Fables of Phaedrus, “The Dogs Sent Envoys to Jupiter”

17th century edition of Phaedrus’s Fables

Fables of Phaedrus, “The Dogs Sent Envoys to Jupiter”

By Dara Sánchez


Translator’s Statement:

Animal fables in ancient Rome were not viewed with high regard in comparison to other genres of literature. Yet Phaedrus, an alleged freeman of Augustus from the 1st century AD, does not allow these preconceived notions to deter his ambitions. In this feces-filled poem, Phaedrus describes to us an etiological myth that explains why dogs smell each other’s behinds. He mixes the sacred gods, Jupiter and Mercury, with the vulgarity of dogs and excrement, contrasting opposing concepts in an almost sacrilegious manner that plays on borderline absurdity. 

Please note that lines 11-14 have distorted line numbers and that there is a line missing before line 14. 


Latin Text

Book 4, Poem 19: Canes Legatos Miserunt Ad Iovem (The Dogs Sent Envoys to Jupiter)

Canes legatos olim misere ad Iovem
Melioris vitae tempus oratum suae,
Ut sese eriperet hominum contumeliis,
Furfuribus sibi consparsum quod panem darent
Fimoque turpi maximam explerent famem.                         5
Profecti sunt legati non celeri pede.
Dum naribus scrutantur escam in stercore,
Citati non respondent. Vix tandem invenit
Eos Mercurius et turbatos attrahit.
Tum vero vultum magni ut viderunt Iovis,                          10
Totam timentes concacarunt regiam;
Propulsi vero fustibus vadunt foras.
Vetat dimitti magnus illos Iuppiter.


Mirati sibi legatos non revertier,
Turpe aestimantes aliquid commissum a suis,                          15
Post aliquod tempus alios ascribi iubent.
Rumor legatos superiores prodidit.
Timentes rursus aliquid ne simile accidat,
Odore canibus anum, sed multo, replent.
Mandata dantur et dimittuntur statim.                          20
Adeunt. Rogantes aditum continuo impetrant.
Consedit genitor tum deorum maximus
Quassatque fulmen: tremere coepere omnia.
Canes, confusus subito quod fuerat fragor,
Repente odorem mixtum cum merdis cacant.                          25
Reclamant omnes vindicandam iniuriam.
Sic est locutus ante poenam Iuppiter:
“Legatos non est regis non dimittere,
Nec est difficile poenas culpae imponere;
Sed hoc feretis pro iudicio praemium:                          30
Non veto dimitti, verum cruciari fame,
Ne ventrem continere non possint suum.
Illi autem qui miserunt vos tam futtiles
Numquam carebunt hominis contumelia”.
Ita nunc legatos exspectant et posteri                          35
Novum et venire qui videt culum olfacit.



Once upon a time Dogs sent envoys to Jupiter,
to ask for better living conditions,
so that they could rescue themselves from the abuses of men,
who gave them bread, which was sprinkled with bran 
and satisfied their hunger with the most disgusting filth.
The envoys departed, by no means at a quick pace;
while searching for food with their noses buried in filth,
the quick ones do not answer, [and] at last they barely arrived 
[when] Mercury gathered those who were agitated.
But then, when they could see the face of great Jupiter,
they, fearing him, defiled the entire palace. 
Great Jupiter forbade them from being dismissed [so easily];
instead, they rushed out as they were driven out by clubs.

They wondered why the envoys did not return to them;
considering that something disgusting had been done by their own kind,
after some time passed, they ordered other envoys to be appointed after some time passed.
[Nevertheless] the rumor of defecation betrayed the previous envoys;
fearing that something similar might happen again,
they filled (their) anus with a fragrance for dogs, and plenty of it.
They gave orders; the envoys were sent; immediately,
they went off; those who were asking got another chance at once.
Then, the greatest, creator of the gods, sat down
and shook his lighting bolt; they all began to tremble.
The dogs, upset because there was a sudden noise,
unexpectedly defecated, as their fragrance mixed with their crap smells. 
All the gods clamored that their offense must be avenged. 
Thus, Jupiter spoke in view of their punishment:
“To dismiss envoys is not the part of a king,
nor is it difficult to inflict punishment for an offense.
But, this recompense will be brought for their mockery:
I do not forbid that they be released, but rather that they be tortured with hunger,
so that they will not be able to restrain their own stomach.
While those who sent them twice in vain
will never be free from the insult of men.”
Thus, now, the descendants [of dogs] expecting the envoys,
to return, when they see a new rear-end, they tend to smell it.


Dara Sánchez (College ’25) is a student at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Classical Studies with a concentration in Languages and Literature.



Babrius, Phaedrus. Fables. Translated by Ben Edwin Perry. Loeb Classical Library 436. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965.