Aesop's Fable: The Bat, Birds, and The Beasts
Hello. Today we are going to examine the fable by Aesop entitled "The Bat, Birds, and the Beasts" (also called "The War Between the Beasts and the Birds"). Following is the text from Laura Gibbs' translation, which appears in her 2002 Oxford University Press volume:
FABLE 363. THE WAR BETWEEN THE BEASTS AND THE BIRDS
The birds were at war with the beasts, and it was impossible to tell which side was winning and which was losing. Afraid to find himself on the losing side, the bat kept switching to the other side as soon as he thought it was going to prevail. Peace was eventually restored, and both the birds and the beasts realized that the bat had been a traitor. Found guilty of such a dastardly crime, the bat fled from the light and concealed himself in the dark shadows of the night.
Moral: People who try to take both sides in a dispute will be shamefully rejected by both of them; it is better not to make any enemies at all than to lose the battle.
Another translation of this fable I like very much is not an authoritative translation at all (by "authoritative" I mean it isn't to my limited knowledge a translation by Caxton, L'Estrange, Townsend, Jacobs, or Gibbs). Rather, this translation is by a software developer out of Santa Maria, California by the name of Tom Simondi. Truly, I'm not sure if the following represents Tom's interpretation of the fable from the original Greek and Latin source texts, or if he "borrowed" this translation from another site on the Interweb. In any event, ponder this:
A great conflict was about to come off between the Birds and the Beasts. When the two armies were collected together the Bat hesitated which to join. The Birds that passed his perch said: "Come with us"; but he said: "I am a Beast."
Later on, some Beasts who were passing underneath him looked up and said: "Come with us"; but he said: "I am a Bird."
Luckily at the last moment peace was made, and no battle took place, so the Bat came to the Birds and wished to join in the rejoicings, but they all turned against him and he had to fly away. He then went to the Beasts, but soon had to beat a retreat, or else they would have torn him to pieces. "Ah," said the Bat, "I see now, "He that is neither one thing nor the other has no friends."
Moral: He that is neither one thing nor the other has no friends.
Now, then. What lessons are we to draw from this fable? The Journal of Defense Software Engineering Web site posits its moral as:
Playing both sides against the middle often leaves you with nothing. A lack of commitment is a primary cause of failure. Failing to commit is committing to fail.
Images of stereotypical "wishy-washy" politicians and corporate leaders play upon my mind. On a more personal note, I recall my own days as a high school student, and how I unsuccessfully played the part of the "social tourist" with various adolescent peer groups. That is to say, I would spend Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays hanging with the "brains" and ingratiating myself with those guys and gals (meanwhile dissing the "burnouts" for being such a pathethic gang of miscreants). On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, conversely, I could be seen lurking in the shadows with the local "burnouts," livin' the low life and mocking the "brains" and the "jocks" for being so chemically "unenlightened" and blindly adherent to the law, to conformity, and to (as I saw them then) overly structured social conventions.
The problem with my juvenile interpersonal philosophy (which I understand that many people carry into adulthood and cleave to their entire lives) is that, like the bat in Aesop's fable, I ultimately never formed a solid bond with anyone during high school! Frankly, upon later examination of my adolescence with the aid of my trusty retrospectoscope, I discovered that my childish behavior was by design. (In other words, I was too damned afraid of other people and too uncomfortable within my own skin at that time to maintain a true friendship with another person.) In subsequent years, when I began to outgrow immature cliques and instead started to forge friendships with individuals rather than with social classes or categories of people, my relationships grew much deeper and infinitely more satisfying.
My wife shared with me this morning that this fable reminded her to the old aphorisms "You can't have your cake and eat it, too," and "You can't have it both ways." Sue's insight led me to ask the question, "There is an opportunity cost to every decision I make in life, isn't there?" By choosing the proverbial "road less traveled," I am simultaneously choosing to deny myself the consequences and experiences of the other path in the woods.
On the other hand, the bat in Aesop's fable, due to its non-committal nature, experienced a third outcome. I'll not judge whether the bat found flying only at night and never during the day (this reference to an eternally noctural existence is present in other translations of this fable) was a favorable end result for the bat.
The VisualWriter.com Web site takes the moral of the Bats, Birds, and the Beasts fable ("He that is neither one thing nor the other has no friends") and asks an interesting question not from the bat's perspective, but from that of the birds and the beasts:
Is this true? Why did the others refuse the bat? Because he was different, or because he refused to join them?
I'll leave you to answer that question. May you have a serene day.