The Scorpion and the Frog

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An 1847 illustration of "The Scorpion and the Turtle" from the Persian Kalilah and Dimna

The Scorpion and the Frog is an animal fable. On account of its dark morality, there have been many references since then in popular culture, including notable films, television shows, and books.


A scorpion asks a frog to carry him over a river. The frog is afraid of being stung, but the scorpion argues that if it did so, both would sink and the scorpion would drown. The frog then agrees, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion points out that this is its nature. The fable is used to illustrate the position that no change can be made in the behaviour of the fundamentally vicious. It is this moral that is also illustrated by Aesop's fable of The Farmer and the Viper, where a farmer saves a snake which then bites its benefactor as soon as it has recovered. The farmer's last words are, "I am rightly served for pitying a scoundrel" and the moral is "The greatest kindness will not bind the ungrateful."


The earliest verifiable appearance of the fable is in the 1954 script of Orson Welles' film Mr Arkadin.[1] Although there are similarities with the fable of The Frog and the Mouse, the story here has more in common with later variants in which a scorpion appears that emerged in Asia during the Middle Ages .

Various claims have been made that the fable is of Arab or of West African origin.[2] A study published in a German journal in 2011[3] can find no connection between the fable and the Indian tradition of the Panchatantra. Whereas the original Sanskrit work and its early translations do not contain any fable resembling The Scorpion and the Frog, a later fable, The Scorpion and the Turtle, is to be found interpolated in post-Islamic variants of the Panchatantra.[4] The study suggests that the interpolation occurred between the 12th - 13th centuries in the Persian language area[5] and may offer a new starting point for further research on the question of the fable's origin.

The image of a scorpion carried across a river by a frog occurs at an earlier period, in the Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli), though with a different outcome and purpose. The scorpion crosses the river and stings a man, killing him. This is said to illustrate how God's will is fulfilled in seemingly impossible ways.[6] A genuine Arab variant is found in a Sufi source from the 6th century that illustrates divine providence with the tale of a scorpion that crosses the Nile on a frog's back in order to save a sleeping drunkard from being bitten by a snake.[7] Neither of the above, however, carry the moral that developed in the 20th century.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See Giancarlo Livraghi's 2007 footnote to his book The Power of Stupidity (2004)
  2. ^ The Lady Frog and the Scorpion (Phantom Books 2010, ISBN 978-1-4609-0609-5) claims to be a 'traditional' Nigerian folktale, although it seems not to have been previously recorded
  3. ^ Takeda, Arata (2011) ”Blumenreiche Handelswege: Ost-westliche Streifzüge auf den Spuren der Fabel Der Skorpion und der Frosch”, Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte, Volume 85, Issue 1, pp. 124–152
  4. ^ Takeda (2011), pp. 140–142.
  5. ^ Takeda (2011), p. 142.
  6. ^ Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli), Women (Seder Nashim), Vows (Nedarim), Chapter IV p. 41
  7. ^ Le soufisme authentique