Friday Fable. Abstemius' “A Swallow and a Spider”

Posted by jlubans on March 06, 2015

Caption: By Taigaku, Swallow and Spider, 1830-44. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

“A Spider that observ'd a Swallow catching of Flies, fell immediately to work upon a Net to catch Swallows, for she look't upon't as an Encroachment upon her Right: But the Birds, without any Difficulty, brake through the Work, and flew away with the very Net it self. Well, says the Spider, Bird-catching is none of my Talent I perceive; and so she return'd to her old Trade of catching Flies again.”
“A Wise Man will not Undertake any thing without Means answerable to the End.”

Or, to quote La Fontaine’s “them’s that’s got, gets” moral:
“Two tables hath our Maker set
For all that in this world are met.
To seats around the first
The skilful, vigilant, and strong are beckon'd:
Their hunger and their thirst
The rest must quell with leavings at the second.”

So, is this story then about inept planning or is it about a society where everyone, rightly, knows his or her place? Abstemius gives the swallow a second chance. Seeing the failure of her net, she decides, like the cobbler, “to stick to (her) last.”
In La Fontaine’s version, the swallow’s chicks devour the in-over-her-head spider.
I’ll take Abstemius; mistakes made striving to excel (that don’t kill us) make us better or more contented at what we do.

*Source: Abstemius' Fables translated by Sir Roger L'Estrange.

Friday’s Leading from the Middle Library: Universität St. Gallen Library. St. Gallen, Switzerland

@2015 Copyright John Lubans

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