The Ant and the Grasshopper : An Inequality Fable

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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40 Responses

  1. Pyre says:

    I always preferred the original version.Report

    • Rtod in reply to Pyre says:

      I’ve always wondered, which *is* the original – the one where they feed the grasshopper and he learns, or the one where they don’t and he dies? I remember reading many versions of both growing up.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Rtod says:

        I always assumed that the ones with the “if you don’t follow my advice, you will *DIE*” are the older ones from the days when people died at the drop of a hat.

        Once there was enough leisure to be nice, people realized that they didn’t want to tell their little girls stories about Little Red Riding Hood being sexually assaulted.Report

      • Pyre in reply to Rtod says:

        The original was the one which ended with the Grasshopper starving to death in the snow. The notion of the ant’s lack of charity being something to also avoid had been discussed through the years and there were other versions which bent the story to emphasize the importance of art. However, the original story remained largely unchanged until Disney made a cartoon in the 30s. That cartoon was what really popularized the notion of not letting grasshoppers die in the snow.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Rtod says:

        I prefer a version in which the grasshopper earns his keep by entertaining the ants. It seems clear to me that there was the basis for a mutually beneficial exchange, unless the ants have no interest in entertainment/music, in which case they’re soul-less sods and the ‘hopper’s advised to steer clear of them.Report

  2. Maribou says:

    *applauds, stomps feet on the boards*Report

  3. Mike Schilling says:

    I wasn’t thinking about inequality at all. I was trying to remember which Holmes story had the book code (like the second episode of Sherlock), and some Googling turned up the last and least of the novels, The Valley of Fear. Its backstory is based on the real-life Molly Maguires, who were a 19th Century society of coal miners who, depending on whom you believe, were a gang of cutthroats, or an incipient union slandered ans persecuted by the mine owners and the Pinkertons. The Wikipedia article about them contains this section on the Panic of 1873:

    The period from 1873-79 (see Panic of 1873) was marked by one of the worst depressions in the nation’s history, caused by economic overexpansion, a stock crash, and a decrease in the money supply. By 1877 an estimated one-fifth of the nation’s workingmen were completely unemployed, two-fifths worked no more than six or seven months a year, and only one-fifth had full-time jobs.

    Labor angrily watched “railway directors (riding) about the country in luxurious private cars proclaiming their inability to pay living wages to hungry working men.”

    Which made me think: were the destitute really any worse off because the rich lived in such ostentatious wealth? (It also made me wonder how a depression could last 6 years without a traitor to his class or an illegal alien marxist to prolong it, but that’s a discussion for another time.)Report

    • M.A. in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      One of the unspoken truths of the Great Depression is that the actual damage, much like today, was restricted to lower and middle class workers.

      Despite the fact that nearly everyone in the country was hurt to some degree by onset of the Depression, the 1930’s was a period of exacerbted class conflict. One possible reason for this was the divergent responses which upper and lower class individuals had to the crisis. While many of the richest people in America lost money when the stock market crashed, the upper classes as a whole still retained much of the wealth which they had held before the Depression and in most cases did not suffer from unemployment. Perhaps as a way of displaying their continued prosperity in the face of nationwide suffering (or of trying to show up their social equals who may have been hit harder by the crash) many among the upper classes began to flaunt their wealth more than ever. Working class Americans, many of whom were thrown out of work by the Depression (which they often correctly blamed upon the reckless financial dealings of the upper classes) were shocked and angered by this ostentatious display of wealth.

      Remind you of anything today? This article is what Mark and I were talking about with the effects of social stratification and lack of socialization between classes.

      Underlying the whole problem is that in the Great Depression just as today, policies enacted to primarily benefit the upper class ended in harm to the lower and middle class when economic mismanagement and the effects of concentrative policies hit their ultimate end.

      The upper class are highly insulated; they don’t just have reserves, they have ample reserves within the system and for the wall street/CEO crowd, golden parachutes guaranteed by contract if their firm decides to “go in a different direction.” The lower and middle classes may be able to weather a few months if they were frugally saving, but they don’t have years of wealth to draw on.Report

  4. Miss Mary says:

    I enjoy your writing, Mr. Kelly, and I’m sure I’m not alone.Report

  5. Mike Schilling says:

    And Ambrose Bierce’s version:

    One day in winter a hungry Grasshopper applied to an Ant for some of the food which they had stored.

    “Why,” said the Ant, “did you not store up some food for yourself, instead of singing all the time?”

    “So I did,” said the Grasshopper; “so I did; but you fellows broke in and carried it all away.”Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      This is an amazing one, yes.

      One thing that I’ve been wanting to bring up for a while but was working on how to word is is that there *ARE* ways to increase inequality by screwing people over, by stealing from them, by gamesmanship, by playing the refs, by all sorts of things… AND THAT ALL OF THESE THINGS ARE BAD AND IF THERE IS A MORALITY THEN THESE THINGS ARE PROBABLY ALSO MORALLY WRONG.

      There are a handful of ways that we should deal with the above acts (and I’m probably more extreme in some of my thoughts on how folks who do such things ought to be dealt with than most because mine include such things as “public hanging”) but that gets us into some places where I, at least, didn’t want to go because it would stop talking about inequality (and do you really want to see another set of comments from me talking about regulatory capture?) and, as such, I’m probably not going to go down that particular path…

      But I did want to say that there are legion ways to get ahead by screwing over your neighbor and that those ways are wrong. I mean, yeah, we all know that we all know this… but, much like “I love you”, it’s nice to hear it from time to time even if you do know it.Report

  6. Mr. Blue says:

    I am about to submit my entry into the Symposium. I wrote the first a few days ago, but decided against submission. There was a bit in there that didn’t make it into the second one that I am submitting and your closing reminded me of it:

    Maybe it’s for the best that we will never actually win against the 1%. Any force large and powerful enough to knock them off their perch is large and powerful enough to do some pretty scary things along the way to people who aren’t so protected.


  7. Dude. You fishing nailed this. Hilarious and piquant.

    (How’d you get away without that italicized hoo-ha at the front?)Report

  8. Brandon Berg says:

    How many people who think that this is awesome thought that Sarah Palin’s crosshairs ad was beyond the pale?Report

    • Rtod in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      That was… interesting.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Rtod says:

        I think this was a reference to the fate of the cricket.

        To answer Brandon’s question, I don’t actually recall the release of canned outrage about the crosshairs here at the League. I do remember having to avoid OTB for a few days after the incident.Report

        • Brandon Berg in reply to Will Truman says:

          Looking back at the threads at the time, you’re right—there doesn’t seem to have been a lot of the manufactured outrage that I was seeing from the left elsewhere. I apologize for assuming otherwise.

          That said, I do take a pretty dim view of the “You’d better agree to more redistribution or there will be blood” argument.Report

          • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Brandon Berg says:

            I was a little afraid it was going there, but then I read the last bit.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Brandon Berg says:

            Brandon, I don’t think Will was makin a threat, but an observation about how the world just might work.

            Kind of like warning a college girl to be careful at a party–you’re not threatening to rape her, but just reminding her that there are in fact guys who will.Report

          • Rod in reply to Brandon Berg says:

            Well, you can take that as a threat, which I assume it wasn’t meant to be. Or you can just take it as a historical observation.

            Sometimes you get blood; sometimes you get something like the New Deal. I prefer the latter, but YMMV.

            A broad, prosperous, middle-class like what emerged post WWII is, historically, an anomaly. The more normal pattern has been a tiny, very wealthy, elite at the top, a middle layer of merchants and professionals comprising maybe 10% or so, and the vast unwashed masses living at or near poverty. So it very well may be the case that we’re witnessing the normal settling back into that normal pattern. But don’t expect people to be satisfied with that.Report

          • Rtod in reply to Brandon Berg says:

            With all due respect, BB, if that is the message you believe I had meant this fable to have then that was the message you were looking for.Report

  9. Tom Van Dyke says:

    Grasshoppers live 2 months, die before winter, then the ants eat them. Queen ants live 20 or 30 years, and turn the raw material their soldier ants gather into consumable food, warmth and prosperity for all.

    One day, the soldier ants all got together and said to each other, “We do all the work, die after a couple months, and the Queen just sits there and lives for like freaking ever!”

    So they killed the Queen and tried to eat her but they couldn’t because their bodies lacked the needed enzymes to properly digest her ant flesh. So they all died too. But it was fair and equal because they were all dead, so that was cool.

    A grasshopper passing by saw the ruins of the anthill. He was about to write a post about it, but he got eaten by a bird. The end.

    By TomReport

  10. Kazzy says:

    Do “The Little Red Hen” next!

    I often use that one with my students (the one where the Hen keeps all the bread for herself) and ask them if they thought the ending was “fair”. It is interesting to see the variety of responses. My favorite was from one very astute girl, who looked at the illustrations and noticed that the Hen had a big belly (as chickens/hens often tend to when represented in cartoons). She said, “The Hen has a big belly. She probably needed all that bread to fill her up.” I opted not to point out that now the dog, the cat, and the mouse might be on the hook for her diabetes medication.Report

  11. BlaiseP says:

    In the context of other fables, such Zeus and the Ant, (Perry 166) show Aesop did not intend the Ant to be any symbol of thrift and virtue:


    Long ago, the creature who is today an ant used to be a man who was always busy farming. Still, he was not satisfied with the results of his own labour, so he would steal from his neighbours’ crops. Zeus became angry at his greedy behaviour and turned him into the animal that now has the name of ‘ant.’ Yet even though the man changed his shape, he did not change his habits, and even now he goes around the fields gathering the fruits of other people’s labour, storing them up for himself.

    The fable shows that when someone with a wicked nature changes his appearance, his behaviour remains the same.

    Aesop does have other fables showing prodigality, The Boy and the Swallow, Perry 169 but he also preaches against miserliness in Perry 225

    The fable isn’t about crickets or grasshoppers. In Aesop, it’s about cicadas, which don’t appear every year. When they do, they die in great numbers. Before we can extract meaning from fables, these little details become important. The Ant is a miserly thief, not frugal. Ants don’t plant the grain they store. But cicadas are singers. The old heroes are compared to them.Report

  12. Snarky McSnarksnark says:

    Uncle Tod-

    Can the next story have a monkey? I like monkeys.Report

  13. Mike Schilling says:

    And James Joyce’s version:

    The Gracehoper was always jigging ajog, hoppy on akkant
    of his joyicity, (he had a partner pair of findlestilts to supplant
    him), or, if not, he was always making ungraceful overtures to
    Floh and Luse and Bienie and Vespatilla to play pupa-pupa and
    pulicy-pulicy and langtennas and pushpygyddyum and to com-
    mence insects with him, there mouthparts to his orefice and his
    gambills to there airy processes, even if only in chaste, ameng
    the everlistings, behold a waspering pot. He would of curse
    melissciously, by his fore feelhers, flexors, contractors, depres-
    sors and extensors, lamely, harry me, marry me, bury me, bind
    me, till she was puce for shame and allso fourmish her in Spin-
    ner’s housery at the earthsbest schoppinhour so summery as his
    cottage, which was cald fourmillierly Tingsomingenting, groped
    up. Or, if he was always striking up funny funereels with Bester-
    farther Zeuts, the Aged One, With all his wigeared corollas, albe-
    dinous and oldbuoyant, inscythe his elytrical wormcasket and
    Dehlia and Peonia, his druping nymphs, bewheedling him, com-
    pound eyes on hornitosehead, and Auld Letty Plussiboots to
    scratch his cacumen and cackle his tramsitus, diva deborah (seven
    bolls of sapo, a lick of lime, two spurts of fussfor, threefurts of
    sulph, a shake o’shouker, doze grains of migniss and a mesfull of
    midcap pitchies. The whool of the whaal in the wheel of the
    whorl of the Boubou from Bourneum has thus come to taon!),
    and with tambarins and cantoridettes soturning around his eggs-
    hill rockcoach their dance McCaper in retrophoebia, beck from
    bulk, like fantastic disossed and jenny aprils, to the ra, the ra, the
    ra, the ra, langsome heels and langsome toesis, attended to by a
    mutter and doffer duffmatt baxingmotch and a myrmidins of
    pszozlers pszinging Satyr’s Caudledayed Nice and Hombly,
    Dombly Sod We Awhile but Ho, Time Timeagen, Wake! For if
    sciencium (what’s what) can mute uns nought, ‘a thought,
    abought the Great Sommboddy within the Omniboss, perhops an
    artsaccord (hoot’s hoot) might sing ums tumtim abutt the Little
    Newbuddies that ring his panch. A high old tide for the bar-
    heated publics and the whole day as gratiis! Fudder and lighting
    for ally looty, any filly in a fog, for O’Cronione lags acrumbling
    in his sands but his sunsunsuns still tumble on. Erething above
    ground, as his Book of Breathings bed him, so as everwhy, sham
    or shunner, zeemliangly to kick time.
    Grouscious me and scarab my sahul! What a bagateller it is!
    Libelulous! Inzanzarity! Pou! Pschla! Ptuh! What a zeit for the
    goths! vented the Ondt, who, not being a sommerfool, was
    thothfolly making chilly spaces at hisphex affront of the icinglass
    of his windhame, which was cold antitopically Nixnixundnix.
    We shall not come to party at that lopp’s, he decided possibly,
    for he is not on our social list. Nor to Ba’s berial nether, thon
    sloghard, this oldeborre’s yaar ablong as there’s a khul on a khat.
    Nefersenless, when he had safely looked up his ovipository, he
    loftet hails and prayed: May he me no voida water! Seekit Ha-
    tup! May no he me tile pig shed on! Suckit Hotup! As broad as
    Beppy’s realm shall flourish my reign shall flourish! As high as
    Heppy’s hevn shall flurrish my haine shall hurrish! Shall grow,
    shall flourish! Shall hurrish! Hummum.
    The Ondt was a weltall fellow, raumybult and abelboobied,
    bynear saw altitudinous wee a schelling in kopfers. He was sair
    sair sullemn and chairmanlooking when he was not making spaces
    in his psyche, but, laus! when he wore making spaces on his ikey,
    he ware mouche mothst secred and muravyingly wisechairman-
    looking. Now whim the sillybilly of a Gracehoper had jingled
    through a jungle of love and debts and jangled through a jumble
    of life in doubts afterworse, wetting with the bimblebeaks, drik-
    king with nautonects, bilking with durrydunglecks and horing
    after ladybirdies (ichnehmon diagelegenaitoikon) he fell joust as
    sieck as a sexton and tantoo pooveroo quant a churchprince, and
    wheer the midges to wend hemsylph or vosch to sirch for grub
    for his corapusse or to find a hospes, alick, he wist gnit! Bruko
    dry! fuko spint! Sultamont osa bare! And volomundo osi vide-
    vide! Nichtsnichtsundnichts! Not one pickopeck of muscow-
    money to bag a tittlebits of beebread! Iomio! Iomio! Crick’s
    corbicule, which a plight! O moy Bog, he contrited with melan-
    ctholy. Meblizzered, him sluggered! I am heartily hungry!
    He had eaten all the whilepaper, swallowed the lustres, de-
    voured forty flights of styearcases, chewed up all the mensas and
    seccles, ronged the records, made mundballs of the ephemerids
    and vorasioused most glutinously with the very timeplace in the
    ternitary ? not too dusty a cicada of neutriment for a chittinous
    chip so mitey. But when Chrysalmas was on the bare branches,
    off he went from Tingsomingenting. He took a round stroll and
    he took a stroll round and he took a round strollagain till the
    grillies in his head and the leivnits in his hair made him thought
    he had the Tossmania. Had he twicycled the sees of the deed
    and trestraversed their revermer? Was he come to hevre with his
    engiles or gone to hull with the poop? The June snows was
    flocking in thuckflues on the hegelstomes, millipeeds of it and
    myriopoods, and a lugly whizzling tournedos, the Boraborayel-
    lers, blohablasting tegolhuts up to tetties and ruching sleets off
    the coppeehouses, playing ragnowrock rignewreck, with an irri-
    tant, penetrant, siphonopterous spuk. Grausssssss! Opr!
    Grausssssss! Opr!
    The Gracehoper who, though blind as batflea, yet knew, not
    a leetle beetle, his good smetterling of entymology asped niss-
    unitimost lous nor liceens but promptly tossed himself in the
    vico, phthin and phthir, on top of his buzzer, tezzily wondering
    wheer would his aluck alight or boss of both appease and the
    next time he makes the aquinatance of the Ondt after this they
    have met themselves, these mouschical umsummables, it shall be
    motylucky if he will beheld not a world of differents. Behailed
    His Gross the Ondt, prostrandvorous upon his dhrone, in his
    Papylonian babooshkees, smolking a spatial brunt of Hosana
    cigals, with unshrinkables farfalling from his unthinkables,
    swarming of himself in his sunnyroom, sated before his com-
    fortumble phullupsuppy of a plate o’monkynous and a confucion
    of minthe (for he was a conformed aceticist and aristotaller), as
    appi as a oneysucker or a baskerboy on the Libido, with Floh
    biting his leg thigh and Luse lugging his luff leg and Bieni bussing
    him under his bonnet and Vespatilla blowing cosy fond tutties
    up the allabroad length of the large of his smalls. As entomate
    as intimate could pinchably be. Emmet and demmet and be jiltses
    crazed and be jadeses whipt! schneezed the Gracehoper, aguepe
    with ptchjelasys and at his wittol’s indts, what have eyeforsight!
    The Ondt, that true and perfect host, a spiter aspinne, was
    making the greatest spass a body could with his queens lace-
    swinging for he was spizzing all over him like thingsumanything
    in formicolation, boundlessly blissfilled in an allallahbath of
    houris. He was ameising himself hugely at crabround and mary-
    pose, chasing Floh out of charity and tickling Luse, I hope too,
    and tackling Bienie, faith, as well, and jucking Vespatilla jukely
    by the chimiche. Never did Dorsan from Dunshanagan dance it
    with more devilry! The veripatetic imago of the impossible
    Gracehoper on his odderkop in the myre, after his thrice ephe-
    meral journeeys, sans mantis ne shooshooe, featherweighed
    animule, actually and presumptuably sinctifying chronic’s de-
    spair, was sufficiently and probably coocoo much for his chorous
    of gravitates. Let him be Artalone the Weeps with his parisites
    peeling off him I’ll be Highfee the Crackasider. Flunkey Footle
    furloughed foul, writing off his phoney, but Conte Carme makes
    the melody that mints the money. Ad majorem l.s.d.! Divi gloriam.
    A darkener of the threshold. Haru? Orimis, capsizer of his ant-
    boat, sekketh rede from Evil-it-is, lord of loaves in Amongded.
    Be it! So be it! Thou-who-thou-art, the fleet-as-spindhrift,
    impfang thee of mine wideheight. Haru!
    The thing pleased him andt, and andt,

    He larved ond he larved on he merd such a nauses
    The Gracehoper feared he would mixplace his fauces.
    I forgive you, grondt Ondt, said the Gracehoper, weeping,
    For their sukes of the sakes you are safe in whose keeping.
    Teach Floh and Luse polkas, show Bienie where’s sweet
    And be sure Vespatilla fines fat ones to heat.
    As I once played the piper I must now pay the count
    So saida to Moyhammlet and marhaba to your Mount!
    Let who likes lump above so what flies be a full ‘un;
    I could not feel moregruggy if this was prompollen.
    I pick up your reproof, the horsegift of a friend,
    For the prize of your save is the price of my spend.
    Can castwhores pulladeftkiss if oldpollocks forsake ’em
    Or Culex feel etchy if Pulex don’t wake him?
    A locus to loue, a term it t’embarass,
    These twain are the twins that tick Homo Vulgaris.
    Has Aquileone nort winged to go syf
    Since the Gwyfyn we were in his farrest drewbryf
    And that Accident Man not beseeked where his story ends
    Since longsephyring sighs sought heartseast for their orience?
    We are Wastenot with Want, precondamned, two and true,
    Till Nolans go volants and Bruneyes come blue.
    Ere those gidflirts now gadding you quit your mocks for my gropes
    An extense must impull, an elapse must elopes,
    Of my tectucs takestock, tinktact, and ail’s weal;
    As I view by your farlook hale yourself to my heal.
    Partiprise my thinwhins whiles my blink points unbroken on
    Your whole’s whercabroads with Tout’s trightyright token on.
    My in risible universe youdly haud find
    Sulch oxtrabeeforeness meat soveal behind.
    Your feats end enormous, your volumes immense,
    (May the Graces I hoped for sing your Ondtship song sense!),
    Your genus its worldwide, your spacest sublime!
    But, Holy Saltmartin, why can’t you beat time?

    In the name of the former and of the latter and of their holo-
    caust. Allmen.Report