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Information

Author: Jean de La Fontaine - 1668

Translated into English
  by Frederick Colin Tilney - 1913

Original title (French):
Le Lion, le Singe, et les deux Anes

Country of origin: France

Translations

English - aligned


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The Lion, the Monkey, and the Two Asses

Jean de La Fontaine / Frederick Colin Tilney

King Lion, thinking that he would govern better if he took a
few lessons in moral philosophy, had a monkey brought to him one fine
day who was a master of arts in the monkey tribe. The first lesson he
gave was as follows:—

"Great King, in order to govern wisely a prince should always consider
the good of the country before yielding to that feeling which is
commonly known as self-love, for that fault is the father of all the
vices one sees in animals. To rid oneself of this sentiment is not an
easy thing to do, and is not to be done in a day. Indeed, merely to
moderate it is to achieve a good deal, and if you succeed so far you
will never tolerate in yourself anything ridiculous or unjust."

"Give me," commanded the king, "an example of each of those faults."

"Every species of creature," continued the philosopher, "esteems itself
in its heart above all the others. These others it regards as
ignoramuses, calling them by many hard names which, after all, hurt
nobody. At the same time this self-love, which sneers at other tribes
and other kinds of beasts, induces the individual to heap praise upon
other individuals of his own species, because that is a very good way of
praising oneself too. From this it is easy to see that many talents here
below are in reality but empty pretence, assumption, and pose, and a
certain gift of making the most of oneself, better understood by
ignorant people than by learned.

"The other day I followed two asses who were offering the incense of
flattery to each other by turns, and heard one say, 'My Lord, do you not
think that man, that perfect animal, is both unjust and stupid? He
profanes our august name by calling every one of his own kind an ass who
is ignorant, or dull, or idiotic; and he calls our laughter and our
discourse by the term "braying." It is very amusing that these human
people pretend to excel us!'

"'My friend,' said his companion, 'it is for you to speak, and for them
to hold their tongues. They are the true brayers. But let us speak no
more of them. We two understand each other; that is sufficient. And as
for the marvels of delight your divine voice lets fall upon our ears,
the nightingale herself is but a novice in comparison. You surpass the
court musician.'

"To this the other donkey replied, 'My lord, I admire in you exactly the
same excellencies.'

"Not content with flattering each other in this way, these two asses
went about the cities singing aloud each other's praises. Either one
thought he was doing a good turn to himself in thus lauding his
companion.

"Well, your majesty, I know of many people to-day, not among asses, but
among exalted creatures, whom heaven has been pleased to raise to a high
degree, who would, if they dared, change their title of 'Excellency to
that of 'Majesty.' I am saying more than I should, perhaps, and I hope
your majesty will keep the secret. You wished to hear of some incident
which would show you, among other things, how self-love makes people
ridiculous, and there I have given you a good instance. Injustice I will
speak of another time, it would take too long now."

Thus spoke the ape. No one has ever been able to tell me whether he ever
did speak of injustice to his king. It would have been a delicate
matter, and our master of arts, who was no fool, regarded the lion as
too terrible a king to submit to being lectured too far.