The Life of Aesop, part 11.

The Life of Aesop, as told by Jean de La Fontaine, part 11


At that time the Phrygian composed his fables, which he gave to the king of Lydia, and was sent by the king to the Samians, who bestowed upon Aesop great honors. He also wanted to travel and go about the world, talking about various things with those who were called philosophers. Finally, he placed himself in great credit with Lycurgus, king of Babylon. The kings of that time sent each other problems to solve on all sorts of matters, on condition of paying each other a kind of tribute or fine, according to whether they answered the questions proposed well or badly; in which Lycurgus, assisted by Aesop, always had the advantage, and made himself illustrious among the others, either to resolve or to propose.

Our Phrygian, however, married and, unable to have children, adopted a young man of noble stock, named Ennus. The latter repaid him with ingratitude and was so wicked as to dare to soil his benefactor's bed. This having come to the knowledge of Aesop, he cast it out. The other, in order to avenge himself, counterfeited letters by which it seemed that Aesop had intelligence with the kings who were emulators of Lycurgus. Lycurgus, persuaded by the seal and by the signature of these letters, commanded one of his officers named Hermippus that, without seeking greater proof, he should put the traitor Aesop to death speedily. This Hermippus, being a friend of the Phrygian, saved his life; and, unknown to everyone, nourished him for a long time in a sepulcher, until Necténabo, king of Egypt, on hearing of the death of Aesop, decided in the future to make Lycurgus his tributary. He dared to provoke him and challenged him to send him architects who knew how to build a tower in the air, and, by the same means, a man ready to answer all kinds of questions. Lycurgus having read the letters and having communicated them to the best minds of his kingdom, each of them remained short; which made the king regret Aesop. When Hermippus told him he was not dead, Lycerus summoned Aesop. The Phrygian was very well received, justified himself, and pardoned Ennus. As for the letter from the king of Egypt, he only laughed at it and sent word that he would send the architects in the spring and answer all sorts of questions. Lycurgus gave back to Aesop all his possessions and had Ennus handed over to him to do with as he pleased. Aesop received him as his child; and, for all punishment, recommended him to honor the gods and his prince; to make himself terrible to his enemies, easy and convenient to others; treat his wife well, yet not tell her his secret; talk little, and drive away chatterboxes; not to let misfortune bring you down; to take care of the morrow, for it is better to enrich one's enemies by one's death than to be importunate to one's friends during one's lifetime; Above all, do not be envious of the happiness or virtue of others, especially since it is doing harm to yourself. Ennus, touched by these warnings and by Aesop's kindness as if by a stroke that would have penetrated his heart, died shortly afterward.

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