The Original Fables of La Fontaine/The Wolf and the Fox in the Well

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The Original Fables of La Fontaine by Jean de La Fontaine, translated by F. C. Tilney
The Wolf and the Fox in the Well

XXXVI

THE WOLF AND THE FOX
IN THE WELL

(Book XI.—No. 6)

Why does Æsop give to the fox the reputation of excelling in all tricks of cunning? I have sought for a reason, but cannot find one. Does not the wolf, when he has need to defend his life or take that of another, display as much knowingness as the fox? I believe he knows more, and I dare, perhaps with some reason, to contradict my master in this particular.

Nevertheless, here is a case where undoubtedly all the honour fell to the dweller in burrows.

One evening a fox, who was as hungry as a dog, happened to see the round reflection of the moon in a well, and he believed it to be a fine cheese. There were two pails which alternately drew up the water. Into the uppermost of these the fox leapt, and his weight caused him to descend the well, where he at once discovered his mistake about the cheese. He became extremely worried and fancied his end approaching, for he could see no way to get up again but by some other hungry one, enticed by the same reflection, coming down in the same way that he had.

Two days passed without any one coming to the well. Time, which is always marching onward, had, during

Lafontaine115.jpg

Descended by his greater weight.

two nights, hollowed the outline of the silvery planet, and Reynard was in despair.

At last a wolf, parched with thirst, drew near, to whom the fox called from below, "Comrade, here is a treat for you! Do you see this? It is an exquisite cheese, made by Faunus [1] from milk of the heifer Io. [2] If Jupiter were ill and lost his appetite he would find it again by one taste of this. I have only eaten this piece out of it; the rest will be plenty for you. Come down in the pail up there. I put it there on purpose for you."

A rigmarole so cleverly told was easily believed by the fool of a wolf, who descended by his greater weight, which not only took him down, but brought the fox up.


We ought not to laugh at the wolf, for we often enough let ourselves be deluded with just as little cause. Everybody is ready to believe the thing he fears and the thing he desires.

  1. The benign spirit of the fields and woods.
  2. A priestess who was changed by Hera, wife of Zeus, into a white heifer.