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Folktales and Fables : The North Wind and the Sun

The North wind and the Sun Irish Landscape photography : Nigel Borrington

The North wind and the Sun
Irish Landscape photography : Nigel Borrington

A simple old story this one but filled with such a simple truth.

Folktales and Fables : The North Wind and the Sun

The North Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger, when a traveler came along wrapped in a warm cloak. They agreed that the one who first succeeded in making the traveler take his cloak off should be considered stronger than the other.Then the North Wind blew as hard as he could, but the more he blew the more closely did the traveler fold his cloak around him; and at last the North Wind gave up the attempt. Then the Sun shined out warmly, and immediately the traveler took off his cloak.

And so the North Wind was obliged to confess that the Sun was the stronger of the two.

The North wind and the Sun 1.

The story concerns a competition between the North wind and the Sun to decide which is the stronger of the two. The challenge was to make a passing traveler remove his cloak. However hard the North Wind blew, the traveler only wrapped his cloak tighter to keep warm, but when the Sun shone, the traveler was overcome with heat and soon took his cloak off.

The fable was well known in Ancient Greece; Athenaeus recorded that Hieronymus of Rhodes, in his Historical Notes, quotes an epigram of Sophocles against Euripides which parodies the story of Helios and Boreas. It relates how Sophocles had his cloak stolen by a boy to whom he had made love. Euripides joked that he had had that boy too and it did not cost him anything. Sophocles’ reply satirises the adulteries of Euripides: “It was the Sun, and not a boy, whose heat stripped me naked; as for you, Euripides, when you were kissing someone else’s wife the North Wind screwed you. You are unwise, you who sow in another’s field, to accuse Eros of being a snatch-thief.”

The Latin version of the fable first appears centuries later in Avianus as De Vento et Sole (Of the wind and the sun, Fable 4), early versions in English and Johann Gottfried Herder’s poetic version in German (Wind und Sonne) also give it as such. It is only in mid-Victorian times that the title “The North Wind and the Sun” begins to be used. In fact the Avianus poem refers to the characters as Boreas and Phoebus, the gods of the north wind and the sun, and it is under the title Phébus et Borée that it appears in La Fontaine’s Fables (VI.3).

Victorian versions give the moral as “Persuasion is better than force”, but it has been put in different ways at other times. In the Barlow edition of 1667, Aphra Behn teaches the Stoic lesson that there should be moderation in everything: “In every passion moderation choose,/For all extremes do bad effects produce”, while La Fontaine’s conclusion is that “Gentleness does more than violence” (Fables VI.3). In the 18th century, Herder comes to the theological conclusion that, while superior force leaves us cold, the warmth of Christ’s love dispels it, and Walter Crane’s limerick version of 1887 gives a psychological interpretation, “True strength is not bluster”. Most of these examples draw a moral lesson, but La Fontaine hints at the political application that is present also in Avianus’ conclusion: “They cannot win who start with threats”. There is evidence that this reading has had an explicit influence on the diplomacy of modern times: in South Korea’s Sunshine Policy, for instance, or Japanese relations with the military regime in Burma.

The North wind and the Sun 2

2 responses

  1. Award winning photographs Nigel – beautiful post, loved the writing!

    January 22, 2015 at 4:10 pm

  2. Thank you Mary 🙂

    January 22, 2015 at 6:29 pm

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