Multilingual Folk Tale Database


L'Homme et son image (Jean de La Fontaine)

The Man and his Image L'Homme et son image
Frederick Colin Tilney Jean de La Fontaine
English French

Once there was a man who loved himself very much, and who permitted himself no rivals in that love. He thought his face and figure the handsomest in all the world. Anything in the shape of a mirror that could show him his own likeness he took care to avoid; for he did not want to be reminded that perhaps he was over-rating his beauty. For this reason he hated looking-glasses and accused them of being false. He made a very great mistake in this respect; but that he did not mind, being quite content to live in the happiness the mistake afforded him.

To cure him of so grievous an error, officious Fate managed matters in such a way that wherever he turned his eyes they would fall on one of those mute little counsellors that ladies carry and appeal to when they are anxious about their appearance. He found mirrors in the houses; mirrors in the shops; mirrors in the pockets of gallants; mirrors even as ornaments on waist-belts of ladies.

What was he to do—this poor Narcissus? He thought to avoid all such things by going far away from haunts of mankind, where he should never have to face a mirror again. But in the woods to which he retreated a clear rivulet ran. Into this he happened to look and—saw himself again. Angrily he told himself that his eyes had been deluded by an idle fancy. Henceforth he would keep away from the water! This he tried his utmost to do; but who can resist the beauty of a woodland stream? There he was and remained, always with that which he had determined to shun.

My meaning is easily seen. It applies to everybody; for everybody takes some joy in harbouring this very error. The man in love with himself stands for the soul of each one of us. All the mirrors wherein he saw himself reflected stand for the faults of other people, in which we really see our own faults though we hate to recognise them as such. As for the brook, that, as every one knows, stands for the book of maxims which the Duke de la Rochefoucauld wrote.

Un homme qui s'aimait sans avoir de rivaux
Passait dans son esprit pour le plus beau du monde.
Il accusait toujours les miroirs d'être faux,
Vivant plus que content dans son erreur profonde.
Afin de le guérir, le sort officieux
Présentait partout à ses yeux
Les Conseillers muets dont se servent nos Dames :
Miroirs dans les logis, miroirs chez les Marchands,
Miroirs aux poches des galands,
Miroirs aux ceintures des femmes.
Que fait notre Narcisse ? Il va se confiner
Aux lieux les plus cachés qu'il peut s'imaginer
N'osant plus des miroirs éprouver l'aventure.
Mais un canal, formé par une source pure,
Se trouve en ces lieux écartés ;
Il s'y voit ; il se fâche ; et ses yeux irrités
Pensent apercevoir une chimère vaine.
Il fait tout ce qu'il peut pour éviter cette eau ;
Mais quoi, le canal est si beau
Qu'il ne le quitte qu'avec peine.
On voit bien où je veux venir.
Je parle à tous ; et cette erreur extrême
Est un mal que chacun se plaît d'entretenir.
Notre âme, c'est cet Homme amoureux de lui-même ;
Tant de Miroirs, ce sont les sottises d'autrui,
Miroirs, de nos défauts les Peintres légitimes ;
Et quant au Canal, c'est celui
Que chacun sait, le Livre des Maximes.



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