Aesop's Fables, translated by Laura Gibbs (2002)
591. 'THE PRINCE'
Perry 529 (Phaedrus
When a fatuous person gets carried away by the slightest breeze of
fame and acquires an overly high estimation of his own worth, his ridiculous
vanity soon makes him a laughing-stock.
There was a flute player named Prince who was more or less well-known,
since he provided the musical accompaniment for Bathyllus the dancer.
At one of their shows, I don't remember precisely which one, the stage
machinery unexpectedly swung around and Prince tumbled down onto the stage.
He broke his left leg and fell flat on his face (he must have been playing
in the key of B-flat). They picked him up and carted him off the stage
as he moaned and groaned. It took him several months to recover. Given
that theatre-goers are such a sentimental and devoted lot, they began
to miss him; after all, his flute playing had always roused the dancers
to greater heights. A prominent citizen was about to stage a public performance
and now that Prince was again able to walk using a cane, the man persuaded
him with invitations (and a fee) to at least put in an appearance on the
day of the show. As soon as Prince arrived, rumours of the flute player's
return buzzed throughout the theatre: while some swore he was dead, others
claimed that he was about to show himself to the entire audience in just
a moment. Then the curtains parted and there was a thunderous clang announcing
the arrival of the gods who made their usual speech, and then the chorus
started in with a song that Prince did not recognize, since he had been
away from the theatre for several months. The song's refrain went like
this: 'Rejoice, O Rome: you are safe now that the prince is well!' The
audience stood up to applaud. The flute player blew kisses to them, thinking
that his fans were congratulating him on his recovery. The people in the
front row seats realized the man's foolish mistake and with a roar of
laughter they demanded an encore. The song was repeated, and our hero
prostrated himself at full-length on the stage. The front rows continued
their mock applause, while the crowd thought Prince was simply bowing
in honour of the chorus. Eventually, however, the entire audience realized
his mistake and at that point the 'Prince,' dressed in a white gown, his
leg wrapped in a white bandage -- he even had white shoes on his feet!
-- was tossed headfirst off the stage. His exit met with universal approval,
since he had appropriated for himself the honours being paid to the prince
of Rome, the divine Caesar himself.
Note: The performer is named 'Prince' (Latin princeps) which was an
honorific title bestowed on the Caesars. The name Bathyllus suggests
that this anecdote belongs to the time of Caesar
Augustus (d. 14 C.E.), as Bathyllus was a favourite performer of
Augustus's good friend Maecenas. The 'people in the front row seats'
are the members of Rome's equestrian order of citizenry, who had seats
set aside for their use in the theatre. The reference to 'B-flat' replaces
an untranslatable play on words in the Latin: the musician breaks his
left 'tibia,' a word which can also refer to one of the pipes in a pan-pipe.
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.