Here we begin to indite the pleasant History which beset between the Cock and the Fox.273
It is said that there abode in such a village a man which was a Shaykh of long standing, one gifted with fair rede and right understanding. Now he had on his farm a plenty of poultry, male and female, and these he was wont to breed and to eat of their eggs and their chickens. But amongst his cocks was a Chanticleer, well advanced of age and wily of wit, who had long fought with Fortune and who had become wise and ware in worldly matters and in the turns and shifts of Time. It fortuned one day that this Cock went forth to wander about the farm-lands pecking and picking up as he went such grains of wheat and barley and holcus274 and sesame and millet as chanced fall in his way; but, being careless of himself, he had left the village afar off without thinking of what he did, and ere he took counsel with himself he found him amiddlemost the wilderness. So he turned him rightwards and leftwards but espied nor friend nor familiar, whereat he stood perplext as to his affair and his breast was straitened and still he knew not what to do. Now while thus bewildered in his wits touching his next step, behold, his glance fell upon a Fox275 who was approaching him from afar, whereat he feared and trembled and was agitated with mighty great agitation. At once he turned him about and presently espied a high wall arising from the waste, whereto was no place of ascending for his foe; so he spread his wings and flew up and perched upon the coping where he took his station. Presently the Fox came forward to the foot of the wall, and, finding no means of climbing it and getting at the fowl, he raised his head and said, “The Peace be upon thee, Ho thou the soothfast brother and suitable friend!” But as the Cock would not turn towards him nor return aught of reply to his salutation, the Fox resumed, “What is to do with thee, O dear my brother, that my greeting thou acknowledgest not and to my words inclinest thee not?” Still the Cock requited not his courtesy and declined to reply, whereat the Fox resumed, “Wottest thou not, O my brother, the glad tidings wherewith I came theewards, with what suitable intelligence and counsel veridical and information at once sincere and self-evident? and, didst know what it is hath come to mine ears, verily thou hadst embraced me and kissed me on the mouth.” But the Cock feigned absence of mind and ignored him and answered him naught, but stood with rounded eyes and fixed upon the far when the Fox resumed, “O my brother, the King of the Beasts which be the Lion and the King of the Birds which be the Eagle have alighted from a journey upon the meads where grass is a-growing and by the marge where waters are a-flowing and blossoms are a-blowing and browsing gazelles are a-to-ing and a-fro-ing; and the twain have gathered together all manner of ferals, lions and hyenas, leopards and lynxes, wild cattle and antelopes and jackals and even hares, brief, all the wild beasts of the world; and they have also collected every kind of bird, eagle and vulture, crow and raven,276 wild pigeon and turtledove, poultry and fowls and Katás and quails277 and other small deer, and these two liege lords have bidden the herald proclaim, throughout the tracts of the upland wold and the wild lowland, safety and security and confraternity and peace with honour and sympathy and familiar friendship and affection and love amongst wild beasts and cattle and birds; also that enmity be done away with and wrongs be forbidden nor might one transgress against other; nay, if any chance to injure his fellow this offence might be for his scourging a reason, and for his death by tearing to pieces a justification. The order hath also come forth that all do feed and browse in one place whichever they please, never venturing to break the peace but dwelling in all amity and affection and intimacy one with other. Moreover they have commissioned me, very me, to overroam the wastes and gladden with good tidings the peoples of the wilds and proclaim that one and all without exception must assemble together, and also that whoso delayeth or refuseth obedience shall not escape punishment278 nor let each and every fail to make act of presence and to kiss hands. And of thee, O my brother, I especially require that thou descend from thy high stead in safety and security and satisfaction, and that henceforward thy heart be not startled nor thy limbs shake for fear.” All this description was described by the Fox to the Cock who paid no heed to him as though he had never heard the news; and he remained silent without return of reply or without so much as turning to regard him; nay, he only kept his head raised and gazed afar. Hereat quoth to him the Fox (for indeed his heart burned with desire to know how he could seize and devour him), “O brother mine, why and wherefore dost thou not acknowledge me by an answer or address to me a word or even turn thy face towards me who am a Commissioner sent by Leo, Sovran of the beasts, and Aquila, Sultan of the birds? Sore I fear lest thou refuse to accompany me and thus come upon thee censure exceeding and odium excessive seeing that all are assembled in the presence and are browsing upon the verdant mead.” Then he added (as Chanticleer regarded him not), “O my brother, I bespeak thee and thou unheedest me and my speech and, if thou refuse to fare with me, at least let me know what may be thy reply.” Hereupon the Cock inclined towards him and said, “Sooth hast thou spoken, O my brother, and well I wot thou be an Envoy and a Commissioner from our King, and the special Messenger of him: but my condition is changed by that which hath befallen me.” “And what calamity, O my brother hath betided thee?” “Dost thou espy what I am at present espying?” “And what is it thou espiest?” “Verily, I see a dust cloud lowering and the Saker-falcons in circles towering;” and quoth the Fox (whose heart throbbed with fear), “Look straitly, O my brother, lest there happen to us a mishap.” So Chanticleer gazed as one distraught for a full told hour, after which he turned to the Fox and said, “O my brother, I behold and can distinguish a bird flying and a dust-trail hieing.” “Consider them narrowly, O my brother,” cried the Fox (whose side-muscles quivered) “lest this be sign of greyhound;” and the other replied, “The Truth is known to Allah alone, yet I seem now to see a something lengthy of leg, lean of flank, loose of ears, fine of forehand and full of quarter, and at this moment it draweth near and is well nigh upon us — O fine!”279 Now when the Fox heard these words he cried to the Cock, “O my brother, I must farewell thee!” and so saying he arose and committed his legs to the wind and he had recourse to the Father of Safety.280 Seeing this, the Cock also cried, “Why thus take to flight when thou hast no spoiler thy heart to affright?” Replied the Fox, “I have a fear of the Greyhound, O my brother, for that he is not of my friends or of my familiars;” and the Cock rejoined, “Didst thou not tell me thou camest as Commissioner of the Kings to these wastes proclaiming a peace and safety amongst all the beasts and the birds?” “O my brother Chanticleer,” retorted the other, “this feral, Greyhound hight, was not present at the time when pacifcation was proclaimed, nor was his name announced in the Congress of the beasts; and I for my part have no love lost with him, nor between me and him is there aught of security.” So saying the Fox turned forthright to fly, routed with the foulest of routing, and the Cock escaped the foe by his sleight and sagacity with perfect safety and security. Now after the Fox had turned tail and fled from him Chanticleer came down from the wall and regained his farm, lauding Allah Almighty who had conveyed him unharmed to his own place. And here he related unto his fellows what had befallen him with the Fox and how he had devised that cunning device and thereby freed himself from a strait wherein, but for it, the foe had torn him limb by limb.
273 MSS. pp. 718-724. This fable, whose moral is that the biter is often bit, seems unknown to Æsop and the compilation which bore his name during the so-called Dark Ages. It first occurs in the old French metrical Roman de Renart entitled, Si comme Renart prist Chanticler le Coq (ea. Meon, tom. i. 49). It is then found in the collection of fables by Marie, a French poetess whose Lais are still extant; and she declares to have rendered it de l’Anglois en Roman; the original being an Anglo-Saxon version of Æsop by a King whose name is variously written Li reis Alured (Alfred?), or Aunert (Albert?), or Henris, or Mires. Although Alfred left no version of Æsop there is in MS. a Latin Æsop containing the same story of an English version by Rex Angliae Affrus. Marie’s fable is printed in extenso in the Chaucer of Dr. Morris (i. 247); London, Bell and Sons, 1880; and sundry lines remind us of the Arabic, e.g.:—
Li gupil volt parler en haut,
Et li cocs de sa buche saut,
Sur un haut fust s’est muntez.
And it ends with the excellent moral:—
Ceo funt li fol tut le plusur,
Parolent quant deivent taiser,
Teisent quant il deivent parler.
Lastly the Gentil Cok hight Chanticlere and the Fox, Dan Russel, a more accidented tale, appears in “The Nonne Preestes Tale,” by the Grand Traducteur.
274 “Durà” in MS. (p. 718) for “Zurà,” the classical term, or for “Zurrah,” pop. pronounced “Durrah”=the Holcus Sativus before noticed, an African as well as Asiatic growth, now being supplanted by maize and rice.
275 “Sa’alab” or “Tha’lab”: vol. iii. 132.
276 In text “Kikán,” plur. of “Kíik” =des corneilles (Houdas).
277 “Samman” or “Summán,” classically “Salwà.”
278 In text “Al-Kawání"=the spears, plur. of “Kanát.” [“Al-Kawání” as plural of a singular “Kanát”=spear would be, I think, without analogy amongst the plural formations, and its translation by “punishment” appears somewhat strained. I propose to read “al-Ghawání” and to translate “and whoever lags behind of the singing birds will not be safe” (“lá yaslimu,” it will not go well with him). In the mouth of the fox this implies a delicate compliment for the cock, who might feel flattered to be numbered amongst the same tribe with the nightingale and the thrush. — ST.]
279 In text “yá zayn” =Oh, the beautiful beast!
280 In text “Abú Sahíh”=(flight to) a sure and safe place.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52