The Ant and the Grasshopper

The Ant and the Grasshopper

"The Ant and the Grasshopper", also known as "The Grasshopper and the Ant" or "The Grasshopper and the Ants", is a fable attributed to Aesop, providing a moral lesson about hard work and preparation. In the numbering system established for Aesopic fables by B. E. Perry, it is number 373. [cite book |author=Ben Edwin Perry |title=Babrius and Phaedrus |series=Loeb Classical Library |year=1965 |publisher=Harvard University Press |location=Cambridge, MA |isbn=0-674-99480-9 |pages=p. 487, no. 373 ] The fable has been retold or adapted in a number of modern works.

In its Greek original, as well as in its Latin and Romance translations, the grasshopper is in fact a cicada.

The story has sometimes been used as an example of a Libertarian society. [ Libertarian themed stories, Young Children 5-9]


The fable concerns a grasshopper who has spent the warm months singing away while the ant (or ants in some editions) worked to store up food for winter. After the winter has come, the grasshopper finds itself dying of hunger, and upon asking the ant for food is only rebuked for its idleness. The story is used to teach the virtues of hard work and saving, and the perils of improvidence. Some versions of the fable state a moral at the end, along the lines of:

:"Idleness brings want"

:"To work today is to eat tomorrow":"It is best to prepare for the days of necessity"

Ancient versions

Versions of the fable are found in the verse collections of Babrius (140) and Avianus (34), and in several prose collections including those attributed to Syntipas and Apthonius. In a variant prose form of the fable (Perry 112), the lazy animal is a dung beetle, which finds that the winter rains wash away the dung on which it feeds.

Modern versions

*La Fontaine retold the story in a well known version of the 17th century.

*In Finnegans Wake, James Joyce adapted the tale into a story known as "The Ondt and the Gracehoper".

*"Happier" versions of the fable show the ants taking pity and giving the grasshopper some food, on the premise that turning the grasshopper away in his time of need is also morally questionable. A prime example is the 1934 animated short subject produced by Walt Disney. The Queen of the Ants decrees that the grasshopper may stay in the ant colony, but he must play his fiddle in return for his room and board. He agrees to this arrangement, and the ant tunnels become a grand ballroom where all the ants happily dance to the music of the grasshopper, who finally learns that he needs to make himself useful. Notably, this short introduced the song "The World Owes Me a Livin'", which would later become a signature tune for Goofy.

*Disney also adaptated the story, less directly, in the "Mickey's Young Readers Library" segment "Mickey and the Big Storm"; in this adaptation, Donald Duck and Goofy spend the first day of a winter snowstorm playing out in the snow and don't bother to stock up on supplies. Fortunately for them, Mickey has more than enough supplies for himself and his friends.

*The "Timon and Pumbaa" episode "Wide Awake in Wonderland" featured a parody of the story with Timon in the role of the grasshopper and Pumbaa as the ant.

*Friz Freleng twice put a spin on the tale in his Warner Bros. cartoons. "Porky's Bear Facts" depicts Porky Pig working hard while his lazy neighbor refuses to do anything, only to suffer during winter. "Foney Fables" shows a brief version of the story, in which it turns out that the grasshopper has a war ration card and thus doesn't need to work.

*In the film "Things Change", Don Ameche recalls an alternate version where the grasshopper eats the ant in the end.

*The fable was retold on "The Muppet Show" in the episode guest-starring Bernadette Peters. Sam the Eagle narrates the story which ends with the being stepped on and the driving his sports car to Florida.

*Elements of the fable were loosely adapted as part of the storyline of the Pixar film "A Bug's Life". In this instance, though, there are multiple grasshoppers, and they act as Mafia-like tyrants who demand a tribute of food from the ant colony, even though the ants within far outnumber the grasshoppers.

*"The Ant and the Grasshopper" was made into a song by Leon Rosselson in the 1970s. The song tells the story much as Aesop did.

*Author Toni Morrison wrote the 2003 children's book "Who's Got Game?: The Ant or the Grasshopper?" in which the old fable is given a new spin in order to provoke a discussion about the importance of art. The grasshopper represents the artisan. Some times the Leo Lionni book "Frederick" touches upon similar issues of art versus gathering winter food stores.

*The story is briefly alluded to in the song STALKER, by the Japanese band The Pillows. The line can be translated as "A rocker working like an ant/ Are you harvesting for the winter?". In comparison to the story, this line (spoken by the Last stalker in the song, who claims to always have time for fun) could easily be attributed to the grasshopper.

*In the Futurama episode "My Three Suns," Fry recounts the story of "The Grasshopper and the Octopus" as a rationalization for laziness: "All year long the grasshopper kept burying acorns for winter, while the octopus mooched off his girlfriend and watched TV. But then the winter came, and the grasshopper died, and the octopus ate all his acorns. And also, he got a racecar. Isn't any of this getting through to you?"

*Lee and Herring parodied the fable on their series Fist of Fun. In which Richard Herring references the fable to illustrate his diligence to writing the script whereas Stewart Lee would lazily leave all his work. Stewart Lee then recites his amended fable of The Ant and the Man, which demonstrates that tales involving animals have no bearing on human behaviour as we are capable of rationalised thought above natural instinct.

*On 5th of November, 2006, Jong-Cherl Yeon wrote in his comic-book format diary known as Marineblues an alternate version of this fable in which the price of the grasshopper's house rises by 300,000,000 Won after 3 years of lazing about, and the ant only earns 3,000,000 Won despite working hard for 3 years.

*A modern satirical version of the story, making the rounds since at least 2002, has the grasshopper calling a press conference at the beginning of the winter to complain about socio-economic inequity, and being given the ant's house. This version was written in 1994 by Pittsburgh talk show guru, Jim Quinn. [] Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin also updated the story in connection with the proposed 2008 banking rescue package. []

*An alternate version was shown during a wartime cartoon that has the grasshopper not worried about food because he invested in warbonds.

*W. Somerset Maugham wrote a short story, published in 1960, titled "The Ant and The Grasshopper". It concerns two brothers, one of whom is a hard worker, and the other is a dissolute moocher. At the end of the story, the "grasshopper" brother marries a rich widow, who promptly dies and leaves him a fortune.

*An episode of Super Why! tells this tale in a slightly different way, wherein the Ant tells the Grasshopper that there is food atop a tall mountain, and shows the grasshopper how to get there. However, when the Grasshopper arrives, a Cricket has taken the last of the food. In "Super Why!" style, the "Super Readers" change the story, and the Grasshopper is then given Winterberry seeds, which he plants and they grow into a holly bush, resplendant with holly berries. This is a way of teaching a central "Super Why" character to get prepared early, instead of delaying his preparations until it is too late.


The story can be translated into different outlooks on life. The reader can interpret the ant as both collectivist and individualist. On one hand, the ant represents the sharing of resources among equals in a way similar to how ants function in colonies. On the other hand, the staunch refusal of the ant to provide basic life support to the dying grasshopper can be seen as an example of strong individualism. This view of individualism would be similar to the writings of Ayn Rand and Libertarians who advocate a lifestyle of strong self-reliance. Another one of Aesop's much lesser-known fables that takes a slighly different tack is The Den of Wolves, which talks about socialism and leadership by example.

In the 20th century, depictions of the story often toned down the consequences to the grasshopper as it was no longer morally acceptable to allow the grasshopper to die. Such modifications of the story still provide the same moral lessons to the reader, but allow more room for forgiveness. In this way, modern versions reflect the social safety nets set up by western governments which provide basic subsistence living to the most destitute of society. In fact, a popular conservative version of this story satirizes this perceived difference in the function of society. In this version, the grasshopper receives government aid for his hedonistic lifestyle while the hardworking ant suffers. Other versions have shown a grasshopper playing the race card, arguing that the ant has an unfair advantage over "disadvantaged grasshoppers".

ee also

*Aesop's Fables

*A Bug's Life


External links

* [ Perry 373 at Aesopica]
* [ Perry 112 at Aesopica]
* [ Moral has changed in updated tale of the ant and grasshopper (2002-04-29)]


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