A Dog, bearing in his mouth a piece of meat that he had stolen, was crossing a smooth stream by means of a plank. Looking in, he saw what he took to be another dog carrying another piece of meat. Snapping greedily to get this as well, he let go the meat that he had, and lost it in the stream.
In this fable, we see there’s only one character – the dog. Many students wrongly identify the moral of this fable because they ignore one important detail. We read that a dog is bearing or carrying in his mouth, a piece of meat, but there’s more to the story than just that. The dog is carrying a piece of meat that he had stolen. This is an important detail. The dog is a thief. The dog has a piece of meat that he stole from someone else. So we should ask when a thief steals, what does he do with the things he steals? Does he go and enjoy them? The fable here tells us that the thief does not go and enjoy what he has stolen.
The dog, bearing in his mouth a piece of meat that he had stolen, was crossing a smooth stream by means of a plank and looking in. He saw what he took to be another dog carrying another piece of meat. The selfish, thieving spirit that led the dog to steal a piece of meat in the first place, quickly leads him into new evils. This dog, driven crazy by his selfishness and greed, imagines that he sees another dog with another piece of meat as he crosses the stream. Even though he already has a piece of meat in his mouth, which he did not work or pay for, he thinks he sees another piece of meat and thinks to get it for himself. Aesop tells us that snapping greedily to get this as well, he let go of the meat that he had and lost it in the stream.
The selfish, thieving dog is not content with what he had stolen. When he sees other meat, he desires that as well and because of this greed, we read that he snapped greedily. He cannot be content with what he’s already stolen, but he seeks more.
The end result for the thief is not that he enjoys what he has stolen, or that he hoards up a great amount to enjoy at a later time. The spirit that tempts and deceives a thief leads him to never be content and, ultimately, to lose even the things that he has stolen. Like this dog, the thief ends up with nothing in the end and, in addition to having nothing after all of his stealing, the thief bears the guilt and deserves the punishment of a thief. This is the fable of the Dog and his Shadow.
William C. Michael, Headmaster
Classical Liberal Arts Academy