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Simonides Preserved By The Gods

(Recueil 1, Livre 1, Fable 14)



Three sorts there are, as Malherbe says,

Which one can never overpraise

The gods, the ladies, and the king;

And I, for one, endorse the thing.

The heart, praise tickles and entices;

Of fair one's smile, it often the price is.

See how the gods sometimes repay it.

Simonides—the ancients say it

Once undertook, in poem lyric,

To write a wrestler's panegyric;

Which, before he had proceeded far in,

He found his subject somewhat barren.

No ancestors of great renown;

His sire of some unnoted town;

Himself as little known to fame,

The wrestler's praise was rather tame.

The poet, having made the most of

Whatever his hero had to boast of,

Digressed, by choice that was not all luck's,

To Castor and his brother Pollux;

Whose bright career was subject ample,

For wrestlers, sure, a good example.

Our poet fattened on their story,

Gave every fight its place and glory,

Till of his panegyric words

These deities had got two-thirds.

All done, the poet's fee

A talent was to be.

But when he comes his bill to settle,

The wrestler, with a spice of mettle,

Pays down a third, and tells the poet,

"The balance they may pay who owe it.

The gods than I are rather debtors

To such a pious man of letters.

But still I shall be greatly pleased

To have your presence at my feast,

Among a knot of guests select,

My kin, and friends I most respect."

More fond of character than coffer,

Simonides accepts the offer.

While at the feast the party sit,

And wine provokes the flow of wit,

It is announced that at the gate

Two men, in haste that cannot wait,

Would see the bard. He leaves the table,

No loss at all to "ts noisy gabble.

The men were Leda's twins, who knew

What to a poet's praise was due,

And, thanking, paid him by foretelling

The downfall of the wrestler's dwelling.

From which ill-fated pile, indeed,

No sooner was the poet freed,

Than, props and pillars failing,

Which held aloft the ceiling

So splendid over them,

It downward loudly crashed,

The plates and flagons dashed,

And men who bore them;

And, what was worse,

Full vengeance for the man of verse,

A timber broke the wrestler's thighs,

And wounded many otherwise.

The gossip Fame, of course, took care

Abroad to publish this affair.

"A miracle!" the public cried, delighted.

No more could god-beloved bard be slighted.

His verse now brought him more than double,

With neither duns, nor care, nor trouble.

Whoever laid claim to noble birth

Must buy his ancestors a slice,

Resolved no nobleman on earth

Should overgo him in the price.

From which these serious lessons flow:

Fail not your praises to bestow

On gods and godlike men. Again,

To sell the product of her pain

Is not degrading to the Muse.

Indeed, her art they do abuse,

Who think her wares to use,

And yet a liberal pay refuse.

Whatever the great confer on her,

They're honoured by it while they honour.

Of old, Olympus and Parnassus

In friendship heaved their sky-crowned masses.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 1, Fable 14



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