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The Frogs and the Fighting Bulls” by Paul Bransom (Photo credit: An Argosy of Fables)

   “While the mighty quarrel, the humble pay the cost.”

I chose today’s subject matter, an Aesopian fable entitled “The Frogs and the Fighting Bulls,” because it brings to mind the plight of Syrians seeking refuge in a reticent Europe.

Four million Syrians have fled their country because their homes, if they are still standing, are not habitable and their government is no longer operative. Syria is a battlefield.

Where have the Mighty been? And will the Mighty now sit at a table and do their very best to fix the problem. I fear they may be politicians first and statesmen second, if ever they become statesmen, and “let the humble pay the cost.”

My kindest regards to all of you.


Aesop, with a fox, from the central medallion of a kylix, c. 470 BCE; in the Gregorian Etruscan Museum, Vatican City. 600 BCE – 501 BCE (Photo credit: the Encyclopaedia Britannica)

The Perry Index of Aesopian Fables

In the Perry Index of Aesopian fables, “The Frog and the Fighting Bulls” is fable number 485 and is entitled: “The Frogs Dread the Battle of the Bulls.” Its source is Phaedrus (1st century CE) but I borrowed the text from An Argosy of Fables, 1921 (p. 130), selected by Frederic Taber Cooper (1864 – 1937) and illustrated by Paul Bransom (1885 – 1979). However, this post includes Jean de La Fontaine’s[1] Les Deux Taureaux et une Grenouille” and its English translation: “The Two Bulls and the Frog.” 

You may remember that Phaedrus (1st century CE)[2] is the Latin author who versified Aesop‘s[3] fables, thereby removing them from an oral tradition. (See Oral-formulaic composition, Wikipedia). Babrius (2nd century CE) also took Aesopian fables away from oral literature but he wrote Aesop’s fables in the Greek language.

Subsequent writers of fables have used both Phaedrus and Babrius to publish Aesopian fables in Latin or Greek, or French, or English, or other languages. We are reading a translation of Phaedrus’ Latin collection, but Frederic Taber Cooper has not provided his readers with the name of a translator.

The Frogs and the Fighting Bulls

A FROG, sitting at the edge of a swamp, was watching a battle between two Bulls in an adjoining field. “Alas! what deadly danger threatens us,” he said. Another Frog, overhearing him, asked what he meant, when the Bulls were merely fighting to decide which should lead the herd, and the cattle passed their lives quite apart from the home of the Frogs. “It is true,” rejoined the first Frog, “that they are a different race and live apart from us. But whichever Bull is beaten and driven from his leadership in the woods will come to find some secret hiding place; and I fear that many of us will be trampled to pieces under his hard hoofs. That is why I say that their battle means death and destruction to us.”

When the mighty quarrel, the humble pay the cost.

(Phaedrus, Fables, Vol. I, No. 30.)
 An Argosy of Fables, p. 100

Les Deux Taureaux et une Grenouille

Deux Taureaux combattaient à qui posséderait.
Une Génisse avec l’empire.
Une Grenouille en soupirait:
« Qu’avez-vous ? se mit à lui dire
Quelqu’un du peuple croassant.
Et ne voyez-vous pas, dit-elle,
Que la fin de cette querelle
Sera l’exil de l’un ; que l’autre, le chassant,
Le fera renoncer aux campagnes fleuries ?
Il ne régnera plus sur l’herbe des prairies,
Viendra dans nos marais régner sur les roseaux,
Et nous foulant aux pieds jusques au fond des eaux,
Tantôt l’une, et puis l’autre, il faudra qu’on pâtisse
Du combat qu’a causé Madame la Génisse. »
Cette crainte était de bon sens.
L’un des Taureaux en leur demeure
S’alla cacher à leurs dépens :
Il en écrasait vingt par heure.
Hélas! on voit que de tout temps
Les petits ont pâti des sottises des grands.

Livre 2, fable 4

The Two Bulls and the Frog

Two bulls engaged in shocking battle,
Both for a certain heifer’s sake,
And lordship over certain cattle,
A frog began to groan and quake.
“But what is this to you?”
Inquired another of the croaking crew.
“Why, sister, don’t you see,
The end of this will be,
That one of these big brutes will yield,
And then be exiled from the field?
No more permitted on the grass to feed,
He’ll forage through our marsh, on rush and reed;
And while he eats or chews the cud,
Will trample on us in the mud.
Alas! to think how frogs must suffer
By means of this proud lady heifer!”
This fear was not without good sense.
One bull was beat, and much to their expense;
For, quick retreating to their reedy bower,
He trod on twenty of them in an hour.
Of little folks it often has been the fate
To suffer for the follies of the great.

Book 2, Fable 4


Sources and Resources

[1] “Jean de La Fontaine”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 28 Sep. 2015

[2] “Aesop”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 27 Sep. 2015

[3] “Phaedrus”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 27 Sep. 2015


“Agnus Dei,” Mass in C (The Coronation), K 337
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Kathleen Battle (soprano), Herbert von Karajan (conductor)

imagesKQQK6UE7© Micheline Walker
28 September 2014