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La Fontaine’s Fable: “Le Lièvre et la Tortue” (The Hare and the Tortoise) Posted by on Jul 11, 2012 in Culture, Vocabulary

This non-exclusively French fable is about one of the most famous running races that ever took place in the history of the world—and probably the most unlikely!

Most bookmakers didn’t think twice before picking their winner, between the overconfident “fast and furious” lièvre (hare) and the “slow and steady” tortue (tortoise.)

Le Lièvre et la Tortue (The Hare and the Tortoise) is the tenth fable of the 6th Book of Jean de la Fontaine, in his Fables compendium, published for the first time in 1668, during the reign of the “Sun King”, Louis XIV.

We know that La Fontaine was inspired by the Greek writer Aesop, considered the father of fable genre.

Other La Fontaine’s fables, such as le Corbeau et le Renard (The Crow and the Fox) are largely indebted to the “Kalila wa Dminah” stories, translated in Arabic from Persian by Al-Muqaffa’, which were in turn borrowed from the ancient Indian collection of fables “Panchatantra“, known in Europe as the “Fables of Bidpai” (sometimes spelled “Pilpai”), or the “Morall Philosophie of Doni“, which were published in England a few decades before the birth of La Fontaine.

Walt Disney’s 1935 famous cartoon adaptation of the fable

Aesop‘s “Hare and Tortoise” (Translated by George Fyler Townsend, 1867)

The Hare and the Tortoise

“A Hare one day ridiculed the short feet and slow pace of the Tortoise, who replied, laughing: “Though you be swift as the wind, I will beat you in a race.” The Hare, believing her assertion to be simply impossible, assented to the proposal; and they agreed that the Fox should choose the course and fix the goal. On the day appointed for the race the two started together. The Tortoise never for a moment stopped, but went on with a slow but steady pace straight to the end of the course. The Hare, lying down by the wayside, fell fast asleep. At last waking up, and moving as fast as he could, he saw the Tortoise had reached the goal, and was comfortably dozing after her fatigue.

Slow but steady wins the race.”

La Fontaine’s Fable:

Rien ne sert de courir; il faut partir à point!
Le lièvre et la tortue en sont un témoignage.
«Gageons, dit celle-ci, que vous n’atteindrez point
Sitôt que moi ce but. – Sitôt? Êtes-vous sage ?
            Repartit l’animal léger :
            Ma commère, il vous faut purger
            Avec quatre grains d’ellébore.)
            – Sage ou non, je parie encore.”
            Ainsi fut fait; et de tous deux
            On mit près du but les enjeux :
            Savoir quoi, ce n’est pas l’affaire,
            Ni de quel juge l’on convint.
Notre lièvre n’avait que quatre pas à faire,
J’entends de ceux qu’il fait lorsque, prêt d’être atteint,
Il s’éloigne des chiens, les renvoie aux calendes,
            Et leur fait arpenter les landes.
Ayant, dis-je, du temps de reste pour brouter,
            Pour dormir et pour écouter
        D’où vient le vent, il laisse la tortue
            Aller son train de sénateur.
            Elle part, elle s’évertue,
            Elle se hâte avec lenteur.
Lui cependant méprise une telle victoire,
            Tient la gageure à peu de gloire,
            Croit qu’il y a de son honneur
        De partir tard. Il broute, il se repose,
            Il s’amuse à toute autre chose
        Qu’à la gageure. A la fin, quand il vit
Que l’autre touchait presque au bout de la carrière,
Il partit comme un trait; mais les élans qu’il fit
Furent vains : la tortue arriva la première.
“Eh bien! lui cria-t-elle, avais-je pas raison ?
            De quoi vous sert votre vitesse ?
            Moi l’emporter! et que serait-ce
            Si vous portiez une maison ?”

La Fontaine en chansons: “le Lièvre et la Tortue

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