With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on. -- William Morris

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

An Exegetical Question...

Bear with me...

Take the famous tale attributed to Aesop, The Tortoise and the Hare. Let's assume for the sake of argument that thousands of years have passed and a manuscript of this tale has been unearthed once again. In the only manuscript we possess of the story, the well-known moral, "Slow and steady wins the race," is missing from the story's conclusion.

Exegete 1: "The historical veracity of the tale is implausible. Hares do not sleep under trees. Hares and tortoises are not known to interact, nor is there any evidence of trans-species competitive behavior for group dominance or territory. If there were, the most probable outcome of such rituals would favor the hare. We are thus reading very bad science: perhaps the observation of what the author(s) presumed was a competitive race between the two animals when in fact they were projecting human practices onto them. In drawing such rash conclusions from one set of data, we are looking at some very bad science."

Exegete 2: "This is an obvious story heavily influenced by an unjustified cultural prejudice against hares, probably written by a community of tortoisephiles which the text suggests was active at that time in history, identifying with their long experience of inferiority in the drama of natural selection. The stereotypes common among anti-Hare tortoisephiles is all over the page: the hare is depicted as cocky and cruel with a terrible sense of judgment. Hares that we observe exhibit no such qualities. The tortoise obviously represents an idealization of its species, not only possessing the sound judgment to be secure in his future victory, but also rising up to claim from the hare what natural selection has obviously denied him. It is a culturally transgressive narrative, obviously from an anti-Hare perspective. Hare-lovers have nothing to gain from this Aesop.

Exegete 3: "The story is actually trans-valuation literature. It was obviously written by a community of fat people and falls within the genre of encouraging propaganda, reinforcing them that obesity is in fact no hindrance to grand victory in athletic competitions. The values of the culture of healthy bullies is thus recast as inevitably causing their own ruin. Obesity is transformed into the new physical ideal. It is because of stories like this, and not (as scientists have surmised) television, video games, inactivity, and McDonalds that all Americans of our generation are unbelievably fat."

Exegete 4: "I don't see much about female hares and female tortoises. It is obviously the literature of the male elites and the silence of the feminine voice represents a sincere lack of balance. We can only read this as a story representing an oppressive patriarchy and its misogynistic values. Aesop is a pig!"

Exegete 5: "The text appears to represent patriarchal values, but it is in fact a socially revolutionary tale attempting to reclaim a distinctively feminine voice. Though the author makes use only of the masculine pronouns to refer to the characters, it is likely that the tortoise is intended to represent a woman. Male and female tortoises look very similar and it would be easy to mistake a female tortoise for a male one. The author may have been intentionally ambiguous, so as to disguise a story with dangerous social implications in an oppressively masculine culture. The tortoise embodies distinctly feminine values: a calm demeanor, sound judgment, slowness, and steadiness. The hare, on the other hand, obviously exhibits typically masculine vices: rashness, poor judgment, pride, cruelty, and a bad temper. It is clear that this story is a counter-cultural story aimed at reclaiming the voices of women. We may even surmise, on this evidence, that Aesop was a woman."

Fundamentalist investing the story with religious authority: "The text depicts animals talking to one another and organizing races. It is clear then that when this text was written, tortoises and hares were imbued with the ability to speak and with the rationality to organize races. Somewhere between that day and our own, they lost those abilities (most likely God punished them). You evolution nuts are crazy to think otherwise. Good enough for Aesop, good enough for me."

Unrestricted Spiritual Interpretation: "It is obvious that the true meaning of the hare is angel, as the two long ears of the animal correspond to the two wings of the heavenly messenger. The race is a figure of the long and narrow road to salvation and resurrection, as the glory received after races can be likened to spiritual victory (does not the Apostle make such a comparison?). The hare "shooting ahead for some time" refers to the time in which the angels reign superior to man in intimacy with God; a time that refers to the age of the cosmos, and has now come to an end when Christ rose from the dead and raised human nature above the angels. The tortoise therefore refers to the human nature which is slow, burdened with matter and sin and must slowly be drawn into future perfection. Thus, the true meaning which before Christ lay dormant in the story and only now comes to true fruition as its deepest meaning: Christ's resurrection carries humanity above the angels, restoring it to the image of God. Aesop was truly writing of Christ."

Dan Brown: "After the tortoise won the race, he was safely transported to France where he was later buried. The truth that he won the race, as well as his philosophy of "taking it easy," had to be protected by a secret society when the hare majority took over and claimed that the hare had actually won. Centuries of killing to suppress the truth have elapsed, but the secret was passed on by artists like Botticelli in his painting Birth of Aphrodite: the shell obviously is a symbol for a tortoise shell; the cloak to Aphrodite's side is the tape at the finish line; and the wind gods, whose wings loom above their heads like rabbit ears, obviously stand for the hare trailing behind. Only now with the discovery of this text is the truth finally revealed to the masses!"

.........to which Aesop responds: YOU HAVE COMPLETELY MISSED THE POINT!!!!!

Moral: As far as I can tell, the first step of exegesis is learning how to ask the right questions.

Pax Christi,


  • At 9/19/2008 2:14 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…

    Well said Pat.
    Hey - there's a "Pat M. Gardner" from Notre Dame presenting at the PMR. This isn't you by any chance, is it?
    Just checking in case you have a middle initial of which I am unaware.

  • At 9/19/2008 2:47 PM, Blogger X-Cathedra said…


    There is in fact another Pat Gardner still at ND. He's a grad student in the Medieval Institute, I believe.

    We get each others' mail a lot...

    Pax Christi,

    P.S. I'll shoot you an email soon


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