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The Old Man and the Donkey


The Old Man and the Donkey

Aesop’s fables engraving


By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB

In studying the literature of different civilizations-even those that are a great distance from each other-there is a common affinity for fables. Despite what many people think, fables are not exclusive to children. In fact, there are fables which only a more mature and experienced audience may be able to fully appreciate.

Such is the case with this example by the Roman writer Phaedrus. An old man is leading his donkey through a field when suddenly bandits show up. The man urges the donkey to run for his life; however the animal remains calm and asks whether his new master will make him work twice as hard. When the man says he does not believe so, the donkey says he does not care who his master is if his life will remain the same.

You have probably seen examples of this in real life. As long as their lives remain the same, there are people who do not care if the government is good or bad, or what happens to their fellow citizens.

The English translation is by Christopher Smart.

In principatu commutando civium
nil praeter domini nomen mutant pauperes.
Id esse verum, parva haec fabella indicat.
Asellum in prato timidus pascebat senex.
Is hostium clamore subito territus
suadebat asino fugere, ne possent capi.
At ille lentus “Quaeso, num binas mihi
clitellas impositurum victorem putas?”
Senex negavit. “Ergo, quid refert mea
cui serviam, clitellas dum portem unicas?”

“In all the changes of a state,
The poor are the most fortunate,
Who, save the name of him they call
Their king, can find no odds at all.
The truth of this you now may read-
A fearful old man in a mead,
While leading of his Ass about,
Was startled at the sudden shout
Of enemies approaching nigh.
He then advised the Ass to fly,
‘Lest we be taken in the place:’
But loth at all to mend his pace,
‘Pray, will the conqueror,’ quoth Jack,
‘With double panniers load my back?’
‘No,’ says the man. ‘If that’s the thing,’
Cries he, ‘I care not who is king.'”

If you are interested in Latin literature, please visit our website at www.latintutors.net.


André Bastos Gurgel
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Latin, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, and German and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. He has also worked as a tutor and teacher in a number of languages. Mr. Gurgel has been instrumental in expanding the Carmenta Online Latin School’s presence in a variety of social media.

Click here to read Mr. Gurgel’s full profile.



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