THE fable of the gnat and the lion is told in order to explain the proverb, "The gnat, small as it is, proved stronger than the lion."
Once upon a time a lion sat himself down to rest under a tree. Suddenly a gnat appeared and settled upon his nose. The lion, feeling the tickle, struck out with his paw, but missed her. The gnat then settled in his ear, and again the lion tried to strike her, but failed. So he said to the gnat:
"Who are you? and why do you come here and worry me? Who are you that although so small can worry so much and give so much trouble, and yet are one whom it is impossible to catch?"
"I am the gnat, and I drink the blood of anyone I choose, and no one can hurt me."
"You may drink blood from whomever else you choose, but my blood you shall not drink, for I am the stronger."
"If you believe that I cannot drink your blood, very well then, let us wait and see who is the stronger," said the gnat.
"I am quite satisfied," said the lion, and they made the bet. Without saying a single word, the gnat jumped on to the nose of the lion, and digging its point into the flesh of the lion sucked the blood until it was full, but the lion could not do anything to her. When she had finished, she asked the lion:
"What do you say now? have I not beaten you? Now it is your turn to show me your strength."
"I am so strong that if a man should happen to pass here I could eat him up."
He had scarcely finished speaking when a boy happened to pass. The lion, as soon as he saw him, wanted to catch him and eat him. "Stop," said the gnat, "this is not yet a man, wait until he grows to be a man." The lion felt ashamed and let the boy pass.
Soon afterwards a very old man happened to pass. Again the lion, saying, "Now, a man is passing," wanted to get hold of him. And again the gnat stopped him, saying, "This is no longer a man, he has been so some long time ago. It is a pity to break your teeth on him." And the lion left him also alone.
Now there came riding along a hussar.
"This is a man," said the gnat, "go for him and show your strength."
The lion went for him, but when the hussar saw him he drew his sword and smote him two or three times over his head. The lion, seeing that this was not a joke, turned tail and ran away; there was his road to safety. The gnat, following him, settled on his ear and asked him how he felt. The lion, half-stunned, replied:
"That foolish man drew a rib from his side and hacked lustily away and had I not run away only bits of me would have been left."
Hence the proverb, "However small, the gnat proved more powerful than the lion."
This is a parallel to the story of the "Gnat and the Lion." Among the South Slavonic Tales, (Krauss, No. 12) we find another parallel to it, though differing in some details. A lion was continually boasting of its strength. One day a tiger, tired of his boasting, said to him:
"You wait until you meet a man and see what strength is."
One day, as they were walking, a young boy passed along, and the lion asked whether that was a man.
"No," replied the tiger, "that is a man that is to be."
Shortly afterwards an old woman passed, and the lion asked whether that was a man. "No," replied the tiger, "that is one who has made men."
At last a hussar passed. The tiger said, "This is a man."
The hussar drew near, shot at the lion, and, quite dazed, it ran away.
The hussar overtook him, and drawing his sword wounded him in many places. The lion escaped and said afterwards, "When he blew at me it was bad enough, but how much worse was it, when he pricked me."
Another version from the inhabitants of Transylvania is found in Haltrich D. Volksmärchen a. d. Sachsenlande i. Siebbrgn, Wien 1877 (No. 86). Here it is the wolf who boasts, and the fox tells him that there is something much more powerful than he is and that is man. The wolf asks the fox to show him man. An old man passes, the fox says, "This was a man."
A boy passes and the fox says, "This is not yet a man."
A hunter comes, and from behind the bush the fox whispers, "That is man." The hunter shoots at the wolf, then draws his knife and slashes him. The wolf runs away and owns himself beaten by the man, who makes thunder and lightning, throws stones in his face, and then draws a shining rib and cuts away at him.
Cf. also Grimm, 72.
Story of the Gnat, the Lion, and the Man, The.
Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories
Sidgwick & Jackson
Year of Publication:
Country of Origin:
ATU 157: Animals Learn to Fear Men