Friday Fable. Odo of Cheriton’s “Two Brothers: Against Flatterers.”*

Posted by jlubans on June 13, 2013

“There once lived two brothers whose itinerary took them past a monastery. And the second of them declared: ‘I’ll wager you. I’ll turn a bigger profit with lies than you will with truth!’ ‘And, I’ll wager you!!’ the first answered back. Having managed this solid agreement, the liar broke in upon the religious community of apes. And the apes asked him: ‘How do we appear to you?’ To this the liar replied: ‘Of all the creatures upon the face of the earth, you are the fairest. Indeed it is to you that men are compared. Never have I seen such a handsome congregation.’ And he praised them without limit. Now, on account of such words, the apes heaped him with honors and gave him gold and silver.
Then the upright brother came along. And the apes asked how the members of the their community appeared to him. He responded by saying, ‘ I have never seen a congregation so unsightly, so foul.’ As a result, the enraged apes gave him an incredible beating – one so bad that he barely escaped.’

‘And sometimes it is perilous to utter words completely true.’”

Caption: “He who has the sack of gold will always have flatterers.” 1592. Circle of BRUEGHEL Pieter, the Younger, (d'Enfer).

We know from research on effective followers – self-starters who do not have to be led – a willingness to tell the truth can be dangerous to one’s health, particularly with an apish audience. About half the time, effective followers are punished for doing a really good job.
While screen-writing in the Hollywood of the 1930s, P. G. Wodehouse, saw a lot of another type of follower/flatterer: The Yes Man. His short story** “The Nodder” explains:
“A Nodder is something like a Yes-man, only lower in the social scale. A Yes-Man’s duty is to attend conferences and say ‘Yes.’ A Nodder’s, as the name implies, is to nod. The chief executive throws some statement of opinion and looks about him expectantly. This is the cue for the senior Yes-Man to say yes. He is followed, in order of precedence, by the second Yes-Man - or Vice-Yesser -, as he sometimes is called- and the junior Yes-Man. Only when all the Yes-Men have yessed, do the Nodders begin to function. They nod.”

*Source: “The Fables of Odo of Cheriton”, translated by John C. Jacobs. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1985. Pp. 100-101.
** Wodehouse, P. G. “The Nodder”, in Blandings Castle. Woodstock NY: Overlook Press 2002. pp. 214-234.

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