Les Grenouilles qui demandent un roi (La Fontaine)
The Frogs Asking [for] a King III.4 (La Fontaine)
Les Grenouilles qui demandent un roi is the fourth fable in book three of La Fontaine’s first volume of Fables (1668) (IX.2). His second volume, containing five books, was published in 1678. The twelfth book was published in 1694, shortly before his death. The same fable is also one of Æsop’s Fables, classified as number 44 in the Perry Index (the classification of Æsop’s Fables).
Les Grenouilles qui demandent un roi tells the story of “silly and frightened” frogs who live in a democracy, but, tired of democracy, ask Jupiter for a monarch. Jupiter acquiesces. From the skies descends a peace-loving king who makes a huge noise as he lands. This king is often represented as a beam or log.
Frightened by the din, the frogs go into hiding, only to return slowly to look at the king. The peace-loving king is a beam, which is not very kingly. The frogs start jumping on the beam-king, which the king tolerates as Jupiter grumbles. The beam-king is a kindly monarch, but he does not move.
Dissatisfied, the people go back to Jupiter to ask for a king who moves. So Jupiter sends them a crane that starts eating them up. In Æsop’s telling of this fable, the crane is a stork.
In Phædrus‘ Latin translation of this fable by Æsop, a second king is sent to the frogs. It is a water snake. There is no second king in La Fontaine.
Our silly frogs complain, and Jupiter tells them, first, that they should have kept their government (a democracy), second, that they should have been pleased to be sent a gentleman-king, the beam-king, and, third, to settle for the king they have for fear of encountering a worse one, La Fontaine’s celui-ci (this one) pointing to the voracious crane.
In Æsop, as noted above, the crane is a stork.
KING LOG & KING STORK
The Frogs prayed to Jove for a king:
“Not a log, but a livelier thing.”
Jove sent them a Stork,
Who did royal work,
For he gobbled them up, did their king.
DON’T HAVE KINGS
An art nouveau illustration by Charles Robinson from an 1895 edition
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
To read the fable in French, click on Les Grenouilles qui demandent un roi
To read the fable in English, click on The Frogs Asking [for] a King
One of the morals of this fable is the eternal “Leave well enough alone,” but we are also reading a “beware-of-your-wishes-as-they-may-come-true” narrative. The moral of this fable is also a defense of the status quo, the state of affairs.
If all is well, a change is not necessary. If forewarned of possible dangers, a change may be dangerous. Knowing there are very real dangers, one does not jump into uncertainty. In a serious election, one cannot say “I’ll give him or her a chance.” Acting in such a manner reflects a somewhat flawed understanding of democracy. As I wrote above, La Fontaine calls the frogs who are not pleased with the good king log, a beam: “gent fort sotte et fort peureuse,” very silly and very frightened people.
We do not know the exact origin of this fable. Æsop retold fables told in the Near East, Middle East and India, including Buddhist tales. The most likely source is the Sanskrit Panchatantra by Vishnu Sharma, written in the 3rd century BCE. The storyteller is Pilpay or Bidpai. Bidpai’s stories were translated by Persian scholar Ibn al-Muqaffa as Kalīlah wa Dimnah. Moreover, Æsopic fables translated into Latin, by Phædrus, or Greek, by Babrius, were retold several times after Phædrus and Babrius. There are modern references to the Frogs Who Desired a King or King Log & King Stork. Under The Frogs Who desired a King, Wikipedia quotes New Zealand author James K. Baxter who wrote:
A democratic people have elected
King Log, King Stork, King Log, King Stork again.
Because I like a wide and silent pond
I voted Log. That party was defeated.
Howrah Bridge and Other Poems, London, 1961
These words will be my conclusion.
- La Fontaine’s « Les Grenouilles qui demandent un roi » (see Fables by La Fontaine, Pages)
- Anthromorphism and Zoomorphism (25 August 2013)
- other posts under revision
Sources and Resources
Wikipedia’s The Frogs Who Desired a King is our best source of information on this fable.
- La Fontaine’s Fables are Gutenberg’s [eBook #17941]
- Percy J. Billinghurst, ill. A Hundred Fables of La Fontaine is [EBook #25357]
- La Fontaine’s Fables Compiled & Walter Crane, 2nd Edition (2 September 2014)
- La Fontaine’s Fables Compiled & Walter Crane (25 September 2013)
Perry Index #44 (a complete classification)
- The Æsop for Children, illustrated by Milo Winter, 1919, is Gutenberg’s [eBook #19994]
- Walter Crane, The Baby’s Own Æsop, 1887, is Gutenberg’s [eBook #25433]
- Vernon Jones, G. K. Chesterton & Arthur Rackham, ill. Æsop‘s Fables is Gutenberg’s [eBook #11339]
- Laura Gibbs’ Æsop Fables mythfolklore.net aesopica http://mythfolklore.net/aesopica/crane/
Ladislas Starevich, 1922© Micheline Walker 12 November 2016 WordPress
Micheline, I used that fable to solve a translation problem in Tartuffe.
Madame Pernelle complains about the conduct of her son’s household in his absence with these words:
“On n’y respecte rien, chacun y parle haut,
Et c’est tout justement la cour du roi Pétaut.”
No English-speaking audience would have a clue who ‘le roi Pétaut’ is, so I borrowed Lafontaine’s better-known tale for Madame Pernelle’s lament:
“This is a swamp – and you are all puffed-up frogs on your lily pads . . . oh, it is the most disgusting display of democracy run wild.”
That was brillant. I wouldn’t say that this fable is well known, but it is a perennial. People use it. Dear Madame Pernelle, totally blinded. She approves of Tartuffe and is bitterly disappointed.
No one would know about “la cour du roi Pétaut.”
I thank you,
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