The North Wind & the Sun

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The wind attempts to strip the traveler of his cloak, illustrated by Milo Winter in a 1919 Aesop anthology

The sun strips the traveler of his cloak

The North Wind and the Sun is a fable attributed to Aesop (Perry Index 46). It is type 298 (Wind and Sun) in the Aarne-Thompson folktale classification.

The story and its application

The story concerns a competition between the North wind and the Sun to decide which is the stronger of the two. The challenge was to make a passing traveler remove his cloak. However hard the North Wind blew, the traveler only wrapped his cloak tighter, but when the Sun shone, the traveler was overcome with heat and had to take his cloak off.

The Latin version of the fable first appears in Avianus as De Vento et Sole (Of the wind and the sun, Fable 4);[2] early versions in English and Johann Gottfried Herder‘s poetic version in German also give it as such. It is only in mid-Victorian times that the title “The North Wind and the Sun” begins to be used. In fact the Avianus poem refers to the characters as Boreas and Phoebus, the gods of the north wind and the sun, and it is under the title Phébus et Borée that Jean de la Fontaine wrote his version of the fable.

Victorian versions give the moral as ‘Persuasion is better than force’, but it has been put in different ways at other times. In the Barlow edition of 1667, Aphra Behn teaches the Stoic lesson that there should be moderation in everything: ‘In every passion moderation choose,/For all extremes do bad effects produce,’[3] while La Fontaine’s conclusion is that ‘Gentleness does more than violence’ (Fables VI.3). In the 18th century, Herder comes to the theological conclusion that ‘Superior force leaves us cold,/Warm Christian love dispels that’ (Gedichte V.4).[4] and the Walter Crane limerick edition of 1887 gives a psychological interpretation, ‘True strength is not bluster’. Most of these examples draw a moral lesson, but La Fontaine hints also at the political application that is present also in Avianus’ conclusion: ‘They cannot win who start with threats’. There is evidence that this reading has had an explicit influence on the diplomacy of modern times: in South Korea’s Sunshine Policy, for instance, or Japanese relations with the military regime in Burma.


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