De La Fontaine's Fables
The Wolf and the Fox

The Wolf and the Fox by Jean De La Fontaine

Based on Aesop's The Fox and the Goat
(Aesop's moral: Look before you leap.)

Translated from French by Elizur Wright

Cropped image from TALES FOR CHILDREN FROM MANY LANDS, written and illustrated by Frederick Colin Tilney.

Why Aesop gave the palm of cunning,
Over flying animals and running,
To Renard Fox, I cannot tell,
Though I have searched the subject well.
Has not Sir Wolf an equal skill
In tricks and artifices shown,
When he would do some life an ill,
Or from his foes defend his own?
I think he has; and, void of disrespect,
I might, perhaps, my master contradict:

Yet here's a case, in which the burrow-lodger
Was palpably, I own, the brightest dodger.
One night he spied within a well,
Wherein the fullest moonlight fell,
What seemed to him an ample cheese.
Two balanced buckets took their turns
When drawers thence would fill their urns.
Our fox went down in one of these,
By hunger greatly pressed to sup,
And drew the other empty up.
Convinced at once of his mistake,
And anxious for his safety's sake,
He saw his death was near and sure,
Unless some other wretch in need
The same moon's image should allure
To take a bucket and succeed
To his predicament, indeed.
Two days passed by, and none approached the well;
Unhalting Time, as is his wont,
Was scooping from the moon's full front,
And as he scooped Sir Renard's courage fell.
His crony wolf, of clamorous maw,
Poor fox at last above him saw,
And cried, "My comrade, look you here!
See what abundance of good cheer!
A cheese of most delicious zest!
Which Faunus must himself have pressed,
Of milk by heifer Io given.
If Jupiter were sick in heaven,
The taste would bring his appetite.
I have taken, as you see, a bite;
But still for both there is a plenty.
Pray take the bucket that I have sent you;
Come down, and get your share."
Although, to make the story fair,
The fox had used his utmost care,
The wolf (a fool to give him credit)
Went down because his stomach bid it—
And by his weight pulled up
Sir Renard to the top.
We need not mock this simpleton,
For we ourselves such deeds have done.
Our faith is prone to lend its ear
To anything which we desire or fear.

The Wolf and the Fox Definitions:

  • Renard Fox: Renard is French for fox
  • burrow-lodger: fox
  • dodger: fellow
  • drawers: persons drawing water from the well
  • Faunus and Io: gods of mythology

The Wolf and the Fox Summary: A fox finds himself stuck in a well after mistaking the moon's reflection for a piece of yummy cheese. His only way out is to outsmart a wolf by tempting him with this supposed cheese. He succeeds, as the wolf descends in one bucket, lifting the fox up in the other.

The Wolf and the Fox Comment: While Aesop does have a fable, The Fox and the Wolf, it's The Fox and the Goat which De La Fontaine's fable most resembles. De La Fontaine prefers to depict a battle of wits though, between two animals thought cunning.

Read Aesop's The Fox and the Goat to compare...

The Fox and the Goat, by Aesop

A fox one day fell into a deep well and could find no means of escape. A Goat, overcome with thirst, came to the same well, and seeing the Fox, inquired if the water was good.

Concealing his sad plight under a merry guise, the Fox indulged in a lavish praise of the water, saying it was excellent beyond measure, and encouraging him to descend.

The Goat, mindful only of his thirst, thoughtlessly jumped down, but just as he drank, the Fox informed him of the difficulty they were both in and suggested a scheme for their common escape. "If," said he, "you will place your forefeet upon the wall and bend your head, I will run up your back and escape, and will help you out afterwards."

The Goat readily assented and the Fox leaped upon his back. Steadying himself with the Goat's horns, he safely reached the mouth of the well and made off as fast as he could.

When the Goat upbraided him for breaking his promise, he turned around and cried out, "You foolish old fellow! If you had as many brains in your head as you have hairs in your beard, you would never have gone down before you had inspected the way up, nor have exposed yourself to dangers from which you had no means of escape."

Comment, cont'd: Note how in Aesop's version, the fox is able to climb up the goat's horns to escape, after the goat is lured in. De La Fontaine's version, with the fox riding up thanks to the wolf's greater weight, is a good deal more charming.

The Wolf and the Fox: part of the Complete Fables of Jean de La Fontaine

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