It is useless attacking the insensible. A viper (or snake), in vain, attempts to bite a steel file.
It is useless attacking the insensible.
[The Townsend version of this fable substitutes a lion for a viper which may be a mistranslation or error.]
A Serpent in the course of its wanderings came into an armourer’s shop. As he glided over the floor he felt his skin pricked by a file lying there. In a rage he turned round upon it and tried to dart his fangs into it; but he could do no harm to heavy iron and had soon to give over his wrath.
A VIPER entering a smith’s shop, looked up and down for something to eat; and, seeing a File, fell to gnawing it as greedily as could be. The File told him, very gruffly, That he had best be quiet and let him alone; for he would get very little by nibbling at one, who, upon occasion, could bite iron and steel.
By this fable we are cautioned to consider what any person is, before we make an attack upon him, after any manner whatsoever: particularly how we let our tongues slip in censuring the actions of those who are, in the opinion of the world, not only of an unquestioned reputation, so that nobody will believe what we insinuate against them; but of such an influence, upon account of their own veracity, that the least word from them would ruin our credit to all intents and purposes. If wit be the case, and we have a satirical vein, which, at certain periods must have a flow, let us be cautious at whom we level it; for, if the person’s understanding be of better proof than our own, all our ingenious sallies, like liquor squirted against the wind, will recoil back upon our own faces, and make us the ridicule of every spectator. This fable, besides, is not an improper emblem of envy; which, rather than not bite at all, will fall foul where it can hurt nothing but itself.
Thomas Bewick (The Viper and The File)
A Viper having entered a smith’s shop, looked up and down for something to eat; when, casting his eye upon a file, he greedily seized upon it, and fell to gnawing it with his teeth. After he had spent some time in his attempts to devour it, the File told him very gruffly, that he had better be quiet and let him alone; for he would get very little by nibbling at one who, upon occasion, could bite iron and steel.
This Fable is levelled at those spiteful people who take so malignant a pleasure in the design of hurting others, as not to feel and understand that they hurt only themselves; and at those who are blinded by envy, which prompts them rather than not bite at all, to fall foul where they cannot expect their nibbling will meet with any thing but disappointment, as every one must who is biting at that which is too hard for his teeth. Thus it is that spite and malignity, which are twin brothers, and the offspring of envy, are, as well as their parent, their own tormentors. They intend that the wounds they inflict should be deadly, and the greatest wits and brightest characters in all ages have been the objects of their attacks; but the brilliancy of truth and justice at length shines forth, and shews the deformity of such characters in the clearest light. Other people, of the same character and disposition, though of minor consideration indeed, ought not to be passed over unnoticed. These may be called nibblers, who let their tongues slip very freely, in censuring the actions of persons who, in the esteem of the world, are of such an unquestionable reputation, that nobody will believe what is insinuated against them, and of such influence through their own veracity, that the least word from them would ruin the credit of such adversaries to all intents and purposes. The efforts of little villains of this stamp, like dirty liquor squirted against the wind, recoil back and bespatter their own faces; or like the shades of a picture, serve to set off the brilliant tints of the opposite virtues, which support and adorn society.
A lion [Viper?], entering the workshop of a smith, sought from the tools the means of satisfying his hunger. He more particularly addressed himself to a File, and asked of him the favor of a meal. The File replied, “You must indeed be a simple-minded fellow if you expect to get anything from me, who am accustomed to take from everyone, and never to give anything in return.”
A Viper enter a smith’s shop, and looked up and down for something to eat. He settled at last upon a File, and began to gnaw it greedily. “Bite away,” said the File gruffly, “you’ll get little form me. It is my business to take from all and give to none.”
There was a snake got into a smith’s shop, and fell to licking of a file. She saw the file bloudy, and still the bloudyer it was, the more eagerly she lick’d it; upon a foolish fancy, that it was the file that bled, and that she her self had the better on’t. In the conclusion, when she could lick no longer, she fell to biting; but finding at last that she could do no more good upon’t with her teeth, then with her tongue, she fairly led it.
‘Tis a madness to stand biting and snapping at any thing to no manner of purpose, more then the gratifying of an impotent rage, in the fancy of hurting another, when in truth, we only wound our selves.
Crane Poetry Visual
A Snake, in a fix, tried a File
For a dinner. “‘Tis not worth your while,”
Said the steel, “don’t mistake;
I’m accustomed to take;
To give’s not the way of a File.”
We may meet our match.
Lima et Serpens
Serpens quidam in vicini sui tabernam ingressus esse dicitur ut cibum peteret, neque quicquam quod roderet invenisse, nisi limam. “Te miserum,” inquit haec, “atque inscium! Quidnam tibi vis? Duriorem quam te rem adgrederis. Prius omnes tibi dentes, stultissime, ruperis quam mihi vel minimum abrades. Sola vetustas me exedet.”