Wednesday, May 30, 2007


The Fox and the Grapes

Aesop 32A Chambry:
A famished fox, when she saw grapes hanging from a vine, wanted to reach them and could not. Going away, she said to herself, "They are unripe grapes."
Varro, On Rustic Topics 1.8 (tr. by "a Virginia farmer"), also mentions foxes and grapes:
The least expensive kind of a vineyard is that which brings wine to the jug without the aid of any sort of prop. There are two of this kind, one in which the earth serves as a bed for the grapes, as in many places in Asia, and where usually the foxes share the crop with man....
Aesop was supposed to be a slave from Phrygia in Asia Minor, and some (including the "Virginia farmer" in a footnote) think the fable of the fox and the grapes reflects Asiatic agricultural practices: the fox, accustomed to grapes growing low on the ground, was frustrated when she first encountered them growing high on a trellis beyond her reach.

However that may be, foxes were the bane of ancient farmers who grew grapes, as the following passages attest.

Aristophanes, Knights 1076-77 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
Soldiers are like fox cubs because they eat grapes in the farmlands.
Song of Songs 2.15:
Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.
Theocritus 1.48-49 (describing an embossed cup, tr. A.S.F. Gow):
About him hang two foxes, and one goes to and fro among the vine-rows plundering the ripe grapes.
Theocritus 5.112-13 (tr. A.S.F. Gow):
I hate the foxes with their busy tails that come ever at evening and plunder Micon's vineyard.
Alciphron, 3.22 (Polyalsus to Eustaphylus, tr. anon.):
I set a trap for those confounded foxes, and hung some pieces of meat on the trap. They ravaged my vines, and, not content with picking a few grapes, carried off whole bunches and pulled up the plants.
There is a variety of grape known as the fox grape (Vitis vulpina).

Thoreau (Journal, Sept. 23, 1860) noted the omnivirous fox's diet, which included huckleberries as well as small animals:
I see on the top of the Cliffs to-day the dung of a fox, consisting of fur, with part of the jaw and one of the long rodent teeth of a woodchuck in it, and the rest of it huckleberry seeds with some whole berries. I saw exactly the same beyond Goose Pond a few days ago, on a rock,--except that the tooth (a curved rodent) was much smaller, probably of a mouse. It is evident, then, that the fox eats huckleberries and so contributes very much to the dispersion of this shrub, for there were a number of entire berries in its dung,--in both the last two I chanced to notice. To spread these seeds, Nature employs not only a great many birds but this restless ranger the fox. Like ourselves, he likes two courses, rabbit and huckleberries.
And grapes, if he can reach them.

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