The Truth Behind Aesop’s Fables – Part 4/4 (ca. 620-560 BC)

By: The Scribe on Saturday, July 28, 2007

Project Gutenberg Illustration of Aesop’s fable “The Grasshopper and the Ants”.

Clearly, Aesop’s most enduring legacy was his fables. Though the majority of his personal history remains unclear, many of his tales have survived for thousands of years, often read to children at bedtime or to teach them a moral lesson. However, Aesop’s stories were never meant for children – in fact, more often than not, he used them in a public forum to win an argument or make a point, and it is likely that he told many of his tales while conversing with some of the greatest Greek philosophers of all time.

Here are the names of some of Aesop’s best-remembered tales and the wisdom they were intended to teach:

The Grasshopper and the Ants: A grasshopper (or cicada, in the original Greek) spends the warm months singing and playing while the ants work for months to store food for the cold winter…when winter comes, the grasshopper begins to starve, while the ants reap the benefits of their hard work.

Moral of the story: Hard work pays off, while improvidence is peril.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf: A bored shepherd boy amuses himself by calling “wolf” so that the villagers will run to help him… only to find that it’s a false alarm. When a wolf actually comes, no one takes his cries for help seriously, so he loses his sheep to the wolf.

Moral of the story: “Even when liars tell the truth, they are never believed. The liar will lie once, twice, and then perish when he tells the truth.”

Illustration by Milo Winter in 1919, from The Aesop for Children

The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs: A farmer and his wife are fortunate to have a goose that lays a golden egg every day, but soon they begin to think they aren’t getting rich fast enough… so, thinking the goose must be golden inside, they cut him open to get all the gold – only to discover he is just like any other goose. Now they can neither get rich quick nor enjoy a bit of wealth each day.

Moral of the story: Greed destroys the source of all good. Much wants more yet often loses all.

The Tortoise and the Hare: One day, a hare mocks a slow-moving tortoise – so the tortoise challenges him to a race. The hare pulls ahead quickly in the race and decides to take a nap, confident in winning. But, when he wakes up, he discovers that the slow tortoise has already won.

Moral of the story: Slow and steady wins the race.

Want to read more?

Tomorrow: Ice, Ice, Britain…


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