Nov 08, 11
Read from October 23 to November 08, 2011
Most people in modern times associate Aesop's Fables with children's literature; however, Aesop's fables of ancient Greece and Rome were originally told by and for adults, not children. I love how these stories are written in circumlocutory form, leaving one as a reader with the task to read between the lines and interpret the narrator's hints and allusions. Much of the language used is satirical and often dissident political writing, and most of the fables serve a didactic purpose and leave one with a moral teaching.
I’ve always been fascinated by parables, myths, ancient proverbs and fairy tales. I love the introductory essay D.L. Ashliman in the Barnes and Noble Classics version. He provides a detailed outline of the history and myth involving the man Aesop, as well as the fact that Aesopic fables have been traced since back in Mesopotamia. He also provides interesting and in-depth analysis on moral philosophy, relativity of traditional moral rules, irony, practical everyday advice, human psychology, etiology, religion, and folklore. He wrote an overall magnificent analysis of Aesop and the literary tradition involving this figure.
Some of my favorite fables:
"Every man carries two bags about with him, one in front and one behind, and both are packed full of faults. The Bag in front contains his neighbours' faults, the one behind his own. Hence it is that men do not see their own faults, but never fail to see those of others."
"The quarrels of friends are opportunities of foes: Three bulls were grazing in meadow, and were watched by a lion, who longed to capture and devour them, but who felt he was no match for the three of them so long as they kept together. So he began by false whispers and malicious hints to foment jealousies and distrust among them. This strategem succeeded so well that ere long the bulls grew cold and unfriendly, and finally avoided each other and fed each one by himself apart. No sooner did the lion see this than he fell upon them one by one and killed them in turn."
"Better poverty without a care than wealth with its many obligations: A fir tree was boasting to a bramble, and said, somewhat contemptuously, 'You poor creature, you are of no use whatever. Now, look at me. I am useful for all sorts of things, particularly when men build houses; they can't do without me then.' But the bramble replied, 'Ah, that's all very well, but you wait till they come with axes and saws to cut you down, and then you'll wish you were a bramble and not a fir.'"
"Example is better than precept: An old crab aid to her son, 'Why do you walk sideways like that, my son? You ought to walk straight.' The young crab replied, 'Show me how, dear mother, and I'll follow your example.' The old crab tried, but tried in vain, and then saw how foolish she had been to find fault with her child."
"A town mouse and a country mouse were acquaintances, and the country mouse one day invited his friend to come and see him at his home in the fields. The town mouse came, and they sat down to a dinner of barleycorns and roots, the latter of which had a distinctly earthy flavour. The fare was not much to the taste of the guest, and presently he broke out with "My poor dear friend, you live here no better than the ants. Now, you should just see how I fare! My larder is a regular horn of plenty. You must come and stay with me, and I promise you you shall live on the fat of the land.
So when he returned to town he took the country mouse with him, and showed him into a larder containing flour and oatmeal and figs and honey and dates. The country mouse had never seen anything like it, and sat down to enjoy the luxuries his friend provided: but before they had well begun, the door of the larder opened and some one came in. The two mice scampered off and hid themselves in a narrow and exceedingly uncomfortable hole. Presently, when all was quiet, they ventured out again; but some one else came in, and off they scuttled again. This was too much for the visitor. "Good-bye," said he, "I'm off. You live in the lap of luxury, I can see, but you are surrounded by dangers; whereas at home I can enjoy my simple dinner of roots and corn in peace."