Gateway to the Classics: Stories from Plato and Other Classic Writers by Mary E. Burt
Stories from Plato and Other Classic Writers by  Mary E. Burt

An Old Story from Tadpole Land

You tell me that Tadpole Land is down in a ditch near your own house, and you say that tadpoles are hatched from eggs, and that they have tails and plumes which they get rid of as they grow older and more frisky. Then they become frogs and begin to multiply their legs by two, and they jump and croak. Either you have not used your eyes well, or else people saw differently in the olden times, for they told quite another story.

There was once, ages and ages ago, a beautiful woman, and she was tall and very quiet. She wore dark purple robes or black ones, and they were so long that they trailed behind her for miles.

She travelled all the time going round the earth in one direction, always toward the west.

Her long robes were very light and airy. She went right along over rivers and lakes and bushes, but her trailing garments never seemed to catch on the bushes, or get soiled in the dust and mud, or wet in ponds and rivers.

Very remarkable robes were those, and I am sure that it would gratify the fine ladies of later days if they could find some of the same sort but with longer trains perhaps. This beautiful woman was called Leto in some lands, and Latona in others. She carried two very pretty babes in her arms, and she wrapped her black veil around them so that no one could see them, for one was as bright as the sky before sunrise, and the other was as bright as the sky after sunset, and it would have been almost like daylight if they had not been hidden under the veil.

After Latona had wandered around the earth for many years, she became very weary and thirsty, for many of the fields over which she passed were scorched by the heat of summer. After awhile she came to the banks of a lake and sat down on its shore. She dipped her hand in the water and began to drink from it.

There were some rude country men down at the lake gathering willows to make baskets, and they forbade her to drink. They tried to scare her away but she said to them, "Why do you deny me a drink of water? Water was made for all to drink, and I beg of you to let me be."

But they laughed at her, and were ruder than before, so she showed them the two little babes, hoping that they might have pity on her.

The rough fellows only used abusive language and threw stones into the water to make it muddy so that she could not drink it. Then Latona raised her hands to heaven, and uttered a prayer that the wicked men might always live in the mud.

She went on her way, and as she looked back she saw the men jumping up and down in the mud. They began to grow smaller and smaller, and the last she saw and heard of them, they had become frogs, and had to keep on calling out the same ugly words they had said to her, in the same harsh voices. And there they are to this day croaking and leaping.

Perhaps this story is true and perhaps it is not, but the easiest way for you to find out is to watch the tadpole from the time it is an egg until it croaks.

And you might also watch that greedy animal who will never give any one even a drink of water, and who calls names and says ugly words, and then you will know whether he really lives in the mud or whether he carries the mud in his heart.

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