Here’s How Aesop’s Fables Apply to Survival

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By the author of The Prepper’s Guide to Post-Disaster Communications and The Cartoon Ham Exam Handbook: A Complete Ham Radio Technician License Study Guide

I’ve been reading some of Aesop’s Fables lately, and I think there are some gems in his stories that are not only applicable to life, but can particularly be useful within the survival setting. Here’s my take on a few of them.

The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs

I would sum this one up as this: Be careful what you risk.

I’m totally armchair refereeing this, but I think a perfect example of this would come from Alone where Jose Amoedo decided to make himself a little kayak (which was stinkin’ incredible) to paddle across a half-frozen lake. He fell in the water and had to leave the show.

I thought this was a huge risk with massive consequences. (To Amoedo’s credit, he is one of the most incredible masters of bushcraft I’ve ever seen. I just didn’t think paddling across super cold water in a tarp boat when he didn’t need to was a good idea.)

If you find yourself trapped in your car during a snowstorm, lost in the woods with a broken leg, or whatever, you’re going to be forced into situations where you have to take risks, but you want to choose acceptable risks.

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The Cat and the Birds

I think this one mainly applies in a Golden Horde-type situation. You’re living in a WROL situation, you have your farm, and there are people that want to join the farm that you know but do not trust. Don’t let the cat into the birdhouse.

The Spendthrift and the Swallow

Don’t make a drastic decision because of one trivial “sign” that you’ve witnessed.

Sure, if there are a collection of indications that lead to one logical conclusion, then it’s a good idea to act accordingly. But if you’re broken down in the middle of nowhere and haven’t seen another car drive down the road in the past three hours, that by no means indicates that you have to hike three hours through the freezing rain to try to find help.

The Lion and the Mouse

This is a classic Aesop story where a mouse pulls a thorn out of a lion’s paw. The small can often do a lot for the large. Think about Taiwan and the percentage of microchips that they produce for the United States. Think about all of the things that have microchips in them – tanks, jets, radios, computers, CBRN detection equipment, etc.

Without the mouse, is the lion reduced to a weeping mess?

The Crow and the Pitcher

Necessity is the mother of invention. Finding yourself in a survival situation – whatever that may be – means that you are going to be forced to be creative. I think it was Creek Stewart that said survival is about finding out how to get what you want with what you have.

You’re stuck in the woods with no food, water, or shelter. How can you use the gear that’s on your person to get those things?

The North Wind and the Sun

Persuasion is better than force. My goats and my pig have proved this one far too many times. It’s impossible to force a pig to go anywhere. But with a bucket of corn? Well, then you can persuade a pig to go anywhere.

I think this one applies mainly to relationships in a survival setting. You’re stuck in the Andes in a plane crash and you all desperately need food. Forcing somebody to march out for civilization for food isn’t going to work. But showing them why that’s needed, why they want that, and how they can help other people by doing so?

That’s persuasion (which is different than manipulation, mind you) and it works much better to accomplish the end result.

The Boy and the Filberts

“Do not attempt too much at once.” If you’re in a survival setting, don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by too many things at once. Focus on one task at a time.

Your car broke down in the middle of nowhere, it’s 2 degrees outside, and your phone is dead. One thing at a time. Figure out how you’re going to stay warm. Figure out how to passively signal for help. Figure out where you are.

A forest is felled one tree at a time.

The Wild Boar and the Fox

This story is nothing more than “it’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.”

Really, this is the story version of prepping.

If you find yourself in a survival setting, whether that be being lost in the Alaskan wilderness, lost in a foreign city where you don’t speak the language, or with a broken-down car in the bad part of town, it’s a good idea to have prepped beforehand with some means of self-defense, communication, maps, etc.

The Stag at the Pool

Far too often we get hung up on the coolest new knife, gun, tomahawk, or whatever. Those things are all cool and fun, but it’s the simple, little things that we often take for granted that really matter when it comes to saving lives.

Do you have a tourniquet to stop somebody from bleeding out after an active killer scenario? If you’re lost in the woods, do you have some type of metal container to boil water with? Is Neosporin a part of your preps so that you can keep somebody from getting an infection in a grid-down environment?

Not as “cool” but just as important.

The Lark and the Farmer

Self-reliance is what gets the job done, not somebody else. If you wait for somebody else to come and save you without taking any actionable steps when you’re lost on the hiking trail, stranded on the side of the road, or buried under an avalanche, you’re toast.

There’s nothing wrong with occasionally receiving outside help, but as an adult, you shouldn’t make banking on that from some other human being here on earth be your go-to plan.

The Stag with One Eye

“Misfortune often assails us from an unexpected quarter.” Make sure you have your bases covered. Having plenty of food and self-defense gear is great, but have you neglected everything medical? You may have one of the greatest tents on the planet, but what are you going to do if it gets a tear in it?

That’s a cool fire striker. It’d be a shame if, you know, you dropped it in the fire.

The Eagle, the Jackdaw, and the Shepherd

Have reasonable expectations with your bushcraft skills if you have to use that to survive. If you end up lost while cross-country skiing, the notion that you’re going to build an amazing shelter, catch 15 rainbow trout, and build a fire in the next two hours before sun sets is ridiculous.

Everything takes three times longer than it should, the laws of thermodynamics say that entropy exists, and accidents happen.

Budget yourself extra time when it comes to completing any type of survival task and don’t set your standards at the moon. Be happy if you just reach Tallahassee.

The Caged Bird and the Bat

Get your preps in gear before you need them. Figuring out while you’re freezing to death in your car that you should have kept the tank filled above a quarter of a tank, kept blankets in the car, and dressed warmly is a little after the fact.

Everybody makes mistakes and the fact that survival is about creativity is because you don’t have what you need but do what you can to ensure that if you are placed in some type of survival situation that you at least have some gear at your disposal.

The moral of the story…

These are at least some of Aesop’s Fables that I think could be applicable to survival. Do you know of any more? Do you have any other thoughts on the ones mentioned here? Are there other fables or stories you always mentally apply to survival? Let us know in the comments section.

About Aden

Aden Tate is a regular contributor to TheOrganicPrepper.com and TheFrugalite.com. Aden runs a micro-farm where he raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens, tomatoes, mushrooms, and greens. Aden has four published books, What School Should Have Taught You, The Faithful Prepper An Arm and a Leg, The Prepper’s Guide to Post-Disaster Communications, and Zombie Choices. You can find his podcast The Last American on Preppers’ Broadcasting Network.

Aden Tate

Aden Tate

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  • Interesting summation. I would add to all: keep your head about you! Think. Don’t give in to fear. For example, when stuck in the snow it’s far better to stay with your car then wander off trying to find help. The car offers shelter and heat, assuming one has gas and uses it carefully. Authorities will have a much easier time finding the car than you wandering God knows where in whiteout conditions. Whatever you do, think carefully!

  • Okay, sorry, but this is bugging me, what is with that pic of the camp site?
    It looks like the dog’s head is on a man body, or the man’s body is missing his head and the dog is standing behind a headless body.
    And there is a 3rd boot.

    That aside, a lot of great things to be learned by Aesop’s Fables.
    Recently reading Whose Names Are Unknown, by Sanora Babb. It is about farmers on the high plains during the dust bowl and Great Depression. Realistic insight to how those people lived and survived during those times.

  • Preparedness (and in some cases, survival) is about more than just being stuck out in the woods, and some preparedness wisdom comes from ancient sources besides Aesop. One example is the famous quote from Hippocrates circa 400 BCE:

    https://studybuff.com/did-hippocrates-say-let-food-be-thy-medicine/

    Another example is the apparent mistranslation of one medical remedy from the Christian bible circa 300 AD …. not discovered until the late 1930s by a researcher as explained on https://exoduseffect.com/ to have originally been written as cannabis.

    That discovery is not inconsistent with the medical contents carried in a small bag by the “Ice Maiden” who died in the frozen tundra of Siberia circa 5th century BC. Those contents included an amount of marijuana:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siberian_Ice_Maiden

    While not from ancient times, marijuana was a regular non-politicized entry in American medical encyclopedias in the early 1900s prior to being politically demonized in the late 1930s in a corrupt effort to suppress hemp as a competitive threat to the DuPont’s new market for synthetic fibers (like nylon) and the Hearst forestry empire’s sales of wood pulp for cheap paper — vastly inferior to paper from hemp fiber.

    –Lewis

  • Actually they are good concepts to live by and use everyday. Which is how they were intended to be utilized. Then they become second nature to you. Sort of a mental EDC kit.
    People in the past were far smarter than we are today. They just put it in simpler terms, stories, etc. Which modern society rejects, as it is not in a format that they like.

  • I agree that there’s a lot to glean from old tales and fables. Many of them apply today, even though they were written centuries ago, and to SHTF situations.
    My favorite is Murphy’s Law, “Whatever Can Go Wrong, Will Go Wrong, And At The Worst Possible Moment.”

    O’Toole’s comment on Murphy: “Murphy was an Optimist.”

    In my 62 years on this dirtball, I’ve never found a fault with Murphy’s logic. So I always try to plan for the worst eventualities I can think of. So far, I haven’t been disappointed when it all goes hell on me.

    • Murphy’s general laws

      Nothing is as easy as it looks.
      Everything takes longer than you think.
      Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
      If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong. Corollary: If there is a worse time for something to go wrong, it will happen then.
      If anything simply cannot go wrong, it will anyway.
      If you perceive that there are four possible ways in which a procedure can go wrong, and circumvent these, then a fifth way, unprepared for, will promptly develop.
      Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.
      If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.
      Nature always sides with the hidden flaw.
      Mother nature is a bitch.
      It is impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.
      Whenever you set out to do something, something else must be done first.
      The Light at the end of the tunnel is only the light of an oncoming train.

      Murphy’s Military Laws

      Never share a foxhole with anyone braver than you are.
      No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.
      Friendly fire ain’t.
      The most dangerous thing in the combat zone is an officer with a map.
      The problem with taking the easy way out is that the enemy has already mined it .
      The buddy system is essential to your survival; it gives the enemy somebody else to shoot at.
      The further you are in advance of your own positions, the more likely your artillery will shoot short.
      Incoming fire has the right of way.
      If your advance is going well, you are walking into an ambush.
      The quartermaster has only two sizes, too large and too small.
      If you really need an officer in a hurry, take a nap.
      The only time suppressive fire works is when it is used on abandoned positions.
      The only thing more accurate than incoming enemy fire is incoming friendly fire.
      There is nothing more satisfying that having someone take a shot at you, and miss. [Ploch !]
      Don’t be conspicuous. In the combat zone, it draws fire. Out of the combat zone, it draws sergeants.
      If your sergeant can see you, so can the enemy.

  • I was reminded of The Boy Who Cried Wolf when I recently read a book of stories about the holler where I live. Decades or a century ago, there was a little girl who lived a mile or two down the road from where I live now. She was minding the cows near her home when she screamed about monsters or something. Dad went out–nothing there. Next day, she screamed again–dad saw nothing. Next day he ignored her. Hours after she should have returned with the cows, he went out to see what had happened. He found her torn clothes, and a big log with cat pawprints, where he had started eating her.
    Moral of THIS story–if your preps include wilderness or rural, make sure you adequately protect your little ones–or even adults. Predators can hide.

  • My grandfather is/was one of the most prepared people I’ve ever met. (Think bomb shelter level in the 90’s.) He had a second home next to a small brook that they often wintered in. One day in early spring (Vermont) there was an unexpectedly warm day. The snow melted. The brook became a river and completely destroyed his property. 100’s of thousands in preps, gone. The home was still there, but within 24 hours looters came in and took anything left of value.

    It has always been a lesson to me in the need for education and mental prep can often far far outweigh the latest gadgets and tools.

  • Okay, last comment.

    I met a lady once while singing in a choir. I can’t remember her name. But she told me about starting the search in rescue near salt lake. She told me about coming up on people, dead, who should have survived. They had all their camping gear around them, and there was no reason they didn’t make it. Then she told me about people she had come across who had survived. With next to nothing. They should not have survived. She attributed it to a few things. Your mental ability to cope with the situation. Knowledge and determination. I believe that those things alone will suit a survivor far far better than anything else. I imagine that when things get hairy expect a lot of people to just roll over and quit. (My sister is one of them. She laughingly says that they enjoy their creature comforts and aren’t interested in any survival scenario. *go ahead and cringe with me, you know you are already anyway.)

  • Based on pitifully personal experience, I would add these suggestions to 1stMarineJarHead’s brilliant observations:

    1, If you receive orders from an officer (above your command level, if any) who consistently refuses to put his orders in writing (so he can later deny ever having given them should Murphy’s Laws intervene), take all measures possible to protect your future.

    2. If you receive orders that violate US federal law, that grossly offend your Christian conscience, or that come from US war criminals either while in office or in official retirement, whatever defensive measures that might be available to you can be severely limited. Two such examples from the Vietnam war were 1) pilots being ordered not to take out certain high value targets in North Vietnam, and 2) GIs being ordered to conduct “Zippo” burning missions against civilian villages with no military significance — from which GIs were so offended that they threatened their officers with “fragging” (by putting disabled grenades on their barracks cots), plus replacement live grenades if those officers refused to back off on such orders.

    The fragging threats were a major part of what brought an end to that war — in contrast to the orders to avoid high value bombing targets in order to prolong that war as long as possible.

    Now I realize those examples come from military history which is not about what most preparedness discussions address these days. However in disasters where governments intervene (either during disaster recovery or as a possible cause of such disaster originally) the military-like mindset often is pulled into play and those long ago military madness examples take on current day relevance. The Houston area hurricane disaster recovery examples come to mind where governments lied to homebuyers for decades about flood zone vulnerability.

    That military mindset includes attitudes of “do what we say or else” and when the results go haywire … that mindset insists “it wasn’t our fault” and “you can’t hold us accountable.”

    Today’s disasters and sometimes political overtones would have kept ancient Aesop very busy.

    –Lewis

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