Aesop's Fables

Week 4: Ancient Greece - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

City Mouse and Country Mouse

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 700 words.

Aesop's fables are one of the few genres of ancient Greek literature that have remained consistently popular. In the Renaissance, many forms of ancient Greek literature were brought back to life after having died out in Europe (hence the "re-naissance", the re-birth). But the fables did not have to be brought back to life, because they had never gone away! For the next few sections, you will be looking at the "same" fable told in different versions - fables from ancient Greek or Roman sources, fables from medieval Latin sources, along with some English translations of the fables - such as Caxton's 15th-century translation or Sir Roger L'Estrange's 17th-century translation. I am a big fan of Sir Roger L'Estrange's translation: even if you have not been reading the fables out loud, I hope you will at least read Sir Roger out loud - he has a real way with words!

Aesop's Fables, translated by Laura Gibbs (2002)
THE CITY MOUSE AND THE COUNTRY MOUSE (from the medieval fable by Ademar; Fable #352)

A city mouse once happened to pay a visit to the house of a country mouse where he was served a humble meal of acorns. The city mouse finished his business in the country and by means of insistent invitations he persuaded the country mouse to come pay him a visit. The city mouse then brought the country mouse into a room that was overflowing with food. As they were feasting on various delicacies, a butler opened the door. The city mouse quickly concealed himself in a familiar mouse hole, but the poor country mouse was not acquainted with the house and frantically scurried around the floorboards, frightened out of his wits. When the butler had taken what he needed, he closed the door behind him. The city mouse then urged the country mouse to sit back down to dinner. The country mouse refused and said, 'How could I possibly do that? Oh, how scared I am! Do you think that the man is going to come back?' This was all that the terrified mouse was able to say. The city mouse insisted, 'My dear fellow, you could never find such delicious food as this anywhere else in the world.' 'Acorns are enough for me,' the country mouse maintained, 'so long as I am secure in my freedom!'
It is better to live in self-sufficient poverty than to be tormented by the worries of wealth.

Aesop's Fables: Caxton (1484)
Of the two rats

Better worthe is to lyue in pouerte surely / than to lyue rychely beyng euer in daunger / wherof Esope telleth suche a fable / There were two rats / wherof the one was grete and fatte / and held hym in the celer of a Ryche man And the other was poure and lene / On a daye this grete and fat ratte wente to sporte hym in the feldes and mette by the way the poure rat / of the whiche he was receyued as well as he coude in his poure cauerne or hole / and gaf hym of suche mete as he had / Thenne sayd the fatte ratte come thow wyth me / And I shalle gyue the wel other metes / He went with hym in to the toune / and entred bothe in to the celer of the ryche man / the whiche celer was full of alle goodes / And whan they were within the grete rat presented and gaf to the poure rat of the delycious metes / sayeng thus to hym / Be mery and make good chere / and ete and drynke Ioyously / And as they were etynge / the bouteler of the place came in to the celer / & the grete rat fled anon in to his hole / & the poure rat wist not whyther he shold goo ne flee / but hyd hym behynd the dore with grete fere and drede / and the bouteler torned ageyne and sawe hym not / And whan he was gone the fatte rat cam out of his cauerne or hole / and called the poure ratte / whiche yet was shakynge for fere / and said to hym / come hyder and be not aferd / & ete as moche as thou wylt / And the poure rat sayd to hym / for goodes loue lete me go oute of this celer / For I haue leuer ete some corne in the feldes and lyue surely / than to be euer in this torment / for thou arte here in grete doubte & lyuest not surely /
And therfore hit is good to lyue pourely & surely For the poure lyueth more surely than the ryche

Aesop's Fables: Sir Roger L'Estrange (1692)

There goes an old Story of a Country-Mouse that invited a City-Sister of hers to a Country Collation, where she spar’d for nothing that the Place afforded; as mouldy Crusts, Cheese-Parings, musty Oatmeal, rusty Bacon, and the like. Now the City-Dame was so well bred, as seemingly to take all in good part; but yet at last, Sister (says she, after the civilest Fashion) why will you be miserable when you may be happy? Why will you lie pining and pinching your self in such a lonesome starving Course of Life as this is, when ‘tis but going to Town along with me; to enjoy all the Pleasures and Plenty that your Heart can wish? This was a Temptation the Country-Mouse was not able to resist; so that away they trudg’d together, and about Midnight got to their Journey’s End. The City-Mouse shewed her Friend the Larder, the Pantry, the Kitchen, and other Offices where she laid her Stores; and after this, carried her into the Parlour, where they found, yet upon the Table, the Relicks of a mighty Entertainment of that very Night. The City-Mouse carv’d her Companion of what she liked best, so to’t they fell upon a Velvet Couch together. The poor Bumpkin, that had never seen nor heard of such Doings before, bless’d her self at the Change of Condition, when (as ill luck would have it) all of a sudden the Doors flew open, and in comes a Crew of roring Bullies, with their Wenches, their Dogs, and their Bottles, and put the poor Mice to their wit’s end how to save their Skins; the Stranger especially, that had never been at this sport before: but she made a shift however for the present to slink into a Corner, where she lay trembling and panting till the Company went their way. So soon as ever the House was quiet again; Well! My Court-Sister, says she, if this be the way of your Town-Gamboles, I’ll e’en back to my Cottage, and my mouldy Cheese again; for I had much rather lie knabbing of Crusts, without either Fear or Danger, in my own Hole, than be Mistress of the whole World with perpetual Cares and Alarms.
THE MORAL The Difference of a Court and Country Life. The Delights, Innocence, and Security of the one, compar’d with the Anxiety, the Lewdness, and the Hazards of the other.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what kind of life did the mouse live in the country?
  • what kind of life did the city mouse live?
  • why did the country mouse decide life in the country was better?

Source: Laura Gibbs, translator. Aesop's Fables (2003). Weblink.
Source: Sir Roger L'Estrange published his edition of Aesop's fables in 1692 (modern reprint: 1906). Weblink.
Source: Caxton published his edition of Aesop's fables in 1484. There are modern reprints by Joseph Jacobs (1889) and more recently by Robert Lenaghan (1967). Weblink.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM