Fables of Æsop and Other Eminent Mythologists/The Life of Æsop/Chapter XVIII

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Æsop's Voyage to Delphos; his barbarous Usage There, and his Death.

WHEN Æsop had allmost taken the Whole Tower of Greece, he went to Delphos, either for the Oracle sake, or for the sake of the Wise Men that Frequented the Place. But when he came thither, he found Matters to be quite otherwise then he expected, and so far from deserving the Reputation they had in the World for Piety and Wisdom, that he found them Proud, and Avaritious, and Hereupon Deliver'd his Opinion of Them under this Fable.

I find (says he) the Curiosity that brought me Hither, to be much the Case of People at the Sea side, that see something come Hulling toward them a great way off at Sea, and take it at first to be some Mighty Matter, but upon Driving Nearer and Nearer the Shore, it proves at last to be only a heap of Weeds and Rubbish. See Fab. 189.

The Magistrates of the Place took Infinite Offence at this Liberty and presently enter'd into a Conspiracy against him to take away his Life, for fear he should Give them the same Character elsewhere in his Travells, that he had done there upon the Place. It was not so Safe they thought, nor so Effectual a Revenge to make him away in private; but if they could so contrive it, as to bring him to a shamefull End, under a Form of Justice, it would better answer their Business and Design. To Which Purpose they caused a Golden Cup to be secretly convey'd into his Baggage, when he was packing up to Depart. He was no sooner out of the Towne upon his Journy, But Immediately Pursued and taken upon the way by Officers, and Charged with Sacrilege. Æsop deny'd the Matter, and Laughed at them All for a Company of Mad Men; But upon the Searching of his Boxes, they took the Cup, and shew'd it to the People, Hurrying him away to Prison in the Middle of his Defence. They brought him the Next Day into the Court, Where Notwithstanding the Proof of his Innocence, as clear as the Day, he was Condemned to Dye; and his Sentence was to be Thrown Head-long from a Rock, Down a Deep Precipice. After his Doom was past, he Prevailed upon Them, with much ado to be heard a few Words, and so told them the Story of the Frog and the Moule, as it stands in the Fable.

This wrought nothing upon the Hearts of the Delphians, but as they were Bawling at the Executioner, to Dispatch and do his Office, Æsop on a Sudden gave them the Slip, and Fled to an Altar hard by there, in hopes that the Religion of the Place might have Protected him, but the Delphians told him, that the Altars of the Gods were not to be any Sanctuary to those that Robbed their Temples; Whereupon he took Occasion to tell them the Fable of the Eagle and the Beetle to this Following Effect, As it stands in the Book, Num. 578.

Now says Æsop (after the telling of this Fable) you are not to Flatter your Selves that the Prophaners of Holy Altars, and the Oppressors of the Innocent, shall ever Escape Divine Vengeance. This Enraged the Magistrates to such a Degree, that they commanded the Officers Immediately to take Æsop from the Altar, and Dispatch him away to his Execution. When Æsop found that Neither the Holyness of the Place, nor the Clearness of his Innocence was Sufficient to Protect him, and that he was to fall a Sacrifice to Subornation and Power, he gave them yet one Fable more as he was upon the Way to Execution.

There was an Old Fellow (says he) that had spent his Whole Life in the Countrey without ever feeing the Towne, he found himselfe Weak and Decaying, and Nothing would serve, hut his Friends must needs shew him the Towne once before he Dyed. Their Asses were very well Acquainted with the Way, and so they caused them to he made Ready, and turned the Old Man and the Asses Loose, without a Guide to try their Fortune. They were overtaken Upon the Road by a Terrible Tempest, so that what with the Darkness, and the Violence of the Storm, the Asses were Beaten out of their Way, and Tumbled with the Old Man into a Pit, where he had only time to Deliver his Last Breath with This Exclamation. Miserable Wretch that I am to be Destroyd, since Dye I must, by the Basest of Beasts; by Asses. And that's my Fate now, in suffering by the Hands of a Barbarous Sottish people, that Understand Nothing either of Humanity or Honour; and Act Contrary to the Tyes of Hospitality and Justice. But the Gods will not suffer my Blood to lye Unrevenged, and I doubt not, but that in Good Time the Judgment of Heaven will give you to Understand your Wickedness by your Punishment. He was speaking on, but They Pushed him Off Headlong from the Rock, and he was Dashed to pieces with the Fall.

The Delphians, soon after This, were visited with Famine and Pestilence, to such a Degree, that they Went to Consult the Oracle of Apollo to know what Wickedness it was had brought these Calamities upon Them. The Oracle gave them this Answer, That they were to Expiate for the Death of Æsop. In the Conscience of their Barbarity, they Erected a Pyramid to his Honor, and it is upon Tradition, that a Great Many of the Most Eminent Men among the Greeks of that Season, went afterwards to Delphos upon the News of the Tragical End of Æsop, to Learn the Truth of the History, and found upon Enquiry, That the Principal of the Conspirators had layd Violent hands upon Themselves.