The Beast & the Dragon

“There is an Eastern fable, told long ago, of a traveler overtaken on a plain by an enraged beast. Escaping from the beast he gets into a dry well, but sees at the bottom of the well a dragon that has opened its jaws to swallow him. And the unfortunate man, not daring to climb out lest he should be destroyed by the enraged beast, and not daring to leap to the bottom of the well lest he should be eaten by the dragon, seizes a twig growing in a crack in the well and clings to it. His hands are growing weaker, and he feels he will soon have to resign himself to the destruction that awaits him above or below; but still he clings on.

 

Dragon & Beast ParableThen he sees that two mice, a black and a white one, go regularly round and round the stem of the twig to which he is clinging, and gnaw at it. And soon the twig itself will snap and he will fall into the dragon’s jaws. The traveler sees this and knows that he will inevitably perish; but while still hanging he looks around, sees some drops of honey on the leaves of the twig, reaches them with his tongue and licks them.

 

So I too clung to the twig of life, knowing that the dragon of death was inevitably awaiting me, ready to tear me to pieces; and I could not understand why I had fallen into such torment. I tried to lick the honey which formerly consoled me; but the honey no longer gave me pleasure and the white and black mice of day and night gnawed at the branch by which I hung. I saw the dragon clearly, and the the honey no longer tasted sweet. I only saw the inescapable dragon and the mice, and I could not tear my gaze from this.

 

And this is not a fable, but the real unanswerable truth intelligible to all.”

—Leo Tolstoy, “A Confession”

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