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Perry's Index to the Aesopica

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


There is a little bird who is called the crested lark. She lives in the wheat fields and makes her nest there precisely at the time of year that will allow her chicks to just be getting their feathers when the harvest is gathered. One time, the lark happened to have made her nest in some crops that had ripened earlier than usual and as a result her chicks were still not able to fly when the wheat had already turned to yellow. So when the mother bird went to gather food for her chicks, she warned them that if anything unexpected should happen or if the chicks should chance to hear anything, they should pay close attention and tell her everything as soon as she returned. Meanwhile, the farmer whose field it was called his young son and said, 'Do you see how the crops have ripened and now require our labour? As soon as it is light tomorrow, go to our friends and ask them to come lend a hand to help harvest our crop.' Having said this to his son, the farmer then went away. When the lark came back home, the terrified chicks all began chirping in fright and begged their mother to hurry up and take them right away to some other nesting place, since the farmer had sent someone to ask his friends to come at dawn and reap the harvest. The mother ordered them to stay calm. 'If the farmer is expecting his friends to help with the harvest,' she said, 'there will be no harvesting of the crops tomorrow, and there is no need for me to carry you away today.' The next day the mother flew away again to look for food. The farmer, meanwhile, was waiting for the friends that he had summoned. The sun was blazing high in the sky but nothing was happening; the day dragged on, but none of the farmer's friends appeared. The farmer again spoke to his son and said, 'Our friends are all so lazy! Why don't we go ask our relatives to come right away and help with the harvesting tomorrow?' As on the day before, the chicks were stricken with terror and told their mother what had happened. The mother urged them once again to not be afraid or worry: relatives never obey such requests for help right away, since they are hardly willing to get to work so quickly. 'But pay attention,' she said, 'in case you hear something different tomorrow.' The next day at dawn the mother bird went off in search of food, while the farmer's relatives failed to supply the help that had been requested of them. So the farmer finally said to his son, 'Enough of these friends and relatives! At first light tomorrow I want you to bring two sickles, one for me and one for you: we will reap the wheat tomorrow by ourselves, using our own hands.' When the mother learned from her chicks what the farmer had said, she concluded, 'Now it is time for us to surrender our home and move away: without a doubt, it will happen just as the farmer said. It's up to him now that he's not expecting anybody else to help.' So the lark abandoned her nest and the farmer harvested his crops.
This is an Aesop's fable about how one's relatives and friends are generally unreliable and not to be trusted. In effect, this is basically what the more respectable books of philosophy advise us to do: we should rely only on ourselves, regarding everything which does not involve us or our livelihood as something that is none of our business and not to our benefit. Ennius included this Aesop's fable in his Satires, narrating these events in witty and elegant verse. I will quote the final lines, which I think are worth learning by heart and keeping in mind: 'Now keep this saying always at the forefront of your thoughts, and don't wait for your friends to do something that you are perfectly able to do for yourself.'

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.

Perry 325: Gibbs (Oxford) 293 [English]
Perry 325: L'Estrange 52 [English]
Perry 325: Townsend 202 [English]
Perry 325: Babrius 88 [Greek]
Perry 325: Avianus 21 [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.