Aesop's Fables, translated by Laura Gibbs (2002)
537. AESOP AND THE BOW
Perry 505 (Phaedrus
When a certain man of Athens saw Aesop playing with marbles amidst a
crowd of boys, he stood there and laughed at Aesop as if Aesop were crazy.
As soon as he realized what was going on, Aesop -- who was an old man
far more inclined to laugh at others than to be laughed at himself --
took an unstrung bow and placed it in the middle of the road. 'Okay, you
know-it-all,' he said, 'explain the meaning of what I just did.' All the
people gathered round. The man wracked his brains for a long time but
he could not manage to answer Aesop's question. Eventually he gave up.
Having won this battle of wits, Aesop then explained, 'If you keep your
bow tightly strung at all times, it will quickly break, but if you let
it rest, it will be ready to use whenever you need it.'
In the same way the mind must be given some amusement from time to
time, so that you will find yourself able to think more clearly afterwards.
Note: The motif of the bow resting and tensed was a Roman cliche (e.g.,
Carmina 2.10: 'Apollo does not always stretch the bow'). There is
a similar story in the Life of Saint Anthony (Golden Legend 21): an
archer is angry when he sees Saint Anthony resting, so Saint Anthony
then tells the man to shoot an arrow, then another arrow, then another,
until finally the man says 'If I keep on like this, my bow will break!'
Saint Anthony concludes that it is the same way with people: they will
break if they are never allowed to take a rest.
Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura
Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.
cover, with new ISBN, published in 2008; contents of book unchanged.