The Farmer and the Snake

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Caxton's translation (1484)[edit]

Of the man and of the serpent

He that leneth and helpeth the euylle men / synneth / for after that men haue doo to them some good / they hurte them afterward / For as men sayen comynly / yf ye kepe a man fro the galhows / he shalle neuer loue yow after / wherof Esope reherceth suche a fable / A man was somtyme / whiche fond a serpent within a vyne / and for the grete wynter and frost the serpent was hard / and almost dede for cold wherof the good man had pyte and toke and bare her in to his hows and leyd her before the fyre / and so moche he dyd that she came ageyne in to her strengthe and vygour / She beganne thenne to crye and whystled about the hows and troubled the good wyf / and the children / wherfor this good man wold haue her oute of his hows / And whanne he thoughte to haue take her she sprange after his neck for to haue strangled hym /

And thus hit is of the euyll folk whiche for the good done to them / they yeld ageyne euyll and deceyuen them whiche haue had pyte on them / And also theyre felauship is not good ne vtyle /

L'Estrange's translation (1692)[edit]


There was a Snake that bedded himself under the Threshold of a Country-House: A Child of the Family happen’d to set his Foot upon’t; The Snake bit him, and he dy’d on’t. The Father of the Child made a Blow at the Snake, but miss’d his aim, and only left a Mark behind him upon the Stone where he struck. The Countryman offer’d the Snake, sometime after this, to be Friends again. No says the Snake, so long as you have this Flaw upon the Stone in your Eye, and the Death of the Child in your Thought, there’s no trusting of ye.

THE MORAL In Matters of Friendship and Trust, we can never be too tender; but yet there’s a great Difference betwixt Charity and Facility. We may hope well in many Cases, but let it be without venturing Neck and All upon’t, for New-Converts are slippery.

Townsend's translation (1887)[edit]

The Laborer and the Snake

A Snake, having made his hole close to the porch of a cottage, inflicted a mortal bite on the Cottager's infant son. Grieving over his loss, the Father resolved to kill the Snake. The next day, when it came out of its hole for food, he took up his axe, but by swinging too hastily, missed its head and cut off only the end of its tail. After some time the Cottager, afraid that the Snake would bite him also, endeavored to make peace, and placed some bread and salt in the hole. The Snake, slightly hissing, said: "There can henceforth be no peace between us; for whenever I see you I shall remember the loss of my tail, and whenever you see me you will be thinking of the death of your son."

No one truly forgets injuries in the presence of him who caused the injury.

Jacobs' translation (1894)[edit]

The Man and the Serpent

A Countryman's son by accident trod upon a Serpent's tail, which turned and bit him so that he died. The father in a rage got his axe, and pursuing the Serpent, cut off part of its tail. So the Serpent in revenge began stinging several of the Farmer's cattle and caused him severe loss. Well, the Farmer thought it best to make it up with the Serpent, and brought food and honey to the mouth of its lair, and said to it: "Let's forget and forgive; perhaps you were right to punish my son, and take vengeance on my cattle, but surely I was right in trying to revenge him; now that we are both satisfied why should not we be friends again?"

"No, no," said the Serpent; "take away your gifts; you can never forget the death of your son, nor I the loss of my tail."

Injuries may be forgiven, but not forgotten.