Once the good citizens of Delphi decided they’d had enough of Aesop. Who did this guy think he was, showing up day after day to browbeat them with his “lessons” and then expecting to be thanked for it? The business of life was difficult enough without some prickly crank poking around in their affairs and holding his nose. Did he imagine they’d appreciate having their motives and accomplishments endlessly called into question? “No,” Aesop replied. “So what’s the point?” the citizens wanted to know. “The point is for you yourselves to do the questioning.” “You think we don’t know how to question ourselves?” “As long as the questions lead you back to what you thought before asking them, you have no trouble.” “Maybe that’s because we were right to begin with.” “Then why go through the charade of fake questions at all? Could it be you are like fools lost in a cave who mistake the loud echoes of their own confusion for the voices of rescue?” “Careful. We throw people off cliffs around here for saying less than that.” “So I’ve heard.” “Stick to your children’s stories and leave the ways of the world to those who understand them better.” “What children’s stories? What ways of the world? Be sure you know the difference.” “Do you?” “Sometimes I wonder. I watch you go about your lives as if wishing they were simple games of make-believe. As if anytime you’re not happy with the results, you can scatter the pieces and rewrite the rules until things turn out just the way you want them to.” “Aesop, you betray your ignorance of both reality and make-believe. You should listen to those of us who serve the Oracle of Apollo and can reason these things out instead of presuming to lecture us.” “You consider yourselves Apollonian adepts at reason? You think you follow his command to ‘know thyself’? At most you simply dress up superstition and prejudice in a disguise so thin it couldn’t deceive anyone but you.” “Outrageous! Haven’t we heard enough?” “What are we waiting for?” “Throw him off the cliff!” “Why?” demanded Aesop. “For saying you wouldn’t know the God of Light from a hole in the ground? Or your other claimed refuge, Dionysus, for that matter? You’re so certain you understand both of them, the gods of reason and ecstacy, that your smug assurance wouldn’t be shaken even if they sat right here and gambled for your wits, winner take all. ” “Stop talking rubbish. We’re not the ones palming off dark little fables as if they’re gems of wisdom.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” “Oh, thin-skinned, are we? You’re quite happy to have at others, but being on the receiving end of a little criticism is something else, is it?” “What’s wrong with my fables?” “They should be less negative and more uplifting, that’s what.” “Uplifting?” “Yes, with more examples of inspiring behavior and wholesome sentiment. Not filling the minds of impressionable youth with doubts and slanders.” “And disdain for their elders!” “You still think I’m talking to children? I’m talking to you.” “You’re too pessimistic for your own good or anybody else’s, Aesop. How can you expect people to listen when you lay into them right and left without distinction?” “None of you, right or left, should think you’re above being laid into when you deserve it. Besides, it’s not my role to tell you what you want to hear or to encourage soggy good feelings. I’ve come with a different message. And how could anyone be ‘too pessimistic,’ I’d like to know, and still keep trying to get through to you?” “But you do care if we laugh and take what you say to heart, no doubt.” “Of course I care if you take it to heart, though it’s all the same to me whether you laugh or curse or cry while doing that. There are plenty of hacks around who’d be more than pleased to give you inspiring characters and uplifting stories and all the happy endings you can stomach. I’m giving you yourselves, happy or not.” “Quite frankly, you can save your breath on that count. We just don’t’ get your stuff, see?” “Why listen to any more of this nonsense? Take him to the cliff and be done with it!” “To the cliff! Take him to the cliff!” Which they did.
Copyright © 2003-2004, revised 2008, by Geoffrey Grosshans