D'innombrables versions des fables d'Ésope ont circulé en occident, leur morale "universelle" a suscité des échos à toutes les périodes et dans tous les pays. Vernon Jones a choisi l'artiste anglais Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) pour illustrer, en couleurs et au trait, son catalogue de trois cents fables.
Les illustrations d'Arthur Rackham et le texte d'origine en anglais en prose sont dans le Domaine Public et disponibles sur le site de Gutenberg, 1912).
Voici une sélection de dix fables illustrées en couleur et traduites en juin 2012 (cc-by-sa) :
- Le lièvre et la tortue : 158 mots
- La lune et sa mère : 51 mots
- Le sapin et le roncier : 102 mots
- Le crabe et sa mère : 76 mots
- La grenouille charlatan : 75 mots
- Les deux vases : 74 mots
- Les voyageurs et le platane : 121 mots
- Les arbres et la hache : 127 mots
- Le lion, Jupiter et l'éléphant : 235 mots
- Le moucheron et le lion : 162 mots
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A Hare was one day making fun of a Tortoise for being so slow upon his feet. "Wait a bit," said the Tortoise; "I'll run a race with you, and I'll wager that I win." "Oh, well," replied the Hare, who was much amused at the idea, "let's try and see"; and it was soon agreed that the fox should set a course for them, and be the judge. When the time came both started off together, but the Hare was soon so far ahead that he thought he might as well have a rest: so down he lay and fell fast asleep. Meanwhile the Tortoise kept plodding on, and in time reached the goal. At last the Hare woke up with a start, and dashed on at his fastest, but only to find that the Tortoise had already won the race.
Slow and steady wins the race.
THE MOON AND HER MOTHER
The Moon once begged her Mother to make her a gown. "How can I?" replied she; "there's no fitting your figure. At one time you're a New Moon, and at another you're a Full Moon; and between whiles you're neither one nor the other."
THE FIR-TREE AND THE BRAMBLE
A Fir-tree was boasting to a Bramble, and said, somewhat contemptuously, "You poor creature, you are of no use whatever. Now, look at me: I am useful for all sorts of things, particularly when men build houses; they can't do without me then." But the Bramble replied, "Ah, that's all very well: but you wait till they come with axes and saws to cut you down, and then you'll wish you were a Bramble and not a Fir."
Better poverty without a care than wealth with its many obligations.
THE CRAB ANS HIS MOTHER
An Old Crab said to her son, "Why do you walk sideways like that, my son? You ought to walk straight." The Young Crab replied, "Show me how, dear mother, and I'll follow your example." The Old Crab tried, but tried in vain, and then saw how foolish she had been to find fault with her child.
Example is better than precept.
THE QUACK FROG
Once upon a time a Frog came forth from his home in the marshes and proclaimed to all the world that he was a learned physician, skilled in drugs and able to cure all diseases. Among the crowd was a Fox, who called out, "You a doctor! Why, how can you set up to heal others when you cannot even cure your own lame legs and blotched and wrinkled skin?"
Physician, heal thyself.
THE TWO POTS
Two Pots, one of earthenware and the other of brass, were carried away down a river in flood. The Brazen Pot urged his companion to keep close by his side, and he would protect him. The other thanked him, but begged him not to come near him on any account: "For that," he said, "is just what I am most afraid of. One touch from you and I should be broken in pieces."
Equals make the best friends.
THE TRAVELLERS AND THE PLANE-TREE
Two Travellers were walking along a bare and dusty road in the heat of a summer's day. Coming presently to a Plane-tree, they joyfully turned aside to shelter from the burning rays of the sun in the deep shade of its spreading branches. As they rested, looking up into the tree, one of them remarked to his companion, "What a useless tree the Plane is! It bears no fruit and is of no service to man at all." The Plane-tree interrupted him with indignation. "You ungrateful creature!" it cried: "you come and take shelter under me from the scorching sun, and then, in the very act of enjoying the cool shade of my foliage, you abuse me and call me good for nothing!"
Many a service is met with ingratitude.
THE TREES AND THE AXE
A Woodman went into the forest and begged of the Trees the favour of a handle for his Axe. The principal Trees at once agreed to so modest a request, and unhesitatingly gave him a young ash sapling, out of which he fashioned the handle he desired. No sooner had he done so than he set to work to fell the noblest Trees in the wood. When they saw the use to which he was putting their gift, they cried, "Alas! alas! We are undone, but we are ourselves to blame. The little we gave has cost us all: had we not sacrificed the rights of the ash, we might ourselves have stood for ages."
THE LION, JUPITER, AND THE ELEPHANT
The Lion, for all his size and strength, and his sharp teeth and claws, is a coward in one thing: he can't bear the sound of a cock crowing, and runs away whenever he hears it. He complained bitterly to Jupiter for making him like that; but Jupiter said it wasn't his fault: he had done the best he could for him, and, considering this was his only failing, he ought to be well content. The Lion, however, wouldn't be comforted, and was so ashamed of his timidity that he wished he might die. In this state of mind, he met the Elephant and had a talk with him. He noticed that the great beast cocked up his ears all the time, as if he were listening for something, and he asked him why he did so. Just then a gnat came humming by, and the Elephant said, "Do you see that wretched little buzzing insect? I'm terribly afraid of its getting into my ear: if it once gets in, I'm dead and done for." The Lion's spirits rose at once when he heard this: "For," he said to himself, "if the Elephant, huge as he is, is afraid of a gnat, I needn't be so much ashamed of being afraid of a cock, who is ten thousand times bigger than a gnat."
THE GNAT AND THE LION