Who still doesn’t know this fable turned famous by La Fontaine?
Behind this age-old “animal story” lies an overlooked reality, namely that the world is often made of people who allow themselves to be manipulated, especially when the crafty manipulators flatter their ego to achieve that purpose.
The old French expression “Tirer les marrons du feu” (literally “to withdraw the chestnuts from the fire”) and the English “Cat’s paw” come originally from this old tale, which like many of La Fontaine’s fables find their sources in Greek, Arabic, Persian, Indian, and most likely even Chinese “myths and legends.”
♦ ”LE SINGE et le CHAT” (“The MONKEY and the CAT”):
Based on the translation of Frederick Colin Tilney.
Main picture above: Gustave Doré, 1867
Bertrand was un singe (a monkey) and Ratter was un chat (a cat.)
They shared the same dwelling and had the same master, and a pretty mischievous pair they were.
It was impossible to intimidate them. If anything was missed or spoilt, no one thought of blaming the other people in the house.
Bertrand stole all he could lay his mains (hands) upon, and as for Ratter, he gave more attention to le fromage (cheese) than he did to les souris (the mice.)
One day, in the chimney corner, these two fripons (rascals) sat watching some marrons (chestnuts) that were roasting before le feu (the fire.)
How jolly it would be to steal them they thought : doubly desirable, for it would not only be joy to themselves, but an annoyance to others.
“Brother”, said Bertrand to Ratter.
“Today, you shall achieve your master-stroke: You shall snatch some chestnuts out of the fire for me. Providence has not fitted me for that sort of game. If it had, I assure you chestnuts would have a fine time.”
Aussitôt fait que dit (no sooner said than done.)
Ratter delicately stirred the cinders with his paw, stretched out his claws two or three times to prepare for the stroke, and then adroitly whipped out first one, then two, then three of the chestnuts, whilst Bertrand crunched them up between his teeth.
Une servante vient (in came a servant), and there was an end of the [monkey!] business.
Farewell, ye rogues !
I am told that Ratter was by no means satisfied with the affair.
At which point, Lafontaine concludes with the following “real world” analogy:
Aussi, ne le sont pas la plupart de ces Princes
Qui, flattés d’un pareil emploi,
Vont s’échauder en des Provinces,
Pour le profit de quelque Roi!
And princes are equally dissatisfied when,
Flattered to be employed in any uncomfortable concern,
They burn their fingers in a distant province
For the profit of some king!