Lessing’s “THE NIGHTINGALE AND THE PEACOCK*

Posted by jlubans on April 18, 2020

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Caption: Engraving by Marcus Gheeraerts (1521–1636) done in 1567 or ,more likely, 1617

A SOCIABLE Nightingale found among the other songsters of the grove plenty of birds who envied her, but not a single friend.
"Perhaps," thought she, "I may find a friend in some other branch of the bird family," and accordingly flew confidingly to the home of the Peacock.
"Beautiful Peacock! how much I admire you!" she said.
"No less than I admire you, lovely Nightingale," returned the Peacock.
"Then let us be friends," declared the Nightingale, "for we need never be envious of each other.
You are as pleasing to the eye as I am to the ear."
Accordingly the Nightingale and the Peacock became fast friends.

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The fable suggests we can be fond of people with whom we have differences, as long as those differences do not detract from who we are.
In other words, it may be that a beautiful someone (a screeching peacock) will accommodate someone with a melodious voice (a drab nightingale).
The nightingale, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) tells us, has no friends. He does not explain why.
Is the nightingale’s voice envied by one and all of the “songsters of the grove” to the exclusion of friendship?
And the peacock, other fables tell us, is often too much of a strutter and preener.
Yet, the nightingale says, “let us be friends” and, voila,
the two form a mutual admiration society.
I am reminded of a real life couple; the woman is a renowned soprano of considerable beauty and the husband is a maestro orchestral conductor.

*Source: Lessing, Fables, Translated by G. Moir Bussey in Cooper, Frederic Taber, editor (1864-1937), “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land”. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. 1921.

© Copyright John Lubans 2020
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