An eagle (aquila) once held a tortoise (testitudo, f.) in the air, but as this animal was safely hidden in his shell, the eagle had no clue how to eat this creature. Then the eagle is advised by a crow (cornix, f.) to drop the tortoise on a rock to break the shell. Now the tortoise has no way to escape its fate.
This story is, like most of Phaedrus’ fables, based on Aesop, but with a difference: in Aesop version the tortoise asks the eagle to lift him in the air, as he wanted to fly. By leaving this out, Phaedrus makes the tortoise a completely innocent victim of the powerful eagle and its wicked advisor. Through the ages up to our time examples are easy to find.
Phaedrus 2.6, Aquila et Cornix.
Contra potentes nemo est munitus satis;
si vero accessit consiliator maleficus,
vis et nequitia quicquid oppugnant, ruit.
Aquila in sublime sustulit testudinem.
quae cum abdidisset cornea corpus domo
nec ullo pacto laedi posset condita,
venit per auras cornix et propter volans:
Opimam sane praedam rapuisti unguibus;
sed nisi monstraro quid sit faciendum tibi,
gravi nequiquam te lassabit pondere.
Promissa parte suadet, ut scopulum super
altis ab astris duram illidat corticem,
qua comminuta facile vescatur cibo.
Inducta verbis aquila, monitis paruit,
simul et magistrae large divisit dapem.
Sic tuta quae naturae fuerat munere,
impar duabus occidit tristi nece.
munio munivi munitum: to protect
consiliator –oris (m.): counsellor
quicquid …, ruit = quicquid ruit, (quod).. (everything falls down, what etc.)
nequitia: wickedness (vis refers to the potentes, nequitia to the consiliator maleficus)
in sublime: high in the air
abdo abdidi abditum: to hide (= condo)
corneus: made of horn
nec ullo pacto: in no way
laedo laesi laesum: to hurt, damage
propter (adv.): nearby
opimus: fat, plump
rapio rapui raptum: to snatch
unguis unguis (m.): nail, claw
monstraro = monstravero
nequiquam: in vain
lasso: to tire
pondus ponderis (n.) : weight
promissa parte: i.e. of the praeda
suadeo suasi suasum: to advise
scopulus: rock (scopulum super = super scopulum)
altis ab astris: from high in the air
illido illiso illisum: to dash to pieces
cortex cortices (m. and by poets f.): shell
qua comminuta: which having been broken (comminuo, ui utum)
vescor (+ abl.): to eat
pareo parui (+ dat.): to yield
simul: at once
magistrae: i.e. the cornex
daps dapis (f.): meal
naturae munere: by work of nature
impar imparis (+ dat.): ill-matched
occidit from occĭdo , occĭdi, occāsum: to fall down
nex necis (f.): violent death
Translation by Christopher Smart (1912).
The Eagle, Carrion Crow, and Tortoise.
No soul can warrant life or right,
Secure from men of lawless might;
But if a knave's advice assist,
'Gainst fraud and force what can exist ?
An Eagle on a Tortoise fell,
And mounting bore him by the shell:
She with her house her body screens,
Nor can be hurt by any means.
A Carrion Crow came by that way,
" You've got," says she, " a luscious prey;
But soon its weight will make you rue,
Unless I show you what to do."
The captor promising a share,
She bids her from the upper air
To dash the shell against a rock,
Which would be sever'd by the shock.
The Eagle follows her behest,
Then feasts on turtle with his guest.
Thus she, whom Nature made so strong,
And safe against external wrong,
No match for force, and its allies,
To cruel death a victim dies.