A Very Old Russian Fable: The Snake on the Road
Once upon a time there lived two hunters who made plans to go hunting together. They decided to go into an unfamiliar dense forest following a narrow dirt path seldom followed by anyone. However, they saw an old grandfather with a long beard sitting on a stump. He said to them kindly,
“Don’t go further on this path, hunters.”
“Why’s that, grandfather?”
“Here, my friends, on the end of this path there lives a giant, terrible snake that doesn’t allow anyone to pass by. No one has returned going further.”
“Thank you, grandfather, for preventing our deaths.”
They started to turn back but then stopped, looked at each other with second thoughts.
“Why should we be afraid? We have guns, more than one. Can’t we just kill the snake?”
“Can’t be more powerful than a gun,” agreed the other.
So they walked on until they saw a remarkable huge pile of money right in front of them, all coins and bills, with a jewel or two.
They jumped for joy, laughing and hugging each other for such good luck to be such good friends.
“Just think about that old fool and what he said. If we hadn’t kept walking, he would have grabbed all this money. But now it is ours to share.”
They sat down to think about what to do next. One hunter said to the other,
“Why don’t you go home and get your horse and cart because we can’t carry all this money. I’ll stay here to guard our riches.
And, by the way, brother, if you don’t mind asking your wife to bring me a piece of bread. It seems I’ve worked up an appetite.”
So one hunter went home and joyously met his wife exclaiming,
“You won’t believe our good fortune,wife!”
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
“Such a huge pile of money out there … more than we ever need, enough for our children and grandchildren. Here’s what we’re going to do, wife. Fire up the oven, mix some bread with salt and add some poison. I can tell him his wife send it to him.”
Immediately the wife did as she was told, mixing up some some bread with salt and poison. The hunter harnessed the horse to the cart, took the warm bread and drove off to the other waiting hunter in the forest.
In the meantime, his friend who was guarding the money, was looking at his gun and thinking, “Well, what if I shot him, then all the money will be all mine. And I could tell people at home I didn’t see him and don’t know where he is.”
He watched his friend approach, and when close enough, “phut”, “phut” he shot and killed him. He checked the cart and found a bag with bread still warm. Hungrily, he ate it quickly and died.
The pile of money may still be there. The giant snake ate both of them.
Fables are one of the oldest and most lasting methods of both written and oral storytelling. They are timeless as literary devices because they can deliver moral messages in a simple way that can be easily understood by readers of all ages.
As a little girl, my grandfather read this story and others, but this fable seems to have served its purpose to keep me away from snakes and dishonesty.
But, perhaps, there is a deeper analogy. Human greed for profits will destroy its purpose … but Nature will prevail.