A Query for Aesop


Scenes from Aesop’s Fables (English School)

A long time ago, there lived a person, or perhaps a group of people, or maybe nobody at all, that has come to be known by the name “Aesop”. This entity was a gifted storyteller; you’re likely familiar with a good handful of his works, his bibliography boasting titles such as “The Fox and the Grapes”, “The Lion and the Mouse”, and, perhaps most famously of all, “The Tortoise and the Hare”.


In this delightful little tale, which has been told time and time again, a running race is arranged where the titular two creatures compete against each other. Naturally, the spectators laugh at the thought of a tortoise outrunning a hare, and who can blame them? But, through perseverance on the tortoise’s part, and overconfidence on the hare’s part, the tortoise prevails as the winner, and all is presumed to be well in the world.


But I have a question -or rather, because I’m feeling extra dramatic and maybe a little bit pretentious at the moment, a query- for Aesop. Because as I’ve gotten older, I’ve taken issue with the story of the tortoise and the hare. Because the story is incomplete.


The fable conveniently leaves out the part where everyone tells the tortoise that it should be as fast as the hare, and it should be able to win the race with little difficulty. And the tortoise must simply nod in response, for it is the only one who has accepted that such a task will require unmatched herculean effort.


The fable conveniently leaves out the part where everyone wonders why the tortoise is so much slower than the hare. It really doesn’t have an excuse, does it? After all, it lives alongside the hares, watches them frolic and run every day, shaken and startled by nothing. Why can’t it be like them? Maybe if it didn’t have that shell weighing it down, it would be able to accomplish more.


The fable conveniently leaves out the part where the tortoise tries to please everyone, tries to be like the hares, actively fighting against the only body it has, desperately trying to catch up, to run alongside them, only to come crashing down when the charade is no longer sustainable.


The fable conveniently leaves out the part where the tortoise starts to think there might be something wrong with it, because nobody is willing to consider that there might be something wrong with the system instead.


So do tell me, Aesop: How did your tortoise possibly last until it reached the finish line?