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Perry's Index to the Aesopica

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


There was a snake who used to lurk around the front door of a farmer's house. One day the snake struck the man's son, biting him on the foot. The boy died on the spot. The boy's parents were filled with immense sorrow and the grief-stricken father seized his axe and tried to kill the malevolent snake. When the snake fled his pursuer, the man hurried after him, raising his weapon, determined to strike, but as the farmer was about to deal the snake a deadly blow, he missed and managed only to cut off the tip of his tail. The man was terrified at the thought that he might have killed the snake, so he took cakes and water along with honey and salt and called to the snake, wanting to make peace with him. The snake, however, only hissed softly at the farmer from where he had hidden himself in the rocks and said: 'Man, do not trouble yourself any longer: there can be no possible friendship between us any more. When I look upon my tail, I am in pain. The same is true for you: whenever you look again upon the grave of your son, you will not be able to live in peace with me.'
The fable shows that no one can put aside thoughts of hatred or revenge so long as he sees a reminder of the pain that he suffered.

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.

The Greek tradition represented by Perry 51 is clearly a story that has suffered some confusing loss in content: a snake bites a farmer's son (the reason for this attack is not explained), and the farmer strikes the snake. The farmer later attempts to make his peace with the snake (the reason again is not explained), but the snake says that they can never forget their former grievances. In Perry 573, the story begins with the snake bestowing wealth on the man, but the man decides to kill the snake in case the snake might withdraw his favors. The snake survives the attack and kills the man's son in revenge. The man then wants to make peace with the snake but the snake replies as in the other story, that there can never be trust between them again. In an ancient Indian folktale, the snake bestows wealth on the man, but the greedy son attempts to get all the wealth at once, which is why the snake kills the boy; the father then attacks the snake in anger, and is rebuffed by the snake when he attempts a reconciliation.

Perry 51: Gibbs (Oxford) 75 [English]
Perry 51: Jacobs 6 [English]
Perry 51: L'Estrange 28 [English]
Perry 51: Townsend 48 [English]
Perry 51: Chambry 81 [Greek]

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.