Sunday, August 29, 2004

Aesop and Friends

29 Aug 04 Aesop and Friends

Little kids are always told by their parents to look twice when crossing the street and don't talk with strangers. Ask Little Red Riding Hood about chasing butterflies and making friends with wolves, albeit the wolf is much maligned.

Relationships though are important as they can be an asset or a liability as many fairytales and fables prove with the constant warning to choose wisely. Don't be as naive as the farmer who befriended the snake-- even a sixteen foot domestic Burmese pythons can become dangerous if the handler is ignorant of herpetology. Aesop doesn't mean to malign snakes, but he expresses serious words of caution by framing an incident into a parable of satire.

"Once there was a farmer..." he inveigles us to hear more, "who was on his way home one winter day and discovered a snake by the roadside. Seeing that it was nearly frozen, he had pity on it and put it within his shirt to take home and warm by the fire." The reader anticipates the ending as it comes naturally with ease, guffawing at the farmer's demise.

But once heard, the small story doesn't easily erase from the mind. It raises doubts and causes the person to consider his own life and his relationships. How many times has he been stung or bitten for bestowing a kindness on an unworthy person. Not all snakes are lethal—in fact, the great majority are harmless and do great good on the behalf of farmers in aerating the soil and preying on pests that can be destructive to a farmer's crop. It's not actually the snake that Aesop is blaming, but the farmer for being careless in his handling of the affair. When he picked it up, the snake was near death through hypothermia, but when he brought it home, he didn't contain it properly. He died as a result of his own carelessness, not because the snake deliberately attacked him in his own home. The farmer is at fault for his own demise as a result of negligence.

Adroitly, Aesop allows the reader to shift the blame onto the snake. We want the snake to take the blames. After all, snakes like wolves have always been maligned and used for moral tales to tell us to watch out for the bad guys. Aesop goes beyond that, in saying that the farmer is culpable for his own actions. Although moved by compassion and praiseworthy love for the world and its diverse creatures, he acted in a brainless way and therefore became a victim of his own heedless behavior. The fable nags at the conscience, pointing out all the times that we have wrongfully blamed others for our own fallibility and refusal to accept responsibility for ourselves.

Although often the fables from Aesop are humorous and satiric in their portrayal of human behavior; they are usually subtle in their message—open to many different interpretations, keeping the reader thinking long afterwards. They are a good handbook for personal management whether domestic or private, exploring human psychology in succinct vignettes. In all aspects of life, it is important to be circumspect in whom you trust and to shut the door on destructive relationships. Not everyone who knocks on your heart will be a friend, and not all have your good at heart.

Below are three stories warning of the dangers of risky friendships and human gullibility.

Aesop, The Snake and the Farmer

Aesops Fables
650 fables plus more

Fairytale Collection: Aesop

Brothers Grimm, Cat and Mouse in Partnership
Andrew Lang, Yellow Fairy Book

Yellow Fairy Book
Six Swans

Andrew Lang, The Yellow Fairy Book

Lang, Green Fairy Book The Three Pigs
Green Fairy Book
a very different text than the commonly watered down one in children't books

Lang , The Green Fairy Book

Grimm, The Seven Kids and their Mother

Magaret Hunt, Grimm's Household Tales
complete online copy

Sur la Lune: The Wolf and Seven Kids
has an illustrators archive that accompnies each story plus extensive external links for similar stories

Jacobs English Fairy Tales

English Fairy Tales