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Author: Jean de La Fontaine - 1668

Translated into English
  by Frederick Colin Tilney - 1913

Original title (French):
Les Compagnons d'Ulysse

Country of origin: France

Translations

English - aligned


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The Companions of Ulysses

Jean de La Fontaine / Frederick Colin Tilney

That great hero-wanderer Ulysses had been with his companions
driven hither and thither at the will of the winds for ten years, never
knowing what their ultimate fate was to be. At length they disembarked
upon a shore where Circe, the daughter of Apollo, held her court.
Receiving them she brewed a delicious but baneful liquor, which she made
them drink. The result of this was that first they lost their reason,
and a few moments after, their bodies took the forms and features of
various animals; some unwieldy, some small. Ulysses alone, having the
wisdom to withstand the temptation of the treacherous cup, escaped the
metamorphosis. He, besides possessing wisdom, bore the look of a hero
and had the gift of honeyed speech, so that it came about that the
goddess herself imbibed a poison little different from her own; that is
to say, she became enamoured of the hero and declared her love to him.
Now was the time for Ulysses to profit by this turn of events, and he
was too cunning to miss the opportunity, so he begged and obtained the
boon that his friends should be restored to their natural shapes.

"But will they be willing to accept their own forms again?" asked the
nymph. "Go to them and make them the offer."

Ulysses, glad and eager, ran to his Greeks and cried, "The poisoned cup
has its remedy, and I come to offer it to you. Dear friends of mine,
will you not be glad to have your manly forms again? Speak, for your
speech is already restored."

The lion was the first to reply. Making an effort to roar he said, "I,
for one, am not such a fool. What! renounce all the great advantages
that have just been given me? I have teeth. I have claws. I can pull to
pieces anything that attacks me. I am, in fact, a king. Do you think it
would suit me to become a citizen of Ithaca once more? Who knows but
that you might make of me a common soldier again. Thank you; but I will
remain as I am."

Ulysses, in sad surprise, turned to the bear. "Ah, brother! what form is
this you have taken, you who used to be so handsome?"

"Well, really! I like that!" said the bear in his way. "What form is
this? you ask. Why it is the form that a bear should have. Pray who
instructed you that one form is more handsome than another? Is it your
business to judge between us? I prefer to appeal to the sight of the
gentler sex in our ursine race. Do I displease you? Then pass on. Go
your ways and leave me to mine. I am free and content as I am, and I
tell you frankly and flatly that I will not change my state."

The princely Greek then turned to a wolf with the same proposals, and
risking a similar rebuff said: "Comrade, it overwhelms me that a sweet
young shepherdess should be driven to complain to the echoing crags of
the gluttonous appetite that impelled you to devour her sheep. Time was
when you would have protected her sheepfold. In those days you led an
honest life. Leave your lairs and become, instead of a wolf, an honest
man again."

"What is that?" answered the wolf. "I don't see your point. You come
here treating me as though I were a carnivorous beast. But what are you,
who are talking in this strain? Would not you and yours have eaten these
sheep, which all the village is deploring, if I had not? Now say, on
your oath, do you really think I should have loved slaughter any less if
I had remained a man? For a mere word, you men are at times ready to
strangle each other. Are you not, therefore, as wolves one to another?
All things considered, I maintain as a matter of fact that, rascal for
rascal, it is better to be a wolf than a man. I decline to make any
change in my condition."

In this way did Ulysses go from one to another making the same
representations and receiving from all, large and small alike, the same
refusals. Liberty, unbridled lust of appetite, the ambushes of the
woods, all these things were their supreme delight. They all renounced
the glory attaching to great deeds.

They thought that in following their passions they were enjoying
freedom, not seeing that they were but slaves to themselves.