Illustration of a council of mice scheming about belling the cat.

Belling the Cat (Medieval Fable)

Belling the Cat, also known as the Council of Mice, is a classic fable often attributed to Aesop. It’s unclear if Aesop really existed, and it’s even less likely he wrote this fable. It’s much more likely to be medieval.

The first record of the fable comes from Odo of Cheriton, a 12th-century English fabulist. The French fabulist Jean de la Fontaine made it even more popular when he included it in his 17th-century book of fables.

This is a retelling in my own words.

The Fable

In the heart of the jungle, in a hole beneath the roots of a towering tree, there lived a group of mice. Each rustle of leaves and flicker of movement sent them scurrying back to that hole, for a cunning jungle cat silently stalked the night, catching them one by one.

Under the silver glow of the moon, the mice convened a meeting. They gathered under the shadow of a palm frond, their tiny hearts pounding with fear and anticipation. It was there that a young mouse voiced its daring plan.

“Why don’t we tie a bell around the cat’s neck?” he whispered. “That way, even on the darkest of nights, we will hear it approaching and hide before it can pounce.”

The idea was met with a hushed chorus of approval. The mice began to dance and shout, their fear momentarily forgotten, their spirits lifted by the prospect of freedom from their terror.

Just as their jubilation reached its peak, a deep voice rose about the din. “Yes,” murmured an elder mouse, “the plan is indeed clever. But who among us will dare to approach the cat and tie the bell?”

Painting of the cat and the council of mice from the medieval fable Belling the Cat.

The Moral & Meaning

Peasants would criticize the medieval lords and holy men who abused their power. Many had plans about what ought to be done. Few were willing to risk their lives to carry out those plans.

The moral of the fable, then, is that some things are easier said than done. Better, then, to think of solutions we can actually accomplish.

Similar Fables

Belling the Cat is part of a long tradition of using simple fables to teach profound moral lessons. Here are some of my other favourites:

Juan Artola Miranda

I am Juan Artola Miranda, a fabulist living in the Mexican Caribbean. My friends know me by the name of my father's father, but that name grew into something bigger, my writing reaching tens of millions of readers. It was too strong for me to control. Artola Miranda is the name of my mother's mother. It's a better name for a fabulist.

Leave a Comment