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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781)

Zeus and the Horse

From “Fables”

“FATHER of beasts and of men”—so spake the horse, approaching the throne of Zeus—“I am said to be one of the most beautiful animals with which thou hast adorned the world; and my self-love leads me to believe it. Nevertheless, might not some things in me still be improved?”

“And what in thee, thinkest thou, admits of improvement? Speak! I am open to instruction,” said the indulgent god with a smile.

“Perhaps,” returned the horse, “I should be fleeter if my legs were taller and thinner. A long swan-neck would not disfigure me. A broader breast would add to my strength. And since thou hast once for all destined me to bear thy favorite, man, the saddle which the well-meaning rider puts upon me might be created a part of me.”

“Good!” replied Zeus; “wait a moment.”

Zeus, with earnest countenance, pronounced the creative word. Then flowed life into the dust; then organized matter combined; and suddenly stood before the throne the ugly camel.

The horse saw, shuddered, and trembled with fear and abhorrence.

“Here,” said Zeus, “are taller and thinner legs; here is a long swan-neck; here is a broader breast; here is the created saddle! Wilt thou, horse, that I should transform thee after this fashion?”

The horse still trembled.

“Go!” continued Zeus. “Be instructed, for this once, without being punished. But to remind thee, with occasional compunction, of thy presumption, do thou, new creation, continue!”

Zeus cast a preserving glance on the camel: “Never shall the horse behold thee without shuddering.”