One day a wolf came across a lost little lamb who had been separated from its flock. Upon seeing the lamb, the wolf felt his hunger rising, and he tried to justify his desire to kill the lamb.
“I believe you were the sheep that gravely insulted me last year” the wolf said to the lamb.
“That cannot be” replied the lamb “for I was not even born back then”.
“Well” said the wolf “You feed in my pasture and eat all my grass”.
“No, sir” bleated the lamb “I have not yet even tasted grass”
“But you drink from my well” cried the wolf.
“I do not” refuted the lamb. “My mother’s milk is all I need for both food and drink”.
Upon hearing this the wolf grabbed the little lamb and ate him anyway, exclaiming “Well, I won’t remain hungry, even if you refute every one of my accusations.
Attributed to Aesop (620 – 564 BCE), this fable was written to remind us that the tyrant will always find a pretext for their tyranny. They may try to justify their behavior, even try and convince you that their actions are in the best interest, but ultimately, they are self-serving narcissists that believe their own rhetoric.
The modern usage of Tyrant has evolved to mean ‘one who holds absolute power and operates regardless of law’ and is often seen to spearhead a cruel and oppressive regime. The word tyrant originates from the Greek tyrannos, and was initially used to describe the new breed of leaders that were seizing power from the established aristocratic rulers. Two things were required for tyrannical rule to take place: first and foremost, the new ruler had to be exceedingly wealthy. They required money to hire mercenaries (those which will fight any battle for their own personal gain) to allow them to overthrow the current rulers, and ongoing funds to retain the mercenaries ‘loyalty’ so they didn’t defect to the next person offering pay. The second thing required was the support of the local peasants, which was generally given, as the Tyrant seemingly offered an alternative system and they were disillusioned with the current one.
The good news was, as Thales of Miletus wrote: “the strangest thing to see is an aged tyrant”. The Tyrant never survives long as their self-serving disregard for those around them, and their inability to lead well, becomes very quickly apparent.
This version is a re-interpretation of ‘The Wolf and the Lamb’ found in Aesop’s Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World’s Classics): Oxford, 2002.
Picture Credit: Aesop for Children (translator not identified), 1919. Illustrations by Milo Winter (1886-1956)