The Horse and the Ass

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Caxton's translation (1484)[edit]

Of the asse / of the hors / & of theyr fortune

He that is wel fortuned and happy / and is atte vpperest of the whele of fortune / may wel falle doune / And therfore none ought to disprayse the poure / but ought to thynke how the whele of fortune is moche doubtuous as sheweth this present fable / Of a fayr hors whiche was wel harnaysed and arayed / and his sadel and brydel garnysshed with gold / whiche hors mette with an asse sore laden in a narowe way / And by cause that the asse tourned hym not a bak Incontynent the hors sayd to hym / Ha a chorle hast thow noo shame ne vergoyne / that thow doste ne berest none worshippe ne reuerence vnto thy lord / who holdeth now me / that wyth my foote I breke not thyn hede / by cause that thow puttest not thyself asyde and oute of my waye / so that I myght passe & goo on my waye / The poure asse ansuerd ne sayd to hym neuer a word / and was sore aferd that the hors shold haue bete hym / wherfore he held his pees as wyse and sage / And the hors wente his waye / And within a lytel whyle after / it befelle / that fortune tourned he whele vp so doune / For thys fayre hors became old lene and seke / And whanne his maystre sawe that his hors was thus lene and seke and oute of prosperyte / he comaunded that he shold be had in to the toun And that in stede of his ryche sadel men shold put and sette on his backe a panyer for to bere dounge in to the feldes / Now it happed that the asse whiche was in a medowe etyng grasse perceyued and sawe the hors and wel knewe hym / wherof he was wonder abasshed / and merueylled moche that he was thus poure and so lene bycome / And the Asse went toward him and sayd / Ha a felawe where is now thy fayre sadel / and thy ryche brydel / garnysshed with gold / how arte thow now bycome soo lene and suche a payllard / what haue prouffyted to the thy fayre and ryche rayments / and what auaylled now to the thy grete fyerste and pryde / and thy grete presumpcion whiche ones thow shewest to me / Thynke now / how thow arte lene and vnthryfty / And how thow and I ben now of one offyce / And the myserable and vnhappy hors was abasshed / And for shame loked dounward / & ansuerd neuer one word / for alle hys felycite was thenne torned in to aduersyte /

And therfore they that ben in felycite / oughte not to dysprayse them / whiche ben in aduersyte / For many one I knew ryche and myghty / whiche are now poure /

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


In the Days of old, when Horses spoke Greek and Latin, and Asses made Syllogisms, there happen’d an Encounter upon the Road, betwixt a proud pamper’d Jade in the full Course of his Carriere, and a poor creeping Ass, under a heavy Burden, that had chopt into the same Track with him. Why, how now Sirrah, says he, d’ye not see by these Arms and Trappings, to what Master I belong? And, d’ye not understand that when I have that Master of mine upon my Back, the whole Weight of the State rests upon my Shoulders? Out of the Way thou slavish insolent Animal, or I’ll tread thee to dirt. The wretched Ass immediately slunk aside, with this envious Reflection betwixt his Teeth, [What would I give to change Conditions with that happy Creature there.] This Fancy would not out of the Head of him, ‘till it was his hap some few Days after to see this very Horse doing Drudgery in a common dung Cart. Why how now Friend (says the Ass) how comes this about? Only the Chance of the War, says the other: I was a Soldier’s Horse, you must know; and my Master carried me into a Battle, where I was shot, hack’d and maim’d; and now you have here before your Eyes the Catastrophe of my Fortune.

THE MORAL. The Folly, and the Fate of Pride and Arrogance. The Mistake of placing Happiness in any Thing that may be taken away, and the Blessing of Freedom in a mean Estate.

Townsend's translation (1887)[edit]

The Horse and the Ass

A Horse, proud of his fine trappings, met an Ass on the highway. The Ass, being heavily laden, moved slowly out of the way. "Hardly," said the Horse, "can I resist kicking you with my heels." The Ass held his peace, and made only a silent appeal to the justice of the gods. Not long afterwards the Horse, having become broken-winded, was sent by his owner to the farm. The Ass, seeing him drawing a dungcart, thus derided him: "Where, O boaster, are now all thy gay trappings, thou who are thyself reduced to the condition you so lately treated with contempt?'