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Aesop’s Animals Jo Wimpenny
The way folklore has stereotyped animals.
Aesop’s fables – a collection of short stories written in ancient Greece some 2,500 years ago – have populated the imaginations of generations of children with animals that talk and have human-like characters. These delightful tales have helped to shape our minds and language, and they are the source of many familiar phrases, such as “sour grapes” and “crying wolf”.
These stories have certainly stood the test of time. Nevertheless, in her fascinating book, zoologist Jo Wimpenny asks whether the memorable characteristics of the animals – for instance, the crafty fox or the stupid donkey – correspond to current research in animal behaviour. She also explores the pressing question of whether a tortoise could ever beat a hare in a race.
In this book, Wimpenny presents nine chapters that combine entertainment and information. These chapters focus on scientific research rather than popular beliefs. One example is a study from 2008 in which scientists were able to replicate the behavior described in one of Aesop’s fables, where a crow uses pebbles to raise the water level in order to drink. This shows that rooks and other corvids possess the ability to learn and perform ingenious tasks, including using tools like pieces of wire and even shaping them into a hook to obtain food.
The story of The Hare and the Tortoise is well-known for its lesson that slow and steady wins the race, as demonstrated by the tortoise’s victory over the overconfident hare who took a nap along the way. The moral of the story is that hard work and persistence can overcome arrogance. However, one may wonder if a tortoise could truly defeat a hare, considering that hares can reach speeds of up to 70 km/h, making even Usain Bolt look slow in comparison.
Wimpenny stated that “it varies based on the species”. In terms of lifespan, the tortoise outperforms the hare, with an average lifespan of 80 to 150 years compared to the hare’s 4 to 7 years. The tortoise is undoubtedly one of the most resilient creatures on Earth, having remained virtually unchanged for 200 million years. It is highly likely that the tortoise’s impact on this planet will outlast all of us in the grand scheme of things. Ultimately, speed is not the determining factor in the long term.
The author has a significant intention behind their clever examination of animal behavior. In the face of the climate crisis, animals require our assistance as many are at risk of extinction. Traditional stereotypes and depictions of animals in folklore may need to be disregarded in order for us to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for these creatures. By learning new and fascinating information about animals, we can coexist with them in a world that is becoming more and more populated.
You can buy this item for £11.43 at the Guardian bookshop, which is a discount from the recommended retail price of £12.99.