ONE fine day it occurred to the Members of the Body that they were doing all the work and the Belly was having all the food. So they held a meeting, and after a long discussion, decided to strike work till the Belly consented to take its proper share of the work. So for a day or two, the Hands refused to take the food, the Mouth refused to receive it, and the Teeth had no work to do. But after a day or two the Members began to find that they themselves were not in a very active condition: the Hands could hardly move, and the Mouth was all parched and dry, while the Legs were unable to support the rest. So thus they found that even the Belly in its dull quiet way was doing necessary work for the Body, and that all must work together or the Body will go to pieces.
Medieval prose Æsop. Occurs also in Plutarch, Coriol.vi. (cf. North's Plutarch, ed. Skeat, p. 6. Also North's Bidpai, ed. Jacobs, p. 64). It is said to have been told by Menenius Agrippa to prevent the Plebeians seceding from the Patricians in the early days of Rome (Livy, I. xxx. 3). The second scene of Shakespeare's Coriolanus is mainly devoted to this fable. Similar fables occur in the East. An Egyptian Debat on very much the same subject was recently discovered by M. Maspero, who dates it circa 1250 B.C. It is found in the Upanishads, whence it came to the Mahabharata, thence possibly into the Zend Yaçna. A Buddhistic version exists in the Chinese Avadanas. The Jews had early knowledge of a similar fable, which is told in a Rabbinic Commentary on Psalm xxxix. There can be no doubt that St. Paul had a similar fable in his mind when writing the characteristic passage, 1 Cor. xii. 12-26. This combines the Indian idea of the contests of the Members with the Roman notion of the organic nature of the body politic. Thus this fable forms part of the sacred literature of the Egyptians, of Chinese, of Buddhists, Brahmins and Magians, of Jews and Christians; and we might almost add, of Romans and Englishmen. There were also medieval mysteries on the subject. Prato has a monograph on the fable in Archivio per Tradizione Popolari, iv. 25-40, the substance of which I have given in my History, pp. 82-99.
Belly and the Members, The
Fables of Aesop, The
Aesop & Jacobs, Joseph
Macmillan & Co.
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ATU 293: The Debate of the Belly and the Members