Aesop's Fables
Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Aesop's Moral:
Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Other ways of saying it:
Don't socialize with your social inferiors (what a yucky message!)

Aesop's Fable:

The Fox and the Lion

When first the Fox saw the Lion he was terribly frightened, and ran away and hid himself in the wood.

Next time however he came near the King of Beasts he stopped at a safe distance and watched him pass by.

The third time they came near one another the Fox went straight up to the Lion and passed the time of day with him, asking him how his family were, and when he should have the pleasure of seeing him again; then turning his tail, he parted from the Lion without much ceremony.

from The Æsop for Children, with pictures by Milo Winter

The Fox and the Lion summary: This is one of those fables that actually manages to counsel the opposite of what many of us tell our kids in what we like to consider an egalitarian, classless society.

Unlike with many of Aesop's fables, the lion is not so much a carnivore in this tale as a member of the elite, the king of the jungle, actually.

We take from Aesop that the fox pays proper deference to the lion at first by fearing to approach the lion. But, as he comes across the lion more and more often, the lion loses his cache, and the fox feels comfortable not only approaching him, but taking unceremonious leave of him once they've finished conversing.

Doesn't it seem odd that Lion doesn't eat Fox as a response to the affront?

The moral is directed not at we foxes but at they lions. If you permit such presumptuousness, you will lose status.

As I said before, yuck. We might as well tell our sons never to ask a cheerleader for a date. "She's out of your league." We might as well tell our daughters not to talk to that shy boy who sits at the front of the class. "You can do better."

In fact, the saying Familiarity breeds contempt has come to mean something different in our modern society, something that the fable speaks not at all to.

We now say, "Familiarity breeds contempt," as a warning not to take for granted those close to us.

To my mind, it's a much more appropriate message, e.g. "Don't take for granted how much your sister does for you."

Now we just need a fable to go with it!

Familiarity breeds contempt.

How to use Aesop's Fables.

More stories with morals.

New! Comments

Have your say!

Best Children's Books - Find, Read or Write home page.

Illustrated Aesop...for coloring!

Aesop's Fables your child can color!

Classic illustrations. Visit our download center.

Do you know enough Seuss to excel?