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 strength, 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.”
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.