The Bear & the Travelers

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Bear and the Travelers is a fable attributed to Aesop, number 65 in the classification established by Perry.[1] It is one of a number of the fables which feature only a single animal figure in its “story”, such as for example, “The Fox and the Grapes“.

“The Bear and the Travelers” illustrated by Milo Winter in a 1919 Aesop anthology

The tale is one of those educators recommend for teaching young children about moral values.[2] A number of translations exist for this short fable. One modern English translation runs thus:

Two Fellows were travelling together through a wood, when a Bear rushed out upon them. One of the travellers happened to be in front, and he seized hold of the branch of a tree, and hid himself among the leaves. The other, seeing no help for it, threw himself flat down upon the ground, with his face in the dust. The Bear, coming up to him, put his muzzle close to his ear, and sniffed and sniffed. But at last with a growl he shook his head and slouched off, for bears will not touch dead meat. Then the fellow in the tree came down to his comrade, and, laughing, said “What was it that Master Bruin whispered to you?” “He told me,” said the other, “Never trust a friend who deserts you at a pinch.”

Fables of Aesop, translated by Joseph Jacobs, Schocken Books, (1894)
In the story, a traveler feigns death to evade injury. Feigning illness is a core plot element in several of the fables.[3] Author and San Francisco Examiner journalist Allen Kelly, writing in 1903, examines the idea of ‘playing dead’ to evade injury when confronted by a bear. Highlighting the fable, he explains the belief has some truth to it—the bear, detecting no threat, wanders off leaving the person unharmed.[4]

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