Aesop and the Runaway Slave


This is one of Aesop’s fables. It is well to remember that Aesop was a slave. For technical notes and references, please see the Index page. This fable has been translated and adapted to modern English by Rex Latchford.

Audio is in production and will be added soon!

Aesop and the Runaway Slave

A strip mall in Wynantskill, New York, United ...

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There was a man who worked as an administrative assistant and gofer in an insurance office at the strip mall. He was well educated, in middle age, and of poor physical health. He often complained about his lot. One day, he was sitting on a bench along the walk of the strip mall, hastily eating fast food during the 15 minutes his cruel boss allowed him for lunch. The bright, hot sun beat down on the densely occupied parking lot, causing visible heat waves to rise off the SUVs and passenger trucks. The strip mall walk, however, was shaded and relatively cool except for the occasional gust of petroleum scented hot air from the parking lot. Aesop, who happened to work as a government clerk at the Department of Motor Vehicles office in the strip mall, was on a cigarette break. Aesop spotted the man, who he knew as a neighbor. Aesop walked over to the bench, gestured to the man, and started up a conversation.

“Hey, how’s it going?” asked Aesop.

Park seat

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The man appeared excited to see Aesop. He gulped down his remaining fast food with some diet soda, and wiped his beard with a paper napkin, tossing the wrappers and napkins into a nearby garbage receptacle. He motioned for Aesop to sit down with him on the bench, and carefully wiped his hands on his pants. Aesop lit up another Salem, and smoked and listened while the man spoke.

“Aesop, you’re a smart dude, and you’ve always been straight with me” the man began. “I’ll be straight up, since I know I can trust you with my troubles. I know you’ll keep this on the DL. My job rots. As you know, I have a PhD from Perdue in Clinical Psychology, and another PhD from NYU in Art History, but my boss treats me like a slave and a moron. She sends me out on shopping trips to pick up just about anything you can name: clothes, shoes, cosmetics, office supplies, and items for her kids. She never gives me time or money for expenses like meals or snacks, or gas for my old bomb that’s a gas hog. Then, when I get back and turn over the goods, I’m more than likely to have my head bitten off because she’s in a rage. She chews me out, and works out all her issues and problems on me. If she’s out with a customer or at a meeting, I have to stay late until she returns. If a wealthy customer comes in, she makes me leave because she thinks I don’t dress well enough, and she doesn’t pay me for the time out. I’ve been a loyal employee, though, and she’s never laid me off even when the economy has been down.” the man said.

Cigarette Butts -- IMG_7502

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Aesop nodded. He’d already finished the cigarette and lit up another. Just then a woman, the boss, came out of the insurance office. She was smartly dressed in a business suit, and she had short, brown hair, a trim body, and fine features. She gave Aesop a withering look, turned her head, nose in the air, and marched off into the parking lot. She struggled with her high-heels as she climbed into her silver Audi A6 TTS Quattro convertible with a 2.4 liter engine and drove off at high speed.

On the way out of the parking lot, the Audi collided with a beaver-board faded Ford Explorer, laden with a red-faced heavy mother and her six children. Shards of silver-gray plastic spewed in all directions. One of the front wheels of the Explorer fell off and rolled away, crashing into a parked car. The front and rear bumpers clattered to the ground. The hood of the Explorer popped open and steam came pouring out with a great hissing sound. The Explorer came to its knees as the air whooshed out of the remaining front tire. Bits of safety glass scattered about the scene from the two broken windows and windshield of the Ford, peppering the pool of oil expanding out from under the engine compartment. The boss climbed out of the Audi, confronted the Explorer mom and began to scream in shrill tones. The mom’s head hug low and her shoulders slumped as she recognized the woman with whom she had taken out automobile insurance several weeks earlier. Her children spilled out of the Explorer and surrounded her, filling the mall with the sound of their wailing voices. The mom dialed 911 on her cell phone, and soon the wailing of the children was joined by the wailing sirens of police, ambulance, and fire trucks. A motorcycle cop arrived on the scene as the boss continued to scream at the mom.

The boss now turned to the motorcycle cop, put her hands on her hips, and resumed screaming, occasionally gesticulating and pointing at the mom. The motorcycle cop kept his helmet on, and wrote furiously, handing the boss small yellow pieces of paper as fast as he could fill them out. A fire brigade arrived. The Fire Marshall surveyed the scene, carefully determined that there was no fire, and nothing to squabble over with the motorcycle cop. He and his brigade dejectedly got back in their trucks and returned to the bar. The ambulance came and went without incident.

Aesop looked over to the Department of Motor Vehicles office and smiled a crooked smile. He offered a cigarette to the man, who eagerly took it, lit it up, and continued on.

“I feel like a douche. I should have earned bigger raises and a promotion by now, but my hair’s gone gray and I’m still slaving away. If I had done anything to deserve this, I’d stop complaining and suffer my fate in silence. I haven’t done anything wrong, and I’ve been a loyal employee even if I do show up late sometimes with a hangover, and I don’t always wear clothes fresh out of the dryer. But the fact is that the pay sucks and the boss is abusive. For all those reasons,  along with plenty more it would take too long to tell you, I’ve decided to bust out and hit the road. Whatever.” The man stopped, looked at Aesop, and then looked at his feet, working on the smoke, and waiting for Aesop’s reply.

“Well,” said Aesop, taking a long drag and exhaling slowly, “listen to what I say: if you must endure such hardship without having done anything wrong, as you say, then what is going to happen to you when you abandon your job and really are guilty of something?”

There was a long silence. The man appeared to be studying a glob of chewing gum which had been ground into the cement walk. Aesop lit up another cigarette, and checked the time on his cell phone. The man sighed, heaved his chest and stood up. Aesop did the same.


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“I guess you’re right Aesop. You’re always thoughtful and helpful. You’re a stand-up dude. I guess I’d better be getting back to work. Later I’m going to have to pick up some feminine hygiene products for the boss at the discount big-box pharmacy.  Maybe I don’t have it so bad after-all. It’ll be another full month before she has PMS again.” He paused, stubbing out the cigarette and wiping his hands on his pants. “I’ll get you a pack of Salems, and thanks for the advice.”

Make an Appointment for a Motor Vehicle Accident?

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The man shook Aesop’s hand. Without looking up, he turned and shambled through the door of the insurance agency. Aesop took another drag on the cigarette. He looked up, and stared beyond the parking lot as if looking far into the distance, perhaps into outer-space. Then he shook his head, stubbed out the butt, and headed back to the DMV where there would surely be a line of people waiting for him to dispense his wisdom and process their paperwork.


The Moral to the Story

“If you take advice from a slave, you are likely to remain a slave yourself.”

NOTE: There is a promythium appended to the fable in Perotti’s Appendix: “The fable shows that you should not add one problem to another.”

  • Melvin Sturdivant

    I enjoyed that very much. Expecially the part about the ford explorer.

    What is the original form of that fable?

    – mel

  • Mottled Schmoo

    Here is a more historically accurate version…

    Aesop’s Fables, translated by Laura Gibbs (2002)


    A slave who was running away from his cruel master happened to meet Aesop, who knew him as a neighbour. ‘What’s got you so excited?’ asked Aesop. ‘Father Aesop — a name you well deserve since you are like a father to me — I’m going to be perfectly frank, since you can be safely trusted with my troubles. There’s plenty of whipping and not enough food. I’m constantly sent on errands out to the farm without any provisions for the journey. If the master dines at home, I have to wait on him all night long; if he is invited somewhere else, I have to lie outside in the gutter until dawn. I should have earned my freedom by now, but my hairs have gone gray and I’m still slaving away. If I had done anything to deserve this, I would stop complaining and suffer my fate in silence. But the fact is that I never get enough to eat and my cruel master is always after me. For these reasons, along with others that it would take too long to tell you, I’ve decided to go wherever my feet will lead me.’ ‘Well,’ said Aesop, ‘listen to what I say: if you must endure such hardship without having done anything wrong, as you say, then what is going to happen to you now that you really are guilty of something?’ With these words of advice, Aesop scared the slave into giving up his plans of escape.

    Source: Aesop’s Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World’s Classics): Oxford, 2002.

  • RexLatchford

    Thanks to Mottled Schmoo for posting the original fable. I’ll do that myself in the future.

    Also, thanks to the anonymous reader who provided corrections on typos that slipped past the spell-checker.

    The audio version is delayed while trying to schedule recording to coincide with my voice working properly. An injury several years ago has affected my voice, and limited the times when it’s working well enough to record.

    The moral to this comment is: “Write your fables and/or parables while you can.”

  • Brandy Aiyamon

    A rolling stone is worth two in the bush, thanks to this fable.

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