Caxton’s Fable Of the Auncyent Wesel and of the Rat

Posted by jlubans on November 19, 2019

Caption: Illustration by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-77). Reminiscent of Piranesi’s “atomospheric” prisons and Roman ruins a hundred years later.

Wytte is better than force or strengthe /

As reherceth to vs this fable of an old wesel /
the whiche myghte no more take no rats /
wherfor she was ofte sore hongry and bethought her that she shold hyde her self withynne the floure for to take the rats whiche came there for to ete hit And as the rats came to the floure /
she took and ete them eche one after other /
And as the oldest rat of all perceyued & knewe her malyce /
he sayd thus in hym self /
Certaynly I shalle kepe me wel fro the /
For I knowe alle thy malyce & falshede
And therfore he is wyse that scapeth the wytte and malyce of euyll folke / by wytte and not by force

Every now and then
I like to visit with Mr. Caxton. The olde timey English makes me work but it rewards me with its rich sound and meaning.
For the “auncyent wesel’” point of view he is only doing what weasels do to survive. And, the rat - hardly a favorite of humans - does what he does to keep on – in this case avoid certain death.
“Survival of the fittest” would in four hundred years be the evolutionary’s catch phrase to explain how some species thrive while others wither.
What’s this got to do with the workplace?
One’s wit (understanding and knowledge) will go far in avoiding extinction.
And, if force might be used readily in the barnyard, it won’t get you very far in the workplace.
So, keep your wits about you and look out for those auncyent wesels in three piece suits and bow ties.

*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
England’s first printer, the illustrious Mr. Caxton, lived from 1422-1492.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

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