I know, time out from what, right? I’d have to actually be writing to take a time out from it. But it’s Tuesday, and I love to stick with my routines…you know, when I feel like it. So instead of coming up with something new of my own, I’m going to be unbelievably arrogant and give my opinions about stories that have endured thousands of years. Doesn’t that sound like fun?
Aesop, born a slave, died being thrown off a cliff. Who wouldn’t want to be as storyteller?
Even better, everything we know about him is probably made up. I can’t think of anything I’d like more than to have people make up crazy dramatic things about my life someday. I’m totally going to stick with this blog. And also start reading more fables.
Aesop was a genius.
The Lion’s Share
The lion and the donkey go hunting together and the lion kills the donkey because he thinks he deserves more. The moral: Partnership with the mighty is never trustworthy.
It’s pretty obvious why this one is awesome. The cynicism. The violence. The gritty reality. And could there be a better moral? This one is high on my rewrite list.
The Bear and the Travelers
Two guys in the woods run into a bear. The one in front quickly grabs a branch and swings into a tree, leaving his friend alone. The friend plays dead and the bear sniffs at his ear before walking away. When the first guy gets down he asks what the bear said. “Never trust a friend who deserts you at a pinch,” says his friend.
1. Stories with bears are almost always awesome. 2. The moral is solid, but even better is the snarky way that it comes out from the abandoned friend. This isn’t as well known as some, but it should be.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf
I don’t think I really need to summarize this one, do I? You can read about it here if for some reason you’ve managed to never hear it. This one gets repeated and redone a hundred times, but it never gets old. I learned from it when I was a kid, and I only had kids for about two years before I already wanted to tell them the story because OH MY GOODNESS KIDS REALLY NEED TO LEARN TO NOT CRY WOLF. I can only imagine that every parent since ancient Greece felt the same. And stories that draw on how we all feel are what it’s all about.
The North Wind and the Sun
The two great forces of nature make a bet to see who’s stronger. The idea is to get the cloak off of a traveler. The North Wind blows with all his might, but instead of blowing the cloak off, it only makes the traveler wrap it around tighter. Then the sun beats down, and the traveler takes off the cloak of his own accord. The moral: Persuasion is better than force.
This one just intrigues me. I love that the characters are forces of nature. And it’s such an astute evaluation of human nature. Forces of nature commenting on human nature? Everything a fable should be.
Are you kidding me, Aesop?
The Ant and the Grasshopper
The ant works hard all summer and the grasshopper goofs off. Then in the winter, the grasshopper has no food to eat and is starving. The ant refuses to share with him. The moral: Idleness brings want.
This is a very good lesson to learn, no doubt about it. But ever since I was a kid I’ve had the same problem with it. The stupid, selfish, hard-working ant. Seriously, he can’t share a little food with a starving grasshopper? Is he trying to teach him a lesson? Because dead grasshoppers don’t learn lessons. I’m just saying. There really needs to be a fable that shows what happens to smug, greedy ants. I’m sorry, but this one just bugs me. Definitely no pun intended.
The Tortoise and the Hare
I don’t think I need a summary of this one either. And I think I’ve already explained why it irks me. I get that the hare was overconfident and/or lazy, depending on the version. I get what’s wrong with him. But that whole moral about how plodding wins the race just sits wrong with me. I just…oh just go click that link and see what I already wrote.
The Milkmaid and her Pail
Basically, this is the source of the phrase “Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.” She’s bringing her milk home and starts imagining what she’s going to do with the money it earns her. When she flounces around imagining herself in her new dress for the dance, she spills the milk.
There’s no arguing with the excellent moral of this one. I just feel so drawn to the poor milkmaid who is working hard to earn her money. I don’t begrudge her a moment of getting lost in a daydream. Yes, life is tough. Yes, her mistake cost her, and there’s no changing that. But it’s not like she sat around doing nothing but imagining a better life. She was hard at work and got a little carried away with her imagination. Could we not write a story about someone who never looked ahead, never planned for what was coming? Would that not also have a sad ending?
Obviously there are hundreds of fables attributed to Aesop, so I’m going to quit while I’m ahead. Besides, most of them are little innocuous things that don’t deserve much love or hate. I’ve not come close to reading them all. I’d love to hear which are your favorites and which drive you crazy. I’d love to hear you argue my opinions. Oh, who am I kidding? I’d love any kind of comments at all.