Aesop's Fables, translated by Laura Gibbs (2002)
577. THE WIDOW AND HER LOVER
Perry 543 (Phaedrus
A woman had lost her beloved husband of many years and had laid his body
in the ground. It was impossible to tear her away from his grave, and
she filled her days with weeping. Everyone repeated glowingly that this
woman was an example of a truly faithful wife. Meanwhile, some men who
had pillaged the temple of Jupiter were condemned to death for their crime
against the god. After they had been crucified, soldiers were stationed
by the crosses so that the families of the executed criminals could not
recover their bodies. This all took place next to the tomb where the woman
had secluded herself. One of the guards happened to be thirsty and asked
the woman's maidservant to bring him some water in the middle of the night.
As it happened, the maid had been helping her mistress prepare for bed,
as the widow had maintained her vigil long into the night and was still
sitting up by the light of the lamp. The door was open just a crack and
when the soldier peeped inside, he saw a woman of exceptional beauty.
He was immediately enthralled and inflamed with lust, and an irresistible
desire began gradually to well up inside him. His crafty ingenuity found
a thousand reasons to see the widow again and again. Acquiescing to this
regular daily contact, the widow slowly but surely became more and more
inclined towards her guest, and soon an even closer bond united her heart
to his. While the guard was spending his nights in the widow's embrace,
one of the corpses was spirited away from the cross. The soldier was upset
and told the woman what had happened. That exemplary woman said, 'Don't
worry!' and with these words, she handed over her husband's corpse to
be nailed to the cross, so that the soldier would not be punished for
dereliction of duty.
That is how debauchery besieges a bastion of fair repute.
Note: This fable is best known as the 'Widow of Ephesus' from the version
found in Petronius,
Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura
Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.
cover, with new ISBN, published in 2008; contents of book unchanged.