Category Archives: Lessons from Aesop

Lessons from Aesop’s fables (#5): The Astronomer

Fable:

An astronomer used to go out at night to observe the stars. One evening, as he wandered through the suburbs with his whole attention fixed on the sky, he fell accidentally into a deep well. While he lamented and bewailed his sores and bruises, and cried loudly for help, a neighbor ran to the well, and learning what had happened said: “How now, old fellow, why, in striving to pry into what is in heaven, do you not manage to see what is on earth?’ Astrologue

Moral:

This fable serves to show the importance of grounding one’s religious inquiries and concerns. Too much intellectual or spiritual activity that seeks to transcend the real world or the common good of people is not only selfish, but also futile and harmful. Besides, does it really matter how the stars are situated, how the whole universe came about, or how the “divine principle” operates beyond the senses? No, these philosophical and theological things are small concerns and pedantic trifles to the ordinary person who cares far more for the fruits of real & stable community, harmony between people & nature, the knowledge of history & culture, and indeed the revival & preservation of traditions.

Lessons from Aesop’s Fables (#4): The North Wind and the Sun

Fable: 

The North Wind and the Sun disputed as to which was the most powerful, and agreed fontaine-09that he should be declared the victor who could first strip a wayfaring man of his clothes. The North Wind first tried his power and blew with all his might, but the keener his blasts, the closer the Traveler wrapped his cloak around him, until at last, resigning all hope of victory, the Wind called upon the Sun to see what he could do. The Sun suddenly shone out with all his warmth. The Traveler no sooner felt his genial rays than he took off one garment after another, and at last, fairly overcome with heat, undressed and bathed in a stream that lay in his path.

Moral:

Laconically put: Persuasion is better than force!

 

Lessons from Aesop’s Fables (#3): The Man and the Satyr

Fable:

A Man and a Satyr once drank together in token of a bond of friendship being formed between them. One very cold wintry day, as they talked, the Man put his fingers to his mouth and blew on them. When the Satyr asked the reason for this, he told him that he did it to warm his hands because they were so cold. Later on in the day they sat down to eat, and the food prepared was quite scalding. The Man raised one of the dishes a little towards his mouth and blew in it. When the Satyr again inquired the reason, he said that he did it to cool the meat, which was too hot. “I can no longer consider you as a friend,” said the Satyr, “a fellow who with the same breath blows hot and cold.”

Moral:1959.4559-MF[1]

Although originally used to reproach the innate contradiction of humankind or to warn against the friendship of dishonest people, this fable is profound enough to allow of a different interpretation pertaining to polytheists. The satyr here can be seen as the one at fault, because he does not understand the complex nature of existence and culture. Indeed, the satyr here can be best compared to monotheists who insist on absolute moral dualism and condemn the grey shades (i.e. relativism) of a polytheistic worldview in favor of an extremely biased black and white one. Just like the satyr, a monotheist would not comprehend (for example) why both Achilles and Hector, even though they fought against one another, are both considered noble warriors while also not being altogether perfect.

Lessons from Aesop’s Fables (#2): The Fox and the Grapes

Fable:

A famished Fox saw some clusters of ripe black grapes hanging from a trellised vine. She resorted to all her tricks to get at them, but wearied herself in vain, for she could not reach them. At last she turned away, hiding her disappointment and saying: “The Grapes are sour, and not ripe as I thought.”

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Moral:

Taken metaphorically, this interpretation can be presented to polytheists as follows. Beware of blaming the Gods when you are unable to fulfil your presumptuous attempts of reaching their height, knowing them fully, keeping company with them, or attributing divine titles to yourself, because you can’t and you shouldn’t.

Lessons from Aesop’s Fables (introduction and part 1):

Although stories exist within and derive from particular peoples and cultures, they contain truths that can be understood by all others. This is perhaps nowhere truer than in Aesop, a Thracian or Lydian slave living in Greece, whose old stories are simple, moralized and a little obscure, creating the perfect conditions for rich interpretations and profound lessons. They have also influenced storytellers from other cultures, such as Rome and India. These fables have been told to children for generations, but even adults have enjoyed and learned from them, and the complexity shows that they may well have been originally written for adults. An old post of mine demonstrates how a fable saved the early city of Rome from further rebellion. Since this is the case, and since Aesop wrote in ancient times, there is a special place for polytheists within his fables. In this series, I will be posting select fables and offering, as well as receiving in the comment section, didactic interpretations that are suited to polytheists in general or to our current circumstances in particular. I have long looked forward to this series and I hope it will be of some benefit. Now let’s proceed to the first fable and moral.

The Old Man and His Sons

A father had a family of sons who were perpetually quarreling among themselves. When he failed to heal their disputes by his exhortations, he determined to give them a practical illustration of the evils of disunion; and for this purpose, he one day told them to bring him a bundle of sticks. When they had done so, he placed the faggot into the hands of each of them in succession, and ordered them to break it in pieces. They tried with all their imagestrength, and were not able to do it. He next opened the bundle, took the sticks separately, one by one, and again put them into his sons’ hands, upon which they broke them easily. He then addressed them in these words: “My sons, if you are of one mind, and unite to assist each other, you will be as this bundle, uninjured by all the attempts of your enemies; but if you are divided among yourselves, you will be broken as easily as these sticks.”

 

Moral:

I can think of two interpretations here. The first is to compare the sons to the various individual polytheists today. In this case, the unbreakable bundle is a community that comes together strongly and, in spite of (natural) disagreements, compromises towards a necessary unity that would otherwise be weakened by monotheistic or modernistic influences. The second interpretation would be to liken the sticks to individual communities or groups of polytheists that are safer together than apart during a temporary period of larger instability. These sticks are separate and may be colored differently (in the sense of social and cultural distinctions), but put together they serve their purpose for the time being until the danger passes. The father represents our various ancestors and regional origins. Our ancestors are calling us to unite in order to pass on their ways and serve their Gods together as they did. Let us do so. If circumstances force us to be alone for a while, let’s always look and work for the earliest opportunity for unity and community.