Thursday, November 2, 2023



Aesop's Fables, or the Aesopica, is a collection of fables credited to Aesop, a slave and storyteller believed to have lived in ancient Greece between 620 and 564 BCE. Of diverse origins, the stories associated with his name have descended to modern times through a number of sources and continue to be reinterpreted in different verbal registers and in popular as well as artistic media. The fables originally belonged to the oral tradition and were not collected for some three centuries after Aesop's death. By that time a variety of other stories, jokes and proverbs were being ascribed to him.


The Eagle and the Arrow

An Eagle was soaring through the air when suddenly it heard the whizz of an Arrow, and felt itself wounded to death. Slowly it fluttered down to the earth, with its life-blood pouring out of it. Looking down upon the Arrow with which it had been pierced, it found that the shaft of the Arrow had been feathered with one of its own plumes. “Alas!” it cried, as it died, “We often give our enemies the means for our own destruction.”

Diferent version:

An eagle sat on a lofty rock, watching the movements of a Hare whom he sought to make his prey. An archer, who saw the Eagle from a place of concealment, took an accurate aim and wounded him mortally. The Eagle gave one look at the arrow that had entered his heart and saw in that single glance that its feathers had been furnished by himself. “It is a double grief to me,” he exclaimed, “that I should perish by an arrow feathered from my own wings.”


Some comments:

The story of the eagle brought down by an arrow vaned with its own feather is referred to in several ancient Greek sources.

It is generally applied to the misery of realising that one has contributed to one's own injury but also as a warning against self-reliant pride.

The earliest mention of the fable is a brief reference in the 5th century BCE to refer to the personal blame felt by Achilles for the death of his friend Patroclus. “So the eagle, pierced by the bow-sped shaft, looked at the feathered device and said, “Thus, not by others, but by means of our own plumage are we slain”.

A version titled "The Archer and the Eagle" and ascribed to Aesop appears in his Fables.

A 1544 illustration of the wounded eagle is accompanied by a verse commenting that its sorrow at being struck down is doubled by the knowledge that it has furnished the means for its own destruction.

A wider lesson is drawn from the incident in another interpretation. The dying bird blames humans for using its own parts against itself and claims that they have learnt this cruelty from the way they treat each other.

A 1691 French version starts from the perception that the bird in the poem was on the look-out for a hare. If another hunter brings it down while so engaged, then it is a case of poetic justice, of having inflicted on itself the harm it was purposing to inflict on others.

Condemnation of pride was the interpretation given the fable when it travelled eastwards in the 11th century - an eagle soars through the air, vaunting itself. When it is brought down by a hunter and recognises the feathers on the arrow, the realisation comes that it has been injured by its own means.


The above reminds me of a famous phrase created by cartoonist Walt Kelly for his comic strip Pogo. Kelly coined the phrase for an anti-pollution Earth Day poster in 1970 and used it again in a special comic strip created for Earth Day 1971. The saying caught the collective imagination of the public and is still used today . . .

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