The Foolish Fisherman
by William Cleary
Over my 80-plus years of life, I have written two books of Aesop's fables, and a more fun project I could not have dreamed up.
In the first book of 40 fables were all the most well known tales: the city mouse, belling the cat, the disappointed fox, the tortoise and the hare. Then I was able to find 40 more from among the 300+ available: the wolf in sheep's clothing, the grasshoppers who fail to save, the amorous lion courting a woodsman's daughter, the lovesick cat who marries the king. In each case I had to add prayers and devout spirituality in order to convince the publishers that we could sell them. All the fables were rhymed and illustrated.
`The story of Aesop himself is intriguing too. He was apparently African! The Greeks were known to prowl the African coasts in their boats and kidnap black slaves for use in their homes. The animals in the famous fables are not those known in Greece but rather in Africa.
The story goes that poor Aesop had to tell stories to entertain his owners, and when one of his stories made the ruling class too nervous, they tossed him to his death from a mountain cliff. (The offending fable may have been "The Pigeons Choose a King" in which a hawk is picked by pigeons to guard their coop, forgetting that kings must have pigeon pie every day.)
Incidentally, Aesop is considered by many commentators – including Plutarch – one of the wisest men in history, something the movement for racial equality could well exploit.
What interests me here however is the spiritual dynamic of the fable itself. As with Jesus' stories like the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaratan, the story format is the full of power and fun at the same time. The power is its ability to teach you something you often don't want to learn.
One of my personal problems is workaholism. When I get up a head of steam, I tend to work too hard and too long, I neglect other obligations, and I end up in a heap. One day, for instance, I read the Divine Milieu twice in one sitting, so overwhelmed by it was I. In another case, as an over-busy high school teacher, several times I worked through the night – then taught the next day – in order to create the school play.
How do you break out of such bad habits?
I said to myself: Aesop would have found a way to illustrate this foolishness in its most laughable form. So I invented the following "Aesop" fable for the education of myself, and you're welcome to it if perhaps you have a problem like mine. I was tempted to sneak this Cleary story into the second Aesop book, but the Aesop scholars – of which there are many -- would have caught my fakery immediately.
The Greedy Fisherman Sinks His Boat
A fisherman of perfect skill
Sat worried far from shore,
He'd caught enough fish for the day
But still his heart was sore.
Just think of all the fish out there
Just waiting to be mine!
He said, I think I'll stay right here
Until the clock strikes nine.
So he caught fish all morning long
And all the afternoon,
And through the whole long summer night
Beneath the midnight moon.
He filled his little boat so full
Of flounder, pike and trout
The poor boat sank, the man got soaked,
And all his fish got out.
MORAL: Greed eventually makes you poor.
(William Cleary and his books can be found at www.clearyworks.com)