The Crow & the Pitcher
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The Crow and the Pitcher, illustrated by Milo Winter in a 1919 Aesop anthology
The Crow and the Pitcher is a fable ascribed to Aesop, number 390 in the classification established by Perry. It is found in the 2nd century AD Greek fable collection by pseudo-Dositheus, and later appears in the 4th–5th century Latin verse collection by Avianus. The history of this fable in antiquity and the Middle Ages is the subject of pages 4-46 in A.E. Wright, Hie lert uns der meister: Latin Commentary and the Germany Fable (2000).
In the fable, a thirsty crow comes upon a pitcher with water at the bottom, beyond the reach of its beak. After failing to push over the pitcher, the crow devises a clever plan: it drops in pebbles, one by one, until the water rises to the top of the pitcher, allowing the crow to drink.
Avianus follows the fable with a moral that emphasises the virtue of ingenuity: “This fable shows us that thoughtfulness is superior to brute strength…” Other tellers of the story stress the crow’s persistence, while George Fyler Townsend concluded with the old English adage, “Necessity is the mother of invention”.
In its earliest attestation in Pliny, this story is related of real-life corvids. More recently, a group of biologists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology has reported that orangutans could retrieve peanuts from plastic tubes by spitting water into them. The researchers were quoted as drawing a parallel between their findings and the fable.