Lydgate's Isopes Fabules


1 This tall tale against folk who are unkind (i.e., lacking in natural affection or proper thankfulness)


ABBREVIATIONS: CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales; CA: Gower, Confessio Amantis; MED: Middle English Dictionary; OED: >i; Whiting: Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases.

The Tale of the Cock

2 To hem that have savour in lettrure. This line is a close translation of the first line of the Prologue of Marie de France’s Fables: “Cil ki seivent de lettruüre . . .” (“Those who know about learning . . . ,” my translation); however, the comparison of wisdom to gold is Lydgate’s own.

3 prudent philosophers. Marie de France also connects philosophy and morality in her prologue (Fables, lines 1–10).

8–11 Before Lydgate there is no precedent in extant fable literature or other Aesopic texts for identifying Aesop as poet laureate, a Roman, or a writer associated with the Senate. Both the elegiac Romulus fables and Marie de France mention Romulus as the Latin adapter or translator of the fables, and Marie is apparently familiar with the legendary biography of Aesop in which he begins his life as a slave; she states that he wrote for his “mestre” (“master”; 17, 40). Robert Henryson’s Morall Fabillis, written in the twenty-five years following Lydgate’s death, includes an appearance by Aesop to the narrator in a dream vision; the fabulist says he was born in Rome and worked there as a civil lawyer (lines 1370–74).

31–35 Compare the Franklin’s modesty in Chaucer’s CT, V(F) 719–26.

32 I was born in Lydgate. Lydgate may have been following the example of Marie de France in chosing to identify his birthplace and thereby himself, although Marie’s self-identification appears not in the prologue to her fable collection but the epilogue: “Marie ai num, si sui de France.” (“Marie is my name, I am from France,” Fables, line 4, my translation).

33 Tullius. Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BCE–43 BCE), a Roman orator and statesman, was widely admired and studied in the Middle Ages for his superlative Latin rhetorical style, which Lydgate’s persona, in a conventional modesty topos, claims to be unable to imitate.

46–47 submit to theyr correccion. Lydgate’s modesty trope probably has its origins in Chaucer: compare CT, X(I) 56–60 and Troilus and Criseyde, 3.1332.

73 Lucyfer. In this context Lucifer, derived from the Latin “lucem ferens” (“light-bearing”), is the morning star.

76 Aurora. The Roman goddess of the dawn.

86 Phebus. Phoebus Apollo, the Roman god of the sun.

93 lyon. In The Nun’s Priest’s Tale, Chaucer also compares the heroic rooster Chauntecleer to a “grym lyon” (CT, VII.3179).

100 on hys tipto. Compare CT, VII.331, where Chaunticler “stood hye upon his toos.”

101 poettis callyd Chauncecleer. Although Lydgate probably borrowed the name Chauncecleer (literally “sing clear”) from Chaucer, it had been used earlier in such beast literature as the twelfth-century Le Roman de Renart and Renart le Contrefait.

110 jacynct. Jacinth, a semiprecious gem; according to the Peterborough Lapidary, it is noted for its clarity and good for medicinal purposes (p. 95) and can withstand venoms and poisons (p. 96). But Lydate’s cock is more interested in food than wealth or health. See lines 141–203.

126 Tyburn. The place of public exection for Middlesex until 1783, situated at present day London’s Oxford Street and Bayswater Road and Edgeware Road (OED).

135 Vyces all procede of idelnesse. Proverbial. See Whiting I16 and Gower, CA 4.1083 ff.

136 theves, foundres, and patroun. See MED, foundour, n3a, which cites Lydgate, Order of Fools: Markoff is said to be “foundour, patroun, and precident.”

152 Evax. This legendary king of Arabia is credited with having written De Gemmis (“Of Gems”), a verse lapidary that describes various gems and their qualities. He describes the jacinth as follows:
There are ten species of jacinth recorded, and seven are recorded here, and it is known to be of many colors, and it is said to be native to parts of much of the world. The best is of green and translucent color, and it is the one that proves to have most strength. When chastely carried, it drives out both fevers and dropsy, and it helps a woman giving birth. And it is believed to be a protection to the one who carries it. . . . And as people say, [the jacinth], whose power is thought to be stronger mounted in silver, drives away noxious visions. (De Gemmis Scriptum Evacis Regis Arabum [Lubeck: H Rantzovii, 1489], my translation)
Lydgate may have seen Evax used in scholastic fable commentaries: British Library MS Add.11897, a German manuscript from the first half of the fifteenth century, uses three lines of Evax’s poem in the marginalia alongside this fable.

After 203 L’envoy. A coda for verses attached to a French balade that send it on its way.

211–17 Lydgate inverts the conventional moral of this fable, in which the cock is said to be foolish for rejecting the gem; it appears in both Marie’s and the elegiac Romulus’s fable. Henyrson spends considerable time on the lesson in his version (The Cock and the Jasp, in The Complete Works, lines 120–61).

221 suffisaunce. Lydgate’s moral praising the cock allows him to highlight the virtue of “suffisaunce,” which is an important theme of his fables. The philosophy that sufficiency (Lat. sufficientia) rather than excessive wealth brings happiness is espoused in one of the most widely read philosophical treatises during the Middle Ages, The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius (Book 3, Prose 9; pp. 256–57).


298 Naboth. This Old Testament figure was the owner of a vineyard inherited from his father. The king, Ahab, attempted to buy it from him, but Naboth refused to part with his inheritance. Ahab’s wife Jezebel then persuaded false witnesses to swear that Naboth blasphemed against God and the king, and when they had done so, Naboth was stoned to death for a crime he did not commit. Ahab then took possession of the vineyard.
The story of Naboth appears in 3 Kings 21. Marginalia in Trinity College Cambridge MS R.3.19 next to the stanza that mentions Naboth directs the reader to 3 Kings, but to chapter 8 rather than 21.

306–08 Lydgate here alludes to John 10, in which Jesus compares himself to the door of sheepfold whereby the true shepherds may enter, but those who enter another way (ascendit aliunde) are thieves and robbers. Jesus also distinguishes between these thieves and hired shepherds for whom the profession is not their true calling, clearly representing priests whose primary concern is money. Jesus calls this kind of false shepherd a “mercenarius” (John 10:12, 13), a term echoed in Lydgate’s verse. (In the General Prologue to CT, Chaucer’s narrator defends the pious Parson who is on the pilgrimage by stating, “He was a shepherde and nought a mercenarie”[I.514]).
John 10 is also appropriate to this fable because Jesus says that the mercenaries leave the sheep to the wolf, who catches them.

316–18 The ram . . . hit ys tolde. Here Lydgate revises the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece by suggesting that Jason flayed the ram in order to get it, but in the story as it is told elsewhere in the Middle Ages, it is inanimate and detached from the animal; see, for example, “The Tale of Jason and Medea” in CA, 5.3247–4242, especially lines 3731–34.

325 In this stanza and the next Lydgate seems to anticipate, somewhat inappropriately, the false witnesses that are integral to the plot of the fable of the Sheep and the Dog.

327Si dedero” (“If I will give”). This phrase is conventionally associated with corrupt officials who bribe others to lie on their behalf. See The Simonie, written during the reign of Edward II, which states that the voice of a penniless clerk cannot be heard in Rome; “Or (Either) he shall singe ‘si dedero,’ or al geineth him noht” (Dean, Medieval English Political Writings, The Simonie, line 24) and Knighten’s Chronicle, where “Jack Trewman” would have you know that “No man may come trewthe to, bot he syng si dedero. Speke, spend, spende and spede, quoth Jon of Banthon” (Dean, Jakke, lines 21–24). See also Mankind, line 456, where Mischief, hearing the approach of Titivillus, says to Nought and New Gyse, “When owr hedys wer togethere I speke of si dedero,” where upon they address the audience and take up a collection!

341–43 Though both die, the wolf’s carcass is despicable, while the lamb is a feast for a king or a kind of consolation, perhaps, at least within a Christian context, where virtue is valued, along with a wholehearted love of God (line 349).


360 cast hym. Literally “sets himself,” that is, “plots.”

390 Phebus. The sun. See note line 86.

420 Cresus. Croesus, a king of Lydia in the sixth century BCE, was said to have been very wealthy by such historians as Herodotus; by the Middle Ages his name was conventionally associated with wealth. See CA, 5.4730 ff., and Chaucer, The Monk’s Tale, CT VIII.2727–66.

421 Mygdas. Midas, a king in Greek mythology, turned everything he touched into gold. This ability was “medylyd with drede” because living things that he touched changed to inanimate gold, as ultimately happened to his beloved daughter.

423 The pore man slepeth fearelese, taketh noon hede. Proverbial but not cited by Whiting or Tilley. Lydgate is a master of shaping proverbs with variations, shaping sententious thought.

428 Salomon. No verse from the books of the Bible attributed to Solomon is an exact source for this translation. The verse that resembles it most closely is Proverbs 15:17: “It is better to be invited to herbs with love than to a fatted calf with hatred.”

434 good chere maketh a feste. Proverbial. Compare line 463. See Tilley, Dictionary of the Proverbs in England, G338.

437 Diogenes. The philosopher Diogenes of Sinope is perhaps best known for carrying a lamp in the daytime, saying he was looking for an honest man. He scorned wealth and power, showing his distaste for worldliness by sleeping in a large barrel. Alexander the Great, who in some versions seeks him out and in others merely happens upon him, is so impressed by his wisdom that he offers the philosopher anything he likes, to which Diogenes responds that the emperor should stop blocking his sunlight.
The story of Diogenes and Alexander, versions of which were written by such classical Latin writers as Cicero and Valerius Maximus, appeared in a number of medieval texts, including Vincent of Beauvais’s Speculum Historiale (3.68 ff.), the Latin Gesta Romanorum (chapter 183), and Walter Burley’s De Vita Philosophorum (Chapter 1). Gower writes a version of the story in CA, 3.1201–1330.

441 Priamus. The king of Troy during the Trojan War.

454 Aurora. The Roman goddess of the dawn.

467 Bacus. Bacchus, the god of wine.
Thetis. The goddess of water.


532 boke. In line 701 Lydgate makes it clear that this book is the “Holy Book,” the Bible.

582–83 In his edition of Isopes Fabules MacCracken places the quotation marks closing the judge’s speech at the end of line 581. However, it seems likely that Lydgate meant for lines 582–83 to be a continuation of that speech, because they are more consistent with the judge’s defense of the impartiality of the law than with the narrator’s concerns about how false witnesses undermine justice. Furthermore, Lydgate undermines the judge’s observations about truth by having the lying dog respond using the words “true” and “truth” four times in only nine lines.

624 ram of Colchos. See note for lines 316–18.

659 To a false witnesse. Lydgate quotes Proverbs 25:18. A man that beareth false witness against his neighbor is like a dart and a sword and a sharp arrow.

680 It is remembred by record of auctours. In Über Lydgate’s Aesopübersetzung Paul Sauerstein (p. 33) identified the source of this passage as Lectio 167 B of Robert Holkot’s Super Libros Sapientiae:
A perjurer ought to be despised for numerous reasons, but especially because of three. Truly the perjuring person is unnatural for infidelity toward God. [He is] unjust through falsity toward his neighbor and pernicious through his iniquity toward himself. It is a great betrayal if he who has custody of the seal of the king seals a letter of agreement that the king has greatly detested, and if he did this with the seal of the pope, he would be excommunicated for having done it, to be turned over to the secular arm. The name of God is a name committed to us like a certain seal for attesting to and confirming the truth (my translation).
730 Arpies. Harpies, mythological creatures generally represented as half-woman and half-bird, were often agents of vengeance who inflicted violent punishment upon their victims. Lydgate’s description of them as hounds is evidently metaphorical, because in line 731 he indicates their birdlike characteristics.

732 Carberos. Cerberus is the mythological three-headed dog who guards the gates of Hades.

733 Tantalus. The mythological Tantalus, who killed his son and fed his flesh to others, was punished in Hades by having to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree. Whenever he reached for the fruit or tried to drink the water, they would recede from his reach. Lydgate’s use of Tantalus as a figure for false witnesses is curious because the mythological character is associated with frustrated futility, whereas in the poet’s view false witnesses are all too successful in perverting justice to their own ends.

798 my fraunchyse. Fraunchyse, as the wolf uses the term, defines his “noble privilege”; the crane, by his terms, should thank him for his “genoristy” in permitting the crane to live.


824 blow the bokks horne. “To blow the buck’s horn” is a conventional metaphorical phrase meaning “to engage in a futile activity.” Chaucer uses the phrase in The Miller’s Tale in relation to Absolon, whose amorous pursuit of Alison is futile because of her love for the clerk Nicholas (I.3387).

847 This tall applyinge agayn folke. As in several of Lydgate’s fables, the moral lies in what does not happen with the tale. Mercy and proper payment of recompance for honest labor are virtues that tyrants (the privileged who imagine that their power gives them franchise to ignore virtue) seem by “nature” (birth privilege) unable to heed.


848 Lydgate’s version of this fable is a departure from both the Latin original and Marie’s. In the Latin text of the story of the sun’s desire to marry, the fable is framed by the marriage of a woman to a thief, an event that causes a wise man to tell this fable as an exemplum warning against the results of the likely procreation of the couple, i.e., more thieves. A mere eight lines long, the fable mentions Jove in passing but contains no other classicizing elements. Marie abandons both the framing narrative and the classical reference, giving the allegorized figure of Destiny (Destinee) the role of judge who hears the complaints of animals who are fearful of the results of the marriage.

849 In the later Middle Ages biographies of Aesop began to circulate, some of which stated that he was from Ethiopia. For a discussion of these and their later influence, see Patterson, Fables of Power, pp. 11, 21–31.

857 Cancro. The astrological sign of Cancer, the crab.
Phebus. God of the sun.

865 Tellus. The Roman goddess of the earth. “Tellus[’s] lordship” is the earth itself.

873 Saturne. Before Jupiter (also known as Jove) became the king of the pagan gods, Saturn was their leader. Lydgate may have chosen him to oversee the case because of his conventional association with the chaos which would ensue if the sun reproduced.

874 Parchas sustren. The Parcae, three sisters who are named in lines 887–88, are the Fates, classical figures who are roughly analogous to the more generalized Destiny that Marie uses in her fable. Clotho spins out the thread of destiny, Lachesis measures the portion allotted to each person, and Atropos cuts it.

881 Theofrast. The historical figure of Theophrastus was a contemporary of Aristotle who was also a philosopher. In the Middle Ages, he was credited, almost certainly falsely, with having written The Golden Book of Marriage, an antifeminist tract often associated with Jerome’s misogynistic Letter against Jovinian. Medieval readers familiar with Theophrastus would have expected him to rule against the sun’s (or any other) marriage.

886 Cocus Marcial. Marcus Valerius Martialis, known in English as Martial, was a Roman poet and epigrammatist. For reasons that remain obscure, in the Middle Ages he was known as Cocus Martial, a variant of coquus or “cook.” See Reeve, “Martial,” pp. 239–44.

889 a diffinytif sentence. Where Atropos cuts, there is no more. Her measure is definitive.


Title Fable VII: The tale of the dog and the cheese is the only fable to appear in MS Ashmole 79, which was copied by Lydgate’s champion John Shirley (see introduction). Shirley heads the fable as follows: “Here begynnethe a notable proverbe of Ysopus Ethiopym in balad by daun Iohan Liedegate made in Oxenford.”


The fables here are in the order in which they appear in H, which is the only manuscript to contain all seven. However, T is generally more reliable because the scribe generally has a better understanding of decasyllabic lines, whereas the scribe of H frequently writes lines with more than ten syllables. T has been used as the base text for all of the fables except “The Marriage of the Sun,” which is extant only in H. A contains only “The Fable of the Dog and the Cheese.”

Textual variants that potentially change the reading of a line are listed here; minor textual variations in diction, spelling, and grammar that do not influence the text’s meaning are not cited. Readers who would like to study these less-significant differences will find them in MacCracken’s edition.

ABBREVIATIONS: A: MS Ashmole 59, 24v; H: British Library, MS Harley 2251, fol. 261v; M: MacCracken’s edition, 1934; T: Trinity College Cambridge, R. 3. 19, fols. 12–16, 236–237.

Title Isopes Fabules appears only in H; the heading for the tale of the Cock and the Jewel precedes the Prologue in T and thus serves to introduce the collection as a whole.

8 Unto purpose. H: Unto my purpose.

23 charbuncles. H: rubyes.

24 downe. H: omitted.

25 groweth. H: fyndith.

33 passyd. H: entrid.

37 and. H: I wil.

40 rewe on. H: pardon.

41 compilacioun. Thus in both T and H; MacCracken misread H as translacioun.

54 lybell. H: quayer, “quire,” or a gathering of pages. This textual variant may suggest that H was copied from a text that resembled a pamphlet more than a book, which would indicate that the scribe was aware that the compilation was quite short, much shorter than its source text(s).

60 and. H: of.

64 so. H: ful.

69 justly dothe attende. H: lustly (lustily, energetically) to intende.

72 but. So M, T. H: bt.

73 Lucyfer. H: sulphur.

74 Lawgheth in. H: Lowtith to (bows down to).

78 Whos waker callyng thryes tolde. H: Voyce vigour callyng thryes (thrice).

85 joy and all. H: yowre alther.

95 morall. H: mortal.

97 as he his voyce doth reyse. H: that we oure self shuld ease.

98 Howe. H: hat.
preyse. H: please.

105 flok. H: folke. M: omitted.

110 jacynct. H: jaconet.

117 thryve. H: travaile he.

125 In vacant pepyll. H: In vagabundis peple that.

139 Thys. H: Thus.

144 as I rede. H: in dede.

145 Of whyche stone when the cok. H: As I rede of whiche stone whan he.

152 T: marginal note Evax rex Arabinu.

174 Set. H: I set.

178 Hygh. H: Like as. T: secrete. M amends secrete to secree to rhyme with deynté.

186 long. H: strong.

191 in large. H: desireth.

196 gese. H: gees ne ganders.

203 he lyt. H: abidith.

After 203 L’envoy. H: omitted.

205 consider. H: conceyve.

218 Adjacent marginalia in H: Here endith the tale of Isope how that the cok fonde a jaconet stone in the dunghill.

225 Adjacent marginalia in H: The secunde tale of Isopos.

229 pure innocence. H: providence.

238 agayn. H: of reason and ageyne.

242 few. H: for. to. H: no.

244 whyche. H: whiche twayne.

262-66 H originally lacked these lines, which were later filled in by Stow from T.

267-322 These lines are not in H because of a missing leaf that was presumably lost after Stow made his corrections above.

334 bak. T: bakis, which was amended by M (see line 252).

After 336 Conclusio. H: omitted.

339 cruell. H: and.

342 Be hit. H: But only.

347 Vertuosly. H: Vertuously liveth and.

353 was thys fable founde. H: this fable I founde.

354 Where ys. H: Whan he. Adjacent marginalia in H: Here endith the secunde tale of Isope declaryng how the wolf founde agenst the lambe in a quarel.

358 Adjacent marginalia in H: Here begynneth the third fabul of Isopos. In T the third fable is that of the frog and the mouse. Since H is the only manuscript to include all seven fables, its order is followed here.

363 dyssimelyng. H: disceyte.

368 fresshe. Omitted in H.

375 In H these two lines are transposed.

380 of frendlyhede. Amended from T, which redundantly reads or frenshyp or instead of simply of, the reading in H that gives a regular decasyllabic line.

384 felle. H: ful.

389 from. H: ferre from.

393 Lad. H: After lad.

396 Seyde. H: And sayde.

397 greynes. H: of dyvers graynes.

398 To shewe him of gentylnes. H: Thus of gentilnes the mowse shewid hym.

403-04 Thys cloos all hoole ys in my subjeccion. / Suffisaunce is my possessione. H: This is al hooly [wholly] under my possessioun. / In suffisaunce is my condicioun.

412 preves. H: brefis.

420 hys golde. H: his riche gold.

429 A lompe of brede with. H: A smal morsel of brede with joy and.

431 frownyng or. H: and froward.

433 leste. H: beste.

437 tonne. The spelling of “tun” in H as tonne is preferable to T’s towne because it differentiates Diogenes’s impoverished digs from Priam’s riche towne (town) in line 441. See explanatory note for the story of Diogenes’s tun.

440 lust and. H: a.

445 As in theyr paleyse byn prynces. H: As princis with delicatis in theyr paleys.

457 of. H: of good.

460 the. H: the straunge.

461 deyntees to a. H: metis (meats, foods) to.

462 men. H: gestis (guests).

464 of good drynke habundance. H: requirith drynk suffisaunce.

466 suffisaunce. H: haboundaunce.

468 discure. H: discord.

472 soylyd. H: wet.

489 sore be knyt. H: be knyt fast.

After 504 Conclusio. H: omitted.

506 in comparyson. H: so paralous of reason.

507 To. H: As is.

525 Adjacent marginalia in H: Here endith the fifth fable of Isopos discernyng the myschief that the frossh for his ingratitud shewed to the mowse.

After 525 Explicit. H: omitted.

535 Ryghtfull. H: Rightwis; travers and. H: transgres.

539 Of olde Isopus whylom. H: Of old date Isopos.

543 toke. H: to.

546 At the end of this line the scribe of T stopped copying. Only the previous two stanzas appear on fol. 16r; the remainder of the page is blank, as is its verso. Given the layout of the pages — two columns of five stanzas each — eighteen more stanzas could have been accommodated in the blank space on the pages, not enough to complete the fable. However, because folio 16 is at the end of a gathering, the lack of space here would not have precluded the scribe continuing in another gathering. H is the sole extant witness for lines 547–740.

747 Adjacent marginalia in H: Here endith the third fable of Isopos, what perel it is to be forsworn wetyngly (knowingly) as was the wolf and the kyte for synguler love that they hadde to the hounde, and to have the sheepe ded and slayn, as iurrours dampne the triewe and save the false.

Before 750 Title. H: omitted.

758 and a. H: royal and grete.

761 Despeyred relyvyd. H: Stondyng in dispayre rekovered.

762 knew. H: coude.

763 enteryd. H: impressed and entred.

769 perlows. H: perilous and diligent.

771 browght. H: take.

773 court. H: wolf; being in presence. H: by craf of his science.

774 Axid his reward. H: The Cranes gwerdoun axith.

775 wolffe. H: wolf ever.

789 eyen. H: hede.

791 Thy lyffe in jubardy, the truthe was. H: With thy lyf parted it is.

808 dothe. H: ever redy.

818 of very. H: and yit.

820 was chese to be a surgon. H: chase a surgeon to be.

822 mighte. H: mighe.

826 oftetyme. H: omitted.

837 fowll. H: false.

838 Thus connsellynge. H: Wherfor I counseile.

840 Remembre that with tyrauntes merci is uncothe. H: Bourd nat to large with hym that is unkouth. In T Stow reproduces this line as a variant reading in the margin next to 840, introduced by vel (Latin “or”).

846 maneshed. H: manyfold.

847 H: omits Stow’s colophon.

848 Because “The Marriage of the Sun” is missing in T, H is the only witness.

Before 848 The Marriage of the Sun. A: Here begynnethe a notable proverbe of Ysopus Ethiopym in balad by daun Iohan Liedegate made in Oxenford. H has no title.

933 grete. H and A: gredy.

937 grete hownd. A: grehounde.

941 As hym thought. H: As he dempte (deemed, judged); A: As Isopus dempte.

a chese. A: omitted.

943 in his. A: grehounde had.

944 whan he. A: the grehounde.

946 conceyve and. A: here.

947 By experience prevyd. A: Thexparyence is proeved.

948 faylyth offt. A: leseth al.

952 suffisaunce. H: litel suffisaunce.

958 hownd. A: grehounde.

959 bothe he dyd. A: therfore he dothe bothe.

After 959 Conclusion in H: Here endith the seventh fable of Isopos declaryng what damage falwith on covetise.

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Lydgate's Isopes Fabules

from: Isopes Fabules  2013

The Tale of the Cok that founde a precyous stone, groundyd by Isopus, the phylosopher of Rome, that yche man shuld take in gree (with graciousness) suche as God sent (t-note)













































Wisdom is more in prise then gold in cofers

To hem that have savour in lettrure.
Olde examples of prudent philosophers
Moche avaylyd to folke that dyd her cure
To serche out lykenes in nature,
In whyche men myght conceve and clerely see
Notable sentence of gret moralyté.

Unto purpose the poete laureate
Callyd Isopus dyd hym occupy
Whylom in Rome to plese the senate
Fonde out fables, that men myght hem apply
To sondry matyrs, yche man for hys party
Aftyr theyr lust, to conclude in substaunce
Dyverse moralytees set out to theyr plesaunce.

Som of foules, of bestis and of fyssh
Thys Isopus founde out exsample pleyne.
Where sylver fayleth, in a pewter dyssh
Ryall dentees byn oft tymes seyne,
And semblably poetes, in certeyne,
In fables rude includyd gret prudence
And moralytees full notable of sentence.

Under blak erthe byn precious stones founde,
Ryche saphyres and charbuncles full ryall
And who that myneth downe lowe in the grounde,
Of gold and sylver groweth the mynerall.
Perlys whyte, clere, and orientall
Ben ofte founde in muscle shellys blake,
And out of fables gret wysdom men may take.

For whyche I cast to folow thys poete
And hys fables in Englysshe to translate,
And though I have no rethoryk swete,
Have me excusyd; I was born in Lydgate.
Of Tullius gardeyn I passyd nat the gate,
And cause why: I had no lycence
There to gadyr floures of elloquence.

Yet as I can, forthe I woll procede
In thys labour and my style dresse
To do pleasaunce to theym that shall it rede,
Requiryng hem of verrey gentylnes
Of her grace to rewe on my rudenes
Thys compilacion for to take at gree
Whyche theym to plese translatyd was by me.

And yef I fall bycause of ignoraunce
That I erre in my translacion,
Lowly of hert and feythfull obeysaunce
I me submyt to theyr correccion
Of hem that have more clere inspeccion
In matyrs that touche poetry,
Me to reforme that they nat deny.

And as myn auctor dothe at the cok begyn,
I cast me to folow him in substaunce,
Fro the trouthe in sentence nat to twyn.
As God and grace woll geve me suffysaunce
Compyle thys lybell for a remembraunce.
To the reders hereaftyr may be founde
The thanke therof fully to rebounde.

The Cok of kynde hathe a crest rede
Shape lyke a crowne, token of gret noblesse
By whyche he hathe, whyle it stont on hys hede
As clerkis seyn, corage and hardynes
And of hys berde melancolyk felness
Aboute hys nek by mercyall apparayll
Nature hathe geve him a stately aventayll

Thys hardy foule with brest and voyce so clere
Most trewly kepeth the tydes of the night
Of custom namyd comon astrologere
In throwpes smale to make theyr hertis lyght,
With spores sharpe enarmyd for to fyght
Lyke a champion justly dothe attende
As a proud capten, hys broode for to defend.

Beteth hys wyngis, aforn or he do syng,
But sluggy hertis out of theyr slepe to wake,
When Lucyfer toward the dawnyng
Lawgheth in the oryent and hathe the west forsake
To chase awey the myghty clowdys blake.
Towarde Aurora thys foule, who taketh kepe
Byddyth folk ayene awake out of theyr slepe,

Whos waker callyng thryes tolde in nombre
With treble laudes gove to the Trinité
Slouthe avoydyng, clepeth folk out of ther slombre;
Good hope repeyreth to all that hevy bee.
Comforteth the seke in hys infirmité
Causeth merchauntis and pylgryms to be glad,
The thevys swerde hyd under the shad.

Callyd the prophete of joy and all gladnes
Embassiatour of Phebus fyry lyght,
Whyche put awey by musicall swetnes
The ugly blaknes of the derk nyght;
For whyche me semeth, me shuld of dew ryght
For three causes preferre thys foule among:
For waker kepyng, for hardyness and song.

Thys foule ys waker agen the vyce of slouthe,
In vertu strong and hardy as a lyon,
Stable as a geaunt opon a grounde of trouthe,
Agene all vyces the morall champion,
And with the entewnes of his melodious soun
He geveth ensample, as he his voyce doth reyse,
Howe day and night we the Lord shall preyse.

And for because his brest ys strong and cleere
And on hys tipto dysposeth for to syng
He ys of poettis callyd Chauncecleer.
And as myn auctor remembreth by wrytyng,
Whylom thys foule in a glad mornyng
Rejoysyd him ayene the son shene
With all hys flok to walke opon a grene.

He was furst besy for to breke hys faste,
With hys wyves about hym everychone,
On a small donghyll to fynde a good repaste
Gan scrape and sporne and fast about gone.
Hyd in the dong hyll he fonde a jacynct stone,
Yet hys labour and hys besy cure
Was for nat elles but for his pasture.

He gave ensample whyche gretly may avayle,
As he was oonly taught by nature,
To avoyde slouthe by dylygent travayle
By honest labour hys lyvelood to procure.
For who woll thryve, labour must endure,
For idylnes and froward negligence
Maketh sturdy beggars for lack of theyr dyspence.

Losengowres that fele hem strong ynough,
Whyche have savour in slouthe and slogardy
Have lever to beg then go at the plough
Dyche or delve, theymself to occupy.
Thus idelnes causeth robry
In vacant pepyll that to and fro did wende:
For theft arestyd at Tyburn make an ende.

They be no men, but folkis bestiall,
Voyde of reson oonly for lak of grace,
Whyche ete and drynke and labour nat at all.
The cok was besy hys lyvelood to purchase
The long day in many diverse plase,
Hym and hys broode oonly to forstre, in trouthe,
Such folke rebukyng that lyve in slombre and slouthe.

Vertu gynneth at occupacion
Vyces all procede of idelnesse
Unto theves, foundres, and patroun.
Of thryft cometh of vertuous besynesse,
So of myschyef slouth ys chief maistresse.
Thys ydelnes causeth folk in dede
To waste theyr dayes in myschief and in nede.

With scrapyng, spornyng all the longe day
The cok was besy hym and hys broode to fede,
Founde a jacyncte, whyche in the donghyll lay,
A ryche stone and a precious, as I rede,
Of whyche stone when the cok toke hede,
Stynt awhyle, sodenly abrayde,
And to the ston evyn thus he sayde:

“Who that knew thy nature and thy kynde,
All the propurtees whyche of thee be tolde,
A jeweller, yef he thee myght fynde,
Wolde for thy vertues close thee in golde.
Evax to thee geveth praysyng manyfolde,
Whos lapydary bereth openly wytnesse
Geyn sorow and wo thou bryngest in gladnesse

“The best jacyncte in Ethiope ys founde
And is of colour lyke the saphyre ynde,
Comforteth men that ly in prison bounde,
Maketh men strong and hardy of hys kynde,
Contract synewes the jacyncte doth unbynde
Yet for all thy vertuous excellence
Twene thee and me ys no convenience.

“For me thou shalt in this place abyde.
With thee I have lyght or nought to done.
Late these merchantis that go so ferr and ryde
Trete of thy valew, whether hit be late or sone,
Deme how the cherle came furst in the mone.
Of suche mysteryes I take but lytell hede;
Me lyst nat hewe chyppes above myn hede.

“Precyous stones longen to jewellers
And to princes, when they lyst wel be seyn.
To me more deynté in bernes or garners
A lytell rewarde of corn or good greyn.
To take thys stone to me hit were but veyn;
Set more store — I have hit of nature —
Among rude chaffe to shrape for my pasture.

“Lyke as folkis of relykis have deynté,
Theron they set a valew or a pryce,
Hygh maters profound and secree
Ne shuld nat without gret avyce
Be shewyd in opyn to hem that be nat wyse,
For as a wyseman in wysdom hathe delyte,
Ryght so a foole of doctrine hathe dyspyte.

“Golde and stones be for a kyngis hede,
Stele is tryed for platis in armure,
To cover churches covenable is lede
Brasse for belles, iren long to endure.
Thus every thyng followeth hys nature:
Princes to reygne, knyghtis for batayll,
Plowmen for tylth, shypmen for to sayll.

“The hert desyreth to drynke of crystall welles,
The swan to swymme in large brood riveres,
The gentyll faucon with gesse and ryche belles
To cache hys pray lyke to hys desyres,
I with my brode to scrape afore garneres.
Precious stones nothyng apperteyne
To gese nor foulys that pasture on the grene.

“Of theyr nature as folke byn dysposyd,
Diversely they make eleccion.
Double of vertu the saphyr in gold closyd
Yche man cheseth lyke hys opinion:
On cheseth the best of wysdom and reson,
And another, hys eyen byn so blynde,
Cheseth the werst, the best he lyt behynde.”


Though thys fabyll be boysters and rurall,
Ye may theryn consider thyngis thre:
Howe that diligence in especiall
Hathe agayn slouthe caught the sovreynté,
And, where fre choyse hath hys liberté,
Cheseth the werst in ernest or in game,
Who but hymself therof ys to blame?

Who foloweth vertu, vyces doth eschew,
He cheseth the best in myn opinion.
The cok demyd to him hit was more dew
Small simple grayne then stones of hygh renoun,
Of all tresour chief possessioun.
Suche as God sent, eche man take at gre
Nat prowde with ryches nor groge with poverté.

The worldly man laboreth for rychesse,
And on the worlde he set all hys intent.
The vertuos man to avoyde all ydelnesse
With suffisaunce holde hymsylf content.
Eche man therfore, with suche as God hath sent,
Thanke the Lorde, in vertu kepe hem stable,
Whyche ys conclusioun of thys lytyll fable.


them; pleasure in learning; (see note)
(see note)
made an effort


  (see note); (t-note)

various; part

Royal delicacies
morals; meaning

precious stones; (t-note)



(see note)
(see note)
(see note); (t-note)


make fit; (t-note)

true nobility
their; [have] mercy; simplicity; (t-note)
graciously; (t-note)


(see note)

give; sufficiency
[I]; book; (t-note)


say; (t-note)
martial trappings
given; neck covering



Bids; (t-note)
(see note); (t-note)

pays attention; (see note)

vigilant; thrice; (t-note)

cloak (shade)

[He is]; (t-note)
Ambassador; (see note)

bird always
vigilant observation

(see note)


(see note)
(see note)


(see note); (t-note)

means of subsistence

inclination toward
shiftless; (t-note)
[they] make; (see note)


(see note)
founders; (see note)


Stopped; spoke

(see note); (t-note)


Indian sapphire

Contracted (cramped)



[And] determine; man; moon

I don’t want to


pleasing; barns; granaries

[I]; (t-note)

[religious] relics; pleasure



tillage (cultivation)

jess (leg strap in falconry)



[is] the sapphire . . . set

leaves; (t-note)

(see note); (t-note)

rough (coarse)

(see note)

judged; meritorious



(see note)

The End

The Tale of the Wolfe and the Lambe groundyd opon Isopos, the phylosophor of Rome, agenst raveyn (greed) and tirrany



























Ryght as atwene turment and delyces
There ys in kynde a gret difference,
Ryght so atwene vertues lyfe and vyces
There may be no just convenience,
Malyce contrary to pure innocence.
And phylosophers by wrytyng bere recorde
Twene trowthe and fraude may be non acorde.

Atwene rancour and humble pacience
Ther is in nature a gret division.
A sely shepe make may no resistence
Ageyn the power of a strong lyon.
A dwerfe to fyght with a champyon
Were to febyll in a felde to endure
By lykenes agayn nature.

Grete pykes that swymme in large stewes
Smaller fysshe most felly they devour.
Who hath most myght the febler gladly sewes
The pore hathe few his party to socour.
The ravenous wolfe opon the lambe dothe lour,
Of whyche Isopus in his booke
Full notably thys example he toke.

The lambe, the wolf, contrary of nature,
Ever diverse and nothyng oon they thynke.
Bothe at onys of soden aventure
To a fresshe ryver they came downe to drynke.
At the hede spryng hy opon the brynke
Stondeth the wolfe, a froward beste of kynde
The sely lambe stood fer abak behynde.

Who that is froward of condicion
And disposyd to malyce and outrage
Can sone seke and fynde occasion
Pyke a quarell for to do damage,
And unto purpose malycious of corage
The furyos wolfe out with hys venym brake
And evyn thys unto the lambe he spake:

“Lyk thy ffadyr, thou art false and double
And hym resemblest of dysposicion
For he was wont my water here to trouble,
To meve the thyk, that lay low doune,
That I myght have no recreacioune
To drynk my fyll of water pure and clere.
He was so contrary to trouble thys ryvere.

“And thou of malyce art com to do the same,
Sekest occasion by trobly vyolence
Agenst me and makest therof a game
To fynde mater and for to do offence.”
The lambe answerd with humble reverence,
“Thys may nat be; the preef ys seyn full oft:
I stond benethe and ye stond aloft.

“From the hyll the ryver downe dyscendeth;
For to ascende hit were ageyn nature.
That I stond here hit nothyng yow offendeth;
The trouble gothe low, above hit ys most pure.
The clere ys youres, but I must endure
Tyll ye have dronke, and then at erst begyn,
Take as hit falleth, the thyk with the thyn.

“I may nat chese; the choyse to yow ys fall.
Hyt were but foly for me with yow to stryve.
Ye shall for me have your desyres all;
Of your ryght I wyll nat yow depryve.”
But the wolfe a cause gan contryve
Ageyn the lambe of naturall haterede,
Seyd unto hym quakyng in hys drede,

“Thy feynyd speche flateryng and benygne,
I see hit well in myn inward syght,
How thou dost agene me malygne
To vex me wrongfully, yef thou haddyst myght.
The lawe shall part us, whyche of us hath ryght.”
But he no lenger on the lawe abood,
Devouryd the lambe and aftyr soke hys blood

The lambe was sleyn, for he seyd soth.
Thus was law tornyd to ravyne
Dome execute by the wolfis tothe,
By whyche lawe Naboth lost hys vyne,
Whylom commandyd by law, whyche ys dyvyne,
No ravenous beste (the Bible doth devyse)
Shuld be offred to God in sacryfyse.

Herdys be rekles the lambe for to defende,
Take noon hede on theyr flock to tary.
Ther hounde ys muett, whyche that shuld attende
To kepe the wache fro wolves most contrary:
Fewe sheperdys and many mercynary,
That falsly entre, as Johns gospell tolde,
By the wyndow into Crystis folde.

The wolfe is clyppyd, chese and mylke ys peysyd
On felle and flesh ys set a certayn pryse
For tylthe of lond the dong is also preysed,
Nothyng forgete, sheperdys be so wise.
The beest ys spoylyd and nat without avyse.
The wolf hath so ferre the lambe purchasyd
That he ys devoured and hath nothyng trespasyd.

The ram in Colches bare a flees of golde;
Therof he was despoylyd by Jason,
The body left hoole, lyke as hit ys tolde.
But shepe these dayes be spoylyd to the bone,
For ther be wolfes many mo then oon
That clyp lamborn at sessions and at shyres
Bare to the bone, and yet they have no sheres.

The sely lambe ys spoylyd to the bones,
The wolf goth fre, whether hit be ryght or wrong.
When a jurrour hathe caught savour ones
To be forsworn, custom maketh hym strong.
Si dedero ys now so mery a song
Hath founde a practyk by lawe to make a preef
To hang a trew man and save an errant theef.

With empty hande men may noon hawkis lewre
Nor cache a jurrour, but yefe he geve hym mede
The pore pleteth; what is his aventure?
Voyde purse causeth he may nat spede.
The lambe put bak, the wolf the daunce doth lede.
Dyfference atwene these bestis tweyne
Causyd Isopus thys tale for to feyne.


The wolfe is lykenyd to folkys ravenous,
The sely lambe resembleth the porayle.
The wolfe is gredy, fell, cruell, dyspituous,
The lambe content with grasse for hys vytayle.
Thei dey bothe: the wolfe may nat avayle
Be hit for houndes caren most corumpable,
The lambe up servyd at the kyngis table.

As men deserve, they receve theyr guerdon.
Onrepentaunte the tyraunt goth to hell.
The pore man with small possession
Vertuosly doth in the erthe dwell,
Content with lytell, doth trewly by and sell
And of hoole hert can love God and drede.
When he goth hens, hathe heven to hys mede.

To encrese vertu and vyces to confounde
Example here shewyd of gret diversyté.
By Isopus was thys fable founde
Where ys rehersyd, toforne as ye may se,
The wolfis felnesse, the lambes properté,
The lambe comendyd for naturall mekenes,
The wolfe rebuked for ravenous felnes.
between; delights; (t-note)




fish ponds
part to help; (t-note)
scowl (lower)

not at all the same
once by sudden chance

malevolent; by nature

[To] pick

move; thick [mud]




flow upward

clear [water]
for the first time
[To] take


turned; rapaciousness
Judgment executed
vineyard; (see note)

set forth


(see note)

shorn; weighed
tillage; dung
stripped; deliberation
far; taken illegally

(see note)

more than one
lambs; judicial sessions; shire courts


(see note)
commit perjury; habit
(see note)
practice; proof

if; reward (bribe)
pleads (his case); fortune
Empty; succeed



poor people

die; is useless; (see note)
Except as rotten carrion for dogs; (t-note)



hence, [he]

above; (t-note)
evil nature; propriety

The Tale of the Frogge and the Mouse, foundyd by Isopus, the philosophor, groundyd agenst deceyte.



































By a decree of Natures law,
Pesyd egally the balance of reson,
Who that cast hym deceve hys felaw
Shall of deceyte receve the guerdon.
Salary to feynyng ys simulacion.
Who by dyssimelyng and fraude doth procede
Lyke a defrauder receve shall hys mede.

Som rejoyse theym in malyce and in fraude
And covertly to hynder theyr neyghbors.
As men deserve, reporte geveth theym theyr lawde.
Clothe falsly woven may kepe no fresshe colours.
The dorre on donghyll, the bee on holsom floures,
As they receve, they bryng home to theyr heve:
The oon dothe damage, the other doth releve.

Aftyr theyr naturall disposicions
In man and beste ys shewyd experyence.
Some have to vertew theyr inclinacions,
Oone to profyte, another to do offence;
Som man pesyble, som man doth violence;
Som man delyteth in trouthe in hys entent,
Another rejoyseth to be fraudulent.

Who that meneth treson or falsnes
With a pretence outward of frendlyhede,
Face counterfete of feynyd fals gladnes,
Of all enemyes suche oon ys most to drede,
And Isopus to purpos, as I rede,
Telleth how a ffrosshe felle and contraryouse,
Dowble of entent, decevyd hathe the mouse.

Of thys fable the processe for to tell,
The frosshe of custom abode at a ryver.
The mowse also sojornyd at a myll
That stood besyde from all dangere,
And a morow, when Phebus shone ful clere,
So as the frosshe passyd therbesyde,
The mouse besought hym goodly to abyde,

Lad hym up to the myll alofte,
Shewyd hym the hoper, the trowgh and the myll stone,
On a corne sak made hym syt softe,
Seyde he shuld to dyner go anone,
Leyde afore hym greynes many oone.
To shewe him of gentylnes gret favoure
The second course he brought in mele and floure.

“See,” quoth the mowse,”thys ys a mery lyfe.
Here is my lordshyp and dominacion.
I lyve here esyly out of noyse and stryfe.
Thys cloos all hoole ys in my subjeccion.
Suffisaunce is my possessione.
As I have appetyte, I dyne late or sone,
For Gyb, the catte, hathe here nothyng to done.

“As me semeth, I am here right well easyd.
Better ys quyete, then troble with ryches.
A poreman that ys with lytyll plesyd
Laboreth truly, meneth no falsenes
And is sequestryd fro worldly besynes.
He may at nyght by many sondry preves
Meryly slepe for any fere of theves.

“Blessyd be poverté that causeth assurance,
Namely when gladnes doth hys brydyll lede.
What God sendeth, hit ys to theyr plesaunce,
Thanketh the lorde, grogeth for no nede.
As he fyndeth, theron he doth hym fede.
Thus am I content here in my householde
As well as Cresus was with all hys golde.

“Tresour of Mygdas medelyd was with drede,
Broke slepes, reft hym hys libertees.
The pore man slepeth fearelese, taketh noon hede
Who ryde or go; hys gatis open bee.
And I suppose, noman is more free
Nor more assuryd, to myne opynyon,
Then glad povert with small possession.

“Salomon wryteth howe hit ys bet by halfe
A lompe of brede with rejoysyng
Then at festis to have a rostyd calfe
With hevy chere, frownyng or grogyng.
Nature ys content with full lytell thyng.
As men seyen and reporte, at the leste,
Nat many deyntees, but good chere maketh a feste.

“Where a tyraunt hath power noon or myght
Ys sewre abydyng unto the porayll.
Diogenes was with hys tonne as lyght
As Alysaundre with all hys apparayll.
Thys lytyll mylle fynt me my vytayll;
I have therin as gret lust and joy
As king Priamus had in hys towne of Troy.

“The poreman mery in hys cotage
As ys the merchaunt in hys stuffyd house;
The plowman glad with bacon and potage
As in theyr paleyse byn prynces gloriouse.
And though that I be but a lyttell mouse,
There ys no lorde, mo castelles hath to kepe
Then I have hernes and hooles in to crepe.

“Abyde with me all nyght in thys mylle
That we togedyr may have our dalyaunce.
Of greyn and mele thou shalt have thy fylle.
When frendis mete ys joy and plesaunce.
At eve at soper we shall have a petaunce,
And when Aurora tomorow doth apere,
Or we departe, we shall dyne in fere.”

The ffrosshe answeryd and gan hys tale telle:/nobr>
“I have had here plente of vytayll;
Of fresshe lycour thys ys a baren mylle.
I prayse no feeste where good drynke doth fayll,
And what is worth all the apparayll
Of diverse deyntees to a mannys lust
When aftyr mete men gon awey a thrust?

“Good drynke at festes maketh all the chere,
Well sesenyd mete, of good drynke habundance.
Here fast by ys a brode ryvere
Whyche of fresshe watyr hath all suffisaunce.
Bacus, Thetis be causers of plesaunce
And, to discure the sentence of my thought,
Where they two fayle, I sey, the fest ys nought.”

They passyd forthe by a grene mede.
The sylver dew toward the mornyng
Hathe of the mowse soylyd so the wede
That he hath lost hys power of rennyng.
Thus were these wormes contrary of lyvyng:
The frosshe delyteth to abyde in mory lakys,
The mowse to fede hym on chese and tendyr cakys.

The mowse was wery with the frosshe to abyde,
But the frosshe with a false feynyd chere
Seyde to the mowse, “Yende on the other syde
Ys myne abydyng uppon the water clere.
Lat us go swymme over the ryvere,
And lyke as I have unto thee tolde,
Thou shalt abyde and see there my householde.”

The mowse answeryd, quakyng in hys drede,
“I have of swymyng noon experience.”
“No,” quod the frosshe,”I shall tey a threde
About thy nek by gret diligence.
The other ende shall for thy defence
At my leg sore be knyt behynde
Over the broke passage for to fynde.”

Thus gan the ffrosshe covertly to feyne
Of false fraude the lytell mowse to drowne.
The frosshe by swymmyng dyd hys besy peyne
To make the mowse lowe to plonge downe.
Forthe goth the frosshe, the mowse for fere gan sowne,
And in this whyle a kyte, or they toke hede
Raught hem bothe up hangyng by the threde

Fatte was the ffrosshe, the mowse sklender and lene;
The frosshe devouryd because of hys fatnes.
The threde tobrake, the mowse fell on the grene,
Fro dethe escapyd. The frosshe for hys falsnes
Gwerdon receveth of unkyndenes.
For conclusion clerkis put in mynde
Lawe and nature pleynyn on folke unkynde.


Of vyces all, shortly to conclude,
Ther ys no vyce in comparyson
To the vyce of ingratitude,
For hit ys worse then pestylence or poyson,
More to be drad, me semeth, of reson.
Preservatyf made for pestylence,
But agayn fraude may be no defence.

In thys fable for an exemplary,
For the party of pure innocence
The mowse ys but sympyll, nat contrary,
Where the frosshe by fraude and violence
Under colour of frendly dylygence
Was ever besy hys felow to encloy;
The cause out sought hit dyd hymsylf dystroy.

To a deceyvour by ryght, as hyt is founde,
Kynde requyreth in folkis fraudulent,
Where fraud is usyd, fraude mot rebounde,
Gwerdon for fraude most convenient,
For whyche Isopus in hys fynall entent
Thys fable wrote full sothly in his wyt:
Who useth fraude, with fraude shalbe quyt.


Weighed equally [against]
Whoever plots to; (see note)
compensation; dissimulation


public opinion; praise
Cloth; (t-note)



frog cruel; (t-note)

frog by

separated; (t-note)
(see note)

hopper (receptor for grain)

soon; (t-note)

enclosure entirely; (t-note)

has nothing to do with this place

proofs; (t-note)

bridle lead


(see note); (t-note)

Midas mixed; (see note)

(see note)

better; (see note)

(see note)

none, no
safe continuance; poor people
tun (barrel); cheerful; (see note); (t-note)
furnishes; food
delight; (t-note)
(see note)


hiding places


small meal
(see note)
Ere (Before); together


thirsty; (t-note)


(see note)
disclose; meaning; (t-note)


clothes; (t-note)
crawling creatures
moory (marshy)


tightly; knotted; (t-note)
brook (river)

made an intense effort

cry out
at that moment; kite (hawk); before

[was] devoured


find fault with



dreaded, it seems to me
A preventive medicine [can be]

as a model of conduct


Retribution; appropriate

shall be paid back; (t-note)

The Tale of the Hownde and the Shepe groundyd agen perjuré and false wytnes founde by Isopus














































The world made diverse by froward folkis tweyne,
By a false jorrour and a false wytnesse,
Horryble monstres enbrasyd in a cheyne
Trothe forto assayle and grevosly to oppresse,
Whyche forto clypse the lyght of ryghtwysnesse
Be nat aferde with hande put forthe toforn
Uppon a boke falsely to be forsworn.

With cancryd lyppes and with tung double
Twene ryght and wrong, forthe they woll procede
Ryghtfull causes to traverse and trouble
To be forsworn on a boke for mede,
Of conscience they take so lytell hede,
Whyche thyng to preve by exsaumples full notable
Of olde Isopus whylom wrote thys fable.

Havyng thys conceyte, set hit for a grounde,
By maner lyknes rehersyng in sentence.
He wrete ther was whylom a gret hounde
Whyche toke a quarell of hatefull violence
Agayns a shepe, simple of innocence,
Whyche stood alone voyde of all refuge
Constreynyd by force to apere afore a juge.

Agenst the sheepe, quakyng in his drede
Withouten support of any proctour,
This ravenous hound thus wrongely gan procede,
His tale aforsyng like a false jurrour
How he had lent the sheepe, hys neyghbour,
A large lofe his hunger to releve,
As he was redy by lawe for to preve.

And his quarel more to fortefye,
The sely shepe to bryng in distresse,
He affermed it and falsly did lye,
Towchyng his loff, that he of kyndenesse
Toke it the sheepe, whan he stoode in distresse
Of mortal hunger, whan plenté dide faile,
Likly to dye for lak of vitaile,

Straitly requyreng the juge in this matiere
To geve hym audience and to do hym right
By apparence shewyng ful sad chiere
As though he ment no falsnesse to no wyght.
The sely sheepe, astonyed in his sight,
Stoode abasshed ful like an innocence;
To help hym-self cowde fynde no diffence.

Towchyng the loff requyred by the hound,
With humble chiere the sheepe did it deny,
Sothly affermyng, levyng on this ground,
Unto this day he never on no party
No loff receyved, and loth he was to ly,
Prayeng the juge that he myght frely gon,
For other aunswer plainly cowde he none.

Quod the juge, The lawe thow must abide
Til there be goven sentence of jugement.
I may no favour do to nowther side
But atwene both stande indifferent,
As rightful juge of hert and hole intent,
Til I may se by lawe to make me strong
Whiche of the partyes have right or wrong.

“The lawe, first founde on a triew grounde,
May nat declyne from his stabilnesse.”
The juge, abraidyng, axed of the hound,
“Hastow,” quod he,”record or witnesse
This douteful cause to set in sikernesse
For to stynt al contraversy
Be triewe report of suche as wil nat ly?”

The hound answerd, “My cause is just and triewe,
And myself in law here for to aquyte,
I have brought two that the covenant knewe,
The faithful wolf, in trowth that doth delite,
And with hym comyth the gentil foule, the kyte,
Chose for the nones by report of theyr names,
As folke wele knowe that dredith sclaundre and shames.

“To offende trewth the wolf doth gretly drede,
He is so stidefast and triew of his nature.
The gentil kyte hath refused al falshede;
He had lever grete hunger to endure,
Lovyng no raveyn unto his pasture,
Thanne take a chykken, by record of writyng,
To his repast, or any goselyng.”

The hound, to accomplish thend of his entent
Agayn the shepe to susteyne his partye,
Witnesse tweyne brought in jugement:
The wolf, the puttock (that were ful loth to ly!),
And for to stynte the contraversy
Of this matier, they upon hem toke
To lay theyr hondis boldly upon a booke.

Mote they be hanged on high by the halse
Becawse they swore wetyngly untriewe.
The hound wele wiste his complaynt was false
The sheepe condempned, tristy and pale of hewe.
The twey witnesse, albe it they ne knewe
The matier false, rehersed here to-forn,
Yit drad they nat falsely to be forsworn.

Thus al thre were false by oon assent:
The hound, the wolf, and the cursid kyte.
The sheepe, allas, though he were innocent,
By doome compelled, as Isopos doth write.
To pay the loff, his dettis to acquyte;
Thus constrayned, the lawe dide hym compelle
At grete mischief his wynter flees to sell.

The ram of Colchos bare a flees of gold
Which was conquered manly by Jason,
But this sheepe, whan he his flees hath sold,
With cold constrayned, wynter cam upon,
Deyd at mischief; socour had he none.
Betwene the wolf and the puttock that nought were lost in veyne —
As myn auctour sayth, parted was the kareyne.

The sheepe thus deyd, his body al to-rent;
The ravenous wolf the kareyne did assaile,
The hound recovered his part by jugement,
The false kyte cast hym nat to faile
To have a repast upon his adventaile.
Thus in this world by extorcion veriliche
Poore folk be devoured alwey by the riche.

By examples, in stwes long and large
Of gret fish devoured bien the smale.
Hardy is the bote that stryvith agenst the barge.
To overpresse a pore man the riche set no tale.
A cloth sakke stuffid, shame it is to pike a male.
What nedith the see to borwe of smale rivers,
Or a grete barne to borow of strait garners?

Al such outrages and inconveniences
Takith origynal of pillage and ravyne.
An extorcioner, to amende his expences,
Can make the poore to bowe and declyne.
Lierne this proverbe, found of old doctryne:
“Suche as have no conscience of no maner wronges
Of other mennys ledir can kut ful large thonges.”

The shepe is ded, the puttock hath his part,
Joynt from joynt the wolf hath rent asunder,
The hounde by dome recovered hath his part.
Such false practik is used here and yonder:
The fiebler playneth, and that is litel wonder.
Al suche raveyne on poraile to theyr distresse
Beganne at false jurrours and at false witnesse.

To a false witnesse, record in Salamon,
Proverbiorum, three thynges bein compared:
A shrewd dart, an hoked arrow is oon,
All for the werre as it is declarid,
Yit under trety somtyme they be spared.
But a false witnesse hath this avantage:
With mowth infect alwey to do damage.

Agayne sharpe quarrels helpith a pavice;
Agayne arowes may be made defence.
And though a swerd be riche and of grete price,
Somtyme he sparith for to do offence.
But a false jurrour, by mortal violence,
Nat only causith men her bloode to shede,
But makith hem lese theyr life and goode for meede.

Ageyne verray poyson ordeyned is triacle,
As auctours sayne, by craft of medicyne,
But ageyn a jurrour there were no better obstacle
Than to geld hym yong, hys venym to declyne
That no false braunche myght spryng of his lyne,
For the nombre suffisith only of two or three
To enfecte a shyre or a grete contré.

It is remembred by record of auctours,
As writeth Holcot upon sapience,
How ther folwith three incomoditees
Of false forsweryng ageyn conscience:
First, rehersith this auctour in sentence,
Upon a booke whan a false jurrour
Forswerith hymself, he is to God a traytour.

Thereupon, this matier to conclude,
That false forsweryng is to God treason,
First he makith this simylitude:
That if a man withyn a regioun
Wold contrefete, by false collusioun,
The kynges seale, the people to begile,
What were he worthy to deye by civile?

And semblably, who can considre wele,
The name of God, ordeyned to impresse,
Is the signacle of the celestial seale.
Goven to al Cristen of trowth to bere witnesse,
And who that ever mysusith it in falsenesse,
Holcot affermyth it, for short conclusioun,
That he to God doth opinly treason.
Who with his hand the Holy Book doth towche
And to record takith Cristes name,
On holy writ, I dare me wele avowche,
If he swere falsely, gretely is to blame,
Hande of perjurye to his eternal shame.
God and His werkis he doth utterly forsake,
And to the fiend for ever he doth hym take.

In his preceptis, whiche that be devyne,
God bad man bere no false witnesse,
And of oure faith to folwe the doctryne.
Perjury is enemy to al rightwisnesse.
What man for lucre or for richesse
Wilbe forsworn, by sentence of clerkis,
Falsly forsakith God and al His werkis.

Who swerith by God, his hand leyd on a booke,
He causith God, auctours doth expresse,
Unto the record of the charge he toke,
In right or wronge, in trowth or in falsenesse,
To preve his oth Hym takith to witnesse.
If his causyng to make his party strong
Falsly concludith, he doth to God grete wrong.

Of perjurye the trespas is ful huge,
Wonder perilous in our Lordis sight.
For the jurrours first disseyvith the juge,
Causith his neyghburgh for to lese his right,
His conscience hurt, of grace blent the light,
As a renegat that hath the Lord forsake,
Lyke to be dampned, but he amendis make.

Isopos jurrours doth discryve,
Callith theym Arpies, houndes infernal,
With ravenous feete wynged to flee blyve,
Like to Carberos that receyvith al,
Gredy Tantalus whos hunger is nat smal,
And be suche people, who that takith kepe,
As sayth my auctour, devoured was the shepe.

Thus false forsweryng, frawde, and extorcioun
With false witnesse afore God be dampnable,
But if they make diew satisfaccioun
Thynges to restore, wherof they bien culpable.
And for such folkes Isopos wrote this fable,
To this intent that I have told aforn,
What peril it is falsly to be forsworn.

Late al false jurrours have this in mynde:
Remembre at shyres and at cessions,
Who is forsworn settith God behynde
And settith the fiend in ful possessioun
Of soule and body, under his dampnacioun,
Toforn his deth, but if he have repentaunce
Or make restitucioun or do som penaunce.


eclipse; righteousness
in front
(see note)


Long ago; once; (t-note)



legal representative

loaf [of bread]


Pertaining to
[to] the sheep

food (victals)

To let him be heard
very serious demeanor

[he] could

Truly; [as surely as he was] living; earth

he could not [give]



(see note)
speaking, asked
Have you
By; such [a witness]

for the occasion

would rather
stolen goods as his food

the end


May; neck
[was] condemned, sad



judgment [was]
pay back

suffering; fleece

(see note)

carrion (the sheep’s carcass)

torn apart

determined himself

fish ponds

oppress; have no concern about
[Once]A; [is] stuffed; steal from; wal

small granaries


decrease in prosperity

men’s leather; strips


poor people

recorded; Solomon; (see note)
[Book] of Proverbs



pavis (long body-covering shield)

lose; reward

true; antidote


(see note)


civil [law]

Given; Christians

commit himself






Harpies (see note)

(see note)
(see note)
by; pays attention



How the wollffe diseyvyd the crane; Isopus, translatyd by John Lydgate (t-note)






















In Isopos forther to proced,
Towchynge the vyce of unkyndnesse,
In this tretes a litel fabill I rede
Of engratytude, joynyd to falsenesse,
How that a wolff, of cursyd frowardnesse
Was to the crane, of malyce, as I fynde,
For a good torne falce founden and unkynd.

The fable is this: when bestes everychone
Held a feste and a solempnyté,
Ther was a wolffe strangled with a bone
And constrayned by grete adversyté,
Despeyred relyvyd for to be,
For remede playnly knew he none,
So depe downe enteryd was the bone.

Thorow all the cort surgons were sought
Yf eny were abydynge them amonge.
At the last the crane was forthe brought,
Bycaws his neke was slender, sharp, and longe,
To serche his throt where the bone stode wronge,
For which perlows occupacion
The wolff behyte hym a full grete guerdon.

The bone out browght by subtile delygence
Of the crane by crafft of surgery,
The court all hole being in presence,
Axid his rewarde and his solary.
The wolffe frowardly his promys gan deny,
Sayd it suffisith (and gan to make stryffe)
Out of his mouthe that he scapid with his lyffe.

The wolffe denyed that he had behyte
Sowght agayne hym froward occacion,
Seyd he had don hym grete unryght
And hym deseyvyd by fals colusion
Whan he his byll putte so low adowne
In his throt to pyke awey the bone.
Other reward of hym gett he none!

Caste on the crane a full cruell loke,
Withe opyn mouthe gan to approche nere.
“When thow,” quod he, “the sayd bone toke
Out of my throte, thow were in my daunger,
Thy sharpe beke, neke, eyen, and chere
Atwene my tethe, sharp, whet, and kene —
Thy lyffe in jubardy, the truthe was welle sene.

“At that tyme thy power was but small
Ageyne me to holde were or stryff,
For whiche thow art boundyn in speciall
To thanke me thow scapidest withe thy lyff
Owt of my jawes, sharper than file or knyff,
Stode desolate in many manar wyse,
Streyned in the bondes full narow of my fraunchyse.”

And semblably, makyng a false excuse
To pay theyr dewté unto the poraile,
Takyng ther service and labour to ther use,
Ever doutles to make them to travayle,
Yf they aught ax, tyrauntes them assayle
And of malys constreyne them so for drede,
They not so hardy of them to ax ther mede.

The tyraunt hathe possescions and riches;
The poure travelythe for meate, drynke, and fode.
The ryche dothe the laborar oppresse,
For hys labour denyethe hym his lyflode.
The lambe must suffre, the wolffes bene so wode.
A playne ensample declaryd how men done,
Shewde in the crane that plukkyd away the bone.

Prayer of princes is a commaundement
The poure obeyethe — they dare none other do.
Presept of tyrantes is so vyolent,
Whoevar say nay, nede it muste be so,
Hove they ther lust, they care for no mo.
The wolffe made holle, of very froward prede,
Sufferyd the crane rewardles to abyde.

The crane was chese to be a surgon
To save the wolffe, as ye have hard beforne,
Toke out the bone, whiche no man mighte sene,
Whiche thynge accomplyshyd, his labour he had lorne.
The wolffe made hym blow the bokks horne.
As it fallythe at preeffe, offt sithe
Fayr behestes makythe foles oftetyme blythe.

Isophus, the famous olde poyete,
This fable wrote for a memoryalle,
The accorde wherof unlykely and unmete
Atwene tyrauntes and folke that bene rurall.
The poure hath lytell, the extorssionar hathe all:
His body, hys lyffe, the laborar enpartythe;
The riche hathe all, and no thynge he departythe.

The morallyté of this tale out sowght,
The crane is lyke the folke that for drede
Travayll for tyrauntes and reseve nought
But fowll rebukes for fynall mede,
Thus connsellynge yow that this talle dothe rede,
Whill that yowr hond is in the wolffes mowthe,
Remembre that with tyrauntes merci is uncothe.

To pley withe tyraunts I holde it is no jape;
To oppres the poure they have no concience.
Fly frome daunger, yf ye may askape!
Thynke on the crane that dyd his delygence
To helpe the wolfe. But he do recompence
His kyndenes maneshed hym, as I fynde,
This tall applyinge agayn folke that be unkynde.1

Finis. John Lydgat, wryten by John Stow

literary work


celebration; (t-note)



promised; reward


[The crane] Asked; payment; (t-note)
boldly; denied; (t-note)


that [which]

[The wolf] Cast

eyes; face; (t-note)
jeopardy; (t-note)


kinds of ways
Constrained; generosity; (see note)

poor people


[The poor are] not worthy; recompense



Have; desires; more
made whole (cured); (t-note)

chosen; (t-note)

(see note)
befalls in evidence, many times
promises; fools; happy; (t-note)

reconciliation; unmatched

portions out


unknown; (t-note)

Unless [the wolf] does
[The crane’s]; menaced; (t-note)
(see note); (t-note)

[The Marriage of the Sun] (t-note)



















Agayne the vice also of tiranny
In oo contray or in on region
Oon is to mekil, poetis specifiye,
To wast and spoyle bi false extorcioun,
For whiche Isopos makith mencyoun,
Unto purpos bryngith in a fabil
To be rehersed, moral and notabil.

The tale is this, convynable and mete,
The moralité remembrid in sentence:
First in Cancro, whan Phebus takith his hete,
Inportable ful ofte is his fervence
That som while the persynge violence
Of his beames, oft or men take heede,
The soyle consumyth of herbe, grayne, and seede.

In somer season whan Phebus shadde his streames
The orasont clierly to enlumyne,
It so byfelle that with his fervent beames
On Tellus lordship brent up braunche and vyne,
Til a false lust his corage dide inclyne,
Causyng hym to fal in dotage
To wedde a wif, born of hie parage.

But for to procede for the comowne availe,
He hath his lettres and briefs sent
To goddis, goddessis, beyng of his counsaile,
Of erthe, of see, and of the firmament,
And Saturne ther to be present,
With Parchas sustren, that in the nombre thre
Ben callid of poetis spynners of destyné.

In this matier was grete contraversye
Atwene the goddes and goddesses of grete prise,
Towchyng this mariage and this straunge ally,
Whether they shal holde to shewe theyr devise,
Til it fel that a philosophre wise
Called Theofrast, a man ronne ferre in age,
Gaf sentence as towchyng this mariage.

Joyned with hym to gyve jugement
Of this alliaunce in especial
Were assigned by al the hole perlement
The Romayn poete Cocus Marcial,
Cloto, Lachesis, that spynne the threde smal,
And Antropos, withouten difference,
To gyve hereon a diffinytif sentence.

Among these owmperis was werre none ne stryf
But concludyd to accord, al beyng of assent,
That if so be that Phebus take a wyf
And procreacioun be unto hym sent,
By hys lynage therth shuld be brent.
This is to sayne that no erthely creature
Hete of two sunnes may nowhile endure.

Thus concludyng, it doth inow suffice
Unto heven oo sunne to shyne bright.
Twey sunnes were like in many wise
To brenne al the erth, by fervence of theyr myght,
And semblaly, whoso looke aright,
O myghti tiraunt suffisith in a shyre
Al the contrey for to sette afuyre.

If he have eyres for to succede,
Folowe theyr fader in successioun,
By tirauntry than are they more to drede
In theyr ravyne and extorcioun
By theyr counseil and false convencioun,
For multitude of robbers, where they gon,
Doth more damage, sothly, than doth oon.

Men may at the ie se a pref
Of this matere, old and yong of age:
Lasse is to drede the malice of oo thief
(So sayne merchauntis, ridyng in the viage).
But wher many on awaytith on the passage,
Ther standith the parell, as it is often sene,
By whiche example ye wote what I mene.

Oon ageyn oon may make resistence;
Oon ageyn many, the conquest is unkowth.
Nombre of tirauntis thurgh theyr violence
Pursweth the pore, both est and south.
Gredy wolfis that comyn with open mowth
Upon a folde, theyr nature can declare,
By experience, whether they wil hurt or spare.

By example of Phebus, as tofore is previd
By an unkowth moral for liknes,
Whereupon this fable was contryved
By Isopos, of grete advisenenesse,
Plainly to shewe and opinly to expresse,
If oo tiraunt the people may constrayne,
Than the malice is worse and damagith more of twayne.

(see note); (t-note)
one; (see note)
One is too many

appropriate; agreeable

Cancer; (see note)
So that at some times; piercing


(see note)
desire; spirit; influence

council (group of advisers)

(see note)
sisters; (see note)

withold; judgment
advanced far; (see note)

(see note)

(see note)

arbitrators; war

the earth; burned

very long

likely; ways

One; shire




eye; proof

many a one



[sheep] fold

above is proven
analogy, exemplum


Then the malice . . . of two

Here endith the sixth fable of Isopos, discolsyng what hurt or hyndryng tirauntis done where they may have power.
Thys ffable is of the hound that bare the chese, gronddyd on Isopus agaynst covetousness, translatyd by John Lydgat, made in Oxforde (see note)







An olde proverbe hathe bene sayd, and shall,
Towchynge the vyce of grete covetyce:
Who all covetythe, offt he losythe all,
Whereuppon Isophus dothe devyce
A morall fable, rehersyng in this wyse,
How a grete hownd over a bryge sqware
A large chese in his mouthe he bare.

Castynge his loke downe to the ryver
By apparence and fals yllusion,
As hym thought, a chese ther did apere
And was nought els but a reflexion
Of the chese in his posescion,
Wiche to cache, whan he dyd his payne,
Opynynge his mouthe, he lost bothe twayne.

By whiche exsample men may conceyve and lere
By experience prevyd in many place,
Who all covetythe faylyth offt in fere.
One man allone may not all purchace
Nor in armys all the worlde enbrace;
A meane is best withe good governaunce
To them that be content withe suffisaunce.

Ther is no man that lyvythe more at ease
Than he that can withe lytill be content.
Even contrary, he standithe evar in disseasse
That in his hert with covetyce is blent.
Withe suche fals etykes many a man is shent,
Lyke as the hownd, not content withe one chese,
Desyryd tweyne, bothe he dyd lese.



squared bridge; (t-note)


catch; utmost; (t-note)

proven; (t-note)
at the same time; (t-note)

[his] arms


consuming passions; ruined
lose; (t-note)