Aesop, a slave and storyteller is believed to have lived in ancient Greece between 620 and 564 BCE; Herodotus refers to him only 100 years later in his Histories as “Aesop the fable writer” and a slave.

His stories were cleverly told, presenting human problems through the dilemmas of animal characters, a tradition present in the cultures of many different races.


The mice once called a meeting to decide on a plan to free themselves of their enemy, the cat. At least they wished to find some way of knowing when she was coming, so they might have time to run away. Indeed, something had to be done, for they lived in such constant fear of her claws that they hardly dared stir from their dens by night or day.

Many plans were discussed, but none of them was thought good enough. At last a very young mouse got up and said: “I have a plan that seems very simple, but I know it will be successful. All we have to do is to hang a bell about the cat’s neck. When we hear the bell ringing we will know immediately that our enemy is coming.”

All the mice were much surprised that they had not thought of such a plan before. But in the midst of the rejoicing over their good fortune, an old mouse arose and said: “I will say that the plan of the young mouse is very good. But let me ask one question: Who will bell the cat?”

The Moral Lesson: “It is one thing to say that something should be done, but quite a different matter to do it.”

Aesop stories remain in popular culture among them “The Boy who Cried Wolf”, “The Tortoise and the Hare,” and “The Goose that Laid Golden Eggs.”

Aesops fables

Philostrates writes best about the enduring power of Aesop’s stories, quoting the 1st century CE philosopher Apollonius, in  Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Book V:14:

…he by announcing a story which everyone knows not to be true, told the truth by the very fact that he did not claim to be relating real events.

This is the mystery of story told well.

Stories can relate truer truths than history and fact and the simplest of stories can relate some of life’s most profound end enduring truths.

Hammer Stew

There is an old fable in which a tramp visits a township during a famine. He carries with him a pot and meagre belongings. The hungry villagers hide in their houses and refuse to face the stranger, another potential mouth to feed.

The stranger instead offers to cook a stew for the village. He calls it “hammer stew” and fills the pot with water and places it over a fire to simmer. Soon after he takes his hammer, cleans it and places it in the boiling water. 

One by one the villagers leave their houses to inspect the hammer stew. The tramp nonchalantly mentions the stew is delicious but lacks some parsnip. Next, a timid villager offers up a parsnip. 

Later, the tramp tastes the stew and declares it to be tasty but better with mushroom. Soon, another villager offers up a handful of mushrooms.

axe soup

One by one the villagers are lured out by the smell of brewing food and offer up ingredients: leeks, parsley, potoato, some beef stock, some chicken bones, some onions etc. Before long the tramp had a pot full of delicious stew and begins to feed the hungry villagers. 

The story effectively shows the power of a visionary leader. Leadership is simply casting the vision of a potential outcome, taking the risk of starting and offering up the first resources. By taking this initative, the leader paves the way for others to offer their skills, talents and time without bearing the risk of an enterprise themselves. Their contributions take a project much farther and further than the leader could alone.

stone soup  2

Leadership is filling the pot and lighting the fire and enticing a hungry village to offer up their rations and to create something greater than the sum of its parts. 

Even in famine something delicious is possible!