FEBRUARY
1998

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

02-26-98

The Fable of the Grasshopper and the Ant Revisited

The Greek fabulist Aesop included a number of insects in his words of wisdom. Probably the best known of his fables using insects is about a grasshopper and an ant.

The fable goes something like this: The ant worked all summer putting up food for the winter. The grasshopper, on the other hand, spent time dancing. When winter came, the grasshopper begged the ant for food, but was refused. The ant turned down the request by remarking that since the grasshopper played and sang all summer, he could continue to do so during winter. The ant said he wouldn't feed anyone as foolish as the grasshopper!

One moral of the fable would be to plan ahead. Another could be that each person should work for a living.

It is probably not surprising that Aesop chose an ant as the working star of the fable. After all, the ant had been looked upon as a model of industry long before Aesop put quill to parchment - or whatever was used to record written thoughts in those days.

Solomon, some 10 centuries before Aesop, had admonished in his Proverbs, "Go to the ant, thou sluggard!" Solomon's advice to the lazy was to consider the model of the ant. The ant goes to work and gets the job done. No sitting around with folded hands for the industrious ant.

The advice from Solomon and Aesop occurred long before political correctness was a reality. If writing today, Aesop might have to change his famous fable.

After all, the grasshopper really didn't want to be lazy. He would, no doubt, have several reasons why he was unable to work. First, he was an orphan and never knew his father or mother. You see, his father left his mother before she even laid her eggs. His mother died before he was hatched. He and his siblings had to fend for themselves from day one. To make matters worse, several of his brothers and sisters died of disease at a young age. He even lost a brother and sister or two to insect-eating birds.

The poor grasshopper, overlooking the fact that the ant worked hard to maintain what he appeared to inherit, always thought it quite unfair that some folks were born with a silver spoon in their mouths. He also concluded that society just looked down their noses at street musicians and really wouldn't give him a chance even if he wanted to work.

When he was denied a handout at the doorstep of the ant, the grasshopper took his case to the legislature. Since it was an election year, the legislators didn't want to look insensitive to the plight of the downtrodden, so they amended the welfare law to include tobacco-chewing street musicians. To pay for the increased cost of the social program, a food-in-storage tax was levied on all winter food supplies.

The moral of the new fable: Industrious ants are no match for lazy grasshoppers with political clout!

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann