Caxton's Of the Tree and of the Reed*

Posted by jlubans on August 29, 2019

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Caption: Illustration by Heinrich Steinhöwel, circa 1477/78.

None ought to be prowd ageynst his lord / but oughte to humble hym self toward hym /
As this fable reherceth to vs of a grete tre / whiche wold neuer bowe hym for none wynd /
And a reed whiche was at his foote bowed hym self as moche as the wynd wold / And the tree sayd to hym / why dost thow not abyde stylle as I doo /
And the reed ansuerd / I haue not the myght whiche thow hast /
And the tree sayd to the reed prowdly /
than haue I more strengthe / than thow / And anone after came a grete wynde /
whiche threw doune to the ground the sayd grete tree /
and the reed abode in his owne beynge /
For the prowde shall be allwey humbled And the meke and humble shalle be enhaunced /
For the roote of alle vertue is obedyence and humylyte
_______________
For the feudal Mr. Caxton
– his use of the lower case "l" makes clear this is not about the Deity - this fable’s meaning was clear: you get to a virtuous state by obedience and humility to your leader.
But, are there not points when a bad leader should be disobeyed? How then are we to behave?
Too often we accommodate and that’s why many bad leaders get to stay on and on and on.
Eventually, their pride trips them up and they fall on their face. But, the inner circle’s failure to speak up means the bad leader continues. Russia's Khrushchev, it is said, in answering a written anonymous question from a group of journalists, about his obeisance to Stalin demanded, in a loud and menacing voice: “Who wrote that?” “Who asked this question?”
Silence.
A few moments later, he explained, “That’s what I did” (whenever Stalin gave orders with which he totally disagreed).

*Source. The fables of Aesop, as first printed by William Caxton in 1484, with those of Avian, Alfonso and Poggio, now again edited and induced by Joseph Jacobs. London:1889
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England’s first printer, the illustrious Mr. Caxton, lived from 1422-1492.


© Copyright John Lubans 2019

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