Aesopica is Still Relevant

He nailed the bones of society centuries ago.

Fables used to illicit a groan from me. Yes, I understand what the story is saying. Yes, I comprehend what I am expected to do. Little did I realize that being drilled with these stories gave me a grounding I would use throughout my life.

Aesop, a slave and storyteller from ancient Greece, has been credited with hundreds of these moralistic tales. That they capture the essence of living successfully in society — even today — speaks volumes about their worth. Our social rules and expectations haven’t changed much in thousands of years. Isn’t that something?

The Sun & The Wind

The sun and the wind watched a man walking along the road and had a bet. Whoever could get the man to remove his coat would be declared the most powerful. The wind went first, and almost blew the coat right off him. But instead he wrapped the coat more tightly around him and powered on. Next up came the sun, who shone upon the man. Becoming hotter and hotter, the man took off his coat.

When I was a child I loved this fable. The art of persuasion versus the malice of force. It said that all you need is to put forward a good argument with solid evidence and you will be more effective than trying to change someone’s mind through force alone. Is this why I don’t argue on the internet? Possibly.

The Tortoise & The Hare

Overconfident and boastful, the hare proclaimed he was faster and better than everyone else. The tortoise challenged him to a race and he almost laughed in his face. The day of the race came and the hare sped off, leaving the tortoise in his dust. Halfway through, the hare decides to take a nap. Sure enough, the tortoise overtakes him quietly and wins the race.

Ah, perseverance. I do not have it. But slow and steady progress is better than burnout. We’ve all learned that the hard way.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf

A bored Shepherd boy tricks the villagers into thinking a wolf has come to eat the flock of sheep he is taking care of. Eventually they stop believing him and when the wolf actually comes, no-one comes to help him. He and the sheep are eaten by the wolf.

Every time I was caught lying, someone from my family would sit me down and tell me this tale. Has it stopped me lying? No. Has it made me smarter about when and how I lie? Yes. Which in turn has made me more honest. Fine, it worked. I hope my family are proud. (They are not.)

What intrigues me about Aesop’s Fables is how universal they are; to any society we have created, at any moment in time throughout our history. What Aesop seems to have accomplished is to take the fundamental workings of human interaction and provide a metaphorical rule-book. This, without religion or fear of any higher power striking you down if you did not do as instructed.

Or, as Christopher Hitchens so wonderfully put it:

“Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.”