The Original Fables of La Fontaine/The Lioness and the She-Bear

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(Book X.—No. 13)

"Mamma lioness had lost one of her cubs. Some hunter had made away with it, and the poor unfortunate mother roared out her wailings to such an extent that all the inhabitants of the forest were seriously disturbed. The spells of the night, its darkness and its silence, were powerless to hush the tumult of the queen of the forest. Sleep was driven from every animal within hearing.

At last the she-bear rose up and coming to the wailing lioness said, "Good Gossip, just one word with you. All those little ones that have passed between your teeth, had they neither fathers nor mothers?"

"To be sure they had."

"Then if that be so, and as none have come to mourn their dead in cries which would split our heads: if so many mothers have borne their loss silently, why cannot you be silent also?"

"I? I be silent? Unhappy!? Ah! I have lost my son! There is nought for me but to drag out a miserable old age."

"But pray tell me what obliges you to do so."

"Alas! Destiny. It is Destiny that hates me."

Those are the words that are for ever in the mouths of us all.

Unhappy human kind, let this address itself to you, I hear nothing but the echoing murmur of trifling complaints. Whoever, in like case, believes himself the hated of the gods, let him consider Hecuba, [1] and he will render thanks for their clemency.


Why cannot you be silent also?

  1. Hecuba was the wife of Priam, King of Troy. When that city fell Hecuba was chosen by Ulysses as part of his share in the spoils. She was changed into a dog for avenging the death of her son whose eyes had been put out by the King of Thracia, and she finally ended her life by casting herself into the sea.