Friday Fable. Babrius’ THE MONKEYS AND THE PYRRHIC DANCE*

Posted by jlubans on July 29, 2016

20160729-rackham.jpg
Caption: ILLUSTRATION BY the inimitable ARTHUR RACKHAM, 1912.

“They say that the king of Egypt once taught some monkeys how to dance the Pyrrhic dance (an ancient Greek war dance). Since monkeys are creatures that readily imitate human behaviour, they quickly learned their lesson and did the dance, dressed in purple robes and masks. For a while everyone was impressed by the sight, until a more discerning member of the audience threw some nuts which he had in his pocket into the midst of the dancers. When the monkeys saw the nuts they forgot all their performance; instead of dancing, they started acting like monkeys again. They crushed their masks and ripped their robes, fighting one other for the nutmeats. The whole pattern of the dance was thrown into confusion, much to the audience's amusement.”

“To change one's nature is but toil in vain,” concludes one moralist.
Oddly enough, the dancing monkeys bring to mind an early experiment in technology. The experiment aped, electronically, the old manual ways of doing something.
And, I suppose I was the guy with the bag of nuts to toss on the stage. The new way – much ballyhooed by its developers - was not ready for prime time. When I pushed the limits, the new way crashed, much to the annoyance of my colleagues who “believed”, really believed, that this was a finished and successful product.
I think I was supposed to clap and exclaim in delight over this “dancing monkey” rather than making a critical assessment. Had it been presented as a fragile beta test, I’d have applauded. Instead when on display as near complete and a fabulous improvement, I felt like I had to make certain; after all there were budgetary implications not to mention public service aspects.

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

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

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