The Original Fables of La Fontaine/The Sculptor and the Statue of Jupiter

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(Book IX.—No. 6)

Once a sculptor who saw for sale a block of marble was so struck with its beauty that he could not resist the temptation to buy it. When it was in his studio he thought to himself, "Now what shall my chisel make of it? Shall it be a god, a table, or a basin? It shall be a god. And I, myself, shall ordain that the god shall poise a thunderbolt in his hand. So tremble, mortals, and worship! Behold the lord of the earth!"

The artist set to work and expressed so powerfully the attributes of the god that those who saw it averred that it only lacked speech to be Jupiter himself. It is said that the sculptor had scarcely completed the statue when he became so overawed as to fear and tremble before the work of his own hands.

The poet of old, likewise, greatly dreaded the hate and the wrath of the gods he himself created: a weakness which left little to choose between him and the sculptor.

These traits are those of childhood. The minds of children are always anxious lest any one should maltreat their dolls. The emotions invariably give the lead to the intellect, and this fact accounts for the great error of paganism. For that error has been prompted by the emotions of men in all the peoples of the earth. Men uphold with fanatic zeal the interests of the unreal creatures of their imagination. Pygmalion became enamoured of the Venus[1] he had created, and in the same way every one tries to turn his dreams into reality. Man remains as ice before truth, but catches fire before illusion.

  1. La Fontaine forgets. It was Galatea whose image Pygmalion created and whom Venus brought to life.