A cicada drawing. One of my favorites so it hangs in my entryway.

This French fable of the cicada and the ant has a wonderful critique of Aesop’s version. Its high regard for the value of art is quite different from the ant & grasshopper story I’ve always known.

The Cicada and the Ant

Cicada, having sung her song
All summer long,
Found herself without a crumb
When winter winds did come.
Not a scrap was there to find
Of fly or earthworm, any kind.
Hungry, she ran off to cry
To neighbor Ant, and specify:
Asking for a loan of grist,
A seed or two so she’d subsist
Just until the coming spring.
She said, “I’ll pay you everything
Before fall, my word as animal,
Interest and principal.”
Well, no hasty lender is the Ant;
It’s her finest virtue by a lot.
“And what did you do when it was hot?”
She then asked this mendicant.
“To all comers, night and day,
I sang. I hope you don’t mind.”
“You sang?” Why, my joy is unconfined.
Now dance the winter away.”

English translations reprinted from The Complete Fables of Jean de la Fontaine by Norman B. Spector


This fable has a harsher portrayal of the ant. Rather than glorify her industrious ways, like in Aesop’s version, it highlights the responsibility we all have towards each other. The cicada’s song  brings pleasure and joy to all around her. This too, it implies, should be a valuable task which is encouraged, not disparaged.  An individual who is working for the greater good (like artists and teachers… ahem) should be regarded and rewarded. Regarding cultural workers like the musician and the educator is easy, but rewarding them with something as basic as a livable wage still seems to elude us.

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