Spirituality for Today – March 2012 – Volume 16, Issue 8

The Virtues and Vices of Aesop

By Rev. Raymond Petrucci

Many writings within Pre-Christian literature contain some very "Christian" sentiments concerning virtue and vice. In the sixth century before Christ, the fables of Aesop provide a wonderful expression of these topics. Poor Aesop's appearance, authorship of the fables, and his very existence are much debated. The concern here is to consider the gifts in his body of fables. One can draw an appreciation of the many from the one:

A photo of a fox

Avaricious and Envious

Two neighbors came before Jupiter and prayed him to grant their heart's desire. Now the one was full of avarice, and the other eaten up with envy. So to punish them both, Jupiter granted that each might have whatever they wished for himself, but only on condition that his neighbor had twice as much. The Avaricious man prayed to have a room of gold. No sooner said than done; but all his joy was turned to grief when he found that his neighbor had two rooms full of the precious metal. Then came the turn of the Envious man, who could not bear to think that his neighbor had any joy at all. So he prayed that he might have one of his own eyes put out, by which means his companion would become totally blind.

Vices are their own punishment.

– Aesop's Fables, The Harvard Classics

In the context of this penitential season, the effect of human virtues and vices upon the legacy of one's life fits neatly in the morals taught in Aesop's fables. The facts of his life notwithstanding, Aesop taught valuable lessons to young and old alike. To live one's life in pursuit of virtue creates an impact on self and others vastly different from a life squandered in vice. Yet, the wisdom of a life of virtue is a gift not readily accepted by all or in all its fullness.

Enumerating both virtues and vices commands too much space to be considered here, but the basic quality of virtue as moral excellence and that of vice as moral defect will have to suffice. The discipline of Lent requires that a person engage in an examination of self in regard to the awareness and function of virtue and vice in one's daily life. The consistent practice of governing one's thoughts, words, and deeds toward life enhancing ways of living strengthens one's case before the divine tribunal. Why would anyone choose the lowness of vice anyway? The answer may be deceit, moral blindness, perceived gain indifferent to cost, or a million other enticements. No matter how rich the attire presented by a particular vice, the result is a poverty of spirit. In contrast, the words of the 17th Century poet, John Dryden serves the purpose, "And virtue, though in rags, will keep me warm." From the first reasoning of virtue over vice, mankind recognizes the eternal stirrings of the paradise for which he was created. Make this Lent a triumph of the best over all that is less.