Aesop’s Fables Speak to Us Today

 

Few of us would argue that we live in decadent and conflicted times. As a free people, we seem willing to compromise repeatedly our freedoms and blessings, responding to fears that have been inflamed. Our morals are being challenged at every crisis as they eat away at our conviction and determination to be brave, free, and honorable people.

In the midst of the latest crises and compromises, I thought of Aesop’s Fables. Most of us have probably been exposed to at least some of his stories, but before I share some that I think would particularly speak to our times, I wanted to check out Aesop’s personal story. Some scholars question whether he ever existed, but there are some who believe he was a real person:

Aesop was a Greek storyteller born in approximately 620 BCE. Tradition says he was born as a slave, but developed a real talent for fables that were used to teach truths in a simple, understandable way. While Aesop was revered for his abilities, it is almost certain that many of the fables attributed to him were actually written by countless people over the ages.

His fables have mostly animal characters and were wisdom intended (at face value) for children. But I was curious to know if they also spoke to adults, and if they had messages for our times.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Here are a few of his fables, with my limited commentary:

The Lioness

There was a great stir made among all the beasts, as to which could boast of the largest family. So they came to the lioness. “And how many,” said they, “do you have at a birth?” “One,” said she, grimly; “but that one is a lion.”

(Hmm…. echoes of Trump?)

The Lamb and the Wolf

A lamb pursued by a wolf took refuge in a temple. Upon this, the wolf called out to him and said that the priest would slay him if he caught him. “Be it so,” said the lamb, “it is better to be sacrificed to God, than to be devoured by you.”

(The wolf?)

The Shepherd Boy

There was once a young Shepherd Boy who tended his sheep at the foot of a mountain near a dark forest. It was rather lonely for him all day, so he thought upon a plan by which he could get a little company and some excitement. He rushed down towards the village calling out “Wolf, Wolf,” and the villagers came out to meet him, and some of them stopped with him for a considerable time. This pleased the boy so much that a few days afterward he tried the same trick, and again the villagers came to his help. But shortly after this a Wolf actually did come out from the forest, and began to worry the sheep, and the boy of course cried out “Wolf, Wolf,” still louder than before. But this time the villagers, who had been fooled twice before, thought the boy was again deceiving them, and nobody stirred to come to his help. So the Wolf made a good meal off the boy’s flock, and when the boy complained, the wise man of the village said:

“A liar will not be believed, even when he speaks the truth.”

(Thinking of the ever-shifting landscape—who/what to believe. . . )

The Peacock and Juno

The peacock complained to the goddess Juno that, while the nightingale pleased every ear with his song, he, the proud peacock, no sooner opened his mouth than he became a laughingstock to all who heard him. The goddess, to console him, said; “But you far excel in beauty and in size. The splendor of the emerald shines in your neck and you unfold a tail gorgeous with painted plumage.”

“But for what purpose have I,” said the bird, “this dumb beauty as long as I am surpassed in song?” “The lot of each,” replied Juno, “has been assigned by the will of the Fates to you, beauty; to the eagle, strength; to the nightingale, song; to the raven, favorable, and to the crow, unfavorable expectations. These are all contented with the endowments allotted to them.”

(We all have strengths to bring to this fight . . . )

 –and finally–

The Bundle of Sticks

A husbandman, who had a quarrelsome family, after having trying in vain to reconcile them by words, thought he might more readily prevail by an example. So he called his sons and bade them lay a bundle of sticks before him. Then having tied them into a faggot, he told the lads, one after the other, to take it up and break it. They all tried but tried in vain.

Then untying the faggot, he gave them the sticks to break one by one. This they did with the greatest ease. Then said the father, “Thus you, my sons, as long as you remain united, are a match for all your enemies; but differ and separate, and you are undone.”

The battle has been engaged, but not just against a virus; it is against those who would tyrannize us, slowly taking away our freedoms, compromising our courage and weakening our resolve.

It’s time to find a way to come together.

Please add your own commentary, and feel free to add to the fables included here; you can read more of them here .

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  1. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Susan Quinn:

    The Bundle of Sticks

    A husbandman, who had a quarrelsome family, after having tried in vain to reconcile them by words, thought he might more readily prevail by an example. So he called his sons and bade them lay a bundle of sticks before him. Then having tied them into a faggot, he told the lads, one after the other, to take it up and break it. They all tried, but tried in vain.

    Then untying the faggot, he gave them the sticks to break one by one. This they did with the greatest ease. Then said the father, “Thus you, my sons, as long as you remain united, are a match for all your enemies; but differ and separate, and you are undone.”

     

    The battle has been engaged, but not just against a virus; it is against those who would tyrannize us, slowly taking away our freedoms, compromising our courage and weakening our resolve.

    It’s time to find a way to come together.

    Recognizing that they were forming a nation based on individual liberty; understanding that individuals have ideas that differ one from another and that, when acting as a group, that diversity of ideas will come into conflict; agreeing that government must be with the consent of the governed; the founders created a proposed constitution to be ratified by the people of the States joining and after ratification that Constitution could be amended through a ratification by three-fourths of the States, thus ‘e pluribus unum’. So we have a method to change the fundamentals protecting our freedoms as individuals but it is not easy.  The Left gets very frustrated by this and constantly tries other methods.. 

     

    • #1
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):
    Recognizing that they were forming a nation based on individual liberty; understanding that individuals have ideas that differ one from another and that, when acting as a group, that diversity of ideas will come into conflict; agreeing that government must be with the consent of the governed; the founders created a proposed constitution to be ratified by the people of the States joining and after ratification that Constitution could be amended through a ratification by three-fourths of the States, thus ‘e pluribus unum’. So we have a method to change the fundamentals protecting our freedoms as individuals but it is not easy. The Left gets very frustrated by this and constantly tries other methods.. 

    Thanks, @bobthompson. Yes, the Left often gets its way. It’s much easier for them, because morals and ethics have nothing to do with their decisions. They are free to do whatever they wish without excuses. And we lose so much each time.

    • #2
  3. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Yes, the Left often gets its way. It’s much easier for them, because morals and ethics have nothing to do with their decisions. They are free to do whatever they wish without excuses. And we lose so much each time.

    It’s the nonstop temper tantrums. Certain jurisdictions were all for banning plastic bags “for the environment.” But reusable bags are prone to both viral and bacterial contamination. And before you can say “I told you so,” the plastic bags are back.

    • #3
  4. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    Susan Quinn:

    The Bundle of Sticks

    A husbandman, who had a quarrelsome family, after having tried in vain to reconcile them by words, thought he might more readily prevail by an example. So he called his sons and bade them lay a bundle of sticks before him. Then having tied them into a faggot, he told the lads, one after the other, to take it up and break it. They all tried, but tried in vain.

    Then untying the faggot, he gave them the sticks to break one by one. This they did with the greatest ease. Then said the father, “Thus you, my sons, as long as you remain united, are a match for all your enemies; but differ and separate, and you are undone.”

     

    The fasces.

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Ah, yes indeed. He made the point so well. Thanks, @rodin.

    Oh, I just realized that the bundles/fasces appear in both Lincoln photos. Awesome!!

    • #5
  6. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    I like the tale of Avarice and Envy, or  Greed and Jealousy (the version below taken from the John Jacobs collection of Aesop’s Fables:

    Two neighbours came before Jupiter and prayed him to grant their hearts’ desire. Now the one was full of avarice (greed), and the other eaten up with envy (jealousy). So to punish them both, Jupiter granted that each might have whatever he wished for himself, but only on condition that his neighbour had twice as much. The Avaricious man prayed to have a room full of gold. No sooner said than done; but all his joy was turned to grief when he found that his neighbour had two rooms full of the precious metal. Then came the turn of the Envious man, who could not bear to think that his neighbour had any joy at all. So he prayed that he might have one of his own eyes put out, by which means his companion would become totally blind.

    So Jupiter (so wise!) grants them their heart’s desire, on the condition that, whatever each of them wishes for,  the other party will have twice as much of the “loot.”    And so the greedy man, who dreams of satisfying his cupidity with a room stuffed full of gold, is first deliriously happy with it, but then feels angry, cheated, and victimized when he finds out that, according to the contract with Jupiter, his neighbor has twice as much!  And the Envious man, who can’t bear the thought of his neighbor being happy for any reason, and who’s at least thought ahead and understood the “doubling-up” rule before he asks his favor, is willing to lose one of his own eyes, knowing that his neighbor will be blinded in both.

    I don’t think it’s at all difficult to find examples of this sort of behavior and attitude, or of the misery they create for the perpetrators and for others, in the the world today.

    Oh, the moral?  Summed up as “vices are their own punishment.”  I really do believe that’s true.

    • #6
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    She (View Comment):
    Oh, the moral? Summed up as “vices are their own punishment.” I really do believe that’s true.

    That’s a great one, @she. Thanks!

    • #7
  8. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):
    The Left gets very frustrated by this and constantly tries other methods.

    Divide and conquer is the left’s modus operandi.  They are mostly compsed of groups – LGBT, Hollywood celebrities, college professors, the MSM, single mothers.  However, they also depend on racial minorities and women in general to put them in office (they’re toast if they ever lose the black vote).  They portray most of these groups as victims so as to separate them out of mainstream society, which they define as racist, sexist, bigoted, homophobic, Islamophobic, neo-Nazi, white supremacist, etc.

    The truth is, conservatism could support these groups and what they practice.  While I’m vehemently against same-sex marriage, the right way to go about changing our laws on the subject would have been to convince a majority their idea was good.  However, the left likes to use the courts as a cudgel to get whatever they want because they don’t have the patience to argue or the logic to back their arguments up.

    • #8
  9. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    The Horse and the Stag

    A quarrel had arisen between the Horse and the Stag, so the Horse came to a Hunter to ask his help to take revenge on the Stag. The Hunter agreed, but said: “If you desire to conquer the Stag, you must permit me to place this piece of iron between your jaws, so that I may guide you with these reins, and allow this saddle to be placed upon your back so that I may keep steady upon you as we follow after the enemy.” The Horse agreed to the conditions, and the Hunter soon saddled and bridled him. Then with the aid of the Hunter the Horse soon overcame the Stag, and said to the Hunter: “Now, get off, and remove those things from my mouth and back.”

    “Not so fast, friend,” said the Hunter. “I have now got you under bit and spur, and prefer to keep you as you are at present.”

    If you allow men to use you for your own purposes, they will use you for theirs.

    • #9
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):

    The Horse and the Stag

    A quarrel had arisen between the Horse and the Stag, so the Horse came to a Hunter to ask his help to take revenge on the Stag. The Hunter agreed, but said: “If you desire to conquer the Stag, you must permit me to place this piece of iron between your jaws, so that I may guide you with these reins, and allow this saddle to be placed upon your back so that I may keep steady upon you as we follow after the enemy.” The Horse agreed to the conditions, and the Hunter soon saddled and bridled him. Then with the aid of the Hunter the Horse soon overcame the Stag, and said to the Hunter: “Now, get off, and remove those things from my mouth and back.”

    “Not so fast, friend,” said the Hunter. “I have now got you under bit and spur, and prefer to keep you as you are at present.”

    If you allow men to use you for your own purposes, they will use you for theirs.

    @paulstinchfield, wow, talk about the perfect metaphor for our times! The best one yet! We must ask ourselves how much more “reining in” we can take from the Left! Thanks.

    • #10
  11. kylez Member
    kylez
    @kylez

    I got the Barnes and Noble version several months ago, and intend to read a few a day starting May 1. 

    • #11
  12. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    talk about the perfect metaphor for our times!

    Possibly the best known version of this fable is Isaac Asimov’s “Bridle and Saddle”:

    “A horse having a wolf as a powerful and dangerous enemy lived in constant fear of his life. Being driven to desperation, it occurred to him to seek a strong ally. Whereupon he approached a man, and offered an alliance, pointing out that the wolf was likewise an enemy of the man. The man accepted the partnership at once and offered to kill the wolf immediately, if his new partner would only co-operate by placing his greater speed at the man’s disposal. The horse was willing, and allowed the man to place bridle and saddle upon him. The man mounted, hunted down the wolf, and killed him.
    “The horse, joyful and relieved, thanked the man, and said: ‘Now that our enemy is dead, remove your bridle and saddle and restore my freedom.’
    “Whereupon the man laughed loudly and replied, ‘Never!’ and applied the spurs with a will.”

    • #12
  13. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Susan doesn’t always offer the balm of affirmation for our feelings.  Sometimes, as here, it’s the cleansing flood of cold truth and clear thinking for our minds.

    Thought I’d just throw that out there.

    • #13
  14. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    kylez (View Comment):

    I got the Barnes and Noble version several months ago, and intend to read a few a day starting May 1.

    I’ve never owned a copy, @kylez, but that sounds like a great idea.

    • #14
  15. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    kylez (View Comment):
    I got the Barnes and Noble version several months ago, and intend to read a few a day starting May 1. 

    I have noticed some significant stylistic differences between various translations. Some seem to be more literal translations from the original Greek or from Latin, while others seem to be freer translations intended to read more smoothly in modern English.

    • #15
  16. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):

    The Horse and the Stag

    A quarrel had arisen between the Horse and the Stag, so the Horse came to a Hunter to ask his help to take revenge on the Stag. The Hunter agreed, but said: “If you desire to conquer the Stag, you must permit me to place this piece of iron between your jaws, so that I may guide you with these reins, and allow this saddle to be placed upon your back so that I may keep steady upon you as we follow after the enemy.” The Horse agreed to the conditions, and the Hunter soon saddled and bridled him. Then with the aid of the Hunter the Horse soon overcame the Stag, and said to the Hunter: “Now, get off, and remove those things from my mouth and back.”

    “Not so fast, friend,” said the Hunter. “I have now got you under bit and spur, and prefer to keep you as you are at present.”

    If you allow men to use you for your own purposes, they will use you for theirs.

    The Hunter could just move the goalposts.  Maybe the horse would be willing to accept it.

    • #16
  17. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):

    kylez (View Comment):
    I got the Barnes and Noble version several months ago, and intend to read a few a day starting May 1.

    I have noticed some significant stylistic differences between various translations. Some seem to be more literal translations from the original Greek or from Latin, while others seem to be freer translations intended to read more smoothly in modern English.

    Do you have a favorite translation, Paul? Something can be lost when translated for ease of reading.

    • #17
  18. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Do you have a favorite translation, Paul?

    No, I only have one and cannot lay my hands on it right now to see what is says about translation.

    Something can be lost when translated for ease of reading.

    Indeed. Translation can be an extremely difficult task where every choice gains something and loses something. I have read and/or heard a number of authors comment on how a word-for-word translation might lose the literal meaning due to the lack of precisely equivalent words, the emotional sense they want to convey, or the musical/poetic qualities they wish the readers to hear in their heads. This topic comes up now and then in discussions of Bible translations. As has been said many times, if you want to fully appreciate a work you need to read it in the original language. Back in January I commented that Homer’s “rosy fingered dawn” has internal rhymes in the original Greek (“roditos dactylos eos”) which reminds us that we cannot fully enjoy the poems unless we are fluent in Greek.

    • #18
  19. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):
    This topic comes up now and then in discussions of Bible translations.

    It does indeed, and makes for fascinating discussions, between Christians and Jews and even just among Jews!

    • #19
  20. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Almost four years ago I wrote a post about “The Fox and the Grapes” because I was aggravated that most people miss-use the phrase “sour grapes.”

    • #20
  21. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Almost four years ago I wrote a post about “The Fox and the Grapes” because I was aggravated that most people miss-use the phrase “sour grapes.”

    That’s a good one, @randyweivoda! I missed the OP and now I’m also set straight!

    • #21