(Recueil 1, Livre 4, Fable 12)
A fable flourished with antiquity
Whose meaning I could never clearly see.
Kind reader, draw the moral if you're able:
I give you here the naked fable.
Fame having bruited that a great commander,
A son of Jove, a certain Alexander,
Resolved to leave nothing free on this our ball,
Had to his footstool gravely summoned all
Men, quadrupeds, and nullipeds, together
With all the bird republics, every feather,
The goddess of the hundred mouths, I say,
Thus having spread dismay,
By widely publishing abroad
This mandate of the demigod,
The animals, and all that do obey
Their appetite alone, mistrusted now
That to another sceptre they must bow.
Far in the desert met their various races,
All gathering from their hiding places.
Discussed was many a notion.
At last, it was resolved, on motion,
To pacify the conquering banner,
By sending homage in, and tribute.
With both the homage and its manner
They charged the monkey, as a glib brute;
And, lest the chap should too much chatter,
In black on white they wrote the matter.
Nothing but the tribute served to fash,
As that must needs be paid in cash.
A prince, who chanced a mine to own,
At last, obliged them with a loan.
The mule and ass, to bear the treasure,
Their service tendered, full of pleasure;
And then the caravan was none the worse,
Assisted by the camel and the horse.
Forthwith proceeded all the four
Behind the new ambassador,
And saw, erelong, within a narrow place,
Monseigneur Lion's quite unwelcome face.
"Well met, and all in time," said he;
"Myself your fellow traveller will be.
I wend my tribute by itself to bear;
And though It's light, I well might spare
The unaccustomed load.
Take each a quarter, if you please,
And I will guard you on the road;
More free and at my ease
In better plight, you understand,
To fight with any robber band."
A lion to refuse, the fact is,
Is not a very usual practice:
So in he comes, for better and for worse;
Whatever he demands is done,
And, spite of Jove's heroic son,
He fattens freely from the public purse.
While wending on their way,
They found a spot one day,
With waters hemmed, of crystal sheen;
Its carpet, flower besprinkled green;
Where pastured at their ease
Both flocks of sheep and dainty heifers,
And played the cooling breeze—
The native land of all the zephyrs.
No sooner is the lion there
Than of some sickness he complains.
Says he, "You on your mission fare.
A fever, with its thirst and pains,
Dries up my blood, and bakes my brains;
And I must search some herb,
Its fatal power to curb.
For you, there is no time to waste;
Pay me my money, and make haste."
The treasures were unbound,
And placed on the ground.
Then, with a look which testified
His royal joy, the lion cried,
"My coins, good heavens, have multiplied!
And see the young ones of the gold
As big already as the old!
The increase belongs to me, no doubt;"
And eagerly he took it out!
It was little staid beneath the lid;
The wonder was that any did.
Confounded were the monkey and his suite.
And, dumb with fear, betook them to their way,
And bore complaint to Jove's great son, they say
Complaint without a reason meet;
For what could he? Though a celestial scion,
He could but fight, as lion versus lion.
When corsairs battle, Turk with Turk,
They're not about their proper work.
Jean de La Fontaine
Book 4, Fable 12