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Perry's Index to the Aesopica

Fables exist in many versions; here is one version in English:


There was once a slow-moving tortoise who said to the shearwaters of the marsh and to the gulls and the wild terns, 'If only I too had been made with wings!' An eagle spoke to her in jest and said, 'O little tortoise, what wages would you give to me, an eagle, if I were to lift you lightly up into the air?' 'I would give to you all the gifts that come from the Eastern Sea,' said the tortoise. 'Well then, I will teach you,' said the eagle. He lifted the tortoise and carried her upside down until they were hidden in the clouds, and then he dropped her onto a mountaintop, completely smashing the shell she wore upon her back. As she breathed her last, the tortoise said, 'It serves me right! What use did I have for clouds or for wings, when I already had trouble moving about on the ground!'

Source: Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.
NOTE: New cover, with new ISBN, published in 2008; contents of book unchanged.

In Perry 230, the turtle asks the eagle to carry him into the air; the eagle carries the turtle up, but then drops the turtle onto the rocks. In some stories, it seems that the turtle was just being foolish and is punished for foolishness (Chambry, Odo); in other stories (Babrius, Avianus), it seems like the turtle may have promised to pay the eagle, and the eagle drops the turtle when no reward is forthcoming. In Perry 490, the eagle has a turtle but doesn't know how to get the meat out of the shell. The crow advises the eagle to drop the turtle on a rock. In some versions (Phaedrus), the crow and the eagle share the feast; in other versions (Romulus Anglicus), the crow waits by the rocks and steals the turtle so that the eagle is left with nothing. In some medieval versions, the turtle becomes a mere shell (concha) so that Caxton ends up with a story about a "nutte."

Perry 230: Caxton Avyan 2 [English]
Perry 230: Gibbs (Oxford) 331 [English]
Perry 230: Townsend 27 [English]
Perry 230: Steinhowel Avyan 2 [Latin, illustrated] Mannheim University Library
Perry 230: Babrius 115 [Greek]
Perry 230: Chambry 351 [Greek]
Perry 230: Avianus 2 [Latin]
Perry 230: Odo 5 [Latin]

You can find a compilation of Perry's index to the Aesopica in the gigantic appendix to his edition of Babrius and Phaedrus for the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1965). This book is an absolute must for anyone interested in the Aesopic fable tradition. Invaluable.