Category Archives: Lessons from Aesop

Lesson’s from Aesop’s fables (#7): The Farmer and his Sons

Fable:

A father, being on the point of death, wished to be sure that his sons would give the same attention to his farm as he himself had given it. He called them to his bedside and said, “My sons, there is a great treasure hid in one of my vineyards.” The sons, after his death, took their spades and mattocks and carefully dug over every portion of their land. They found no treasure, but the vines repaid their labor by an extraordinary and superabundant crop.

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Moral:

The crop and the efforts that made it is the treasure, in abstract terms. It may not be an equal value, but this does not necessarily matter because the value is great enough at hand. By propelling them to action, the father not only helped his sons cooperate, but also enabled them to take care of the farm and gain by it. Had there been a treasure, conflict will have certainly followed, in many ways. I see a very profound lesson here as it regards monotheism and polytheism. In the first, the hopes for eternal Heaven and the “pleasure of God” is always used as a motive for good action, but this is a continual illusion of and for the treasure. The good is now tainted because of servitude and pathology. In polytheism however, the “treasure” is momentary and metaphorical, as in the fable–whatever we do is for our own good, not so much to please the Gods per se but to secure their favor, protection & patronage. We give that they may give; this is done directly or indirectly, and when they do not give back directly, they will somehow do so indirectly.

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Lessons from Aesop’s Fables (#6): The Donkey and his Shadow

Fable:

A Traveler hired a Donkey to convey him to a distant place. The day being intensely hot, and the sun shining in its strength, the Traveler stopped to rest, and sought shelter from the heat under the Shadow of the Donkey. As this afforded only protection for one, and as the Traveler and the owner of the Donkey both claimed it, a huge dispute arose between them as to which of them had the right to the Shadow. The owner maintained that he had hired the Donkey only, and not his Shadow. The Traveler asserted that he had, by paying for the Donkey, hired his Shadow also. The quarrel proceeded from words to blows, and while the men fought, the Donkey galloped off.

 

Moral:

It’s a sad thing when polytheists bicker over words to the degree that they forget of the essence, substance and spirit of the nascent movement they are trying to revive. Just as we laugh at the two men in this is fable, such bickering among ourselves also makes for a ridiculous show in the eyes of those who don’t wish us well. Disagreements are natural and inevitable, and this is especially true for us considering the pluralistic nature of polytheism. But if we must exchange firm points according to what we believe, this must never be allowed to degenerate into personal insults and hot-headed quibbling that 126[1]serves no purpose. Several months ago, I was forced to block a polytheist on FB who was increasingly becoming very rude towards me in our discussions, after which he sent me low insults by text. This was a person whom I had been patient with, hearing him out on many occasions and even supporting him when he had doubts about polytheism. I knew furthermore from a search that he had been jailed in his youth for several years for a serious non-lethal crime. At the time of receiving the text message, I had the choice of returning the insults with double force (I have no difficulty with expressing myself) or letting it pass in order to ensure this person would remain a polytheist. It was quite difficult to overcome my anger, but after a while of cool reflection, I sent him a message wishing him well and advising him to use such language for those who bear hatred for polytheism. His next reply was still insulting (though he did acknowledge that I had “some nerve”), but I was satisfied in my conscience and made no more response. From what I have since learnt, he remains a polytheist and I hope he can contribute to the movement as well as be affected by it for the better.

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.