The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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“The Monkey and the Parrot,” by Alphonse Allais

December 24th, 2012 · 5 Comments

Here, as a Christmas treat, is the story of “The Monkey and the Parrot,” written by Alphonse Allais in 1899, and translated by the undersigned this afternoon.



Speaking of parrots, do you know the Persian fable of “The Monkey and the Parrot,” a story both ingenious and rich in instruction of all kinds?

You do not, you say; I should have guessed.

Unfortunately, to tell it properly, I need the pen of old La Fontaine, or of young Franc-Mohain, and neither of these utensils is at my disposal.

So, let us content ourselves with some excellent prose of the Fléchier type, if you will excuse the expression.

Once upon a time, there lived in the same palace a monkey and a parrot.

And there were, between the two animals, eternal discussions about their respective merits.

“I,” said the monkey, “grimace like man.  Like man, I gesticulate.  My hind paws are legs and feet; those in front are arms ending in hands.  At a distance, I could be mistaken for a man: a small man, but a man.”

“I,” said the parrot, “have never had the foolish pretension to pass for a man, but I possess his greatest gift, speech!  I can declaim fine verses, and sing ineffable songs.”

“I can do pantomime,” retorted the monkey.

“Pantomime?” scoffed the parrot, shrugging his shoulders.  “Pantomime, an inferior art, the last resort of a ham with laryngitis!”

“Inferior art!” cried the monkey.  “I take it you haven’t read Mendès’s last column on pantomime?”

“No!” snapped the parrot.

In short, the monkey extolled the Gesture, the parrot the Word.

Which was superior, and closer to humanity, the Gesture or the Word?  That was the question.

One day, the quarrel grew unusually heated, and our two animals came close to blows.

Fortunately, a scandal was averted, thanks to a clever remark by our monkey, who had the last word.

“You grimace, but I talk!” repeated the parrot for the thousandth time.

“You talk, you talk!” the monkey cried.  “Well, you imbecile, what have I been doing the past hour, during this whole stupid argument?”

And for once the parrot did not open his beak.


(Posted by Doug Skinner)

Tags: Alphonse Allais · Animals · Literature

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Norman Conquest // Dec 24, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    My sides hurt. I’m speechless!

  • 2 Win // Dec 25, 2012 at 2:28 am

    What I always wished for, every Christmas Eve: to wake up astonished, in a state of wonder.

    Thank you, Doug. This is the best present you could have given the world this day!

  • 3 Doug // Dec 25, 2012 at 10:56 am

    Thank you; it’s an old favorite of mine.

  • 4 Angela // Dec 29, 2012 at 7:47 am

    he he he

  • 5 mamie // Jan 6, 2013 at 2:59 am


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