The Mice in Council: A Medieval Fable

Although “The Mice in Council” is sometimes attributed to Aesop, it dates from the Middle Ages, and has been retold in many ways by many different writers. The version below is written in the style of an Aesop’s fable.

The Mice in Council OR Belling the Cat

Belling the Cat by Pieter Bruegel

“Belling the Cat” by Pieter Bruegel. From a detail in Netherlandish Proverbs (1559).

Once upon a time the Mice, being sadly distressed by the persecution of the Cat, resolved to call a meeting to decide upon the best means of getting rid of this continual annoyance.

Many plans were discussed and rejected; at last a young Mouse got up and proposed that a Bell should be hung round the Cat’s neck, that they might for the future always have notice of her coming, and so be able to escape. This proposition was hailed with the greatest applause, and was agreed to at once unanimously.

Upon which an old Mouse, who had sat silent all the while, got up and said that he considered the contrivance most ingenious, and that it would, no doubt, be quite successful; but he had only one short question to put, namely, which of them it was who would bell the cat?

It is one thing to propose, another to execute.

illustration for Jean de La Fontaines fables by Gustave Doré

The Council of the Mice or Rats by Gustave Doré, 1832-1883.

One of the more interesting and complex versions of this tale, The Parliament of Rats and Mice, is found in Piers Plowman by William Langland.

If you are studying Latin, you may wish to read De Cato et Muribus (1687).

Christianizing Aesop: The Fables of Odo Of Cheriton” is an interesting essay on another Medieval composer of fables.

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