The Wolf and the Lamb

10 Aug

The Wolf and the Lamb is a well known fable of Aesop referring to tyrannical injustice.

A wolf comes upon a lamb and, in order to justify taking its life, accuses it of various misdemeanors, all of which the lamb proves to be impossible. Losing patience, it says the offenses must have been committed by someone else in the family and that it does not propose to delay its meal by inquiring any further about the matter. The morals drawn are that the tyrant can always find an excuse for his tyranny and that the unjust will not listen to the reasoning of the innocent.[1]

The fable also has Eastern analogues. One of these is the Buddhist Dipi Jataka in which the protagonists are a panther and a goat. The goat has strayed into the presence of a panther and tries to avert its fate by greeting the predator politely. It is accused of treading on his tail and then of scaring off his prey, for which crime it is made to substitute.[2] A similar story involving birds is found among Bidpai‘s Persian fables as “The Partridge and the Hawk”.[3] The unjust accusation there is that the partridge is taking up all the shade, leaving the hawk out in the hot sun. When the partridge points out that it is midnight, it is killed by the hawk for contradicting.

Moral applications

Down the centuries the various interpreters of the fable have applied it to the injustices of their time. In the extended treatment by the 15th century Scottish poet Robert Henryson in his Moral Fables a picture of widespread social breakdown is depicted. The Lamb appeals to natural law, to scripture, and to statutory law, and is answered with perversions of all these by the Wolf. Then Henryson enters in his own person and comments that there are three kinds of contemporary wolf who oppress the poor. The first are dishonest lawyers, the second are landowners intent on extending their estates, and the third are aristocrats who exploit their tenants.[4]

A political application of the fable to international relations is the 1893 Punch cartoon published at the time Britain and France were both considering extending their colonial influence into Thailand and looking for excuses. A wolf dressed in the uniform of the French army is shown eyeing the Thai lamb across the Mekong river. More recently the fable has been applied to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.[5]

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Posted by on August 10, 2010 in Uncategorized


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