Sunday, July 20, 2003

Aesop and the Fisherman

20 July 2003 Aesop and the Fisherman

Aesop's Fables: Tortoise and Eagle

It's easy to ridicule the Tortoise who dreams of flying. A glance at the carapace convinces us of a free fall landing, but the Tortoise in his shell is oblivious to his fate and limitations. Aesop makes us laugh at ourselves, not the hapless Tortoise. How many crash landings have we made because of blindness to personal limitations and filled with personal ambition?

Limitations seem so obvious, yet we soar upwards oblivious to final downfall.

Aesop's Fables: The Dog and the Shadow
dog crossing over a bridge

We sneer at the dog taking a plunge off the bridge to dash after a reflection in the stream—an illusion, but rarely apply it to our own fleeting dreams and aspirations. The person investing in a scam to earn gobs of money, but ends up broke with legal complicaitons.

What do they have to do with the Fisherman and his Wife?

Pushkin: The Fisherman and the Goldfish
Translated by Louis Zelikoff; Illustrated by B. Dekhteryov

Lacquer Box: Fisherman and the Fish
reduction of Pushkin

Pushkin and Brothers Grimm are frequently attributed as sources. An easy interpretation the story, regarding the poor fisherman who catches the talking flounder, is he has a greedy wife. She is insatiable, a common theme for the Dog and his Shadow. There's never enough to keep the old dog happy.

Folktales of Dissatisfaction and Greed

Family Management: Margeret Hunt's, Grimm's Household Tales, Fisherman and his Wife

Last week, an interesting book, Conquering Panic and Anxiety Disorders by Jenna Glatzer, crossed my desk, alerting me that perhaps the moral isn't greed, but self-image and ambition.

The Tortoise is dissatisfied with his lot in life and wishes to be Sweeney among the nightingales; thus destroys himself. How many people forgot parachutes lately? Martha Stewart, Enron,, Arthur Anderson, etc. Although these are company names, the individual corporate administrators attempted to fly beyond their means and crash landed. Their egos destroyed not only companies, but the lives as employees scrambled for new jobs. The Tortoise destroys only himself by his deluded ambition.

The fable of the dog is similar. Dissatisfied with what he already has, he takes a dive and loses.

"To look successful" in a highly pressurized society, many people suffer panic disorders. They learn to reject themselves through the terror of being rejected by others. The front of the NYT or Seattle-pi carries the latest images from Italy in Haute Courture, making fashionable excessive spending on oftentimes absolutely ridiculous clothing. Television and film industy espouse the ideal female body, exploit bodies, but not always brains or acting ability. Headlines scream about the new ravishing Demi, although her body was bought through artificial improvement. Charlie's Angels is hailed as feminist advancement in film by which women should model their lives; but has little psychological or intellectual depth. The message clearly states that without a Maserati body, you're nix. Brains don't count, nor do talents; you need "the look".

Psychologically this creates a vacuum in a person trying to fulfill a public image or social demands, but cannot accept himself. To ignore personal limitations courts death. Unable to accept oneself, puts a person on a constant panic alert with the terrible fear of : What If? What if I fail the exam? What if they don't like my dress? Life gets terribly tied up around the limitless possibilities of "What if?" Students crack their heads on exams; employees work around the clock and entertainers imitate cartoon superheroes with feathers and body alterations to make themselves look invincible.

Instead of accepting the baldface moral of Avarice for the Fisherman and His Wife, play with symbols. Water frequently represents dreams and desires. Don't identify the fisherman and his wife as separate characters, consider them as different parts of the human psyche. The Fisherman being the outward practical person who recognizes his limitations but does not have the courage to admit to them or embrace them, and the wife the inner drive or ambition. He is compelled by ambition to always step higher in life and succumb to pressure. Like an Enron CEO, he takes that fatal step beyond the real restrictions of his world. Instead of doing the double-sommie without the circus net, he goes for the triple, remaining paralyzed the rest of his life from a broken neck.

The fisherman's wife represents the external social forces that impels someone to make the fatal step, but iit could also be the demanding internal ambition that does not allow over-achievers to sleep. In reflecting on the story in this way, it's easy to comprehend that the Golden Fish or Flounder is the reward to ambition. For the Microsoft exec in Seattle, it was the expensive house, the antique cars and a few large toys like boats, before the investigation for embezzlement and fraud—and suicide.

The over-achiever, compelled by social acceptance or recognition, racks up success after success but cracks one day through fear of failure. The Callas, refusing recordings to be released, was terrified of public criticism and rejection; the Donny Osmond, suffering terribly from panic disorder; the Michael Jackson, dissatisfied with being black, artificially turned white, thereby mutilating a handsome face. The kid who can't talk in class because he's afraid his classmates will laugh. The terror of failure that pushes a person over the edge, or corners him from entering society with fears of humiliation and rejection. One day the "success" collapses and life is reduced to a wreck.

Frog and the Ox

Demands to succeed, isn't just a childish image of the frog blowing herself up; but a grave reality. "Image" affects, corrupting nearly everything from Grade Inflation to the State of the Nation Address with a pesident doing a bad lampoon on the Lone Ranger. The war in Iraq has sadly over-extended. For all the hot air on Saddam and Al Queada, there's nary a trace of either Saddam or Bin Ladin. Instead we watch the tragedy of theTortoise learning to fly or the Frog outsizing the Ox, as the Fisherman hasn't learned to define personal limitations and abide with them.

Golden Fish by Pushkin
with lacquer illustrations

Lang, Green Fairy Book : Fisherman and Wife

Lang, Green Fairy Book : Fisherman and Wife p343

Fisherman and his Wife
illus by Walter Crane Engl/German text


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