The Fox in World Literature

“Due to its physical and mental faculties the fox is taken to be the incarnation of cunning, slyness, perfidy, and even wickedness. However, more positive qualities and faculties, such as an ingenious mind, a readiness to care for and help others, quickness, and circumspection are also recognized.”

There are various stories about the origins of the fox’s red colour – from salmon roe, to its own rage, or its red skin shining through its fur.

In Greek and Roman tales the fox dupes almost all the other animals.  It is clever, imaginative and cunning.  In fact, the only animal it typically cannot outwit is another fox.  Aesop’s Fable of The Fox Who Lost His Tail tells of the fox’s embarrassment, and his attempt to persuade other foxes to also remove their tails.  They see through his attempt and the moral of the story is “distrust advice from someone who stands to gain”.

In magic tales, the fox appears as a grateful helper, assisting the heroes of stories with various challenges.

Some fox proverbs:

“Foxes are caught with foxes” (Finnish)

“The fox is cunning, but more cunning is he who catches it” (Romanian)

“Let every fox take care of his own tail” (Italian)

“Nothing falls into the mouth of a sleeping fox” (French)

“It is difficult to trap an old fox” (Danish)


From: The Fox in World Literature: Reflections on a “Fictional Animal” by Hans-Jörg Uther.
Source: Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 65, No. 2 (2006), pp. 133-160

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