Æsop and the Philosopher.

Decorative initial letter “O” from the word “One”. The letter is contained within a square and is superimposed over a foliate pattern.


One day, Xanthus of Samos, although a philosopher,1
Made a slip it’s not very easy to gloss over ;2
For even the wisest, (especially when sipping3
Their wine after dinner,) are sometimes caught tripping.4
He had dined, and the sun’s redd’ning beams, as they stole5
Through the foliage, and glistened on flagon and bowl,6
Made his ruddy face shine like a glowing live coal.7
And the friends round his table,—some eighteen or twenty,8
Including some eminent Greek cognoscenti,—9
With their gay “ flow of soul,” (as it’s called by the poet,)10
Scintillations of wit, like a squib when you throw it,11
Paradoxical quips none could hear without laughing,12
And a sprinkling of what now-a days is called “ chaffing,”13
Gave the learned symposium a tone of hilarity14
That, in high pitched discourse, some may think is a rarity.15
Metaphysical word fencing, high flown and daring,16
Was these merry men’s greatest delight, little caring17
How much safer sticking to “ Natural Laws” is18
Than venturesome flights after far-away “ Causes ;”19
Speculations before which the cautious mind pauses.20
(If you’d study this point, than which nothing more true is,21
You should take up the works of the late G. H. Lewis.)22
But I mustn’t digress. What I want to impress23
On your mind, (and what Xanthus himself would confess,)24
Is that wine in abundance and wit in high feather25
Are apt to be treacherous when mixed up together.26
So, on opening his eyes, the next day at sunrise,27
Being early disturbed by the buzzing of flies,28
He made an attempt, (and it turned out a failure,)29
To collect his ideas of last night’s saturnalia.30
But it presently crossed his mind that he’d lost,31
A fine ring he’d just purchased regardless of cost.32
’Twas engraved with the head of the wise goddess Pallas,33
Like the helmeted figure a club in Pall Mail has34
Just over its portals, with countenance solemn,35
Not far from the foot of the Duke of York’s column.36
Now his slave, who was no less a person than ÆSOP,37
And whose wits, he well knew, moved as nimbly as fleas hop,38
But whose fame for all time he would no more conjecture39
Than he’d sit down to hear a tom cat give a lecture ;40
His slave, I say, seeing his master’s confusion,41
Volunteered the remark, “ If it’s not an intrusion,42
Let me call to the mind of your worship the wager,43
Which, although you’re a sage, (but might have been sager,)44
You at table last night laid with one of your pupils,45
(Who is poorly this morning, and asking for blue pills ; )46
I’ve forgotten his name, but he’s long in the legs,47
He proposed you should drink up the sea to the dregs !48
And you bet him you’d do it, though it made your ribs ache,49
And your friends with fear quake ; and vowed that you’d stake50
All your wealth on the feat, and you then bade him take51
Your ring as a pledge,—and wound up with handshaking !”52
Said the sage “ To the truth of your story I’m waking ;53
And it makes me feel blue, for whate’er I shall do54
To pull myself through, I do not know. Do you ?”55
Then ÆSOP put on his considering cap,56
With his head on his hand, as if taking a nap,57
And in less than five minutes exclaimed “ Verdum sap !58
A word in your ear, honoured Sir, and I’ll tell59
How, while saving your credit, your friend you may sell.”60
And, in telling him how he might “ pull himself through it,” he,61
As seen further on, showed extreme ingenuity.62
Though to say that of ÆSOP’s a mere superfluity !63


When Xanthus went down, at the hour of high tide,64
To the breezy sea-shore, the bet to decide,65
All the people were there,—on the sands, on the crags,—66
To see what a schoolboy would call “ doing dags.”67
Many wild pranks they’d seen, and sea-sports ad captandum,68
On the brimming blue deep, as men frolicked at random ;69
But to see a man lap it all70
Up, would be capital !71
And “ de gustibus,” truly “ non est disputandum.72
So a carpet was laid down by one of his followers,73
(As at Ramsgate, by acrobats bold and knife-swallowers ;)74
And when Xanthus stood forth you could see his eye twinkle,75
For he knew well that, thanks to his clever slave’s “ wrinkle,”76
He should not lose the value of one periwinkle.77
Then said he to his friend, “ O, disciple of mine !78
All these good people here have just heard you define79
The terms of our wager ; but just wait a bit,80
And, at starting, a brief understanding permit ;81
For one must draw the line somewhere, that you’ll admit.82
Now this sea-drinking bet, that we find so much fun in,83
Doesn’t bind me to drink all the rivers that run in !84
I’m quite ready to drink up the Ocean, but not85
As much river as you could put in a pint pot !86
So I’ll get you, before I begin my potation,87
So to order the watery part of creation,88
That the rivers shall cease to discharge themselves into89
The sea, as for ages accustomed they’ve been to ;90
(With their wide-open mouths miles away from their heads,)91
And like good little children, lie still in their beds.92
When you’ve brought this about, (and it’s all that I ask,)93
Then my bibulous powers I’ll bend to their task.”94
At this happy proposal, (it’s needless to say.)95
There were loud shouts of laughter, “ Bravo !” and “ Hooray !”96
(Or the Greek words that meant much the same at that day.)97
The disciple, discomfited, vowed that he’d never,98
Till that day, been done in a manner so clever.99
And we all must agree ’twas as handsome a “ fix100
As that hit on by Portia, when baffling the tricks101
Of Shylock, whose heart was as hard as Old Nick’s.102
And the moral,—so plain, you may read as you run,—103
Is that two heads are very much better than one.104