Aesop's Fables, translated by Laura Gibbs (2002)
293. THE CRESTED LARK AND THE FARMER
Perry 325 (Aulus
Gellius, Attic Nights 2.29: offsite)
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.'
(d. 169 B.C.E.) was a Roman poet whose works survive only in fragments.
Gellius, a Latin rhetorician of the second century C.E., tells the
fable in his own words and then quotes the moral originally supplied
by Ennius in verse.
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.