Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) fabula canis et umbrae (contributed by Mark Walker)

Like any educated man of his age, Swift was perfectly capable of writing Latin verse when the mood took him – whether in humorous verse epistles to his friend Joseph Sheridan, or in a description of Carbery Rocks (Carberiae Rupes). He even wrote his own Latin epitaph. In this miniature, Swift casts one of Aesop’s fables into Latin hexameters. Carrying food in its mouth, a foolish dog sees an even tastier morsel reflected in the water, but is frustrated when it attempts to snatch what it thought was a better meal.

Mark Walker

Ore cibum portans catulus dum spectat in undis,

Apparet liquido praedae melioris imago:

Dum speciosa diu damna admiratur, et alte

Ad latices inhiat, cadit imo vortice praeceps

Ore cibus, nec non simulacrum corripit una.

Occupat ille avidus deceptis faucibus umbram;

Illudit species, ac dentibus aera mordet.


A puppy, while carrying food in his mouth gazes in the water, an image of a better morsel appears in the liquid:  while he marvels for a long time at the unobtainable spectacle, and gapes open-mouthed high over the stream, the food from his mouth falls headlong to the depths of the swirling water, and at the same time its likeness snatches it away. Eagerly he catches at the shadow with deluded jaws; the image deceives him, and with his teeth he bites the air.



Chosen and translated by Mark Walker (


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