The fables of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing were one of my subjects in my final exams at university and I still cannot remember having ever read this one. Or actually these ones as there are four of them. Did I skip them because otherwise I would surely remember as they are awesome. Right?
The Animals’ Contest
in four fables by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
A heated dispute about rank arose amongst the animals. In order to sooth the tempers, the horse spoke: “Let us ask the human for his advice as he is not part of the disputing parties and can thus be all the more impartial.”
“But does he possess the intelligence necessary for such an undertaking?” asked the mole. “He certainly needs the most precise one to recognise our often times deeply hidden perfections.”
“That was very wisely remarked!” said the hamster.
“Certainly!” cried the hedgehog. “I shall never believe that the human has the necessary ingenuity.”
“Be silent!” the horse ordered. “We all know: who can rely on his own qualities the least, is always the most eager to doubt his judge’s insight.”
The human was made judge. – “Upon a word,” the majestic lion called, “before you deliver your verdict! On which standard, human, will you measure our worth?”
“On which standard? On the degree, of course,” the human answered, “of your respective usefullness for me.”
“Wonderful!” said the offended lion. “How far below the ass would I end up then! You cannot be our judge, human! Leave the assembly!”
The human removed himself. – “Now,” said the sneering mole – (and the hamster and the hedgehog agreed whole-heartedly) – “do you see, horse? The lion also does not believe that the human can be our judge.
The Lion shares our opinion.”
“But based on better reasons than ours!” said the lion and threw a disdainful look their way.
The lion continued: “This dispute for rank is, when I think about it, a miserable one! Think of me as the most noble or the lowliest; it shall be all the same to me. Enough that I know myself!” – And thus he left the assembly.
Him followed the wise elephant, the bold tiger, the earnest bear, the clever fox, the noble horse – in short, all that felt their own worth or believed themselves to feel it.
The ones who left last and who grumbled the most upon the disrupted assembly were – the monkey and the ass.
Copyright for the fables’ translation: TaleTellerin
Copyright for image: Conférence de Londres, 1832, by Honoré Victorin Daumier
I still like the Mongolian version that admittedly is an adaptation of an Indian fable more. Still, this bit:
“But does the human possess the intelligence necessary for such an undertaking?”
is pretty awesome. Heh.
And what is not only hilarious but actually quite interesting is the cast of the animals and their characterisation. For example, the mole does not come up in Mongolian animal tales at all. On the other hand, the characterization of the animals when the assembly is ending could just as well come from a Mongolian tale. Well, maybe not the tiger as that one is not really a positive figure in the few Mongolian animal tales he pops up in. Like the lion, the elephant and the monkey he was imported, of course.
But it’s still interesting how especially these foreign key players, so to speak, seem to have a universal character. Proof for those anthropological constants that some academics like to talk about? Or proof that actually those Indian fables might have had a possibly even stronger impact on the (old) world’s fables than most would think?