MESAMBRIA, THRACE — The place of execution offered more than the usual excitement this past Friday as a young man, dripping red at the mouth, loudly berated his mother before going to his death. She stood nearby, and eyewitnesses noted that she appeared to be bleeding from the side of the head. The bewildered crowd did not know what to make of the scene. After talking with the mother and one of the boy’s fellow students from grammar school, we were finally able to piece together a full report:
“A boy from school filched his classmate’s writing-tablet and brought it to his mother. And not only did she not punish him, instead she praised him! The second time he stole a garment and brought it to her, and she praised him all the more. The boy advanced in years and became a young man. By now he was attempting to steal even greater things. But eventually he was caught in the act, and with his hands tied behind him he was led away to the executioner. Now as his mother followed after him and beat her breast, he said that he wanted to whisper something into her ear. And as soon as she came to him, he laid hold of her ear and bit it off. Then she accused him of impiety: As if he were not satisfied with the offenses he had already committed, he also mutilated his mother! To which he said, ‘But before, when I had first stolen the writing-tablet and brought it to you, if you had punished me I would not have come to this, being led away to death.’ The saying is clear: That which is not corrected at the beginning will increase all the more.”
When the judge heard what had happened, he had a mind to punish the mother. But wisely recognizing that parental neglect is its own punishment, the judge decided not to waste his time with a trial and instead took his wife to lunch.
“The Boy Thief and His Mother” is one of Aesop’s fables, and the moral of the story varies slightly depending on the version. Laura Gibbs has, “if you are wise, you will tear out vice by the roots, in other words, at the very beginning of sinfulness and other wickedness, so that the severing of the root will cause the branches to wither away.” A 1484 version by Caxton says, “And therfore chastyse wel youre children / to thende / that ye falle not in to suche a caas” (And therefore chastise well your children to the end that ye fall not into such a case). Joseph Jacobs concludes with Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart therefrom.” But the point remains basically the same: a bad beginning left unchecked leads to a bad end, whereas correcting the bad leads to good.
- Are children by nature inclined toward good or evil? (see Genesis 6:5, Psalm 51:5, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:10-18)
- What happens to a child when vice goes uncorrected?
- Secular schools do not agree with Christian definitions of virtue and vice, in some areas (especially the realm of sexual morality) completely reversing the two. Modern educational theories also regard children as basically good by nature. What effect should Christian parents expect such erroneous views to have on their children?
Woodcut by Heinrich Steinhowel, from the book Vite et Fabulae, 1479.
“The Boy Thief and His Mother.” Greek version: Ésope Fables by Émile Chambry, #296. Translated by Andrew Richard, 2017.