Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Aesop for Adults

Timeless lessons applied to today.

LauraKGibbs, Flickr, CC 2.0
Source: LauraKGibbs, Flickr, CC 2.0

Aesop's Fables are unsparing. Hiding behind animal characters, Aesop speaks plainly about humans' dark side. While Aesop's Fables are thought of as for children, some of them offer lessons for us all.

The Stag and the Fawn. A stag admits to a fawn that while he may bellow and threaten, on seeing a hound, he runs away.

An interpretation for adults: Sometimes, insecure people blow loud as a conch to intimidate, for fear of being discovered as an empty shell.

The Fir Tree and the Bramble. A fir tree boasted to a bramble, “I’m important for building houses. You're useless." The bramble replied, “When they come to chop you down, you’ll wish you were a bramble.”

An interpretation for adults: Beyond a modest income, additional money may yield fewer pleasures than the worries that accrue: concerns about investments, tax strategies, insuring all you have, keeping up with the Joneses, etc. Plus, you may be more subject to being “chopped down” by jealous coworkers, neighbors, media attacks on the "Haves" and dishonest purveyors of everything from timeshares to service-hungry, breakdown-prone “luxury” cars.

It may be wise to aim for modest housing, cars, clothes, colleges, vacations, etc., thereby both freeing you from some worry and allowing you to choose a career you’d enjoy more even if it paid less.

The Wolf and the Lamb. The lamb was sweet to the wolf but was devoured anyway.

An interpretation for adults: We like to think we’ll be rewarded for our kindness. Alas, some people give and give and get taken for granted or even are seen as patsies and destroyed. Be careful where you bestow your gentle spirit.

The Cock and the Jewel. The cock tosses aside a jewel saying he’d rather have a grain of barley.

An interpretation for adults: We all have gifts: perhaps of intelligence, kindness, artistic ability, whatever, but only some people will appreciate them. Especially share your gifts with people who will.

The Council Mice: Tired of the cat attacking, the mouse council agreed that a bell be put on the cat so when it neared, the tinkle would warn the mice. But the council members, scared to put the bell on the cat, assigned that to the hoi polloi.

An interpretation for adults: It’s easy for government, bosses, and romantic partners to issue edicts, more difficult to execute them. Before acceding to an order or even an entreaty, ask how it might practically and wisely be implemented.

The Lion and the Four Bulls. Four bulls agreed to stick together to avoid getting eaten by the lion. But the lion whispered falsehoods about each bull to the three others, Thus, they quarreled, broke their alliance, and the lion ate them all.

An interpretation for adults: Beware of people you suspect could try to break apart your alliances for their benefit. For example, in your workplace, two of you agree to support a new initiative. It’s not above an unscrupulous opponent to lie to you that your colleague is badmouthing you. The miscreant not only wants to break your alliance but wants your job. The lesson: Take gossip and advice with grains of salt, especially from those who stand to gain.

The Fox and the Sick King. A lion pretended to be sick and all the animals came to the cave to visit. But the fox saw that all the paw prints pointed into the cave; none out. So the fox stayed out.

An interpretation for adults: Don’t necessarily follow the crowd, especially if it’s risky. Better first to observe lest you be "eaten."

The Mischievous Dog: A dog’s owner was tired of the other animals complaining that the cur was ever nipping at their heels. So the owner tied a bell around the dog’s neck. The dog thought it a badge of honor.

An interpretation for adults: Occasionally, we honor or praise someone because we’re afraid of them and want to avoid their antipathy. As Machiavelli wrote, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” So when you get praise or an award, you might ask yourself whether it's earned or an attempt to neutralize you?

The Wolf and the Crane. While devouring prey, the wolf got a bone stuck in his throat and begged to pay the crane to remove it. The crane did but the wolf refused to pay: “You had your head in my mouth. You’re lucky I didn’t eat you.”

An interpretation for adults: Beware of getting involved with a mean person.

I read this aloud on YouTube.