The Jay and the Peacock is an aesopic fable found in various collections throughout the world.
One day a jay found some feathers a peacock had shed. Sticking them among his own rusty black ones, he began to strut about, ignoring and despising his old friends and companions. Dressed in his borrowed plumage, he very cockily sought out a flock of peacocks who were walking on the park lawn.
Instantly detecting the true identity of the intruder, they stripped him of his finery and, falling on him with their sharp beaks, they drove him away. The bedraggled jay, sadder but wiser, went to his former companions. He would have been satisfied to associate with them again. But the jays, remembering how obnoxious he had been with his airs and his vanity, drummed him out of their society.
One of those whom he had so lately despised offered him the following advice: “Be contented with what nature made you and you will avoid the contempt of your peers and the punishment of your betters.” Moral: Happiness is not to be found in borrowed finery.
Horace, in his Epistles (book 1), alludes to the fable when he accuses one writer of borrowing the writings of another and says he will be found out “like the wretched crow when stripped of her stolen hues.” Benedict of Oxford, in his Hebrew version of the fables, makes the bird a raven, although most English versions call it a jackdaw. Thackeray included the fable in the Prologue to his novel The Newcomers.
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow– Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante