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The Fables of La Fontaine

Jean de la Fontaine


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Tags: Fiction » Childrens » Poetry

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The Fables by Jean de La Fontaine are considered classics of French literature. Collecting fables from a variety of sources, La Fontaine then adapted them into verse. Consisting of twelve books and 239 fables in all, these were originally aimed at adults, but have since been taught to children as a way to educate them in morals. At times they have been mixed in with the fables of Aesop. The sources for the fables are wide ranging, from Aesop to Boccaccio, from Babrius to Machiavelli - even drawing at times from ancient Indian collections of tales. Full chapter list.

№ 72 in Anne Haight's List of Banned Books.

This book has 549 pages in the PDF version.This translation by Elizur Wright was originally published in 1882.

Production notes: This edition of The Fables of La Fontaine was published by Global Grey ebooks on the 14th July 2021. The artwork used for the cover is 'The Threatened Swan' by Jan Asselijn.

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Excerpt from 'The Fables of La Fontaine'

Human nature, when fresh from the hand of God, was full of poetry. Its sociality could not be pent within the bounds of the actual. To the lower inhabitants of air, earth, and water,--and even to those elements themselves, in all their parts and forms,--it gave speech and reason. The skies it peopled with beings, on the noblest model of which it could have any conception--to wit, its own. The intercourse of these beings, thus created and endowed,--from the deity kindled into immortality by the imagination, to the clod personified for the moment,--gratified one of its strongest propensities; for man may well enough be defined as the historical animal. The faculty which, in after ages, was to chronicle the realities developed by time, had at first no employment but to place on record the productions of the imagination. Hence, fable blossomed and ripened in the remotest antiquity. We see it mingling itself with the primeval history of all nations. It is not improbable that many of the narratives which have been preserved for us, by the bark or parchment of the first rude histories, as serious matters of fact, were originally apologues, or parables, invented to give power and wings to moral lessons, and afterwards modified, in their passage from mouth to mouth, by the well-known magic of credulity. The most ancient poets graced their productions with apologues. Hesiod's fable of the Hawk and the Nightingale is an instance. The fable or parable was anciently, as it is even now, a favourite weapon of the most successful orators. When Jotham would show the Shechemites the folly of their ingratitude, he uttered the fable of the Fig-Tree, the Olive, the Vine, and the Bramble. When the prophet Nathan would oblige David to pass a sentence of condemnation upon himself in the matter of Uriah, he brought before him the apologue of the rich man who, having many sheep, took away that of the poor man who had but one. When Joash, the king of Israel, would rebuke the vanity of Amaziah, the king of Judah, he referred him to the fable of the Thistle and the Cedar. Our blessed Saviour, the best of all teachers, was remarkable for his constant use of parables, which are but fables--we speak it with reverence--adapted to the gravity of the subjects on which he discoursed. And, in profane history, we read that Stesichorus put the Himerians on their guard against the tyranny of Phalaris by the fable of the Horse and the Stag. Cyrus, for the instruction of kings, told the story of the fisher obliged to use his nets to take the fish that turned a deaf ear to the sound of his flute. Menenius Agrippa, wishing to bring back the mutinous Roman people from Mount Sacer, ended his harangue with the fable of the Belly and the Members. A Ligurian, in order to dissuade King Comanus from yielding to the Phocians a portion of his territory as the site of Marseilles, introduced into his discourse the story of the bitch that borrowed a kennel in which to bring forth her young, but, when they were sufficiently grown, refused to give it up.

In all these instances, we see that fable was a mere auxiliary of discourse--an implement of the orator. Such, probably, was the origin of the apologues which now form the bulk of the most popular collections. Aesop, who lived about six hundred years before Christ, so far as we can reach the reality of his life, was an orator who wielded the apologue with remarkable skill. From a servile condition, he rose, by the force of his genius, to be the counsellor of kings and states. His wisdom was in demand far and wide, and on the most important occasions. The pithy apologues which fell from his lips, which, like the rules of arithmetic, solved the difficult problems of human conduct constantly presented to him, were remembered when the speeches that contained them were forgotten. He seems to have written nothing himself; but it was not long before the gems which he scattered began to be gathered up in collections, as a distinct species of literature. The great and good Socrates employed himself, while in prison, in turning the fables of Aesop into verse. Though but a few fragments of his composition have come down to us, he may, perhaps, be regarded as the father of fable, considered as a distinct art. Induced by his example, many Greek poets and philosophers tried their hands in it. Archilocus, Alcaeus, Aristotle, Plato, Diodorus, Plutarch, and Lucian, have left us specimens. Collections of fables bearing the name of Aesop became current in the Greek language. It was not, however, till the year 1447 that the large collection which now bears his name was put forth in Greek prose by Planudes, a monk of Constantinople. This man turned the life of Aesop itself into a fable; and La Fontaine did it the honour to translate it as a preface to his own collection. Though burdened with insufferable puerilities, it is not without the moral that a rude and deformed exterior may conceal both wit and worth.

The collection of fables in Greek verse by Babrias was exceedingly popular among the Romans. It was the favourite book of the Emperor Julian. Only six of these fables, and a few fragments, remain; but they are sufficient to show that their author possessed all the graces of style which befit the apologue. Some critics place him in the Augustan age; others make him contemporary with Moschus. His work was versified in Latin, at the instance of Seneca; and Quinctilian refers to it as a reading-book for boys. Thus, at all times, these playful fictions have been considered fit lessons for children, as well as for men, who are often but grown-up children. So popular were the fables of Babrias and their Latin translation, during the Roman empire, that the work of Phaedrus was hardly noticed. The latter was a freedman of Augustus, and wrote in the reign of Tiberius. His verse stands almost unrivalled for its exquisite elegance and compactness; and posterity has abundantly avenged him for the neglect of contemporaries. La Fontaine is perhaps more indebted to Phaedrus than to any other of his predecessors; and, especially in the first six books, his style has much of the same curious condensation. When the seat of the empire was transferred to Byzantium, the Greek language took precedence of the Latin; and the rhetorician Aphthonius wrote forty fables in Greek prose, which became popular. Besides these collections among the Romans, we find apologues scattered through the writings of their best poets and historians, and embalmed in those specimens of their oratory which have come down to us.

The apologues of the Greeks and Romans were brief, pithy, and epigrammatic, and their collections were without any principle of connection. But, at the same time, though probably unknown to them, the same species of literature was flourishing elsewhere under a somewhat different form. It is made a question, whether Aesop, through the Assyrians, with whom the Phrygians had commercial relations, did not either borrow his art from the Orientals, or lend it to them. This disputed subject must be left to those who have a taste for such inquiries. Certain it is, however, that fable flourished very anciently with the people whose faith embraces the doctrine of metempsychosis. Among the Hindoos, there are two very ancient collections of fables, which differ from those which we have already mentioned, in having a principle of connection throughout.

Chapter List for 'The Fables of La Fontaine'

Preface To The Present Edition
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A Preface on Fable, The Fabulists, And La Fontaine
To Monseigneur The Dauphin
BOOK 1
The Grasshopper And The Ant
The Raven And The Fox
The Frog That Wished To Be As Big As The Ox
The Two Mules
The Wolf And The Dog
The Heifer, The Goat, And The Sheep, In Company With The Lion
The Wallet
The Swallow And The Little Birds
The City Rat And The Country Rat
The Wolf And The Lamb
The Man And His Image
The Dragon With Many Heads, And The Dragon With Many Tails
The Thieves And The Ass
Simonides Preserved By The Gods
Death And The Unfortunate
Death And The Woodman
The Man Between Two Ages, And His Two Mistresses
The Fox And The Stork
The Boy And The Schoolmaster
The Cock And The Pearl
The Hornets And The Bees
The Oak And The Reed
BOOK 2
Against The Hard To Suit
The Council Held By The Rats
The Wolf Accusing The Fox Before The Monkey
The Two Bulls And The Frog
The Bat And The Two Weasels
The Bird Wounded By An Arrow
The Bitch And Her Friend
The Eagle And The Beetle
The Lion And The Gnat
The Ass Loaded With Sponges, And The Ass Loaded With Salt
The Lion And The Rat
The Dove And The Ant
The Astrologer Who Stumbled Into A Well
The Hare And The Frogs
The Cock And The Fox
The Raven Wishing To Imitate The Eagle
The Peacock Complaining To Juno
The Cat Metamorphosed Into A Woman
The Lion And The Ass Hunting
The Will Explained By Aesop
BOOK 3
The Miller, His Son, And The Ass
The Members And The Belly
The Wolf Turned Shepherd
The Frogs Asking A King
The Fox And The Goat
The Eagle, The Wild Sow, And The Cat
The Drunkard And His Wife
The Gout And The Spider
The Wolf And The Stork
The Lion Beaten By The Man
The Fox And The Grapes
The Swan And The Cook
The Wolves And The Sheep
The Lion Grown Old
Philomel And Progne
The Woman Drowned
The Weasel In The Granary
The Cat And The Old Rat
BOOK 4
The Lion In Love
The Shepherd And The Sea
The Fly And The Ant
The Gardener And His Lord
The Ass And The Little Dog
The Battle Of The Rats And The Weasels
The Monkey And The Dolphin
The Man And The Wooden God
The Jay In The Feathers Of The Peacock
The Camel And The Floating Sticks
The Frog And The Rat
The Animals Sending Tribute To Alexander
The Horse Wishing To Be Revenged Upon The Stag
The Fox And The Bust
The Wolf, The Goat, And The Kid
The Wolf, The Mother, And Her Child
The Words Of Socrates
The Old Man And His Sons
The Oracle And The Atheist
The Miser Who Had Lost His Treasure
The Eye Of The Master
The Lark And Her Young Ones With The Owner Of A Field
BOOK 5
The Woodman And Mercury
The Earthen Pot And The Iron Pot
The Little Fish And The Fisher
The Ears Of The Hare
The Fox With His Tail Cut Off
The Old Woman And Her Two Servants
The Satyr And The Traveller
The Horse And The Wolf
The Ploughman And His Sons
The Mountain In Labour
Fortune And The Boy
The Doctors
The Hen With The Golden Eggs
The Ass Carrying Relics
The Stag And The Vine
The Serpent And The File
The Hare And The Partridge
The Eagle And The Owl
The Lion Going To War
The Bear And The Two Companions
The Ass Dressed In The Lion's Skin
BOOK 6
The Shepherd And The Lion
The Lion And The Hunter
Phoebus And Boreas
Jupiter And The Farmer
The Cockerel, The Cat, And The Young Mouse
The Fox, The Monkey, And The Animals
The Mule Boasting Of His Genealogy
The Old Man And The Ass
The Stag Seeing Himself In The Water
The Hare And The Tortoise
The Ass And His Masters
The Sun And The Frogs
The Countryman And The Serpent
The Sick Lion And The Fox
The Fowler, The Hawk, And The Lark
The Horse And The Ass
The Dog That Dropped The Substance For The Shadow
The Carter In The Mire
The Charlatan
Discord
The Young Widow
Epilogue
BOOK 7
To Madame De Montespan
The Animals Sick Of The Plague
The Ill-Married
The Rat Retired From The World
The Heron
The Maid
The Wishes
The Lion's Court
The Vultures And The Pigeons
The Coach And The Fly
The Dairywoman And The Pot Of Milk
The Curate And The Corpse
The Man Who Ran After Fortune, And The Man Who Waited For Her In His Bed
The Two Cocks
The Ingratitude And Injustice Of Men Towards Fortune
The Fortune-Tellers
The Cat, The Weasel, And The Young Rabbit
The Head And The Tail Of The Serpent
An Animal In The Moon
BOOK 8
Death And The Dying
The Cobbler And The Financier
The Lion, The Wolf, And The Fox
The Power Of Fables
The Man And The Flea
The Women And The Secret
The Dog That Carried His Master's Dinner
The Joker And The Fishes
The Rat And The Oyster
The Bear And The Amateur Gardener
The Two Friends
The Hog, The Goat, And The Sheep
Thyrsis And Amaranth
The Funeral Of The Lioness
The Rat And The Elephant
The Horoscope
The Ass And The Dog
The Pashaw And The Merchant
The Use Of Knowledge
Jupiter And The Thunderbolts
The Falcon And The Capon
The Cat And The Rat
The Torrent And The River
Education
The Two Dogs And The Dead Ass
Democritus And The People Of Abdera
The Wolf And The Hunter
BOOK 9
The Faithless Depositary
The Two Doves
The Monkey And The Leopard
The Acorn And The Pumpkin
The Schoolboy, The Pedant, And The Owner Of A Garden
The Sculptor And The Statue Of Jupiter
The Mouse Metamorphosed Into A Maid
The Fool Who Sold Wisdom
The Oyster And The Litigants
The Wolf And The Lean Dog
Nothing Too Much
The Wax-Candle
Jupiter And The Passenger
The Cat And The Fox
The Husband, The Wife, And The Thief
The Treasure And The Two Men
The Monkey And The Cat
The Kite And The Nightingale
The Shepherd And His Flock
BOOK 10
The Two Rats, The Fox, And The Egg
The Man And The Adder
The Tortoise And The Two Ducks
The Fishes And The Cormorant
The Burier And His Comrade
The Wolf And The Shepherds
The Spider And The Swallow
The Partridge And The Cocks
The Dog Whose Ears Were Cropped
The Shepherd And The King
The Fishes And The Shepherd Who Played The Flute
The Two Parrots, The King, And His Son
The Lioness And The Bear
The Two Adventurers And The Talisman
The Rabbits
The Merchant, The Noble, The Shepherd, And The King's Son
BOOK 11
The Lion
The Gods Wishing To Instruct A Son Of Jupiter
The Farmer, The Dog, And The Fox
The Mogul's Dream
The Lion, The Monkey, And The Two Asses
The Wolf And The Fox
The Peasant Of The Danube
The Old Man And The Three Young Ones
The Mice And The Owl
Epilogue
BOOK 12
The Companions Of Ulysses
The Cat And The Two Sparrows
The Miser And The Monkey
The Two Goats
The Old Cat And The Young Mouse
The Sick Stag
The Bat, The Bush, And The Duck
The Quarrel Of The Dogs And Cats, And That Of The Cats And Mice
The Wolf And The Fox
The Lobster And Her Daughter
The Eagle And The Magpie
The King, The Kite, And The Falconer
The Fox, The Flies, And The Hedgehog
Love And Folly
The Raven, The Gazelle, The Tortoise, And The Rat
The Woods And The Woodman
The Fox, The Wolf, And The Horse
The Fox And The Turkeys
The Ape
The Scythian Philosopher
The Elephant And The Ape Of Jupiter
The Fool And The Sage
The English Fox
The Sun And The Frogs
The League Of The Rats
Daphnis And Alcimadure
The Arbiter, The Almoner, And The Hermit

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