Have you ever examined Aesop’s fables closely? While seeming wise on the surface, the morals of these tales are often misleading. Let’s re-examine them, together.
THE HARE AND THE TORTOISE – “Slow and steady wins the race.”
It should be immediately obvious what is wrong with this moral – it has been proven many, many times that slow does not win a race. In this fable, the hare challenges the tortoise to a race. When the race is in effect, the hare is so confident that he’ll win that he naps after putting some distance between himself and the tortoise, and wakes up when it’s too late and he has lost. This doesn’t make a lot of sense, that the hare couldn’t pick a better time for a nap, but the moral is even more nonsensical.
Scientists don’t run experiments where they change 2 variables at the same time, because when it gets an effect it’s hard to pick out the cause. The tortoise was steady and slow, and the hare was unsteady and fast. I’m quite certain that fast and steady would have beaten either of these competitors. The tortoise being slow is just coincidental. The moral could’ve been “green and steady wins the race” or “shelled and steady wins the race” and it would’ve made just as much sense.
The reason why this moral is so awful is because it’s spoken when someone plods along, working slowly and carefully. They invoke it to prove that by going slowly they’ll actually get their work done by a deadline, but the true moral is that spending more of one’s time on a project rather than at a sporatic pace will get it finished on time.
THE GOOSE WITH THE GOLDEN EGGS – “Greed often overreaches itself.”
THE DOG AND THE BONE – “He who covets often loses everything.”
The golden egg story is about a golden goose that lays a golden egg every day. Its owner kills it for a faster reward but ends up getting nothing. In the fable of the dog and the bone, a dog is carrying a bone (or meat) over a bridge, sees its reflection, and opens its mouth to grab the treat it sees in its reflection. The morsel is dropped and the dog ends up with nothing.
Both of these morals are about being content with what one has, but they fail to see that a little greed is necessary – when we consume what we have, being content will kill us. If the dog had not stolen the morsel in the first place, it would starve. Sure, the extra food may be unnecessary at that precise moment, but the dog is being wise and thinking ahead to times when he’ll need it (this moral seems to be the antithesis to The Ant and the Grasshopper, a story about saving for lean times).
In the story of the golden goose, then and now a person can see how having a golden egg every day for the rest of their life is more than enough to satisfy, but that doesn’t make gambling for more a losing proposition. We have to assume in this story that the goose will go on living forever, and that it has nothing when harvested. In real life, though, sources of fortune can and do dry up, and “quitting while you’re ahead” by selling your source of fortune is often a wise move.
THE BOY WHO CRIED WOLF – “A liar will not be believed, even when telling the truth”
This fable is about a shepherd boy whose job was to cry “Wolf!” whenever he spotted one – the townspeople would come running and protect the sheep. He thought it was funny to cry it out needlessly, lying about a wolf’s presence so that the villagers would waste their time. After a few times of this they stopped reacting to his cry, and when he actually spotted a wolf and sent up the alarm there was no response. The wolf ate the flock.
I hate this moral most of all because it lends credit to the idea of discrediting. If someone continues to lie, they will be labeled a liar and then nothing they say will have any weight. However, even as this fable says, a liar can tell the truth. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Just because a person lies often doesn’t prove that they’re lying (nor does a person’s honesty prove they’re incapable of lies), and a person’s credit or lack of it should not be used alone to determine if what they say is true or false, fact or fiction. As we see in debates, particularly in court testimony, a person’s credit holds far too much importance… and I feel this fable is to blame.
These are just some of Aesop’s fables and the morals that he culled from them. The point is not that Aesop was a fool or a con artist, but rather that you should draw a conclusion from a story yourself – another person’s conclusion may be best, and may not be. You may see the logic of these tales in a different light than either Aesop or I do, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. You have a mind capable of reason – use it.