The Story of God, St. Peter and the Lazy Shepherd.
IN OLDEN times God and St. Peter used to walk about in the world, to see what was happening, and how the world was going on. And after they had seen what happened in one province, they used to go to another.
Once upon a time, after leaving a certain village, they got into a deep and dark forest. Walking along for a while, they lost their way, and did not know how to get out of it. Tired and hungry, they walked on, lost in that thick and gloomy wood, when suddenly before them they saw a field, in which grass and flowers were growing and herds of cattle were feeding. The cowherd lay fast asleep under the shadow of a tree. He could take it easily, for the cattle were not suffering from flies, and were wandering quietly about the field. God and St. Peter rejoiced greatly when they saw a man lying there. They went up to him and woke him, and asked him to tell them the way which would take them out of the forest. The cowherd, being asked by God which was the quickest road, did not even lift up his head to give a polite answer. But lying outstretched on the grass, he merely moved his right leg and, half asleep and lazy as he was, and pointing in one direction, said, "If you wish to get out to the world of men, just go that way and you will get there." Then, turning over on the other side, he again fell asleep.
God and St. Peter, resenting the rudeness of the cowherd, said, "Are these, then, thy manners? Very well, thou wilt no longer be lazy from this day onwards. Thy cattle will no longer feed quietly; the gad-fly, which I am sending, will sting them, and they will run like mad whither their feet and their eyes will carry them." And so it happened. The gad-fly came and the cows and oxen suddenly started running like mad in all directions, and so it has remained to this very day.
The cowherd, when he saw the cattle running like mad things with their tails in the air, jumped up like one stung to madness, and started running after them to bring them back. But in vain, for the cattle, which had run away as quickly as you strike a spark from the flint, entered into a swamp.
After they had thus punished the cowherd, God and St. Peter went on walking without knowing whither they were going. So again, after a long walk in that same forest, they came to another meadow, where a shepherd tended his flock of sheep. But the sheep were running all the time so fast that you could not see their legs. Hither and thither they went, and the shepherd after them, out of breath, and the sweat running down his face, hoping that he might get them together. But the sheep were as if they had been bewitched, so fast did they run. And whilst the shepherd could scarcely keep on his legs, and the sweat was standing on his forehead like beads, God and St. Peter approached him and asked him which was the way they were to go to come back to this world. Although he was dead tired and hot, the shepherd none the less stopped still and, wiping his face with the sleeve of his shirt, said:
"Please, take that way, for if you follow that road, you will soon get to the end of the forest."
They took the way he showed them, and soon they found themselves in this world. And God said to his companion:
"From this day onward, the flock of this shepherd, who has given us good advice, so courteously, shall no longer suffer from the gad-fly (and the running madness), and they shall only run at times of rain and wind. They will henceforth feed quietly, and the shepherd also will be able to sit down and play his pipe." And from that day on the sheep feed quietly, and the shepherd can tend them in peace and comfort, for the sheep do not suffer from the gad-fly (Hypoderma bovis), whilst the cowherds must weary their legs, as otherwise their cattle would disappear.
There is a Macedonian variation:
ONCE upon a time God changed into a very old man. Walking one day in a terrific heat, he met a cowherd and asked him for a drop of water, for he said he would die of thirst. "Die," replied the cowboy, and would neither give him a drop of water nor tell him where to find it.
God found afterwards a shepherd hotly pursuing his sheep, and the perspiration running down him. "Give me a drop of water, for I die," said God.
"I give you willingly, but my sheep have run away and I do not know how to gather them"; and going to a fountain at the foot of a hill he took some in his fur cap and gave him to drink. God gathered the sheep, and blessed them to be God's flock, who should never henceforth separate on the road or be scattered. Remembering the cowherd, he cursed him and said: "The gad-fly is always to scatter his herd just when the heat is greatest, so that he may run like mad."
Therefore the sheep always walk together in flocks, and gather together in hot summer weather in the shade. And for that reason the oxen are driven mad by the fly in the hot season, and they run like mad as if they were ridden by devils. The cowherd has to run after them, and there are but few fountains in Thessaly from which to slacken his thirst.