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The Man and the Snake

"The Man and the Snake" is a fable by Jean de La Fontaine which demonstrates the danger of acting in panic without carefully analyzing a situation. The story revolves around a man who is terrified by the sight of a snake painted on a wall, believing it to be real. His fear escalates to such a degree that he dies of fright. His death is therefore a result of his own misplaced terror and lack of rational thought, rather than an actual threat. This fable serves as a metaphorical reflection of how humans often become victims of their own fears and imaginations.

Genre: Fable

Submitted by davidb on September 28, 2023

A Man once saw a Snake, and said, "Thou wretched thing, I'll strike thee dead-- 'Tis for the general good!" And straight the wicked thing (By wicked be it understood, I mean not Man, but wretch with sting; For some my meaning might mistake), Well, this base and atrocious Snake Was placed in sack, And doomed, alack! To death without the aid of jury! But yet the Man, despite his fury, To show that he with justice acted, His reasons in these words compacted:-- "Oh, symbol of all that is base, 'Twere a crime to spare one of thy race; For mercy to those that are bad Can from foolish ones only be had; And no more shall thy sting or thy teeth, Oh, thou villanous Snake, find their sheath!" The Serpent, thus addressed, His counter views expressed, And briefly made reply:-- "O Man! if all must die Who graceless are, there's none Who would not be undone. Yourself shall be the judge; I'll take From you excuse for me, the Snake. My life is in your hands, I know, But ponder ere you strike the blow, And see now what you justice call Is based on vices great and small. Your pleasure and convenience You'll satisfy at my expense; But, pray, think not that I am rude, If, dying, I this statement make-- That Man, and not the Snake, The symbol is of all ingratitude." These words the angry Man surprise, He starts aside, and then replies-- "Your words are nonsense, and to me Belongs of right your fate's decree; But, nathless, let us have resort Unto some independent court." The Snake assented; and a Cow That stood hard by, appealed to, said-- "The case is plain; I can't see how The thing should puzzle any head: The Snake is right, I'll frankly say; For yonder Man, for many a day, With milk and curd I've amply fed, And long ere this his child were dead, If my rich food his pining son Had rescued not from Acheron. And now that I am old and dry, He leaves me, wanting grass, to die; Sure, had a Serpent been my master, It could have been no worse disaster." Thus saying, with an awkward bow, Walked off, or rather limped, the Cow. The Man, aghast at this decree, Exclaimed, "O Snake! it cannot be; The Cow is doting. Let us place Before this Ox our mutual case." The Snake assents, and heavily The Ox walks up, and by-and-by, Still ruminating, makes reply To this effect--"That, after years Of painful toil and weariness, That Ceres' wealth Man might possess (And here the Ox burst into tears), His sole reward had been the goad, When panting with some weighty load; And, what was worse, his owner thought He--Ox--was honoured, being bought By cruel butcher, to be flayed, And as a prize beast then displayed!" The Man declared the Ox a liar, And said, "Yon Oak-tree shall be trier." The tree, appealed to, made a case Redounding unto Man's disgrace; Told how he sheltered Man from rain, Told how he garnished hill and plain, Told how he gave Man flowers and fruits, And how that, when Man's will it suits, He cuts him down and burns his roots! The Man, convinced against his will, Resolved to have his vengeance still; So took the Serpent, bag and all, And banged it up against the wall, Until the wretched Serpent died, And human wrath was satisfied. It is ever thus with the rich and great, Truth and reason they always hate; They think that all things here below Solely for their convenience grow; And if any this simple truth denies, They call him a sulky growler of lies; And this being so, when you wish to teach The truth to such people, keep out of their reach.
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Jean de La Fontaine

Jean de La Fontaine was a renowned French fabulist and one of the most famous poets during the French classical period. He was born on July 8, 1621, and died on April 13, 1695. Known for his literary style, he is best known for his "Fables", which are considered classics of French literature. His works were marked by his sophisticated style and moral substance, and his fables provided a scathing critique of French society during his time. more…

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