Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Aesop's Progress

A telling proof that the idea of progress is at best ambiguous is the fact that Aesop’s fables retain their currency today. If such a figure ever lived, he lived between 620 and 564 BC, thus in “pre-modern” Greece. My illustration, taken from a 1489 book cover and from Wikipedia (link), shows that his stories were also popular in “pre-modern” Europe. In this image Aesop is shown as a hunchback; the legends reaching us makes him a very ugly slave who amused his betters with stories that, presumably, they laughed at and ignored; we know them in the aggregate and Aesop by his name. The illustration also shows that some things remain the same: five toes and five fingers; and look at those intelligent eyes. The images are taken from his stories, and at about 9:05 on the clock is the image of the grasshopper (from the Grasshopper and the Ant), which floated into my mind today as I contemplated the power-outages in India. Neglect of maintenance—while grooving on outsourced wealth from America?

Progress is real enough—but manifests as individual achievement. But however great or minor, it too ends as the body marches on, eating the years. Progressive periods? Yes. When by some happy chance and virtuous cooperation humanity for a while pulls together—usually illuminated by some genuine inspiration—progress is real but something in us tempts us to believe that it will be permanent—even when we pull apart. Therefore nothing lasts. Yin and Yang wax and vane.

I wrote a brief riff on the power-outages on LaMarotte—which then reminded me of sounding, perhaps, like Chicken Little. That tale has no known author beyond Folklore—but is structured so that it reveals the presence of a very bright mind. That’s another perennial. The wisdom keeps bubbling up, whether named or nameless. The state of man remains what it was and always is. We always live in the Age of Iron—while dreaming of an Age of Gold.

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