The Hen and The Swallow

A Hen sat on eggs in am abandoned viper’s nest. A Swallow called her out asking why she would be incubating the eggs of a mortal enemy. Good question!

A good natured man will often assist his own destruction.

Townsend VersionTownsend version

A hen finding the eggs of a viper and carefully keeping them warm, nourished them into life. A Swallow, observing what she had done, said, “You silly creature! why have you hatched these vipers which, when they shall have grown, will inflict injury on all, beginning with yourself?’

JBR CollectionJBR Collection

There was once a foolish Hen, that sat brooding upon a nest of Snakes’ eggs. A Swallow perceiving it, flew to her, and told her what danger she was in. “Be assured,” said she, “you are hatching your own destruction. The moment these young ones see the light, they will turn and wreak their venomous spite upon you.”

Samuel CroxallSamuel Croxall

Croxall - Hen and SwallowA HEN finding some Serpents eggs in a dunghill, sat upon them, with a design to hatch them. A swallow perceiving it, flew towards her, and with some warmth and passion: Are you mad, says she, to sit hovering over a brood of such pernicious creatures, as you do? Be assured, the moment you bring them to light, you are the first they will attack, and wreak their venomous spite upon.


This fable is only to put us in mind, once more, of what we have already, more than once, met with in the course of these fables, that we should never have any thing to do with ill men: no, not even to do them kindnesses. Men of ill principles are a generation of vipers, that ought to be crushed under our feet, and destroyed the first opportunity. Every rogue should be look upon by honest men as a poisonous serpent. It is not sufficient that they avoid and keep clear of him; but, if they have any value for their own safety, they should prosecute and maul him, and render him incapable of ever doing mischief. The man who is occasionally or by accident, one’s enemy, may be mollified by kindness and reclaimed by good usage: such a behaviour, reason and morality both expect from us. But we should ever resolve, if not to suppress, at least to have no dealings with those, whose blood is tinctured with hereditary, habitual villany, and their nature leavened with evil, to such a degree, as to be incapable of a reformation.

L'Estrange VersionL’Estrange version

There was a foolish hen that sat brooding upon a nest of snakes eggs. A swallow, that observ’d it, went and told her the danger on’t. Little do you think, says she, what you are at this instant a doing, and that you are just now hatching your own destruction; for this good office will be your ruine.


‘Tis the hard fortune of many a good natur’d man to breed up a bird to peck out his own eyes, in despite of all cautions to the contrary.

1001Gallina et Ova Serpentis

Gallina reperta ova serpentis coepit studiose incubando fovere ut pullos excluderet. Hoc agentem conspicata, hirundo “Stulta!” inquit; “cur in hoc fetu educando operam ponis, qui eductus in te primum omnium iniuriosus est futurus?”

Perry #192