Lessing’s THE WOLF ON HIS DEATH-BED*

Posted by jlubans on May 15, 2020

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Caption: A fables Trading Card, ca. 1920

A WOLF lay at his last gasp, and recalled the many events of his past life. "True, I am a sinner," said he, "but let me still hope, not one of the greatest. I have done harm, but also much good.
Once, I remember, a bleating Lamb, which had strayed from the flock, came so near me that I could easily have throttled it; yet I did not harm the Lamb.
At the same time, I listened to the jeers and jibes of an old Sheep with the most surprising indifference, although there were no Sheep-dogs there to be feared."
"I can explain all that," interrupted his friend, the Fox, who was comforting his last hours.
"I remember distinctly all the circumstances. It was precisely the time that you so unfortunately got a bone stuck in your throat, which the kind-hearted Crane afterwards drew out!"
_____________
Like most of us sinners on Judgment Day, the Wolf portrays himself as a kindly and generous soul.
His friend, the Fox, admits the accuracy of the wolf’s sparing a “bleating lamb” but fills in with some damning details, ones to be found in another fable.
That’s the fable in which a crane extracts a stuck bone from the wolf’s throat. Prior to the extraction, the wolf can’t pillage and plunder so the lamb gambols off happily.
Post surgery, Surgeon Crane asked for a reward. “The Wolf grinned, showed his teeth and said: ‘Be content. You have put your head inside a Wolf’s mouth and taken it out again in safety; that ought to be reward enough for you.’”
So, there you have a fable within a fable.

*Source: Lessing, Fables, Translated by G. Moir Bussey in Cooper, Frederic Taber, editor (1864-1937), “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land”. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. 1921.
From the Britannica: Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim (1729-1781) published in 1759 some masterly prose fables, largely social criticism, and with them an essay on the fable form.

© Copyright John Lubans 2020

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