A GREEK WOODCUTTER'S ENCOUNTER WITH THE GOD HERMES
In this fast-paced materialistic world, we often forget the values that we grew up with. Our grandparents, parents and elders taught us so many lovely things that we needed to know to grow into a wonderful human being. One such value that we all need to make part of our daily life is honesty.
It's true that the world around us is getting more and more dishonest by the day; but we can all remember that honesty may not be the easy or short path, but it is definitely the one that ultimately triumphs.
Here is a story that teaches us about the value of honesty.
There once was a woodcutter in Greece. He was a simple man who made his living by cutting wood in the forest and selling it at the village market. One day, the woodcutter was going about his work as usual. While swinging his axe at a tree, the handle slipped out of his hands. He watched in horror as his trusty axe flew through the air, finally sinking into the nearby river. The woodcutter cried out. He peered into the river but the water was too deep. His axe was nowhere to be found. In his despair, the woodcutter fell to the ground and wept aloud.
“My friend, why do you cry so bitterly?” a stranger’s voice asked. The woodcutter looked up and found a young man dressed in traveller’s garbs speaking to him.
“Good sir, I have lost the only axe I own. It fell into the stream. I am a poor man and can barely afford to feed my family, let alone spend money on a new axe. I have no way to earn now. What shall I do?” The woodcutter began sobbing again.
The traveller looked at the woodcutter thoughtfully. Before the woodcutter could speak further, he heard a loud splash. The traveller had dived into the river below.
The woodcutter prayed to the Gods as he waited for the traveller. When the young man finally appeared, the woodcutter asked in desperation, “Did you find my axe?”
In response, the traveller raised his arms above the water. In his hands was an axe. For a moment, the woodcutter was relieved, but then he noticed the silver shine of the axe.
“Is this yours, my friend?” the traveller inquired.
The woodcutter looked closely at the axe in the traveller’s hands. It was an axe, indeed- just not his axe. The axe that the traveller had found was made entirely of precious silver. The woodcutter cried, “Alas! That is not my axe.”
The traveller disappeared underwater again. When he resurfaced, he had in hand another axe, but this one was forged of pure gold! The sun's rays shone off the beautiful axe!
“That is not my axe either!” the woodcutter cried. He was beginning to lose all hope of finding it.
His heart felt heavy at the thought that he had lost his precious tool. “Mine was a simple little axe, with a worn-out wooden handle and a simple steel blade. It was not as precious as any of the axes you found in the stream, but it was precious to me. It was the sole means of my livelihood.”
Without another word, the traveller disappeared underwater again. The woodcutter had lost all hope of finding his beloved axe, but when the man reappeared, he held in his hand the woodcutter’s axe.
The woodcutter rejoiced. “Yes, that’s it! That’s my axe!” He took the axe from the traveller, delighted to finally have found his tool. He looked at the young man, who slowly stepped out of the water.
“Thank you, kind sir. You have saved me,” he wept with joy.
The man looked at the woodcutter with curiosity. “Say, why did you not accept the other axes? The ones made of gold and silver? You could have easily become rich just by taking these axes which I was ready to hand over to you!”
The woodcutter simply said, “They weren’t mine to accept. This simple little axe is the one that belongs to me. Also, I thought some other woodcutters like me may have lost those axes and may be looking for them. I didn't want to be the cause of their pain.”
The traveller smiled at the woodcutter, supremely pleased by his answer. Suddenly, before his eyes, the traveller transformed and the woodcutter found himself face to face with an ethereal being. He feel to his knees and looked up at the godly form of the Olympian in awe.
“Woodcutter, I am the god Hermes. Your honesty and good heart pleases me. As a reward for your honesty, I grant you the precious gold and silver axes that you have previously rejected.” With this boon, the god disappeared.
The honest woodcutter was overwhelmed. He thanked the god Hermes for his generosity and kindness. Then, armed with the precious tools, he headed to his village. He could finally take good care of himself and his family!
The tale of the woodcutter’s encounter spread across the village like wildfire. The woodcutter’s neighbour envied his good fortune and decided to trick the god Hermes into granting him similar gifts. One day, the greedy man went to the river bank and intentionally tossed his axe into the water. He then pretended to cry out in despair, waiting for the god to hear him.
Finally, Hermes, dressed again as a traveller, showed up. He asked the man why he was weeping.
“I have lost my axe in the river! Kindly help me find it!”
As he had expected, Hermes dove into the river. When he emerged from the water, he was armed with a golden axe.
“Is this your axe?” Hermes asked.
The man jumped in excitement. “Yes! Yes, it is my axe!” he lied.
Hermes, fully aware of the man’s lies and trickery, was enraged. “You attempt to trick and lie to me, you foolish mortal! For this, you shall be punished.” Hermes then took away not just the gold axe but also his original axe.
The dishonest man was dealt a heavy blow by the god Hermes. He not only failed to get the gold axe but also lost what he had in his dishonest attempt.
Humans might try to find ways to cheat and lie and steal, but in the end, it is the truth that wins. Honesty is the best policy, no matter how much the world changes around us. It may not give us instant results, but it will always emerge victorious.
Stories of honesty have marked our childhood lessons. We have learnt about the consequences that liars encounter, whether it be Pinocchio with his elongating nose or the boy who cried wolf left to fend for himself. The famous proverb ‘Honesty is the best policy’ has pretty much been engraved into our minds since a young age. These stories have played an important role in how children learn about the world and the implicit rules of the world.
Stories that deal with morals and values of people, therefore, significantly influence the values that the children themselves imbibe. Therefore, children should be told stories such as those about honesty and reminding them about the importance of honesty in the real world.
This impacts their development and influences who they become when they grow up. After all, fictional stories often shape real ones.
Do you recall stories about honesty that you have read as a child?