Saturday, November 6, 2010

La Fontaine: The Rat and the Elephant

One's own importance to enhance,
Inspirited by self-esteem,
Is quite a common thing in France;
A French disease it well might seem.
The strutting cavaliers of Spain
Are in another manner vain.
Their pride has more insanity;
More silliness our vanity.
Let's shadow forth our own disease--
Well worth a hundred tales like these.

A rat, of quite the smallest size,
Fix'd on an elephant his eyes,
And jeer'd the beast of high descent
Because his feet so slowly went.
Upon his back, three stories high,
There sat, beneath a canopy,
A certain sultan of renown,
His dog, and cat, and concubine,
His parrot, servant, and his wine,
All pilgrims to a distant town.
The rat profess'd to be amazed
That all the people stood and gazed
With wonder, as he pass'd the road,
Both at the creature and his load.
'As if,' said he, 'to occupy
A little more of land or sky
Made one, in view of common sense,
Of greater worth and consequence!
What see ye, men, in this parade,
That food for wonder need be made?
The bulk which makes a child afraid?
In truth, I take myself to be,
In all aspects, as good as he.'
And further might have gone his vaunt;
But, darting down, the cat
Convinced him that a rat
Is smaller than an elephant.

Source: Wright's translation of La Fontaine, Fable 8.15.
Mus et Elephantus

Click here for a SLIDESHOW of all the Billinghurst images. Notice the cat; the poor mouse, of course, does not notice the cat! The artist has not chosen to show us the lady sultan and her entourage on top of the elephant: for that you have to use your imagination. :-)

M0213 (not in Perry)

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