The Scorpion and the Tortoise

and other folktales about unnatural partnerships

edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1999


  1. The Scorpion and the Tortoise (Bidpai).
  2. The Mouse, the Frog, and the Hawk (Aesop).
  3. The Frog and the Rat (Jean de La Fontaine).

Return to: Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts.

The Scorpion and the Tortoise


A scorpion and a tortoise became such fast friends that they took a vow that they would never separate. So when it happened that one of them was obliged to leave his native land, the other promised to go with him. They had traveled only a short distance when they came to a wide river. The scorpion was now greatly troubled.

"Alas," he said, "you, my friend, can easily swim, but how can a poor scorpion like me ever get across this stream?"

"Never fear," replied the tortoise; "only place yourself squarely on my broad back and I will carry you safely over."

No sooner was the scorpion settled on the tortoise's broad back, than the tortoise crawled into the water and began to swim. Halfway across he was startled by a strange rapping on his back, which made him ask the scorpion what he was doing.

"Doing?" answered the scorpion. "I am whetting my sting to see if it is possible to pierce your hard shell."

"Ungrateful friend," responded the tortoise, "it is well that I have it in my power both to save myself and to punish you as you deserve." And straightway he sank his back below the surface and shook off the scorpion into the water.

The Mouse, the Frog, and the Hawk


A mouse and a frog struck up a friendship. They were not well mated, for the mouse lived entirely on land, while the frog was equally at home on land or in the water. In order that they might never be separated, the frog tied himself and the mouse together by the leg with a piece of thread. As long as they kept on dry land all went fairly well; but, coming to the edge of a pool, the frog jumped in, taking the mouse with him, and began swimming about and croaking with pleasure. The unhappy mouse, however, was soon drowned, and floated about on the surface in the wake of the frog. There he was spied by a hawk, who pounced down on him and seized him in his talons. The frog was unable to loose the knot which bound him to the mouse, and thus was carried off along with him and eaten by the hawk.

The Frog and the Rat

Jean de La Fontaine

Merlin said well, that those who often cheat
Will sometimes cheat themselves -- the phrase is old.
I'm sorry that it is, I must repeat,
It's full of energy, and sound as gold.

But to my story: Once a well fed rat,
Rotund and wealthy, plump and fat,
Not knowing either Fast or Lent,
Lounging beside a marsh pool went.

A frog addressed him in the frog's own tongue,
And asked him home to dinner civilly.
No need to make the invitation long.
He spoke, however, of the things he'd see:
The pleasant bath, worth curiosity;
The novelties along the marsh's shore,
The score and score
Of spots of beauty, manners of the races,
The government of various places,
Some day he would recount with glee
Unto his youthful progeny.

One thing alone the gallant vexed,
And his adventurous soul perplexed;
He swam but little, and he needed aid.

The friendly frog was undismayed;
His paw to hers she strongly tied,
And then they started side by side.

The hostess towed her frightened guest
Quick to the bottom of the lake --
Perfidious breach of law of nations --
All promises she faithless breaks,
And sinks her friend to make fresh rations.
Already did her appetite
Dwell on the morsel with delight,

He prays the gods; she mocks his woe;
He struggles up; she pulls below.

And while this combat is fought out,
A kite that's seeking all about
Sees the poor rat that's like to drown;
And pounces swift as lightning down.

The frog tied to him, by the way,
Also became the glad kite's prey;
They gave him all that he could wish,
A supper both of meat and fish.

So oftentimes a base deceit
Falls back upon the father cheat;
So oftentimes doth perfidy
Return with triple usury.

Return to: Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts.

Revised July 13, 1999.