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Aesop's Fables: Phaedrus

Book III - X. Poeta de Credere et non Credere (Perry 501)

Periculosum est credere et non credere.
Vtriusque exemplum breuiter adponam rei.
Hippolytus obiit, quia nouercae creditum est;
Cassandrae quia non creditum, ruit Ilium.
Ergo exploranda est ueritas multum, prius
quam stulte praua iudicet sententia.
Sed, fabulosam ne uetustatem eleues,
narrabo tibi memoria quod factum est mea.
Maritus quidam cum diligeret coniugem,
togamque puram iam pararet filio,
seductus in secretum a liberto est suo,
sperante heredem suffici se proximum.
qui, cum de puero multa mentitus foret
et plura de flagitiis castae mulieris,
adiecit, id quod sentiebat maxime
doliturum amanti, uentitare adulterum
stuproque turpi pollui famam domus.
Incensus ille falso uxoris crimine
simulauit iter ad uillam, clamque in oppido
subsedit; deinde noctu subito ianuam
intrauit, recta cubiculum uxoris petens,
in quo dormire mater natum iusserat,
aetatem adultam seruans diligentius.
Dum quaerunt lumen, dum concursant familia,
irae furentis impetum non sustinens
ad lectum uadit, temptat in tenebris caput.
Vt sentit tonsum, gladio pectus transigit,
nihil respiciens dum dolorem uindicet.
Lucerna adlata, simul adspexit filium
sanctamque uxorem dormientem [illum prope],
sopita primo quae nil somno senserat,
representauit in se poenam facinoris
et ferro incubuit quod credulitas strinxerat.
Accusatores postularunt mulierem,
Romamque pertraxerunt ad centumuiros.
Maligna insontem deprimit suspicio,
quod bona possideat. Stant patroni fortiter
causam tuentes innocentis feminae.
A diuo Augusto tum petiere iudices
ut adiuuaret iuris iurandi fidem,
quod ipsos error implicuisset criminis.
Qui postquam tenebras dispulit calumniae
certumque fontem ueritatis repperit,
"Luat" inquit "poenas causa libertus mali;
namque orbam nato simul et priuatum uiro
miserandam potius quam damnandam existimo.
Quod si delata perscrutatus crimina
paterfamilias esset, si mendacium
subtiliter limasset, a radicibus
non euertisset scelere funesto domum."
Nil spernat auris, nec tamen credat statim,
quandoquidem et illi peccant quos minime putes,
et qui non peccant impugnantur fraudibus.
Hoc admonere simplices etiam potest,
opinione alterius ne quid ponderent.
Ambitio namque dissidens mortalium
aut gratiae subscribit aut odio suo.
Erit ille notus quem per te congnoueris.
Haec exsecutus sum propterea pluribus,
breuitate nimia quoniam quosdam offendimus.

Of Doubt and Credulity (trans. C. Smart)

'Tis frequently of bad event
To give or to withhold assent.
Two cases will th' affair explain-
The good Hippolytus was slain;
In that his stepdame credit found,
And Troy was levell d with the ground;
Because Cassandra's prescious care
Sought, but obtain'd no credence there.
The facts should then be very strong,
Lest the weak judge determine wrong:
But that I may not make too free
With fabulous antiquity,
I now a curious tale shall tell,
Which I myself remember well.
An honest man, that loved his wife,
Was introducing into life
A son upon the man's estate.
One day a servant (whom, of late,
He with his freedom had endu'd)
Took him aside, and being shrewd,
Supposed that he might be his heir
When he'd divulged the whole affair.
Much did he lie against the youth,
But more against the matron's truth:
And hinted that, which worst of all
Was sure a lover's heart to gall,
The visits of a lusty rake,
And honour of his house at stake.
He at this scandal taking heat,
Pretends a journey to his seat;
But stopp'd at hand, while it was light,
Where, on a sudden, and by night,
He to his wife's apartment sped,
Where she had put the lad to bed,
As watchful of his youthful bloom.
While now they're running to the room,
And seek a light in haste, the sire,
No longer stifling of his ire,
Flies to the couch, where grouping round,
A head, but newly shaved, he found;
Then, as alone, he vengeance breath'd,
The sword within his bosom sheath'd-
The candle entering, when he spied
The bleeding youth, and by his side
The spotless dame, who being fast
Asleep, knew nothing that had pass'd,
Instant in utmost grief involved,
He vengeance for himself resolved;
And on that very weapon flew,
Which his too cred'lous fury drew.
Th' accusers take the woman straight,
And drag to the centumvirate;
Th' ill-natured world directly built
A strong suspicion of her guilts,
As she th' estate was to enjoy-
The lawyers all their skill employ;
And a great spirit those exert
Who most her innocence assert.
The judges then to Caesar pray'd
That he would lend his special aid;
Who, as they acted upon oath,
Declared themselves extremely loth
To close this intricate affair
He, taking then himself the chair,
The clouds of calumny displaced.
And Truth up to her fountain traced.
" Let the freedman to vengeance go,
The cause of all this scene of woe:
For the poor widow, thus undone,
Deprived of husband and of son,
To pity has a greater plea
Than condemnation, I decree-
But if the man, with caution due,
Had rather blamed than listen'd to
The vile accuser, and his lie
Had strictly search'd with Reason's eye,
This desp'rate guilt he had not known,
Nor branch and root his house o'erthrown."
Nor wholly scorn, nor yet attend
Too much at what the tatlers vend,
Because there's many a sad neglect.
Where you have little to suspect;
And treacherous persons will attaint
Men, against whom there's no complaint.
Hence simple folks too may be taught
How to form judgments as they ought,
And not see with another's glass;
For things are come to such a pass,
That love and hate work diff'rent ways
As int'rest or ambition sways.
Them you may know, in them confide,
Whom by experience you have tried.
Thus have I made a long amends
For that brief style which some offends.

Latin text from Phaedrus at The Latin Library (Ad Fontes), English translations from The Fables of Phaedrus Translated into English Verse by Christopher Smart (London: 1913). Ben Perry, Babrius and Phaedrus (Loeb), contains the Latin texts of Phaedrus, with a facing English translation, along with a valuable appendix listing all the Aesop's fables attested in Greek and/or in Latin. Invaluable.