A CLEVER SLAVE
A long time ago there lived a poor slave whose name was Aesop.
[Footnote: Aesop (_pro_. e'sop).] He was a small man with a large
head and long arms. His face was white, but very homely. His large
eyes were bright and snappy.
When Aesop was about twenty years old his master lost a great deal of
money and was obliged to sell his slaves. To do this, he had to take
them to a large city where there was a slave market.
The city was far away, and the slaves must walk the whole distance.
A number of bundles were made up for them to carry. Some of these
bundles contained the things they would need on the road; some
contained clothing; and some contained goods which the master would
sell in the city.
"Choose your bundles, boys," said the master. "There is one for each
Aesop at once chose the largest one. The other slaves laughed and said
he was foolish. But he threw it upon his shoulders and seemed well
satisfied. The next day, the laugh was the other way. For the bundle
which he had chosen had contained the food for the whole party. After
all had eaten three meals from it, it was very much lighter. And before
the end of the journey Aesop had nothing to carry, while the other
slaves were groaning under their heavy loads.
"Aesop is a wise fellow," said his master. "The man who buys him must
pay a high price."
A very rich man, whose name was Xanthus, [Footnote: Xanthus (_pro_.
zan'thus).] came to the slave market to buy a servant. As the slaves
stood before him he asked each one to tell what kind of work he could
do. All were eager to be bought by Xanthus because they knew he would
be a kind master. So each one boasted of his skill in doing some sort
of labor. One was a fine gardener; another could take care of horses; a
third was a good cook; a fourth could manage a household.
"And what can you do, Aesop?" asked Xanthus.
"Nothing," he answered.
"Nothing? How is that?"
"Because, since these other slaves do everything, there is nothing
left for me to perform," said Aesop.
This answer pleased the rich man so well that he bought Aesop at once,
and took him to his home on the island of Samos.
In Samos the little slave soon became known for his wisdom and courage.
He often amused his master and his master's friends by telling droll
fables about birds and beasts that could talk. They saw that all these
fables taught some great truth, and they wondered how Aesop could have
thought of them.
Many other stories are told of this wonderful slave. His master was
so much pleased with him that he gave him his freedom. Many great men
were glad to call him their friend, and even kings asked his advice
and were amused by his fables.