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The Tortoise and the Hare: Five Morals

“A Hare one day ridiculed the short feet and slow pace of the Tortoise, who replied, laughing: ‘Though you be swift as the wind, I will beat you in a race.’ The Hare, believing her assertion to be simply impossible, assented to the proposal; and they agreed that the Fox should choose the course and fix the goal. On the day appointed for the race, the two started together. The Tortoise never for a moment stopped but went on with a slow but steady pace straight to the end of the course. The Hare, lying down by the wayside, fell fast asleep. At last, waking up and moving as fast as he could, he saw the Tortoise had reached the goal and was comfortably dozing after her fatigue.”  (Aesop’s Fables, George Fyler Townsend)

 Townsend, in his introduction to his translation of Aesop’s Fables, claims fables are unlike parables in that parables are meant to be hidden, and fables meant to be clear. Parables seem mysterious; fables seem straightforward. 

There are many and various morals that could be preached from “The Tortoise and the Hare.” This is merely a function of the story’s prudence and brilliance, and it is the same with all of Aesop’s fables.  

“The Tortoise and the Hare,” like many of Aesop’s fables, promotes the practicality of virtue.  

 Moral 1. When taken analogically and in the context of the story, we know its stated moral “Slow and steady wins the race” really means that steady wins the race, even if it is slow. If the Hare had kept up his own pace, surely he could have beaten the Tortoise.  

 Moral 2. Both the Hare and the sluggard in Proverbs sleep, and the fable, like the proverb, is an obvious warning about rest at the wrong time. The Tortoise also sleeps in the fable; he just does so after all the work is done, and only in this way is he able to win the race.  

 Moral 3. The Hare most likely could have caught up to the tortoise if he had slept for a shorter amount of time, but pride makes one underestimate the abilities of others. The downfall of the hare was that he did not think it possible for the tortoise to beat him.  

 Moral 4. The Hare has to try to move as fast as he can to try to catch up to the Tortoise, perhaps even expending greater effort over the course of the race than the Tortoise did. C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity that Christianity is hard in one way and easy in another, illustrating it with an example:  

 If you give two boys a proposition in geometry to do, the one who is prepared to take trouble will try to understand it. The lazy boy will learn it by heart because, for the moment, that needs less effort. But…when they are preparing for the exam, that lazy boy is doing hours and hours of miserable drudgery…. 

 Moral 5. Steadiness wins the race not only practically and in an obvious way, but spiritually as well. Those who are not steady in their effort are either sluggards or burnouts; laziness is inefficiency at the beginning of a task, and burning out is inefficiency at the end. Both are easier and more exciting than steadiness, which is the golden mean between two extremes, the “royal path.” Steadiness wins the race exactly because it is unexciting, and therefore requires the greater effort, and God tends to reward great effort, even under the sun. 


Watch out for Aesop’s Fables, available for preorder now!

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