One day in the forest a tiger came up to Aesop and greeted him with a roar. Aesop had never seen a tiger, for they were not native to his part of the world, so you can imagine his surprise.  At once, Aesop began to clamber up the nearest tree, fearing for his life.  Yet the tiger explained that she was only hungry for knowledge, and would Aesop please give her some. "No," replied Aesop from the safety of the branches. "The sort of things I have to say are not the sort that tigers learn. Now back off." Yet the tiger was not to be put off so easily. "I don't mean you any harm," she said. "My name is Sunti, and I have travelled many miles to seek out your company and acquire your wisdom." "Then you're a fool," said Aesop, wishing the tiger would go away, because as the tiger grew more bold, Aesop became increasingly concerned for his safety. "But I've come all this way," insisted the tiger, "you can't just send me away." "Yes I can," replied Aesop, turning his back, and climbing higher into the tree. But the tiger refused to budge. Eventually Aesop came down from the tree and asked the tiger where she had come from. "From Bengal," she said. Aesop had never heard of Bengal, but he guessed it must be somewhere in India and left it at that.

From then on the tiger was a great nuisance. For one thing she made Aesop's social life impossible. To begin with Aesop introduced her enthusiastically wherever he went, but always people looked at him as if he were mad, no-one more so than his wife Posea who at this time absented herself more and more from the house. For a while now, if the rumours are to be believed, Posea had been exploring the joys of love outside the home, and perhaps Aesop's unnatural devotion to the tiger was the last straw. What is certain is that after this episode relations between Aesop and Posea were frosty. Very quickly, eating at home with friends became unthinkable, firstly because Posea was seldom there to help with the cooking, secondly because the tiger unnerved Aesop's companions. Guests who did cross the threshold would leave quickly. It was something about the tiger's presence, it altered the very nature and tone of conversation. And yet, like a mute, she never said a word.  Before long, feeling more and more like a misfit, Aesop lost patience. Finding himself alone with the tiger, he asked her to leave. "But please," implored the tiger, "what have I done?" "It isn't that," said Aesop, "so much as who you are and whom you represent - namely the tiger, a man-eating animal - and the effect you achieve." "But I've told you who I am," said the tiger, "my name is Sunti, I am your disciple."

Aesop saw he was getting nowhere so he hatched a plan. "Very well," he said.  "Come with me as my disciple, and we will go among the tigers to convert the others." "Oh no!" cried the tiger. "That wouldn't be a good idea." "Why not?" asked Aesop. "Well, because the tigers would eat you." "Oh," said Aesop, "and what about you, would they eat you too?" "No," said Sunti, "I am one of their kind." "Well then," continued Aesop, "our course is plain." "Is it?" asked the tiger. "Yes," said Aesop, determined to have his say, "you're the obvious choice for a very important job, my deputy among the tigers. You must go."

It was sunny. Teeteringly, the fabulous beast jogged off. What she achieved is still unknown.


A landowner rushing to the assembly sees Aesop playing marbles with a group of boys and begins to laugh, thinking him a fool. Placing an unstrung bow in the middle of the street, Aesop says: "Come, sir, you're a wise man, explain this symbol." The man tries for a long time, but cannot find an answer and eventually gives up, saying he hasn't time to hang about solving riddles. "You'll soon break a bow if you always keep it bent," explains Aesop, "whereas if you unstring it from time to time it will be fit for use when you need it. The mind too needs relaxation," he adds, "if it is to remain fit for concentrated thought."


"Look out!" Squelch. "What?" Squeelch.


One day Aesop arrived at his hide to find it had been visited by vandals. The door had been kicked in, they had broken his best stool and they had pissed up the walls. As Aesop set about tidying up the mess, he spotted a used condom in the corner. Picking it up with the point of a stick and tossing it out the window, he thought bitterly: passion is a vicious and ugly old maid, courted by destruction.


After the interview Aesop felt gloomy. He upbraided himself for having talked so much and for having left out the essential notwithstanding, for having at once overcomplicated and oversimplified his work. For a moment he thought of going back to the studio to set things right. But no, it was too late. Given a second chance he would only make the same mistakes again. Inevitably, as in all talk about art, he would miss his target. No more interviews, thought Aesop. The public, he said to himself, could make of his work what it liked.

And it did.

            Philip Terry 2005