Jean de La Fontaine

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I of animals make choice that men may get instruction from their voice.

Jean de La Fontaine (July 8 1621April 13 1695) is a famous French fabulist and the most widely read French poet of the 17th century.


History some truths contains, which well may serve for lessons.
  • People must help one another; it is nature's law.
    • "L'Ane et le Chien", as quoted in On a Darkling Plain (1995) by Richard Lee Byers, p. 94.
  • Everyone calls himself a friend, but only a fool relies on it; nothing is commoner than the name, nothing rarer than the thing.
    • "Parole de Socrate", as quoted in The Wordsworth Book of Humorous Quotations (1998), edited by C. Robertson
  • Everyone believes very easily whatever they fear or desire.
    • As quoted in Subcontact : Slap the Face of Fear and Wake Up Your Subconscious‎ (2001) by Dian Benson, p. 149
    • Variant: Everyone believes very easily whatever he fears or desires.
  • To live lightheartedly but not recklessly; to be gay without being boisterous; to be courageous without being bold; to show trust and cheerful resignation without fatalism — this is the art of living.
    • As quoted in From Grandmother with Love (2005) by Becky Kelly and Patrick Regan, p. 53.
  • We then saw what St. Jerome said of those who serve God and those who serve the world: "Each to the other we seem insane": Invicem insanire videmur. There is a never-ending duel between the two.
    • Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire de Port-Royal (1752), as cited by M. A. Screech in Laughter at the Foot of the Cross (1997), p. 69

Fables (1668–1679)[edit]

Book I[edit]

  • L'histoire, encore que mensongère,
    Contient des vérités qui servent de leçons.
    Tout parle en mon ouvrage, et même les poissons.
    Ce qu'ils disent s'adresse à tout tant que nous sommes;
    Je me sers d'animaux pour instruire les hommes.
    • History some truths contains, which well may serve
      For lessons.
      In my work you will observe
      Ev'ry thing speaks — yea e'en the very fish —
      And what they say, to ev'ry man a dish
      Serves up; and I of animals make choice
      That men may get instruction from their voice.
    • Book I (1668), Dedication "To Monseigneur the Dauphin".
  • Je vais t'entretenir de moindres aventures,
    Te tracer en ces vers de légères peintures;
    Et si de t'agréer je n'emporte le prix,
    J'aurai du moins d'honneur de l'avoir entrepris.
    • For thee I'll trace in verses which I write
      Some sketches, paintings which indeed are light,
      And if the prize of pleasing thee I do not bear away,
      At least, the honour I shall have of having tried I say.
    • Book I (1668), Dedication "To Monseigneur the Dauphin".
  • La fourmi n'est pas prêteuse;
    C'est là son moindre défaut.
    • The ant is no lender; that is the least of her faults.
    • Book I (1668), fable 1.
  • Apprenez que tout flatteur
    Vit aux dépens de celui qui l'écoute.
    • Be advised that all flatterers live at the expense of those who listen to them.
    • Book I (1668), fable 2. Variant translations: Learn now that every flatterer lives at the cost of those who give him credit.
      In exchange for your cheese I will give you a piece of advice for the future — Do not trust flatterers.
      Every flatterer lives at the expense of him who listens to him.
The opinion of the strongest is always the best.
  • Nous n'écoutons d'instincts que ceux qui sont les nôtres,
    Et ne croyons le mal que quand il est venu.
    • 'Tis thus we heed no instincts but our own;
      Believe no evil till the evil's done.
    • Book I (1668), fable 8.
  • La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure.
    • The opinion of the strongest is always the best.
    • Variant: The argument of the strongest is always the best.
    • Book I (1668), fable 10 (The Wolf and the Lamb).
  • Plutôt souffrir que mourir,
    C'est la devise des hommes.
    • Better to suffer than to die: that is mankind's motto.
    • Variant: Rather suffer than die is man's motto.
    • Book I (1668), fable 16.
  • A l'oeuvre on connaît l'artisan.
    • By the work one knows the workman.
    • Book I (1668), fable 21 (The Hornets And The Bees)
    • Variant: The artist by his work is known.
  • Je plie, et ne romps pas.
    • I bend but do not break.
    • Book I (1668), fable 22.

Book II[edit]

  • Les délicats sont malheureux:
    Rien ne saurait les satisfaire.
    • The fastidious are unfortunate; nothing satisfies them.
    • Book II (1668), fable 1.
Patience and time do more than strength or passion.
  • Il faut, autant qu'on peut, obliger tout le monde:
    On a souvent besoin d'un plus petit que soi.
    • One should oblige everyone to the extent of one's ability. One often needs someone smaller than oneself.
    • Variant: One often has need of one inferior to himself.
    • Book II (1668), fable 11.
  • Patience et longueur de temps
    Font plus que force ni que rage.
    • Patience and time do more than strength or passion.
    • Book II (1668), fable 11.
  • C'est double plaisir de tromper le trompeur.
    • It is a double pleasure to deceive the deceiver.
    • Book II (1668), fable 15 (The Cock and the Fox).
    • Variant: It is twice the pleasure to deceive the deceiver.

Book III[edit]

  • [On] est bien fou de cerveau
    Qui prétend contenter tout le monde et son père.
    • It is impossible to please all the world and one's father.
    • Book III (1668), fable 1.
  • En toute chose il faut considérer la fin.
    • In everything one must consider the end.
    • Book III (1668), fable 5 (The Fox and the Gnat).

Book IV[edit]

  • Amour est un étrange maître!
    Heureux qui peut ne le connaître
    Que par récit, lui ni ses coups!
    • Love is a cruel conqueror.
      Happy is he who knows him through stories
      And not by his blows!
    • Book IV (1668), fable 1 (Le lion amoureux).
  • ... ’argent vient-il comme il s’en va ?
    Je n’y touchois jamais. Dites-moy donc de grace,
    Reprit l’autre, pourquoy vous vous affligez tant,
    Puiſque vous ne touchiez jamais à cet argent :
    Mettez une pierre à la place,
    Elle vous vaudra tout autant.
    • ... a wise man knows
      Gold comes but slowly, quickly goes;
      I never touched it." "Gracious me!"
      Replied the other, "why, then, be
      So wretched? for if you say true,
      You never touched it, plain the case;
      Put back that stone upon the place,
      'Twill be the very same to you."
    • Book IV (1668), fable 20 (L’Avare qui a perdu ſon treſor.).

Book V[edit]

  • Il n'est rien d'inutile aux personnes de sens.
    • There's nothing useless to a man of sense.
    • Book V (1668), fable 19.
Dressed in the lion's skin, the ass spread terror far and wide.
  • Il ne faut jamais
    Vendre la peau de l'ours qu'on ne l'ait mis par terre.
    • Never sell the bear's skin before one has killed the beast.
    • Book V (1668), fable 20.
  • De la peau du lion l'âne s'étant vêtu,
    Était craint partout à la ronde.
    • Dressed in the lion's skin, the ass spread terror far and wide.
    • Book V (1668), fable 21.

Book VI-[edit]

Beware, as long as you live, of judging people by appearances.
  • Garde-toi, tant que tu vivras,
    De juger les gens sur la mine.
    • Beware, as long as you live, of judging people by appearances.
    • Book VI (1668), fable 5.
  • Rien ne sert de courir; il faut partir à point.
    • To win a race, the swiftness of a dart availeth not without a timely start.
    • Book VI (1668), fable 10.
  • Aide-toi, le ciel t'aidera.
    • Help thyself and Heaven will help thee.
    • Book VI (1668), fable 17.
  • Sur les ailes du Temps la tristesse s'envole.
    • On the wings of Time grief flies away.
    • Variant: Sadness flies away on the wings of time.
    • Book VI (1668), fable 21.
  • The fly of the coach.
    • Book VII (1678–1679), fable 9.
  • L’enseigne fait la chalandise.
    • The sign brings customers.
    • Book VII (1678–1679), fable 16 (The Fortune-Tellers).
  • Plus fait douceur que violence.
    • Kindness effects more than severity.
    • Book VI (1678-1679), fable 3.
  • La mort ne surprend point le sage:
    Il est toujours prêt à partir.
    • Death never takes the wise man by surprise, he is always ready to go.
    • Book VIII (1678-1679), fable 1.
  • Rien ne pèse tant qu'un secret.
    • Nothing weighs on us so heavily as a secret.
    • Book VIII (1678-1679), fable 6.
  • Rien n'est si dangereux qu'un ignorant ami;
    Mieux vaudrait un sage ennemi.
    • Nothing is as dangerous as an ignorant friend; a wise enemy is to be preferred.
    • Variant: Nothing is more dangerous than a friend without discretion; even a prudent enemy is preferable.
    • Book VIII (1678-1679), fable 10.
  • On rencontre sa destinée
    Souvent par des chemins qu’on prend pour l’éviter.
    • Our destiny is frequently met in the very paths we take to avoid it.
    • Book VIII (1678–1679), fable 16 (The Horoscope)
    • Variant: A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.
  • Laissez dire les sots: le savoir a son prix.
    • Let ignorance talk as it will, learning has its value.
    • Book VIII (1678-1679), fable 19 (The Use of Knowledge).
Man is so made that when anything fires his soul, impossibilities vanish.
  • Les gens sans bruit sont dangereux.
    • People who make no noise are dangerous.
    • Book VIII (1678–1679), fable 23.
  • L'homme est ainsi bâti: Quand un sujet l'enflamme
    L'impossibilité disparaît à son âme.
    • Man is so made that when anything fires his soul, impossibilities vanish.
    • Book VIII (1678-1679), fable 25.
  • Il connaît l’univers, et ne se connaît pas.
    • He knows the universe, and himself he does not know.
    • Book VIII (1678–1679), fable 26.
  • Ventre affamé n'a point d'oreilles.
    • A hungry stomach cannot hear.
    • Book IX (1678–1679), fable 18.
  • No path of flowers leads to glory.
    • Book X, fable 14; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • "They are too green", he said, "and only good for fools".
    • The Fox and the Grapes, fable 11; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).


  • We must laugh before we are happy, for fear we die before we laugh at all.

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