(originally broadcast February 13, 1949)
||[While Durham's description of Aesop (died 564 B.C.) as an Ethiopian is debatable, there is no argument that for most of his life the famed fable-teller was a slave on the Greek island of Samos. In this fanciful drama Durham ranges beyond his normal historical framework to suggest that the thirst for personal freedom has roots in classical antiquity, indeed in the area and time considered the birthplace of democracy. In Aesop the slave are those qualities of foresight, wit, and intelligence found in all Durham protagonists; and as suggested by "The Death of Aesop," these were qualities inherent in those sly fables that this slave bequeathed to all common people. Interestingly, of all his radio dramas, Richard Durham considered this his favorite.]|
(MUSIC: Deep tympani roll underneath, and keep somewhat subdued under oracle)
ORACLE: (Dry, mystical, fatalistic) To Greeks of Athens—Samos— Sparta—Rhodus—Thebes—Thessali—Eretria: I, the voice of the Oracle of Delphi, summon you, whom the death of Aesop of Ethiopia may concern, to come to the holy temple so that we may atone for those who exchanged liberty for revenge. (Sad) For as Aesop has said, a fool and his freedom are soon parted.
(MUSIC: Climax the roll)
ANNOUNCER: Destination Freedom!
ANNOUNCER: Destination Freedom, dramatizations of the great democratic heritage of the Negro people is brought to you by station WMAQ as a part of the pageant of history and of America's own—Destination Freedom!
(MUSIC: Finish and segue to narrative effect)
ANNOUNCER: To ancient Greece-600 years before the birth of Christ—there came an
Ethiopian whom the Greeks called Aesop and whose uncanny insight into human psychology was revealed through his fabulous fables. In a chapter entitled "The Death of Aesop"—we tell the Aesop story.
(MUSIC: Segue to mystic effect, and keep under following)
COMMENTATOR: (Close, careful, hushed) Now, they have gathered. They sit in the holy temple—noblemen, jailers, servants, and one emperor waiting. Now the oracle reads the mystic vapors that flicker from the mouth of the god Apollo. (Quieter) She is about to speak.
(MUSIC: Back to slow drums behind)
ORACLE: (As before) The gods Apollo and Zeus say the plague and pestilence that has descended on Delphi is due to their anger at the death of Aesop—and that his murderer is in this room.
CLIENTS: (Stir uneasily and restlessly)
ORACLE: But the gods are good. They decree that each of you shall tell what he knows of Aesop—and...
CLIENTS: (Relaxed reaction)... a gift of great value will go to him who can show that he
has learned most from Aesop. So speak—you who would claim the reward. Let not your tongue be tangled by lies. For Zeus and Apollo listen.
(MUSIC: Slow build of tympani roll)
COMMENTATOR: (Over it all, faster) The hearers tremble. Each consults his conscience while the priests watch for him who will break the drum roll. One man sees the offer, and it unlocks his lips.
(MUSIC: Tympani roll up near peak)
IADMON: (Cut in, distressed) Oh, oracle! Let me speak!
(SOUND: Cut drums short)
IADMON: I am Iadmon of Samos.
ORACLE: What were you to Aesop?
IADMON: I was once Aesop's master. My claim is that Aesop taught me the most difficult lesson: to be oneself.
CLIENTS: (Restless reaction)
ORACLE: (Warning) Make good your claim. Apollo hears you.
(MUSIC: In with him, soft)
IADMON: (Gathers himself) I was a poor wine seller in Samos until my uncle died and I acquired an inheritance—enough to tempt me to try the styles befitting noblemen. And then—then I went to Eretria, where some say a witty man could rise in Peisistratus' court, and where I could perhaps buy a cultured slave to help me.
ORACLE: But about Aesop—?
IADMON: (Speed up) I come to that, oh oracle. Eretria had been at war with my state, but I
went nevertheless. One day, as I was walking towards the market place, I heard a bell tolling (sound sneak in here and keep in distance).
(SOUND: Huge bell tolls in background)
IADMON: Numbers of poor people—servants and slaves were rushing past me towards the
sound of the bell…and one nobleman—dressed as I was, passed by. I spoke to him: (Project) My Lord, why do they ring the bell? A celebration?
PLATUS: (A crafty aristocrat) A stranger in Eretria?
IADMON: I'll not deny that.
IADMON: I boast of it.
IADMON: (Peeved) Wouldn't you say so by my clothes?
PLUTUS: (Skeptical) Aesop would say a man's clothes have no concern with his character.
Aesop said a donkey once wore the skin of a lion.
IADMON: (Flare of temper) You refer to me?
PLUTUS: I refer to Aesop.
IADMON: (Stiff) Who is this "Aesop"?
PLUTUS: It's he for whom the bell tolls. Come with me—I'll show you.
(SOUND: Men walking on gravel road underneath following)
IADMON: (Respect) A celebrity?
PLUTUS: A slave.
IADMON: To be sold—
PLUTUS: Or be killed.
IADMON: Is Aesop incorrigible?
PLUTUS: Is a tiger terrible?
IADMON: (Pretended wisdom) Oh—I've seen men clip their claws. I believe I could clip
PLUTUS: His claws, true. But could you clip his wit?
PLUTUS: Therein lies Aesop's sting. His wit.
IADMON: (Thoughtfully) Wit—in a slave?
PLUTUS: (Nods) In a nobleman such wit would make him the emperor's emissary—fit to take
over if the emperor slipped. In the body of a slave it gives insomnia to the state. In
Aesop it's given to stirring revolt among his friends—the poor people.
IADMON: Why hasn't the state gotten rid of him before?
PLUTUS: It's costly. He's too popular with his people. A snap of his fingers could stir trouble. Even now, when he should be thrown to the lions, the state wants me to bid for him if there are signs of unrest or that he may fall into the wrong hands.
IADMON: (Thoughtfully) What does this Aesop look like—?
PLUTUS: Quite ordinary. You'll see. (Looks up) We're in time. The jailer is bringing them out.
TOWNSPEOPLE: (Fade in market sounds of agitated crowd in background)
JAILER: (A huge fat singsongy fellow) People of Eretria. His majesty Peisistratus has ordered that the following slaves find masters—or be sacrificed to the great God Zeus: Zegrez of Argo—Tao of Attica, Acropolis of Athens, Aesop of Ethiopia.
TOWNSPEOPLE: (Reaction of interest greets Aesop announcement)
IADMON: (Hushed, sotto) I sent up a prayer to Zeus that I would be fortunate enough to win him. With his wit and my small inheritance I could get the attention of' Peisistratus.
SOUND: (Gavel pounded. Make the bidding somewhat close to the bidders)
JAILER: Here. Here! Is there a nobleman who cares to bid? Or shall we sacrifice them to Zeus? A bid? One call? Two calls? Three—then by Zeus!
IADMON: (Cut in) Stop! I'll bid.
TOWNSPEOPLE: (Surprised reaction. Ad-lib regarding "Who's he" etc.)
IADMON: Iadmon of Samos.
TOWNSPEOPLE: (Heighten surprise at "Samos" ad-lib)
JAILER: Who do you bid for?
IADMON: One pound of silver for Aesop!
TOWNSPEOPLE: (Heighten reaction. Run the following exchanges at high speed)
JAILER: (Glad he has got business. Sing it out.) A-one pound of silver for A-esop!
Going to a nobleman from Samos—?
PLUTUS: (Cut in) No! Plutus of Eretria bids! Five pounds of silver!
JAILER: (Delighted) Aha! Aha! Five pounds! Alia!
IADMON: Ten pounds!
PLUTUS: Fifteen pounds!
TOWNSPEOPLE: (They enter spirit of the thing and start to take sides, egging on: to it, Plutus," "Go on, Samos," etc.)
IADMON: Twenty pounds!
PLUTUS: Twenty-five pounds! IADMON: Thirty pounds!
PLUTUS: Forty pounds!
IADMON: Fifty pounds!
PLUTUS: I even it—fifty pounds! Put it up to Aesop! Put it up to Aesop!
TOWNSPEOPLE: (Pick up the cry: "Put it up to Aesop," "Come on, Aesop," etc.)
IADMON: (Over crowd) Oh oracle—I'd gotten in deeper than I had intended. I looked
at the prize. He was a most ordinary looking man—except for his eyes. They were lit. But he looked as if' he would burst out laughing. I snapped at him: (Project) Choose me! If I hadn't come along you would have been on your way to the lion's pit.
AESOP: (Dry, wizardlike) Well, if the likes of you hadn't come along—
I would never have been a slave in the first place!
TOWNSPEOPLE: (Ad-lib reaction: "Tell 'em, Aesop," "That's tellin 'em")
JAILER: (Cut in) Now Aesop—show some concern.
AESOP: My dear jailer—have you ever seen two dogs fighting over a bone?
IADMON: Of course.
AESOP: Did you ever see the bone show concern? (Reseating himself)
Let me sit here and get a good look at this thing. Go to it, noblemen. And may the kindest man win
JAILER: (Exasperated) Who'll break the tie? Who'll say sixty? IADMON: I say sixty!
IADMON: One hundred!
TOWNSPEOPLE: (Roar with delight.)
PLUTUS: (Desperate) I tie the bid—one hundred! (Appeal) Aesop! You traitor! You
know Samos is an enemy of ours. Choose your home state! Not it's enemy—I—
AESOP: (As if this is news) Which one of you "states" intend to free me?
PLUTUS: Neither one—you traitor-choose!
AESOP: I would—but the choice you give me reminds me of the story an old horse told
PLUTUS: The devil with your stories!
TOWNSPEOPLE: (Ad-lib: "Tell it Aesop! Tell it!")
AESOP: (He was going to do it anyway.) One minute, one minute! Now once a man was
feeding his best horse in the meadow when he looked up and saw a band of his enemies coming. The man was frightened and jumped upon the horse and tried to get him to carry him off. But the horse looked up and asked: (deep, throaty) "Say, master, suppose your enemies should catch us—would they make me carry any more on my back than you do? Huh?" To which the master had to reply: (anxiety) "No, no—you don't need to worry about that! Just—just hurry up and get me away from here!" And the horse shook his head and said: (shakes himself) "Well, that's all I wanted to know. I'm not going to move an inch. As long as I'm no better off under one saddle than another—I really don't care if I work for you—or your enemies (pause)." Carry on, masters. Did the bid stop at a hundred?
IADMON: (Desperate) I'll go a hundred and fifty pounds!
TOWNSPEOPLE: (Reaction of awe!)
IADMON: (Over crowd, prayerfully) Oh, oracle, I had gone in too deeply. My
inheritance was nearly gone. Aesop—in most unslavelike manners—sat chuckling and became most concerned with the cleaning of his fingernails. Plutus was silent.
JAILER: (Hates to stop the business) Is he going to Iadmon of Samos? Going? Going‑
PLUTUS: (Disgusted, bitter) Let the Saurian take him! I never wanted him in the first place—I only bid because the state asked me to—
AESOP: Well, listen to him, will you?
Like the fox who had a longing for grapes.
He jumped and jumped but the grapes escaped.
So he gets very sour
And will say to his dying hour
That he had no taste for grapes.
TOWNSPEOPLE: (Ad-lib laughs and "That's telling 'em Aesop" etc.)
JAILER: (Knocks it down) Gone to Iadmon! Take your property, my Lord. And Aesop—his
majesty Peisistratus warns that if you're reported as rebellious, you'll fulfill your destiny in the
lion's pit. He's yours, master.
IADMON: (Sotto) And by Apollo he was! I had to show the crowd who was master—
and who was slave. (Project) Aesop—you'll carry these bundles! (Lifting) And these. And these. Now find room for these. There. I'd like to see more of Eretria. You may have your choice of either walking me around the marketplace a few times—and then heading home—or taking me to the courts—and heading home. Which do you want?
AESOP: Master. Have you ever heard of what the camel said to the Arab?
IADMON: (Guarded) No...
AESOP: An Arab once overloaded his camel and then asked the camel if he preferred to go home by the uphill route or the downhill route. Master—is the direct route to your house closed up?
TOWNSPEOPLE: (Laughter up, and mix it and hold behind)
IADMON: I stood the laughter, oh oracle, because I felt that in a few months I would produce the same kind of wit—in a few months they would be calling for Iadmon instead of Aesop. But I was patient; weeks and months and a year passed, and still on village corners where poor people clustered, I could hear them telling tales Aesop had told—
HORSEMAN: (Burst out laughing on cue) Hey—did you hear what Aesop said the other day?
FARMER: (Fade on, eager for it) No—what'd he say? What's he saying now?
HORSEMAN: (Giggling, can't get it out) He said—hey—Aesculapius—you should hear this too—(giggles)—
AESCULAPIUS: (Fade on) What's he say? (Calls) Hey—men—come here. Come over here.
GROUP: (Chorus: "What'd he say," "What's it." Laughter gets loose.)
HORSEMAN: Well, he said—(breaks out uncontrolled)—
GROUP: Go on. Go on.
HORSEMAN: Aesop said—(guffaws). He said—(ho ho ho) He said—Oh, it'll kill me! It'll kill me! (It almost does.)
GROUP: (Their laughter swells up and fills out the background.)
SOUND: (Cut off the laughing sharply with heavy slam of the door. Bolt it.)
IADMON: (As though leaning on the door, breathing heavily) I would escape to my house and bolt the door, oh oracle. But even then I wasn't safe, for I could hear the charwoman on the terrace telling a tale to the servants
CHARWOMAN: (As though she has picked up a delightful tidbit) Did you hear what Aesop compared his majesty Peisistratus to this morning?
SERVANTS: (All in hushed fashion) No—what?
CHARWOMAN: A snake!
SERVANTS: (They titter with caution.)
CHARWOMAN: Aesop said, once an old woman was on her way home and saw a frozen snake lying in the road. "You poor poor snake," the old woman said, "I know you're cold."
SERVANTS: (Hushed) Yes–yes–
CHARWOMAN: Then she picked it up and put it in her bosom—to get it warm, you see.
And sure enough the shake thawed out—but did he thank the woman? He promptly bit her nearly to death! And the old woman with tears in her eyes said, (mimic) "Snake—why did you bite me after I've been so kind to you? Why?' Then the snake piped up and answered, (mimic) "Why? (The most logical thing in the world) Because I'm a snake, woman!"
SERVANTS: (Break out into uncontrolled loud guffaws)
IADMON: (Cut in) That's enough!
SERVANTS: (Started, they subside)
IADMON: That's enough!
CHARWOMAN: But it was only what Aesop—said—
IADMON: In my household it's not what a slave says—it's what Iadmon says. Is that understood?
CHARWOMAN: Yes, master.
IADMON: (After a pause) But it wasn't understood. Behind my back the fables flourished until they reached even the ears of his majesty's page. And when I did appear in court—my coming was announced in a most peculiar fashion
PAGE: (Echoey) Aesop of Ethiopia's master, Iadmon, wishes to see his majesty!
IADMON: (Plea) So you see, oh oracle, wherever I advanced, Aesop always preceded me. I had heard he had an Achilles heel. I was unable to find it. I wanted him whipped, but I remembered Plutus' warning that he could snap his finger and cause trouble among the servants. So on my first audience with his majesty I decided to condemn Aesop.
PEI: (A tyrant but sardonic, keen, and skillful) You say this Aesop is encouraging rebellion among my horsemen?
IADMON: (Apologetic) It grieves me to report it, your majesty. I don't know what to do with him.
PEI: (Curious) Why has he always escaped punishment?
IADMON: They say his tales draw the poor to his side. (Pause. More significant) And they say he's ambitious.
PEI: (Crafty, cool) He'll tell no more tales. (Up) Page! Send the guards to pick up Aesop. Put him in the dungeons for six months. At the end of the sixth, let the lions go without food. Then bring Aesop to me.
(MUSIC: Short chord to emphasize and fade with)
IADMON: I hurried home, oh oracle. I lay quiet in bed when the soldiers took Aesop to jail. And thereafter I tried alone to conduct my affairs—but in half a year I was deep in debt. Failure followed me everywhere: Regret gripped me, and I went to Aesop's dungeon to confess my part in his coming execution. (Sound of steps) The jailer opened the door on a dark space—
(SOUND: Turnkeys open a heavy door. Throw it back slowly)
JAILER: (Encouraging) Don’t be afraid, my lord. Aesop sits in there somewhere—
AESOP: (Much enfeebled, but still with a touch of former self. Off) Well, Iadmon—my
IADMON: (Overcome) Forgive me, Aesop! Forgive me—If I could undo this—I would.
AESOP: Then why did you do it?
IADMON: I—I can't say. I've always wanted to be the kind of man my uncle was—wealthy—
witty—respected. I've wanted to learn to do the things he did. At first, I thought you could help—Then I was jealous.
AESOP: (Sympathy real) You thought you could inherit that along with your uncle's
IADMON: Was that wrong?
AESOP: My dear Iadmon. Sit where I can feel your ears and not mistake you for another
animal who told me a similar story (pause). There was once a jackass who lived a well-to-do life until he fancied himself a runner.
AESOP: He began to brood over the belief that he should be able to run as fast as any
racehorse—because after all, his uncle had been a famous racehorse. And he broke out of his well-to-do life and threw himself in the race with the well-trained thoroughbreds, and in short time the race had worn him out (pause). He came to see the iron fact that it is not what our ancestors were—but what we are that counts in the contest. My dear Iadmon, your uncle might have been a racehorse—but you—are still a jackass.
(MUSIC: Ironic comment)
IADMON: (Pause) And that, oh, oracle, was the last lesson Aesop left me. I submit this
for the reward you offer in atonement for his death. I'm still in debt.
ORACLE: (Calm) Your claim will be considered—
JAILER: (jumps to his feet) But not before mine, oh oracle!
CLIENTS: (Ad-lib "Who's he," "Who's this," etc. Restless stirring)
ORACLE: What did Aesop teach you?
JAILER: He taught me how to destroy fear, oh oracle. I am Euclidjudas the jailer.
CLIENT: (Reaction of interest)
JAILER: (Continues) I watched Aesop in his cell and on doomsday—the day I was to take
him before his majesty Peisistratus—every minute he lived was a nightmare. I asked Aesop,
(project) "Are you afraid?"
AESOP: Am I human?
JAILER: It's a short walk to the court. Most men are afraid to look at his majesty's terrible face—perhaps if I bandaged your eyes—
AESOP: Bandage them!
JAILER: I hid his eyes. (Cue) Then I marched him through the maze of...
(MUSIC: A neat and light-stepping march, and observe the turns)
JAILER: ...corridors and halls. (Project) Turn left—Aesop! (March) Left—(March). Right—left—right—left—Now straight ahead—we're near the court—
PAGE: (Echolike) Your jailer brings Aesop of Ethiopia—your majesty!
(MUSIC: Keep marching in)
JAILER: Then we came to Peisistratus's throne.
(MUSIC: Halt one two)
PEI: (Snarl with contempt) So this is Aesop! Stand straight and be sentenced!
(SOUND: Body slumps to floor)
JAILER: (Low, close) But Aesop slumped to the floor
PEI: Take him away! Take him away!
JAILER: And I took him away and brought him back to the throne the next morning. This time he stood still—looked at the emperor but was still afraid—And the king shouted—
PEI: (As before) Aesop! Speak before I sentence you! Speak!
JAILER: (Pause) But Aesop still couldn't speak. Fear tied his tongue. Sweat bathed him. And the king shouted—
PEI: Jailer! Bring him back tomorrow and I'll dispose of him!
(MUSIC: Begin marching out under this, and just march back in again as indicated)
JAILER: I marched him out, and he took a last look behind at the king and his throne. And on the last day when we marched left right left right through the crooked corridors and came to the court
PAGE: (Sing it) The jailer brings Aesop of Ethiopia for final disposition—your majesty!
(MUSIC: Halt one two)
AESOP: (Back to his old insulting self) Well! Well! Well! Good day, your majesty—how's your health this morning?
PEI: (Taken aback) How's ... what?
JAILER: (Low, quick, hushed as though he expected an explosion) His majesty's mouth flew open. Aesop went looking for a chair to sit in—
AESOP: That's fine, that's fine! And what about her majesty? I never see her in court. No marital difficulties I hope?
PEI: (Playing the game) Oh—no—no—no. None of any consequences. By the way—how is your health?
AESOP: Well, considering my present housing situation—cold stone—lice on the walls—not bad, not bad.
PEI: You don't say?
AESOP: I do say. By the way, is this red wine you've got here? Mind if I taste it? I knew you wouldn't. (Pours it and gulps it down) Awwwwwww—
PEI: (Still going along) I—I hope it suits your taste.
AESOP: (Appraising) Well—it's a little too dry, perhaps. (Reaching for it) Another glass and I can prove it.
PEI: My winemaker shall be told about it. (Extra sweet) By the way—would you believe it, but for taking half the liberties you've taken, most men are hung by their necks until they're dead?
AESOP: (Assures him) Oh I do believe it. Indeed I do.
PEI: (Still mocking, but seriously curious) And before that happy event occurs—would you mind telling me how is it that on your first visit here you were too scared even to look at me—and now you act as if you knew the secrets of my private life. Please explain this.
AESOP: (Reaching for another glass of wine) Awwww—this blue wine's better—
PEI: (Getting colder) I'm waiting.
AESOP: Your majesty. Did I ever tell you the story the fox told me?
PEI: I don't recall it if you did.
AESOP: The fox told me how he felt when he first met the lion—the king of beasts.
PEI: I see.
AESOP: The fox said "Aesop, I'd heard so much about how terrible his majesty the lion was that at my first sight of him, I fell down at his feet and wanted to die of fright."
PEI: (Mock interest) He did?
AESOP: And the fox said, "—then I went home and thought the thing over. The next time I saw the lion, I was still afraid, but I looked him over and noticed one significant thing about him. So when I saw him the third time—I was able to salute him properly, ask about his health, and even inquire about his family. And the lion and I got to be friends. You see, Aesop, I noticed that he was mortal—just as I was."
PEI: (Thoughtful) I understand—we Greeks have a word for this—familiarity breeds contempt?
AESOP: Oh no. We Ethiopians have another: Familiarity--destroys fear.
PEI: (Thinks it over) I see. And now why shouldn't I feed you to the lions according to schedule?
AESOP: If you found a piece of meat on the road—would you toss that to the lions?
PEI: Of course.
AESOP: And if you found a rare diamond in it—would you throw that in, too?
PEI: What would a lion do with diamonds?
AESOP: (Pause) Aesop—your majesty—is not all meat.
PEI: (Thinks it over, likes it, starts to laugh. Up) You hear that, court? (Laughs) You hear that?
COURT: (Respond somewhat puzzled but in tune with his majesty)
AESOP: (Laughs along with Peisistratus, as loud but a trifle guarded)
PEI: Aesop—if you've as fabulous a mind as some say you have, perhaps you can solve a riddle of mine that my advisers can't handle?
AESOP: (Demure) What can I lose if I fail?
PEI: (Still chuckling) Just your life. (Up) Clear the court! Page—tell the ambassadors from Sparta and Argos to wait. Jailer.
JAILER: (Wants to be correct) Shall I keep Aesop's cell open?
PEI: That depends on how his fables fit my fortune. If I need you, jailer, I'll call you. It all depends.
JAILER: (Pause) He never needed me again, oh oracle. It was the last lesson I learned from Aesop. For this I claim the reward. In his death—I had no dealings.
CLIENTS: (Restless stirring; ad-libs)
ORACLE: (Cut through, distraught) Then who did? Shall Delphi take all the blame for what happened? Who did?
CLIENTS: (Stir heightened as)
PEI: (Rising, Solemn) I did, oh oracle!
CLIENTS: (Surprised and hush, hush on down)
PEI: I, Peisistratus the First—son of Hippocrates, ruler of Eretria, ruler of Athens.
CLIENTS: (Reaction of awe)
PEI: (Cut over) I'm not here to claim reward for the lessons Aesop taught me—but to clear my conscience.
PEI: After I sent this jailer out—I stared at Aesop for a long while, trying to find his Achilles'
heel before putting my problems to him. I walked over to a window and called him—(Project) Aesop—do you see that tall mountain in the distance there?
AESOP: I see it.
PEI: Behind it is the city of Athens. The greatest prize in Greece. Rich. Heavily populated. Not long ago a very wise man—my second cousin—Solon, ruled it.
AESOP: I've heard of Solon.
PEI: He put through some wise reforms. He freed the lower classes from debt.
AESOP: Common knowledge.
PEI: (Continues over him) What's not common knowledge is that (intense) all my life I've wanted to rule Athens. No one takes Athens without the help of the Athenians themselves. There's a despot now running the city—yet Solon's reforms have left people so satisfied, they're willing to tolerate even a despot.
AESOP: I see.
PEI: My riddle: What call I do to draw enough Athenians to me in order to win the city?
AESOP: (Long, long pause as though pondering. On cue) That will be very simple.
PEI: (Warning) This is no joke—
AESOP: Athens is no paradise. Solon gave freedom—but no work and no land. Without these in Athens—there can be no freedom. Give work—give land—give equality—you have a chance to win the city.
PEI: (Thinks of it, likes it) By Zeus—I'll do it—But—(Realizing) How can I attack Athens without antagonizing Sparta and Argos—They might fight on the side of my enemies?
AESOP: (Shrug) Then give them a fair share of the proceeds.
PEI: (Facing, thoughtful) Share? (Doesn't like the idea) Possible. To at least promise. (Satisfied) Good! Aesop—name your reward.
AESOP: What reward does a slave need?
AESOP: No less.
PEI: You'll have it. The notice shall go through the state that Aesop of Ethiopia is henceforth and forever free. (Pause. Sotto to self) And then he rose and walked towards the door. It was dangerous to allow a free Aesop to go out and lead the poorer classes. (Hastily) I wanted to tie him to me. I searched for his Achilles heel. (Up) Er—Aesop—a minute?
AESOP: (Fade on) Yes, your majesty?
PEI: (Contrived) My new crown is on the table there. Will you try it on—for size—so I might see how it looks? (Low, hushed) He shot a glance my way stopped—paused—then picked up the crown and placed it on his head. And stood before the mirror.
(MUSIC: Chord, hold under, very steely)
PEI: It was a perfect fit. But it was too long before he took off my crown.
PEI: I gave him partnership in my plans, and Aesop talked to the Athenians as only
AESOP: Friends—Athenians—Listen to me!
VOICES: (Calls to others) Listen to Aesop—Hear—Hear!
AESOP: You say you have a despot who oppresses you? Enslaves you when you're in
VOICES: (All agree)
AESOP: And that he bites heavily into your life with unfair taxes?
VOICES: (All agree)
AESOP: A tyrant bites you, and you still feed him!? (Somewhat softer) A man who was bitten by a mad dog had a bad wound in his arm. His old lady said the best cure was to dip a bit of bread into the wound and feed it to the dog. And a fox came along and saw the old man dipping and shook his head and said, "Maybe it will cure the bite, maybe it won't. But please don't let other dogs see you doing this or we'll all be bitten—just to get an extra meal."
AESOP: It's foolish to encourage tyrants to trample you in the ground. Fight and I'll
fight with you!
VOICES: ("Aesop's right!" "Aesop's right," Etc. Up as)
PEI: (Over murmurs) Aesop was right, oh oracle. And with the aid of Sparta and Argos we took the city. Then, somehow, I was not inclined to share my new power. When the ambassadors from Sparta demanded their share—I had them thrown in the lion's pit. When it was time to divide with Aesop, he said a strange thing.
AESOP: (Has watched the whole procedure) Let's forget previous promises. You can rule
very well alone.
PEI: (Relaxes, sighs) You have a genius for divining things, Aesop. Who taught you this?
AESOP: Those dead ambassadors taught me, your majesty.
PEI: (Embarrassed) You don't think I would deal that way with you!
AESOP: (Perish the thought) Oh no, no, no.
PEI: You are to me as the goose that laid the golden eggs! Oh--dear Aesop.
AESOP: Dear Peisistratus!
BOTH: (They embrace and ad-lib endearments.)
PEI: (Low, cold) But even arm in arm, oh, oracle, I saw his eyes appraising my crown. So I made him ambassador and sent him to the furthest outposts. (Distraught) Still Solon sought him out. He sat with the Seven Sages. Croesus the rich wanted him. His words went around the world. His stature grew while mine stood still. Year in, year out. I was known as the man whom Aesop represented (pause). Then (grasping idea), it came to me that it had been years since he had associated with the poor. I wondered if his power had gone—(Decision) Ambition was still his Achilles' heel. I asked him, to go on a mission to Delphi—
AESOP: (Cagy, seemingly older) To Delphi? People might get the impression—that
PEI: (Finishes) That you're in line to become ruler? Dear Aesop, you deserve it! You take
the state's offerings to the oracle—instead of going myself—
AESOP: (Thoughtful) The state's offerings to the gods.
PEI: (Low, watching) I saw his glance at my crown. Then—
AESOP: (Thoughtfully) Perhaps, I'll go.
PEI: (Hastily) I had him. I myself prepared the gifts to be given the gods—I sent messengers ahead to tell the priests of Delphi that Aesop would come bearing great gifts of gold. Instead of gold—I put in salt and lead. I knew in their rage the priests would kill him. Only the people could save him. Aesop would be drug through the streets to the lion's pit. I'd have revenge. You, oh oracle, saw what happened. You watched him. How did he go?
CLIENTS: (Low but restless)
PEI: Tell us—oh oracle!
CLIENTS: (Ad-lib "yes, tell us, tell us," etc.)
ORACLE: (Slow, sad, quicken) Yes—I watched him. I watched the priests drag him to the pit and...
(SOUND: Ease in under furious crowd calling and ad-libbing)
ORACLE: I saw him break loose and heard him call out to the crowds that stood around—
AESOP: (Somewhat back) Friends! Slaves! Toilers! Help! help me—!
(SOUND: Crowd shouts cover him)
ORACLE: They only stood and watched! He had forgotten them. They had forgotten him. And when they drug him back to the lion's pit—he looked down into it.
(SOUND: Ease under voice of lions)
VOICE: (Cut in) jump or shall we throw you?
VOICE II: What's in the pit—your own reflection!? jump!
PRIEST: Tell your tales now! What's your fable now!
VOICES: (Jeer and taunt, "Tell a fable now," etc.)
AESOP: (Close on) My tale now—is a sad one—but a true one.
VOICES: (Ease down)
(MUSIC: Slip in under quietly and hold)
AESOP: I'm like the stag who saw his own image in a pool of water and was pleased most by his beautiful head—his beautiful horns. And he began to ignore the part of his body that held him to the ground. And his horns and the head he admired so much became entangled in some bushes, and the hunters closed in on him—and he knew too late that he had admired the wrong part of his body. Delphians, for too long I have admired only my wits—and have lost contact with those who once kept my feet on the earth—the people. Once I could have snapped my fingers, and you would have rushed to rescue me. If I had paid more attention to the part of me most essential, my destiny would have been different. My own foolish ambition brings my doom upon me.
(SOUND: Bring up the growl and snarl of the lions to a peak and lose out)
(MUSIC: Drums behind)
ORACLE: (Quiet) The lions were hungry. Aesop was dead. Plague and pestilence came upon us. As you have spoken each in his turn, I have gazed long at the image of the great god Apollo—through me he renders judgment—it is the common people of the world who have learned most from Aesop. They have overthrown tyrants in the past—they will do so in the future. Therefore, Apollo offers to them the priceless gift of all the fables and tales Aesop told—to be theirs to help and guide them forever.
(MUSIC: Tympani roll to peak and segue to tag)
ANNOUNCER: You have just heard Destination Freedom's dramatization of the story of Aesop.