The Fox and The Crow (Aesop) - The Story

The Story

In the fable a crow has found a piece of cheese and retired to a branch to eat it. A fox, wanting the cheese for himself, flatters the crow, calling it beautiful and wondering whether its voice is as sweet to match. When the crow lets out a caw, the cheese falls and is devoured by the fox.

The earliest surviving versions of the fable, in both Greek and Latin, date from the 1st century of the Common Era. Evidence that it was well known before then comes in the poems of the Latin poet Horace, who alludes to it twice. Addressing a maladroit sponger called Scaeva in his Epistles, the poet counsels guarded speech for 'if the crow could have fed in silence, he would have had better fare, and much less of quarreling and of envy'. Then in a Satire on legacy-hunting, we find the lines

A season’d Scrivener, bred in Office low,
Full often mocks, and dupes the gaping crow.

The poem has generally been taken as a caution against listening to flatterers. Phaedrus prefaces his Latin poem with the warning that the one 'who takes delight in treacherous flattery usually pays the penalty by repentance and disgrace'. One of the few who gives it a different interpretation is Odo of Cheriton, whose lesson is that virtue is forgotten in the pursuit of ambition. Babrius has the fox end with a joke at the crow's credulity in his Greek version of the story: 'You were not dumb, it seems, you have indeed a voice; you have everything, Sir Crow, except brains.' In La Fontaine's Fables (I.2), the fox delivers the moral by way of recompense for the tidbit. In Norman Shapiro's translation:

Flatterers thrive on fools' credulity.
The lesson's worth a cheese, don't you agree?"
The crow, shamefaced and flustered swore,
Too late, however: "Nevermore!"

As was the case with several others of La Fontaine's fables, there was dissatisfaction in Christian circles, where it was felt that morality was offended by allowing the fox to go unpunished for its theft. Therefore a sequel was provided in the form of a popular song of which a version is recorded in Saskatchewan. In this the fox’s funeral is dolefully described but ends with the crow cawing from its branch,

I’m not at all sorry, now that he’s dead,
He took my cheese and ate it in my stead,
He’s punished by fate - God, you’ve avenged me.

The German writer Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, who had decided views on how fables should be written, gave Aesop’s Der Rabe und der Fuchs an ironic twist. In his rewritten version, a gardener has left poisoned meat out to kill invading rats. It is this that the raven picks up but is flattered out of it by the fox, which then dies in agony. To emphasise the moral he is drawing, Lessing concludes with the curse, ‘Abominable flatterers, may you all be so rewarded with one poison for another!’.

An Eastern story of flattery rewarded exists in the Buddhist scriptures as the Jambhu-Khadaka-Jataka. In this a jackal praises the crow's voice as it is feeding in a rose-apple tree. The crow replies that it requires nobility to discover the same in others and shakes down some fruit for the jackal to share.

What seems to be a depiction of the tale on a painted vase discovered in excavations at Lothal from the Indus Valley Civilisation suggests that the story may have been known there at least a thousand years earlier than any other source. In this scene, the bird is depicted perched on a tree holding a fish, while a fox-looking animal is underneath.

Read more about this topic:  The Fox And The Crow (Aesop)

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