Archive for the ‘fables’ Category

Back to Mongolian animal tales. It’s been way too long. And this one is an epespcially interesting one.

The Cat Who Pretended To Be A Lama

A long time ago there was a lama, a Buddhist monk, who spent his time in deep meditation. Next to him there lay a cat. One day the cat stole the lama’s snuff bottle and the lama went after the cat and got his snuff bottle back. Then another time the cat stole the lama’s rosary and hid in a hole. When the lama grabbed the cat by the tail, the tail suddenly got torn off.

not a Mongolian snuff-bottle but close enough

The cat went away and came upon a place where many mice lived. There she made herself comfortable and put the rosary around her neck. One day some mice came along the way and circled the cat warily. So the cat said: “Don’t be afraid of me! I’m one of those lama cats. Let me teach you the holy doctrine saying not to kill another living being. Come! Come here!”

So the mice went to the cat and let her teach them. After a few days had passed Khuchin tuct, the khaan of the mice, told them: “Oh, it seems as if our teacher is eating us. In her excrements there are traces of bone and hair. Go back home and get a bell.” He sent a few mice to carry out his request.

The mice went home and came back with a bell. They said to the cat: “Teacher, please accept this jewellery from us!” And they put the bell around her neck. Khuchin tuct told his mice: “After today’s lesson will be over, we will exit one after another. If the bell should ring, we’ll turn around and hurry back.” (more…)


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Sorry. Could thing I warned you that the posts might be not as regular. Between the world cup and apartment hunting and a presentation at university… Gah.

But today, let’s have another one of the most famous fables by Aesop. And beware of the very political contemplations at the end of this post.

The Lamb and the Wolf
by Aesop

wolf, lamb and the - ghost of its father?

A little lamb was quenching its thirst at a small stream. Further up the stream and thus closer to its well, a wolf was also drinking his fill. As soon as he caught sight of the little lamb, he cried:

“Why are you muddying the water that I want to drink?”

“How could that be possible?” replied the little lamb timidly. “I am standing down here and you so high up the stream. The water is flowing from you to me. Please believe me that it never crossed my mind to do something evil to you!”

“See! You are doing exactly what your father did six months ago. I remember very well that you were with him, too, but could make a lucky escape as I had his hide for his abuse!”

“Oh, mister!” begged the trembling little lamb, “I am but four weeks old and never even knew my father because he has been dead for so long. How could I atone for him?” (more…)

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Actually, I just wanted to post another classic with this famous fable by Aesop but incidentally – I’m also keeping with the idea of posting a tale from a nation in the football world cup. As Greece played today, winning against Nigeria as well.

The Fox and the Grapes
by Aesop

One evening in autumn, a mouse and a sparrow sat beneath a grape-vine chatting about this and that. Suddenly, the sparrow chirped to his friend: “Hide yourself, the fox is coming!” And he himself quickly flew up into the vine’s foliage.

trying to get to those grapes

The fox sneaked closer and closer to the grape-vine, his eyes longingly on the fat, blue, overripe grapes. Carefully he peeked into all direction. Then he pounced, put his fore-paws against the vine’s stem, stretched his body and tried to catch a few grapes with his mouth. Alas, they were hanging too high.

Somewhat angered, he tried his luck again. This time he took a giant leap but again he only caught empty air.

He tried a third time and he tried as hard as he could, jumping with all his might. Almost beside himself with greed, he snapped after the juicy grapes and stretched and stretched until fell down on his back. Not a single leaf had moved.

The sparrow who had silently observed the fox’s attempts until now, could no longer contain himself and chirped cheekily: “Mister fox, you have your sights set too high!”

The mouse peeked out from her hiding place and piped up: “Do not bother, you will never get the grapes.” And like an arrow she shot back into her mouse-hole.

The fox bit his teeth, turned up his nose and said loftily: “They are simply not ripe enough yet. I don’t like my grapes sour.” And with his head held high he pranced back into the forest.

Copyright for this fable’s translation: TaleTellerin
Copyright for image used: The Fox and the Grapes, from ”The Æsop for Children”,


Re-reading this fable, I’m wondering about hens and eggs. Because has this one become a classic because it successfully and entertainingly embodies the lesson about over-ambition and pride which is at the heart of Western societies. Or has this critical stance on ambition and pride become central because it has been advocated in central socio-cultural texts such as these? Huh.

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Time for some more Aesop. He is the godfather of fables after all. So it can’t hurt to read some more of his stuff. Or – to be it correctly – the stuff that is thought to be his. After all, it’s still not completely clear that he even existed. 😉

The Donkey and the Fox
by Aesop

A donkey and a fox lived together as friends for years upon year and also went hunting together. On one of their forays they so suddenly happened upon a lion that the fox feared that he would not have time to flee. So he took to a trick. With factitious friendliness he said to the lion:

“I have nothing to fear from you, most noble king! But if I may offer you my stupid friend’s meat, do just give the order.”

The lion promised him mercy and the fox lead the donkey into a pit in which he was caught.

Roaring the lion rushed upon the fox and snatched him with the words: “The donkey is a safe bet for me but you I tear apart first for your deceitfulness.”

One certainly makes the most of treason but one still does not love the traitor


Copyright for the fable’s translation: TaleTellerin
Copyright for image used: depiction of Aesop from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1483)

It might be the fact that I have too much to do with Genghis Khan in my real life but that line of moral there? Pretty much sums up how he did it. If you tried to buy yourself safety by betraying your own king/master then he would happily listen and then kill you. After all, what guarantee can there be that you wouldn’t betray him, too, if the pressure was there?

Thus this fable’s moral to me would be a more believable Genghis Khan quote than all those “I am the punishment of God”-blahs that make twitter buzz.

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As some of you have reminded me that Panchatantra tales, like the ones I shared with you here and there, are by far not the only Indian fables, I’ve decided to do some searching. Found a great source and here be the first fable:

The Fish and the Rain

The water in a lake was fast drying up. The fish were all alarmed. A meeting of the animals in the lake was held. The crocodile, as the most powerful among them, took the chair. The tortoise made a long speech, and concluded by saying: “Therefore it is, I do not care whether it is land or water. It is the same to me; I can live in either.”

if they had been flying fish...

The crab made another long speech, and, in the end, observed: “No less with me, brethren. Should the lake dry up I will go to the neighbouring fields and live in the holes.” The snails, the leeches, the water-snakes, and various other animals, gave some excuse or other to keep away from praying for rain.

The crocodile summed up, saying: “I care not where I live. On land I find better food than in water, for you must all admit that a hare, or rabbit, or some other land animal of the kind, is much better fare than fish or frogs.” At this there was loud applause, and the meeting came to an end.

But the poor fish, who could not live out of water for one moment, thought it their duty, however, to pray; so they did.

Very soon the sky was overcast, the clouds poured, and the lake was full. All the animals rejoiced at it. The fish, with heartfelt pride and pleasure, observed:

“Heaven blesseth the many for the few!”

Text source: Indian Fables. Collected and edited by P. V. Ramaswami Raju. With 18 plates by F. Carruthers Gould. London 1901.
Image source: fresco of a flying fish from the bronze age excavation of Phylakopi on Milos


First impression: Really, really different from those Panchatantra tales.

Second impression: Or maybe not. Because the moral still confuses me. It must be a case of cultural mistranslation because well, I expected something to make all those non-carers realise that there is more to life than seeing only yourself. Huh.

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illustration showing Luther as Devil's Bagpipe

The tradition of fables used for didactic purposes did not start with Lessing and Co. Martin Luther knew all about it as well.

The Town Mouse and the Field Mouse
(by Martin Luther)

A town mouse was taking a walk when it met a field mouse. The latter was enjoying acorns, grains and nuts and whatever else she could find. But the town mouse said: “Why would you want to live in poverty like this! Come with me and I will secure enough delicious foods for both of us.”

The field mouse moved with her into a wonderfully pretty house in which the town mouse lived. And they went into pantries which were bursting with meat, bacon, sausages, bread, cheese and so much more. The town mouse said: “Now eat and enjoy! Such foods I have every day in abundance.”

But then the waiter came and rumbled with the key at the door. The mice started and ran off. The town mouse soon found her hole but the field mouse did not know where to go, she ran along the walls and believed her life over. (more…)

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This fable from Africa – yes, I’d love to be more specific but sadly my sources don’t tell me any more either – is all kinds of interesting. But read first, discuss after. 🙂

The Chameleon and the Elephant

One day, the chameleon invited the elephant for a race and the elephant accepted the challenge which, so they decided, would take place the next morning.

During the night the chameleon stationed many of his brothers in a short distance from each other along the track. At dawn, the elephant came and immediately started running. The chameleon, though, quickly climbed upon the elephant’s tail.

chameleon no. 5 a-racing

Upon every encounter with a chameleon the elephant asked: “Are you not tired?” “No,” answered the animal that was only now off to run the small part of the race that was his to do.

Finally the elephant halted, out of breath and tired, admitting defeat.

Copyright for translation: TaleTellerin
Copyright for image: chameleon @ WikiMedia Commons


I’m sure you’re also reminded of the famous animal tale about the hare and fox where the hare also wins by having many of his brothers substitute? What I find fascinating is not so much that this is the same plot as it’s not such an original idea that not many peoples could have come up with it over the centuries.

But what is kind of fascinating is that this fable here actually hints at another trick as well – when the chameleon is said to climb the elephant’s tail then this seems to allude to just letting the big one carry him. Like is the case in the Mongolian animal tale about the drinking contest between wolf, fox and hedgehog. But either this tail-climing is a case of mistranslation or this tale has somehow been altered to maybe focus on just the one? In any case – so interesting.

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