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Author: Jean de La Fontaine - 1668

Translated into English
  by Frederick Colin Tilney - 1913

Original title (French):
L'Horoscope

Country of origin: France

Translations

English - aligned


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The Horoscope

Jean de La Fontaine / Frederick Colin Tilney

Our destiny is frequently met in the very paths we take to
avoid it.

A father had an only son whom he loved excessively. His devoted
affection caused him to be so anxious as to the boy's welfare that he
sought to learn from astrologers and fortune-tellers what fate was in
store for the son and heir. One of these soothsayers told him that an
especial danger lay with lions, from which the youth must be guarded
until the age of twenty was reached, but not after. The father, to make
sure of this precaution, upon the issue of which depended the life of
his loved one, commanded that by no chance should the boy ever be
permitted to go beyond the threshold of the house. Ample provision was
made for the satisfaction of all the wishes proper to youth in the way
of play with his companions, jumping, running, walking, and so forth. As
the age approached when the spirits of youth yearn for the chase, he was
taught to hold that sport in abhorrence.

But temperament cannot be changed by persuasion and counsel, nor by
enlightenment. The young man, eager, ardent, and full of courage, no
sooner felt the promptings of his years than he sighed for the
forbidden pleasures. The greater the hindrance the stronger the desire.
Knowing the reason of his galling restrictions, and viewing day by day
in his palatial home the hunting scenes pictured in paint and tapestry
on every wall, his excitement became unrestrained.

Once his eye fell upon a pictured lion. "Ah! Monster!" he exclaimed in a
transport of indignation. "It is to you that the shade and fetters in
which I live are due!" With that he struck the lion's form a heavy blow
with his fist. Hidden under the tapestry a great nail offered its cruel
point, and upon this his hand was impaled. The wound grew beyond the
reach of medical skill, and in the end this life, so guarded and
cherished, was lost by means of the very care taken to preserve it.

The same jealous precaution proved fatal to the poet Æschylus. It is
said that some fortune-teller menaced him with the fall of a house as
his doom, upon which he at once left the town and made his bed in the
open fields, far from roofs and beneath the sky. But an eagle flew by
overhead carrying in its talons a tortoise, and seeing the bald head of
the poet beneath, which it mistook for a stone, the bird let fall its
prey in order to break the shell of the tortoise. Thus were the days of
poor Æschylus ended.

From these two examples it would seem that this art of fortune-telling,
if there be any truth in it, causes one to fall into the very evil one
would be in dread of when one consulted it. But I will demonstrate and
maintain that the art is false. I do not believe that Nature would have
tied her own hands, and ours also, to the extent of marking our fate in
the heavens. For our fate depends upon certain combinations of time,
place, and people; not upon the combinations of charlatans. A shepherd
and a king are born under the same planet: one carries the sceptre; the
other the crook. The planet Jupiter willed it so! But what is this
planet Jupiter? A body without senses. Whence comes it then that its
influence works so differently on these two men? Further, how could its
influence, if it had any, penetrate through endless voids to our world?