ours,

Exalts its own peculiar powers

Above sound reason's gauge.

Meanwhile, all other kinds and tribes

As fools and blockheads it describes,

With other compliments as cheap.

But, on the other hand, the same

Self-love inspires a beast to heap

The highest pyramid of fame

For every one that bears his name;

Because he justly deems such praise

The easiest way himself to raise.

It's my conclusion in the case,

That many a talent here below

Is but cabal, or sheer grimace,

The art of seeming things to know

An art in which perfection lies

More with the ignorant than wise.

"Two asses tracking, t'other day,

Of which each in his turn,

Did incense to the other burn,

Quite in the usual way,

I heard one to his comrade say,

"My lord, do you not find

The prince of knaves and fools

To be this man, who boasts of mind

Instructed in his schools?

With wit unseemly and profane,

He mocks our venerable race

On each of his who lacks brain

Bestows our ancient surname, ass!

And, with abusive tongue portraying,

Describes our laugh and talk as braying!

These bipeds of their folly tell us,

While thus pretending to excel us."

"No, it's for you to speak, my friend,

And let their orators attend.

The braying is their own, but let them be:

We understand each other, and agree,

And that's enough. As for your song,

Such wonders to its notes belong,

The nightingale is put to shame,

And Lambert loses half his fame."

"My lord," the other ass replied,

"Such talents in yourself reside,

Of asses all, the joy and pride."

These donkeys, not quite satisfied

With scratching thus each other's hide,

Must needs the cities visit,

Their fortunes there to raise,

By sounding forth the praise,

Each, of the other's skill exquisite.

Full many, in this age of ours,

Not only among asses,

But in the higher classes,

Whom Heaven has clothed with higher powers,

Dared they but do it, would exalt

A simple innocence from fault,

Or virtue common and domestic,

To excellence majestic.

I have said too much, perhaps; but I suppose

Your majesty the secret won't disclose,

Since It was your majesty's request that I

This matter should exemplify.

How love of self gives food to ridicule,

I have shown. To prove the balance of my rule,

That justice is a sufferer thereby,

A longer time will take."

It was thus the monkey spake.

But my informant does not state,

That ever the sage did demonstrate

The other point, more delicate.

Perhaps he thought none but a fool

A lion would too strictly school.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 11, Fable 5



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