Multilingual Folk Tale Database


Author: Jean de La Fontaine - 1668

Translated into English
  by Frederick Colin Tilney - 1913

Original title (French):
L'Huître et les Plaideurs

Country of origin: France


English - aligned

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The Oyster and the Pleaders

Jean de La Fontaine / Frederick Colin Tilney

One day two pilgrims espied upon the sands of the shore an
oyster that had been thrown up by the tide. They devoured it with their
eyes whilst pointing at it with their fingers; but whose teeth should
deal with it was a matter of dispute.

When one stopped to pick up the prey the other pushed him away saying:
"It would be just as well first to decide which of us is to have the
pleasure of it. He who first saw it should swallow it, and let the other
watch him eat."

"If you settle the affair that way," replied his companion, "I have good
eyes, thank God."

"But my sight is not bad either," said the other, "and I saw it before
you did, and that I'll stake my life upon."

"Well, suppose you did see it, I smelt it."

During this lively interlude Justice Nincompoop arrived on the scene,
and to him they appealed to judge their claims. The justice very gravely
took the oyster, opened it, and put it into his mouth, whilst the two
claimants looked on. Having deliberately swallowed the oyster, the
justice, in the portentous tones of a Lord Chief Justice, said, "The
court here awards each of you a shell, without costs. Let each go home

Reckon what it costs to go to law in these days. Then count what remains
to most families. You will see that Justice Nincompoop draws all the
money and leaves only the empty purse and the shells to the litigants.

Deliberately swallowed the oyster.