Aesop and the Will

That one man sometimes is more shrewd
Than a stupendous multitude,
To after-times I shall rehearse
In my concise familiar verse.
A certain man on his decease,
Left his three girls so much a-piece:
The first was beautiful and frail,
With eyes still hunting for the male;
The second giv’n to spin and card,
A country housewife working hard;
The third but very ill to pass,
A homely slut, that loved her glass.
The dying man had left his wife
Executrix, and for her life
Sole tenant, if she should fulfil
These strange provisos of his will:
“That she should give th’ estate in fee
In equal portions to the three;
But in such sort, that this bequest
Should not be holden or possess’d;
Then soon as they should be bereav’n
Of all the substance that was giv’n,
They must for their good mother’s ease
Make up an hundred sesterces.”
This spread through Athens in a trice;
The prudent widow takes advice.
But not a lawyer could unfold
How they should neither have nor hold
The very things that they were left.
Besides, when once they were bereft,
How they from nothing should confer
The money that was due to her.
When a long time was spent in vain,
And no one could the will explain,
She left the counsellors unfeed,
And thus of her own self decreed:
The minstrels, trinkets, plate, and dress,
She gave the Lady to possess.
Then Mrs. Notable she stocks
With all the fields, the kine and flocks:
The workmen, farm, with a supply
Of all the tools of husbandry.
Last, to the Guzzler she consigns
The cellar stored with good old wines,
A handsome house to see a friend,
With pleasant gardens at the end.
Thus as she strove th’ affair to close,
By giving each the things they chose,
And those that knew them every one
Highly applauded what was done
Esop arose, and thus address’d
The crowd that to his presence press’d:
“O that the dead could yet perceive!
How would the prudent father grieve,
That all th’ Athenians had not skill
Enough to understand his will!”
Then at their joint request he solved
That error, which had all involved.
“The gardens, house, and wine vaults too,
Give to the spinster as her due;
The clothes, the jewels, and such ware,
Be all the tippling lady’s share;
The fields, the barns, and flocks of sheep,
Give the gay courtesan to keep.
Not one will bear the very touch
Of things that thwart their tastes so much;
The slut to fill her cellar straight
Her wardrobe will evacuate;
The lady soon will sell her farms,
For garments to set off her charms;
But she that loves the flocks and kine
Will alienate her stores of wine,
Her rustic genius to employ.
Thus none their portions shall enjoy,
And from the money each has made
Their mother shall be duly paid.”
Thus one man by his wit disclosed
The point that had so many posed. [more info]

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