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Information

Author: Jean de La Fontaine - 1668

Translated into English
  by Frederick Colin Tilney - 1913

Original title (French):
Le Philosophe scythe

Country of origin: France

Translations

English - aligned


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The Scythian Philosopher

Jean de La Fontaine / Frederick Colin Tilney

A certain austere philosopher of Scythia, wishing to follow a
pleasant life, travelled through the land of the Greeks, and there he
found in a quiet spot a sage, one such as Virgil has written of; a man
the equal of kings, the peer almost of the gods, and like them content
and tranquil.

The happiness of this sage lay entirely in his beautiful garden. There
the Scythian found him, pruning hook in hand, cutting away the useless
wood from his fruit trees; lopping here, pruning there, trimming this
and that, and everywhere aiding Nature, who repaid his care with usury.

"Why this wrecking?" asked the philosopher. "Is it wisdom thus to
mutilate these poor dwellers in your garden? Drop that merciless tool,
your pruning hook. Leave the work to the scythe of time. He will send
them, soon enough, to the shores of the river of the departed."

"I am taking away the superfluous," answered the sage, "so that what is
left may flourish the better."

The Scythian returned to his cheerless abode and, taking a bill-hook,
cut and trimmed every hour in the day, advising his neighbours to do
likewise and prescribing to his friends the means and methods. A
universal cutting-down followed. The handsomest boughs were lopped; his
orchard mutilated beyond all reason. The seasons were disregarded, and
neither young moons nor old were noted. In the end everything languished
and died.

This Scythian philosopher resembles the indiscriminating Stoic who cuts
away from the soul all passions and desires, good as well as bad, even
to the most innocent wishes. For my own part, I protest against such
people strongly. They take from the heart its greatest impulses and we
cease to live before we are dead.