Peacock Plumes

fables of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 244
and other tales
about plain creatures in fancy dress
selected and edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2000-2020


  1. The Jay and the Peacock (Aesop).

  2. The Jackdaw and the Pigeons (Aesop).

  3. The Vain Jackdaw (Aesop).

  4. The Jay in the Feathers of the Peacock (Jean de La Fontaine).

  5. Jupiter and the Birds (Ambrose Bierce).

  6. The Painted Jackal (India).

  7. The Blue Jackal (Tibet).

  8. The Painted Jackal (Pakistan).

  9. The Jackal King (Kashmir).

  10. Links to related sites.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

The Jay and the Peacock


A jay venturing into a yard where peacocks used to walk, found there a number of feathers which had fallen from the peacocks when they were molting. He tied them all to his tail and strutted down towards the peacocks. When he came near them they soon discovered the cheat, and striding up to him pecked at him and plucked away his borrowed plumes. So the jay could do no better than go back to the other jays, who had watched his behavior from a distance. But they were equally annoyed with him, and told him, "It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds."

The Jackdaw and the Pigeons


A jackdaw, watching some pigeons in a farmyard, was filled with envy when he saw how well they were fed, and determined to disguise himself as one of them, in order to secure a share of the good things they enjoyed. So he painted himself white from head to foot and joined the flock. And, so long as he was silent, they never suspected that he was not a pigeon like themselves. But one day he was unwise enough to start chattering, when they at once saw through his disguise and pecked him so unmercifully that he was glad to escape and join his own kind again. But the other jackdaws did not recognize him in his white dress, and would not let him feed with them, but drove him away. And so he became a homeless wanderer for his pains.

The Vain Jackdaw


Jupiter announced that he intended to appoint a king over the birds, and named a day on which they were to appear before his throne, when he would select the most beautiful of them all to be their ruler. Wishing to look their best on the occasion they repaired to the banks of a stream, where they busied themselves in washing and preening their feathers. The jackdaw was there along with the rest, and realized that, with his ugly plumage, he would have no chance of being chosen as he was. So he waited till they were all gone, and then picked up the most gaudy of the feathers they had dropped, and fastened them about his own body, with the result that he looked gayer than any of them.

When the appointed day came, the birds assembled before Jupiter's throne; and, after passing them in review, he was about to make the jackdaw king, when all the rest set upon the king-elect, stripped him of his borrowed plumes, and exposed him for the jackdaw that he was.

The Jay in the Feathers of the Peacock

Jean de La Fontaine

A peacock moulted: soon a jay was seen
Bedeck'd with Argus tail of gold and green,
High strutting, with elated crest,
As much a peacock as the rest.
His trick was recognized and bruited,
His person jeer'd at, hiss'd, and hooted.
The peacock gentry flock'd together,
And pluck'd the fool of every feather.
Nay more, when back he sneak'd to join his race,
They shut their portals in his face.
There is another sort of jay,
The number of its legs the same,
Which makes of borrow'd plumes display,
And plagiary is its name.
But hush! the tribe I'll not offend;
'Tis not my work their ways to mend.

Jupiter and the Birds

Ambrose Bierce

Jupiter commanded all the birds to appear before him, so that he might choose the most beautiful to be their king. The ugly jackdaw, collecting all the fine feathers which had fallen from the other birds, attached them to his own body and appeared at the examination, looking very gay.

The other birds, recognising their own borrowed plumage, indignantly protested, and began to strip him.

"Hold!" said Jupiter; "this self-made bird has more sense than any of you. He is your king."

The Painted Jackal


A jackal had the habit of visiting the kitchens of several people at night and eating whatever it could find.

One day, in visiting the house of a dyer, it put its head into a deep vessel containing blue dye, and, finding the mixture was not good to eat, tried to get its head out again, but could not do so for some time. When at last it managed to escape, its head was dyed a beautiful dark blue color.

He ran away into the jungles, glad to escape, and unconscious of his strange appearance; but the other animals in the jungle thought some new animal had come, and were quite charmed, so that they created him their king.

They divided up all the wild creatures, and put their new king next to the jackals, so that when they cried out at nights, he cried too, and nobody found out that he was only a jackal.

But one day some young jackals made him angry, so he turned them out and ordered the wolves and foxes to remain nearest to him.

That night, when he began to cry and howl, it was at once discovered that he was only a jackal; so all the animals ran at him, bit him, and turned him out.

The Blue Jackal


In times long past there was a very greedy jackal, which used to roam in the forest, and even in places uninhabited by men. At length he made his way into the house of a dyer, and fell into an indigo vat. After he had escaped he lay down to sleep on a neighboring dunghill. Having tossed about thereon, so that his body became ever so unshapely, he jumped into the water. When he had come out, and had been exposed to the rays of the sun, he acquired the color of cyanite.

When the other jackals saw him, they dispersed and stood afar off, and asked, "Who are you? Where do you come from?"

He replied, "My name is Sataga, and I have been appointed king of the four-footed beasts by Sakra, the king of the gods."

The jackals considered that, as his body was of a color never before seen, this must be true, and they made all the four-footed beast acquainted with the fact.

The lions thought, "If someone is exalted above us and made the king of the beasts, we must go and carry this news to the chief of our band." So they told the news to the maned chief of their band, who dwelt in a certain hill district. He ordered the other beasts to go forth and find out whether any animal had seen this chieftain of the four-footed. So they betook themselves to where the jackal was, and made inquiries. And they perceived the jackal, like unto nothing ever seen before, surrounded by all the four-footed creatures except the lions. Then they returned to their chief and told him what they had seen. and he, when he had listened to them, betook himself, surrounded by the band of lions, to where the jackal was. The jackal, surrounded by many quadrupeds, rode along on an elephant, with the lions around him, and then the tigers and other quadrupeds. The jackals formed a circle round him at a greater distance.

Now the jackal's mother dwelt in a certain mountain ravine. Her son sent a jackal to her, and invited her to come, now that he had obtained the sovereign power.

She asked what was the nature of his surroundings.

The messenger replied, "The inner circle is formed of lions, tigers, and elephants, but the outer of jackals."

She said, "So much for things not following their proper order." She also said in verse:

I live here comfortably in the mountain ravine,
and amid cool waters enjoy my good fortune.
So long as he utters no jackal's cry,
the elephant will let him retain his prosperity.

The messenger jackal said to the jackals, "This king of the four-footed is only another jackal. I have seen his mother who dwells in such a such a mountain ravine."

They replied, "In that case we will test him and see whether he is a jackal or not."

Now it is according to the nature of things that jackals, if they hear a jackal howl without howling themselves, lose their hair. So the jackal, when he heard the other jackals lift up their voices, said to himself, "If I utter no cry, my hair will certainly fall off. But if I get off the elephant and then begin to howl, he will kill me. So I will lift up my voice where I am."

So soon as, sitting on the elephant, he began to lift up his voice, the elephant perceived that it was a jackal that was riding on his back, so he flung him off and trampled him underfoot.

A deity uttered this verse:

He who keeps at a distance
those who should be near,
and brings near those
who should be at a distance,
will be cast down,
as the jackal was by the elephant.

The Painted Jackal


A prowling jackal once fell into a large vessel full of dye.

When he returned home all his astonished friends said, "What has befallen you?"

He answered, with a curl of his tail, "Was there ever anything in the world so fine as I am? Look at me! Let no one ever presume to call me jackal again."

"What, then, are you to be called?" asked they.

"'Peacock. You will henceforth call me peacock," replied the jackal, strutting up and down in all the glory of sky-blue.

"But," said his friends, "a peacock can spread his tail magnificently. Can you spread your tail?"

"Well, no, I cannot quite do that," replied the jackal.

"And a peacock," continued they, "can make a fine melodious cry. Can you make a fine melodious cry?"

"It must be admitted," said the pretender, "that I cannot do that either."

"Then," retorted they, "it is quite evident that if you are not a jackal, neither are you a peacock." And they drove him out of their company.

The Jackal King


Once upon a time the jackals assembled together to elect a king for themselves. The lions had a king. The tigers had a king. The leopards had a king. The wolves had a king. The dogs and other animals had their kings. So they thought that they too ought to appoint one, who should be their chief, who should guide them in counsel and lead them forth to war.

"Elect your king," cried the old jackal, anxious to begin the meeting.

Whereupon all the jackals shouted, "You are our king! You are our king! You are our senior in age and superior in experience. Who is there so fit as yourself to rule over us?"

And the old jackal consented, and by way of distinction allowed his fur to be dyed blue, and an old broken winnowing fan to be fastened round his neck.

One day the king was walking about his dominions attended by a large number of his jackal subjects, when a tiger suddenly appeared and made a rush at them. The whole company fled and forgot their old king. His majesty tried to escape into a narrow cave, but alas, his head stuck in the hole, by reason of the winnowing fan that was around his neck. Seeing their leader thus, the tiger came and seized him and carried him away to his lair, where it fastened him by a rope so that he could not run away.

In a short while, however, the jackal king did escape and get back to his subjects, who again wished him to be their king and to reign over them.

But the jackal had had enough of it, and therefore replied, "No thank you. I am quite satisfied. Once being a king is quite sufficient for a man's lifetime.

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Revised January 6, 2020.