Friday Fable: Aesop’s “THE WOLF AND THE DONKEY”* (completed December 4.)

Posted by jlubans on November 30, 2012

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Caption: Illustration from Caxton's Aesop’s Fables, 1484.
“The word of a wicked man can never be trusted. Listen to this fable, for example. 
The wolf paid a visit to the ailing donkey. He began to touch the donkey's body and to ask him in what part of his body he felt the greatest pain. The donkey answered, 'Wherever you touch me!' 
The same is true of wicked people: even if they pretend to be helpful and speak nicely, they are actually in a hurry to harm you.'"

This fable is notable for having a moral at the top and bottom. The morals use more words than the fable.
And so, returning to the fable, must have thought a reluctant few of my dozen department heads when I’d venture forth on one of my episodic streamlining efforts for which I required their collaboration. “Where does it hurt? Everywhere you look!”

I saw Edward Sheldon’s The Boss (1911) performed this weekend in NYC. It is a socio-melodrama about a brutish boss and his eventual (if unbelievable) redemption. Along the way it explores labor and management relations (abusive), alcoholism (rampant), union busting and bashing, old money vs. new, etc.
Fortunately, we have come a long way since the days of blatantly wolfish bosses preying upon donkey-like workers. Have we come far enough, made enough progress? Hardly! If we are to advance out of the status quo in which management and labor is locked we’ll need to return to democratic principles – and even greater emphasis on fairness, respect and transparency for bosses and workers.
Even the brutal boss in 1911 was an improvement over the feudalism depicted in Figaro, a rousing and brilliant adaptation of Le Mariage de Figaro by Beaumarchais (1784) which I saw at the Pearl Theater on 42nd. Street. At the time the count held the power of life and death - along with all forms of harassment - over his household staff. Figaro (servant, barber & “professional troublemaker”) wins the day but only when aided by the vivacious and elusive (both to Figaro and the libidinous count) Suzanne, the archetypal Columbina of the European commedia dell’arte. Five years after this play’s performance, the French Revolution began with the execution - as in "off with their heads" - of many of the nobility, the bosses.

*Source: Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.


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