A few years ago, I saw “The Grasshopper and the Ants” (Disney’s short film of 1934, also available in various book, audio, and video formats, based on Aesop’s fable, “The Ant and the Grasshopper”) and I was reminded how well Aesop’s fable, even in Disney’s presentation, teaches a valuable lesson.
Aesop observed nature, which to him seemed to show that ants are industrious insects who work all summer and thus have plenty of food set aside for winter. Grasshoppers, on the other hand, spend their summers frolicking and making music, and come winter are seen withered and dead.
When I first heard this fable as a child, I am sure I grasped the idea that we need to work during the summer so we have food in the winter. My mother grew up on a farm and I visited her parents’ farm enough to get some idea of the cyclical seasons of farm life.
But when I saw Disney’s “The Grasshopper and the Ants” recently, from a vantage point well past life’s mid-point, it suddenly seemed clear that the message, the real moral of the story, doesn’t pertain only to the seasons of a single year, but rather to the seasons of an entire life. During the spring, summer, and fall of life, you work, gather, harvest, and save (you know, pay yourself first) … and during the winter of your life, what you have set aside provides security and enjoyment. Or, be like the grasshopper: play, spend and set nothing aside when you should and suffer the consequences later.
One more thought: Some commentators say that the Disney version changes the meaning of Aesop’s original fable because instead of leaving the grasshopper to starve, the ants invite him in to share their food and hospitality. I think this is partially moderated by two things. One, sharing is part of the enjoyment that can be derived from having. Two, in return for his supper and a place by the fire, the grasshopper is obliged to make music for the ants, literally to sing for his supper; this shows he might have finally learned the fable’s moral.
Here’s an English translation of Aesop’s original: