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The Lion and the Mouse, illustrated by Milo Winter in a 1919 Aesop anthology

The Lion and the Mouse is an Aesop's fable. In the fable, a lion wants to eat a mouse who wakes him up. The mouse begs forgiveness and promises to return the favor if ever he is given the opportunity. He also makes the point that such unworthy prey as he should not stain the lion's great paws. The lion is moved to uncontrollable laughter and when he recovers, lets the mouse go, stating that he has not had such a good laugh in ages.

Later, the lion is captured by hunters and tied to a tree; the lion roars with all his might so that someone might help him. The mouse hears the lion's pleas and frees him by gnawing through the ropes. The moral of this story is stated in the last line of the fable:

Little friends may prove great friends.

"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted"

Another Aesop fable with a similar moral lesson concerns a slave who removes a thorn from a lion's paw, and the lion later comes to the slave's rescue.[1]

The story may have Ancient Egyptian roots. A nearly identical tale was told by Thoth to Hathor in one myth.

The Scottish poet, Robert Henryson, in a version of the fable that he made in the 1480s, expands the plea that the mouse makes and introduces serious themes of law, justice and politics. He made it the central poem in his Morall Fabillis.

Pop culture references

  • C.S. Lewis may have referenced the fable in a scene in his book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In that particular scene, the mythical lion Aslan, after sacrificing himself to gain the release of Edmund, is chewed free from the evil witch Jadis's restraining ropes by a team of mice. When Aslan was raised from the dead, the Narnian mice were made Talking Beasts.
  • In the Disney animated film The Rescuers, the all-mouse "Rescue Aid Society" was apparently founded by the mouse from this fable.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Blood Feud", Homer tells the story to Bart, but puts Hercules in place of the mouse.
  • One of Tom and Jerry cartoons, Jerry and the Lion, features Jerry trying to help an escaped lion from the zoo to get back to Africa.
  • Mickey's Young Readers Library printed a modernized adaptation titled Pluto and the Big Race. In the story, Pluto has difficult finding someone to play with him and ends up getting everyone mad at him, but in the end, finds Morty and Ferdie's missing box-car and helps them win a race with it.
  • Between the Lions seems to illustrate the concept of lions and mice as friends, with a family of lions having, as one of the family, a mouse named "Click"; a computer mouse anthropomorphized as a mouse (the animal). And the fable was even the subject of one episode, with Click becoming jealous of the mouse from the fable.
  • A cartoon of this fable was made for the PBS series, The Big Blue Marble, which follows the story exactly but then adds on an epilogue about the mouse falling into a trap and the lion refusing to help him.

See also


Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

The Lion and the Mouse
by Aesop


Caxton's translation (1484)

Of the lyon and of the rat /

The myghty and puyssaunt must pardonne and forgyue to the lytyll and feble / and ought to kepe hym fro al euylle / For oftyme the lytyll may welgyue ayde and help to the grete / wherof Esope reherceth to vs suche a fable Of a lyon whiche slepte in a forest and the rats disported and playd aboute hym / It happed that the rat wente vpon the lyon / wherfore the lyon awoke / and within his clawes or ongles he tooke the rat / And whanne the rat sawe hym thus taken & hold sayd thus to the lyon / My lord pardonne me / For of my deth nought ye shalle wynne / For I supposed not to haue done to yow ony harme ne displaysyre / Thenne thought the lyon in hym self that no worship ne glorye it were to put it to dethe / wherfor he graunted his pardone and lete hym go within a lytell whyle / After this it happed so that the same lyon was take at a grete trappe / And as he sawe hym thus caught and taken / he beganne to crye and make sorowe / And thenne whan the rat herd hym crye / he approched hym & demaunded of hym wherfor he cryed / And the lyon ansuerd to hym / Seest thow not how I am take and bound with this gynne / Thenne sayd the ratte to hym / My lord I wylle not be vnkynde / but euer I shal remembre the grace whiche thou hast done to me / And yf I can I shall now helpe the / The ratte beganne to byte the lace or cord / and so long he knawed it that the lace brake / And thus the lyon escaped /

Therfore this fable techeth vs how that a man myghty and puyssaunt ought to disprayse the lytyll / For somtyme he that can no body hurte ne lette may at a nede gyue help and ayde to the grete

L'Estrange's translation (1692)


Upon the roaring of a Beast in the Wood, a Mouse ran presently out to see what News: and what was it but a Lion hamper’d in a Net! This Accident brought to her mind, how that she her self, but some few Days before, had fall’n under the Paw of a certain generous Lion, that let her go again. Upon a strict Enquiry into the Matter, she found this to be that very Lion, and so set herself presently to work upon the Couplings of the Net, gnaw’d the Threads to pieces, and in Gratitude deliver’d her Preserver.

THE MORAL Without good Nature and Gratitude, Men had as good live in a Wilderness as in a Society. There is no Subject so inconsiderable, but his Prince, at some time or other may have occasion for him: and it holds through the whole Scale of the Creation, that the Great and Little have need one of another.

Townsend's translation (1887)

The Lion and the Mouse

A LION was awakened from sleep by a Mouse running over his face. Rising up angrily, he caught him and was about to kill him, when the Mouse piteously entreated, saying: 'If you would only spare my life, I would be sure to repay your kindness.' The Lion laughed and let him go. It happened shortly after this that the Lion was caught by some hunters, who bound him by strong ropes to the ground. The Mouse, recognizing his roar, came, gnawed the rope with his teeth, and set him free, exclaiming 'You ridiculed the idea of my ever being able to help you, expecting to receive from me any repayment of your favor; but now you know that it is possible for even a Mouse to confer benefits on a Lion.'

Jacobs' translation (1894)

The Lion and the Mouse

Once when a Lion was asleep a little Mouse began running up and down upon him; this soon wakened the Lion, who placed his huge paw upon him, and opened his big jaws to swallow him. "Pardon, O King," cried the little Mouse: "forgive me this time, I shall never forget it: who knows but what I may be able to do you a turn some of these days?" The Lion was so tickled at the idea of the Mouse being able to help him, that he lifted up his paw and let him go. Some time after the Lion was caught in a trap, and the hunters who desired to carry him alive to the King, tied him to a tree while they went in search of a waggon to carry him on. Just then the little Mouse happened to pass by, and seeing the sad plight in which the Lion was, went up to him and soon gnawed away the ropes that bound the King of the Beasts. "Was I not right?" said the little Mouse.

Little friends may prove great friends.


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