SIMONIDES RESCUED BY THE GODS. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

SIMONIDES RESCUED BY THE GODS. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

Three sorts of persons can′t he praised too much:
The Gods, the King, and her on whom we doat.
So said Malherbe, and well he said, for such
Are maxims wise, and worthy of all note.
Praise is beguiling, and disliked by none:
A lady′s favour it has often won.
Let′s see whate′en the gods have ere this done
To those who praised them. Once, the eulogy
Of a rough athlete was in verse essayed.
Simonides, the ice well broken, made
A plunge into a swamp of flattery.
The athlete′s parents were poor folk unknown;
The man mere lump of muscle and of bone—
No merit but his thews,
A barren subject for the muse.
The poet praised his hero all he could,
Then threw him by, as others would.
Castor and Pollux bringing on the stage,
He points out their example to such men,
And to all strugglers in whatever age;
Enumerates the places where they fought,
And why they vanished from our mortal ken.
In fact, two-thirds of all his song was fraught
With praise of them, page after page.
A Talent had the athlete guaranteed,
But when he read he grudged the meed,
And gave a third: frank was his jest,—
"Castor and Pollux pay the rest;
Celestial pair! they′ll see you righted,—
Still I will feast you with the best;
Sup with me, you will be delighted;
The guests are all select, you′ll see,
My parents, and friends loved by me;
Be thou, too, of the company."
Simonides consents, partly, perhaps, in fear
To lose, besides his due, the paltry praise.
He goes—they revel and discuss the cheer;
A merry night prepares for jovial days.
A servant enters, tells him at the door
Two men would see him, and without delay.
He leaves the table, not a bit the more
Do jaws and fingers cease their greedy play.
These two men were the Gemini he′d praised.
They thanked him for the homage he had paid;
Then, for reward, told him the while he stayed
The doom′d house would be rased,
And fall about the ears
Of the big boxer and his peers.
The prophecy came true—yes, every tittle;
Snap goes a pillar, thin and brittle.
The roof comes toppling down, and crashes
The feast—the cups, the flagons smashes.
Cupbearers are included in the fall;
Nor is that all:
To make the vengeance for the bard complete,
The athlete′s legs are broken too.
A beam snapped underneath his feet,
While half the guests exclaim,
"Lord help us! we are lame."
Fame, with her trumpet, heralds the affair;
Men cry, "A miracle!" and everywhere
They give twice over, without scoff or sneer,
To poet by the gods held dear.
No one of gentle birth but paid him well,
Of their ancestors′ deeds to nobly tell.

Let me return unto my text: it pays
The gods and kings to freely praise;
Melpomene, moreover, sometimes traffic makes
Of the ingenious trouble that she takes.
Our art deserves respect, and thus
The great do honour to themselves who honour us.
Olympus and Parnassus once, you see,
Were friends, and liked each other′s company.

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