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The Will Explained By Aesop

(Recueil 1, Livre 2, Fable 20)



If what old story says of Aesop's true,

The oracle of Greece he was,

And more than Areopagus he knew,

With all its wisdom in the laws.

The following tale gives but a sample

Of what has made his fame so ample.

Three daughters shared a father's purse,

Of habits totally diverse.

The first, bewitched with drinks delicious;

The next, coquettish and capricious;

The third, supremely avaricious.

The sire, expectant of his fate,

Bequeathed his whole estate,

In equal shares, to them,

And to their mother just the same,

To her then payable, and not before,

Each daughter should possess her part no more.

The father died. The females three

Were much in haste the will to see.

They read, and read, but still

Saw not the willer's will.

For could it well be understood

That each of this sweet sisterhood,

When she possessed her part no more,

Should to her mother pay it over?

It was surely not so easy saying

How lack of means would help the paying.

What meant their honoured father, then?

The affair was brought to legal men,

Who, after turning over the case

Some hundred thousand different ways,

Threw down the learned bonnet,

Unable to decide on it;

And then advised the heirs,

Without more thought, to adjust affairs.

As to the widow's share, the counsel say,

"We hold it just the daughters each should pay

One third to her on demand,

Should she not choose to have it stand

Commuted as a life annuity,

Paid from her husband's death, with due congruity."

The thing thus ordered, the estate

Is duly cut in portions three.

And in the first they all agree

To put the feasting lodges, plate,

Luxurious cooling mugs,

Enormous liquor jugs,

Rich cupboards, built beneath the trellised vine,

The stores of ancient, sweet Malvoisian wine,

The slaves to serve it at a sign;

In short, whatever, in a great house,

There is of feasting apparatus.

The second part is made

Of what might help the jilting trade

The city house and furniture,

Exquisite and genteel, be sure,

The eunuchs, milliners, and laces,

The jewels, shawls, and costly dresses.

The third is made of household stuff,

More vulgar, rude, and rough

Farms, fences, flocks, and fodder,

And men and beasts to turn the sod over.

This done, since it was thought

To give the parts by lot

Might suit, or it might not,

Each paid her share of fees dear,

And took the part that pleased her.

It was in great Athens town,

Such judgment gave the gown.

And there the public voice

Applauded both the judgment and the choice.

But Aesop well was satisfied

The learned men had set aside,

In judging thus the testament,

The very gist of its intent.

"The dead," Said he, "could he but know of it,

Would heap reproaches on such Attic wit.

What! men who proudly take their place

As sages of the human race,

Lack they the simple skill

To settle such a will?"

This said, he undertook himself

The task of portioning the pelf;

And straightway gave each maid the part

The least according to her heart

The prim coquette, the drinking stuff,

The drinker, then, the farms and cattle;

And on the miser, rude and rough,

The robes and lace did Aesop settle;

For thus, he said, "an early date

Would see the sisters alienate

Their several shares of the estate.

No motive now in maidenhood to tarry,

They all would seek, post haste, to marry;

And, having each a splendid bait,

Each soon would find a well-bred mate;

And, leaving thus their father's goods intact,

Would to their mother pay them all, in fact,"

Which of the testament

Was plainly the intent.

The people, who had thought a slave an ass,

Much wondered how it came to pass

That one alone should have more sense

Than all their men of most pretence.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 2, Fable 20



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