Aesop’s Last Fable

By William March (1893-1954)

Aesop, the messenger of King Croesus, finished his business with the Delphians and went back to the tavern where he had taken lodgings. Later, he came into the taproom where a group of Delphians were drinking. When they realized who he was, they crowded about him, “Tell us,” they began, “is Croesus as rich as people say?”

I. Aesop, since the habit of speaking in fables was so strongly fixed in him, said, “I can best answer your question with a parable, and it is this: the animals gathered together to crown their richest member king. Each animal in turn stated what he possessed, and it was soon apparent that the lion had the largest hunting preserves, the bee the most honey, the squirrel the largest supply of acorns, and so on; but when the voting began, the difficulty of arriving at a decision was plain to all, for to the bee, the nuts that represented the wealth of the squirrel were of no consequence; to the lion, the hay that the zebra and the buffalo owned was worthless; and the panther and the tiger set no value at all on the river that the crane and crocodile prized so highly.”

Then Aesop called for his drink, looking into the faces of the Delphians with good-natured amusement. He said, “The moral of the fable is this: Wealth is an intangible thing, and its meaning is not the same to all alike”.

II. The stolid Delphians looked at one another, and when the silence was becoming noticeable, one of them tried again; “How was the weather in Lydia when you left home?”

“I can best answer that question with another fable,” said Aesop, “and it is this: During a rain storm, when the ditches were flooded and the ponds had overflowed their banks, a cat and a duck met on the road, and wanting to make conversation, they spoke at the same instant. ‘What a beautiful day this is’ said the delighted duck. ‘What terrible weather we’re having,’ said the disgusted cat.”

Again the Delphians looked at one another, and again there was silence. “The moral of the tale,” said Aesop, “is this; What pleases a duck distresses a cat.” He poured wine into his glass and leaned against the wall, well satisfied with the start he had made in instructing the barbarous Delphians.

III. The Delphians move uneasily in their seats, and after a long time, one of the said, “How long are you going to be here?”

“That,” said Aesop, “can best be answered in the Fable of the Tortoise, the Pelican, and the Wolf. You see, the pelican went to visit his friend the tortoise and promise to remain as long as the latter was building his new house. Then one day as they were working together, with the tortoise burrowing and pelican carrying away the dirt in his pouch, the wolf came on them unexpectedly, and—”

But Aesop got no farther, for the Delphians had surrounded him and were, an instant later, carrying him toward the edge of the cliff on which the tavern was built. When they reached it, they swung him outward and turned him, loose, and Aesop was hurled to the rocks below, where he died. “The moral of what we have done”, they explained later, “is so obvious that it needs no elaboration.”

The End

Discussion question

Would Aristole blame the Delphians for taking the shortest way with Aesop?