Fascism from Aesop?

Statue of Cincinnatus, Cincinnati, OH, 2004, b...
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From a reviewish sort of thing in the New Straits Times of Michael Macrone’s Brush Up Your Classics: An Informative and Entertaining Guide to Understanding the Most Famous Words, Phrases, and Stories of Greek Classics. (inter alia)

Most of us are familiar with Aesop and his fables. He lived in sixth-century Greece. I am not surprised if phrases like “don’t count your chickens before they hatch”, “to blow hot and cold”, “the lion’s share” or “sour grapes” are attributed to him. But “fascist”? That’s news to us. Yes, it came from the story of a bundle of sticks. A father, fed up because his children were always at loggerheads, gave them a bundle of sticks to break. They couldn’t. The moral of the story is: united we stand. The Latin word for bundle is fascis plural fasces. Ironically, fascism became a political doctrine associated with, among others, Italy’s Benito Mussolini.

Okay … I’m semi-confused because while the ‘bundle of sticks’ story in Aesop is familiar enough with its “united we stand” moral, but I had never seen it connected etymologically to fascism before. A quick scan of google for Aesop and fascism brings up piles of examples, of course, but I’m having a great deal of trouble linking the Greek story etymologically to the portable execution kit borne by lictors for magistrates who had the power to give the ‘unbind the fasces’ order. Trotsky did mention a fable of Aesop in one of his pamphlets, but it wasn’t this one. Anyone know when the ‘thematic’ connection was made?

One thought on “Fascism from Aesop?

  1. It would be good to put the Cincinnatus caption on that image because I can just see it now: people are going to think that is a picture of Aesop holding the fasces. Ha! Meanwhile, the word “fascism” we get from Italian “fascismo” which in turn is from the Italian word “fascio,” meaning a “group,” an Italian word (yes, it derives from Latin, but so do most words in Italian… and that hardly makes them Aesopic). There were political “fasci” in Italy before Mussolini began his fascist movement – and none of it has anything to do with the Aesop’s fable about the father and the his sons and the sticks. For an English version of the fable,
    http://mythfolklore.net/aesopica/oxford/493.htm
    For Latin:
    http://millefabulae.blogspot.com/search?q=perry053
    I think this thematic connection was made in the mind of Michael Macrone or someone similarly ill-informed whom he had the misfortune to read.
    It is perhaps also worth noting that there is no ancient Latin attestation of this fable at all – it is found in the Greek poet Babrius, and it is only with the advent of Latin translations of the Greek Aesop in the Renaissance and later that this fable even appears in Latin.

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