crow and pitcher

We don’t have water today, at home or at work. There’s a water break down the road and apparently two across town, so who knows when it’ll be back on. But it made me look for a watery story. I found Aesop’s fable, “The Crow and the Pitcher.”

A Crow perishing with thirst saw a pitcher, and hoping to find water, flew to it with delight. When he reached it, he discovered to his grief that it contained so little water that he could not possibly get at it. He tried everything he could think of to reach the water, but all his efforts were in vain. At last he collected as many stones as he could carry and dropped them one by one with his beak into the pitcher, until he brought the water within his reach and thus saved his life.

The translator, George Fyler Townsend, added the moral, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”  Avianus, a Latin writer from around 400 AD, writes, “This fable shows us that thoughtfulness is superior to brute strength.” Both are true.

The interesting thing is that crows really are this smart. In August 2009, a study published in Current Biology revealed that rooks, a relative of crows, do just the same as the crow in the fable when presented with a similar situation. The ethologist Nicola Clayton, also taking the fable as a starting point, found that other corvids,  the family of birds containing crows, ravens, rooks, jays, etc., are capable of the thinking demonstrated in the fable. Eurasian jays were able to drop stones into a pitcher of water to make the water level rise. Further research established that tool use in birds is more common than had been supposed, also that the birds understand the nature of solids and liquids, and further, that some objects (stones, for example) sink while others float.

That doesn’t really help me, though. Our main problem is no water to make the toilet flush.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Feel free to join in.


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