The Original Fables of La Fontaine/The Elephant and Jupiter's Ape

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The Original Fables of La Fontaine by Jean de La Fontaine, translated by F. C. Tilney
The Elephant and Jupiter's Ape
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XLVI

THE ELEPHANT AND JUPITER'S APE

(Book XII.—No. 21)

Once in the olden times the elephant and the rhinoceros disputed as to which was the more important, and which should, therefore, have empire over the other animals. They decided to settle the point by battle in an enclosed field.

The day was fixed, and all in readiness, when somebody came and informed them that Jupiter's ape, bearing a caduceus, had been seen in the air. The fact of his holding a caduceus[1] proved him to be acting as official messenger from Olympus, and the elephant immediately took it for granted that the ape came as ambassador with greetings to his highness. Elated with this idea he waited for Gille, for that was the name of the ape, and thought him rather tardy in presenting his credentials. But at length Master Gille did salute his excellency as he passed, and the elephant prepared himself for the message. But not a word was forthcoming.

It was evident that the gods were not giving so much attention to these matters as the elephant supposed.

What does it matter to those in high places whether one is an elephant or a fly?

The would-be monarch was reduced to the necessity of opening the conversation himself. "My cousin Jupiter," he began, "will soon be able to watch a rather fine combat from his supreme throne, and his court will see some splendid sport."

"What combat?" asked the ape rather severely.

"What! Do you not know that the rhinoceros denies me precedence: that the Elephantidæ are at war with the Rhinocerotidæ? You surely know these families: they have some reputation."

"I am charmed to learn their names," replied Master Gille. "We are little concerned about such matters in our vast halls."

This shamed and surprised the elephant. "Eh! What, then, is the reason of your visit amongst us?"

"Oh, it was to divide a blade of grass between two ants. We care for all. As for your affair, nothing has been said about it in the council of the gods. The little and the great are equal in their eyes."

  1. The wand or official staff of Hermes.