Re-Purposing Aesopica for Mental Illness/Mental Health Recovery


The beginning of 1485 Italian edition of Aesopus Moralisatus
The beginning of 1485 Italian edition of Aesopus Moralisatus

Aesop was an ancient Greek fabulist, or story-teller – and also a slave. He lived roughly 2,500 years ago (born c. 600 BC); his collected works are know as Aesop’s Fables, or simply Aesopica. These stories are pedagogical tools designed, like the parables of Jesus and the excerpt from CBTN‘s namesake Hellenic poet Horace, to teach deep and fundamental Truths. Contrary to common understandings and definitions, neither fables nor parables are designed for children, but instead evidence an understanding of the nature and method of learning. Aesop’s Fables are as relevant to adults as they are to children (if not more so).a

Here in this ongoing serial CBTN host and CPS John Ward will periodically share one of Aesop’s fables with a mental illness/mental health spin.

For a complete list of Aesop’s Fables and full versions plus interpretations, click here.

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” [Matthew 13:10] This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. [Matthew 13:13]



a short story, typically with animals as characters, conveying a moral.
synonyms: parable, allegory


An old man, bent double with age and toil, was gathering sticks in a forest.

At last he grew so tired and hopeless that he threw down the bundle of sticks, and cried out: “I cannot bear this life any longer. I wish Death would only come and take me!”

As he spoke, Death, a grisly skeleton, appeared and said to him: “What do you want, Mortal? I heard thee call me.”

“Please, sir,” replied the woodcutter, “Would you kindly help me to lift these sticks on to my shoulder?”


Careful what you wish for.

John‘s Commentary:

This fable isn’t quite so general as be careful what you wish for, though that’s solid advice. I interpret The Old Man And Death as quite specifically about death, or more confusing the wish to die with the will to die. There is a clear mental health connection here in suicidal ideation or suicide that stems from an episode; it is supposed from survivor interviews and statistics that the majority of suicides would have regretted the decision. An awful thought, surely, as persons who choose suicide by Long Fall have time to think on the way down.

Death, a grisly skeleton… 

If you find yourself feeling suicidal – and no one is saying this is easy – you owe it to yourself to take a step back (maybe even literally), identify triggers, and analyze. I’m not one of the rah-rahs who claim ridiculous falsehoods like there is never a reason to kill yourself. But I do know, speaking from personal experience, that chances are the way you feel in that moment and what action actually makes sense are not one and the same. Unless you’re faced with the choice between burning to death and jumping from a burning building, you always have more time.

As I write this, I am sitting (and residing) in a homeless shelter, somewhere I never thought I’d be, but somewhere I also know I will soon leave. Ironically I owe it to myself to work as hard to get out as I worked to get in – as in I must take responsibility for myself, and let go of the circumstances and chances outside of my control that may have contributed.

Ask yourself: Do I have more time? Work on the skill of identifying true emergency. There are very few situations that logically warrant suicide, and none that emotionally validate it. Even if you have no money, no home, no friends or family, you still have your feet and your mind. Try using them. Spend a few nights in the woods. Break away if you can from blue backlight and politics and media. Meditate. Pray.

Your mind wants you to be alive. This is why Camus said “There is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that.”

Your life is worth living. It’s not supposed to be easy. It is its very difficult that gives greatness meaning. It is struggle that defines success. Nobody admires the billionaire’s son or daughter. They admire the self-made man or woman. Yes, death is a certain part of your future; becoming something beyond a normal human is choice – one only you can make.


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