The Fables of Florian (tr. Phelps)/The Learned Collegians

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An owl drawn from his hiding-place
By students in pursuit of knowledge,
Was made to show his sapient face
Within the precincts of a college.
There quarter'd with a cat and goose,
He of the privilege made use
To go with them the whole course through.

Herodotus by heart they knew,
Denis of Halicarnassus too;
And all that Titus Livy wrote
Like learned doctors they could quote.
Discussing once as doctors do,
They pass'd the ancients in review.

"Upon my faith," the cat exclaim'd,
"The Egyptians were of all most fam'd.
No people ever were more wise,
More law-abiding or discreet—
None more religious 'neath the skies:
For that alone I think it meet
That Egypt should bear off the prize."

The owl responded: "In my view,
To Athens the first prize is due.
Whoever knew such wit, such grace,
Such bravery in any race?
No state more noble men e'er bore,
Or with less means accomplish'd more.
Of all the nations Greece rank'd first."

"Hold there! "the goose in wrath outspoke,
"You reckon Rome, then, last and worst!
Perhaps, my friends, you are in joke.
What nation ever equall'd Rome?
In grandeur, glory, arts, and war,
Egypt and Greece can't near it come.
All nations it excell'd by far:
The men of Rome my fav'rites are.
They conquer'd on both land and sea:

To this, at least, you must agree."

But while the pedants thus debate,
They each become more obstinate,
Until a rat who had much wit
From eating learned manuscript,
       Cried to the crew:—
"I see why each should hold his view:
In Egypt men ador'd the cat;
The Athenians worship'd owls;
The Romans petted and made fat
       The goose as first of fowls.
As your self-int'rest points the way,
So your opinions turn and sway."