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The Scorpion and the Frog is an animal fable that seems to have first emerged in Russia. On account of its dark morality, there have been many references to it since then in popular culture, including in films, television shows, and books.


A scorpion asks a frog to carry it across a river. The frog hesitates, afraid of being stung by the scorpion, but the scorpion argues that if it did that, they would both drown. The frog considers this argument sensible and agrees to transport the scorpion. The scorpion climbs onto the frog's back and the frog begins to swim, but midway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog, dooming them both. The dying frog asks the scorpion why it stung, to which the scorpion replies "I couldn't help it. It's in my nature." [1][2][3]


The moral of the story is that, like the scorpion, vicious people often cannot help hurting others even when it is against their interests.[4][5]


An 1847 illustration of "The Scorpion and the Tortoise" from the Persian Kalilah and Dimna, an ancient fable which might have inspired The Scorpion and the Frog.

The earliest known publication of this fable in this exact form was in the 1944 book The Hunter of the Pamirs: A Novel of Adventure in Soviet Central Asia by Georgi Tushkan.[6] It was made famous by the 1955 film Mr. Arkadin.[7][8] In interviews about the film, director Orson Welles remarked, "that scorpion story is Russian in origin".[9]


The Scorpion and the Tortoise is a fable that emerged in India. Instead of a frog, it is a tortoise that carries the scorpion, and the tortoise survives thanks to its protective shell.[10][11] John Malcolm, in his 1827 book Sketches of Persia, from the Journals of a Traveller in the East, relates a version of this tale in which the tortoise spares the scorpion but delivers the following rebuke:

"Are you not the most wicked and ungrateful of reptiles? But for me you must either have given up your journey, or have been drowned in that stream, and what is my reward? If it had not been for the armour which God has given me, I should have been stung to death." "Blame me not," said the scorpion, in a supplicatory tone, "it is not my fault; it is that of my nature; it is a constitutional habit I have of stinging."[12]

In some versions of the tale, the tortoise punishes the scorpion by letting it drown.[13]

The image of a scorpion carried across a river by a frog occurs at an earlier period, in the Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli), though with a different outcome and purpose. The scorpion crosses the river and stings a man, killing him. This is said to illustrate how God's will is fulfilled in seemingly impossible ways.[14] An Arab variant is found in a Sufi source that illustrates divine providence with the tale of a scorpion that crosses the Nile on a frog's back in order to save a sleeping drunkard from being bitten by a snake.[15] In neither of the above, however, is the frog injured.

The fable has often been mis-attributed to Aesop, but it may have taken inspiration from some of Aesop's actual fables. There is a fable of Aesop's called The Farmer and the Viper, which teaches the same basic moral. Another possible inspiration from Aesop's fables is The Frog and the Mouse, which warns against injudicious friendships: "inconsiderate and ill-matched alliances generally end in ruin; and the man who compasses the destruction of his neighbour is often caught in his own snare".[16]

A study of The Scorpion and the Frog published in a German journal in 2011 found no connection with the Indian tradition of the Panchatantra, either in the original Sanskrit work or its early translations.[17] However, the fable of The Scorpion and the Tortoise was found interpolated in post-Islamic variants of the Panchatantra.[18] The study suggests that the interpolation occurred between the 12th and 13th centuries in the Persian language area and may offer a new starting point for further research on the question of the fable's origin.[19]

Other contextsEdit

Since the fable's narration in Mr. Arkadin [7][8], it has been recounted in other films, including The Crying Game (1992) and Drive (2011).[20] In addition, references to the fable have appeared in television shows, books and newspaper articles.[21][22] It has also been used to dramatize the bitter nature of Middle Eastern politics such as the Arab-Israeli conflict[23][24] and in Iran.[25][26]


  1. ^ William A. Borst (2004) The Scorpion and the Frog: a Natural Conspiracy.
  2. ^ Frank Pittman (2009) The Scorpion and the Frog. Psychology Today, Dec 16, 2009.
  3. ^ The scorpion and the frog. eBooKids.
  4. ^ Stuart Lasine (2012) Weighing Hearts: Character, Judgment, and the Ethics of Reading the Bible. T & T Clark International, p.110.
  5. ^ Karen Silverman and Jaret Kanarek (2013) The Scorpion And The Frog: A False Narrative Of Human Nature. The Intellectual Standard, Volume 2, Issue 1.
  6. ^ Georgi, Tushkan (1944). The Hunter of the Pamirs. A Novel of Adventure in Soviet Central Asia. Hutchinson & Co. p. 320.
  7. ^ a b The story as told by Orson Welles on YouTube. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  8. ^ a b Richard Brody (2010) DVD of the Week: Mr. Arkadin. The New Yorker, March 30, 2010.
  9. ^ Orson Welles on “Mr. Arkadin”. Wellesnet, May 22, 2006.
  10. ^ Edward B. Eastwick (1854) Anwar-i- Suhayli Or The Light Of Canopus. Hertford: Printed and Published by Steven Austin. pp 133-134
  11. ^ McKenzie, Kenneth (1900). "Dante's References to Aesop". Seventeenth Annual Report of the Dante Society. Cambridge, Mass.: Boston Ginn and Company (for the Dante Society) (17): 11. JSTOR 40165919. (Note: The report is dated May 17, 1898, but was published in 1900 after a delay noted in the volume introduction.)
  12. ^ John Malcolm, Sketches of Persia, from the Journals of a Traveller in the East, London 1827, Chapter XIV, p. 3.
  13. ^ Maude Barrows Dutton (1908) The tortoise and the geese : and other fables of Bidpai. Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., pp.12-13.
  14. ^ Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli), Women (Seder Nashim), Vows (Nedarim), Chapter IV, p. 41.
  15. ^ René Khawam, Propos d’amour des mystiques musulmans, choisis, présentés and traduits de l'arabe, Paris, 1960; section 3, Le soufisme authentique.
  16. ^ Thomas James (1852) Fable 21 - The Mouse and the Frog. In, Aesop’s Fables: A New Version, Chiefly From Original Sources. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, p.14.
  17. ^ Takeda, Arata (March 2011). "Blumenreiche Handelswege: Ost-westliche Streifzüge auf den Spuren der Fabel Der Skorpion und der Frosch" (PDF). Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte. 85 (1): 124–152. doi:10.1007/BF03374756.
  18. ^ Takeda (2011), pp. 140-142.
  19. ^ Takeda (2011), p. 142.
  20. ^ Peter Canavese (2011) Review: 'Drive'. Mountain View Online, September 16, 2011
  21. ^ Maurice Saatchi (2007) Google data versus human nature. Financial Times, May 29, 2007.
  22. ^ Murray Forseter (2017) GOP Effort to Control Trump Is the Embodiment of the Fable "The Scorpion and the Frog". HUFFPOST, June 9, 2017.
  23. ^ Anon. (1997) Compromise is still seen as surrender. The Telegraph, 18 Jan 1997.
  24. ^ Patrick Kiker (2006) ...Because It's The Middle East. CBS News, July 16, 2006.
  25. ^ Anon. (2017) ‘Scorpion & frog’: Haley uses fable to blast Iran as UN & EU say Tehran complies with nuclear deal. RT, 30 June 2017.
  26. ^ United Nations (2017) Accord on Iran’s Nuclear Programme Remains on Track, Political Affairs Chief Tells Security Council. United Nations, SC/12894, 29 June 2017