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 about a scorpion asking a frog to carry him across a river.


A scorpion asks a frog to carry him over a river. The frog is afraid of being stung during the trip, but the scorpion argues that if it stung the frog, the frog would sink and the scorpion would drown. The frog agrees and begins carrying the scorpion, 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 the natural behaviour of some creatures is inevitable, no matter how they are treated. It is also used to illustrate that individuals are apt to behave in accordance with their true character in spite of the education they might have received throughout their lives and in spite of knowing fully well the right course of action.


Variations commonly include a farmer, youth, turtle, or fox in place of the frog, and a snake in place of the scorpion. The Farmer and the Viper is a specific variant which can be attributed to Aesop. There is also a variation[1][2] in which the final words of the scorpion are "It is better we should both perish than that my enemy should live."[citation needed]


The author is unknown, and variations of the fable appear in West African[3][not in citation given][4] and European folktales. The story is often identified with Aesop's Fables, although only variants appear therein.[5][6] A study published in a German journal in 2011[7] points out a connection between the genesis of the fable and the tradition of the Panchatantra, a collection of animal fables dating back to India in the 3rd century BCE. Whereas the original Sanskrit work and its early translations do not contain any fable resembling The Scorpion and the Frog, an earlier version of it, The Scorpion and the Turtle, is to be found as an interpolated fable in post-Islamic variants of the Panchatantra.[8] The study suggests that the interpolation occurred between the 12th and 13th century in the Persian language area[9] and offers a constructive frame of orientation for further research on the question of the fable's origin.

The image of a scorpion carried across a river by a frog occurs much earlier, in the Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli) (5th century CE, based on earlier stories), though with a different outcome and purpose: the scorpion crosses the river and stings a man, killing him. This illustrates a scorpion, who cannot swim, being carried across to fulfill God's will.[10] The Lady Frog and the Scorpion states it is a classic Nigerian folktale from Kogi, Nigeria.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Scorpion and the Fox". 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-21. 
  2. ^ "better we should both perish". 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-21. 
  3. ^ Livraghi, Giancarlo (2009). "The Scorpion and The Frog". The Power of the Stupidity (Pescara, Italy: M&A). ISBN 978-88-89479-15-5. Retrieved 2010-08-01 (author's footnote). "Its origins seem unknown. There are no traces, in any tradition, that lead back to Aesop. No indications that it ever existed in Greek or Latin. It’s around in several languages. It seems to have started in English, somewhat earlier than fifty years ago. But it may have an older origin in African folklore – the tale of a “generous” frog on the shore of the Niger river." 
  4. ^ "The Farmer and the Viper". Hausa tales and traditions: an English translation of 'Tatsuniyoyi no Hausa'. p. 416. Retrieved 2010-08-01 Retrieved via Google Books. 
  5. ^ "Aesops Fables: The Farmer and the Viper (Aesop, Arthur Rackham)". Folklore and Myth. p. 121. Retrieved 2010-08-01 Retrieved via Google Books. 
  6. ^ "Aesops Fables (Myth-Folklore Online)". Folklore and Myth. 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-26. 
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Takeda (2011), pp. 140–142.
  9. ^ Takeda (2011), p. 142.
  10. ^ Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli), Women (Seder Nashim), Vows (Nedarim), Chapter IV, p. 41, "Samuel saw a scorpion borne by a frog across a river, and then stung a man, so that he died." Note: "Though a scorpion cannot swim, he was carried across by the frog, in order to fulfil God's judgment."
  11. ^ The Lady Frog and the Scorpion. The Phantom Publisher. Phantom House Books. January 2010.

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