The Blindman and the Lame

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Jean Turcan's statue of the fable, 1883

The theme of how The Blindman and the Lame combine their efforts to overcome their disabilities is first recorded in Greek about the first century BCE. Various other stories with this feature occur in Asia, Africa and North America. The fable reappeared in Europe during the 18th century and was eventually claimed to be one of Aesop's Fables, although without any evidence. The adaptation by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian gave rise to the French idiom L'union de l'aveugle et le paralytique, used ironically of an unpromising partnership.

The story in western Asia[edit]

A group of four epigrams in the Greek Anthology concern a blind man and a lame. Plato the Younger states the situation in two wittily contrasting lines:

A blind man carried a lame man on his back,
lending him his feet and borrowing from him his eyes.

The three others, who include Leonidas of Alexandria and Antiphilus of Byzantium, comment that by combining in this way the two make a perfect whole.[1]

A different West Asian version is found in a pseudo-biblical document, the Apocryphon of Ezekiel, in which the two co-operate to raid an orchard but claim their innocence by pointing out their disabilities. A variation of the story appears in the Jewish Talmud (Sanhedrin 91)[2] and yet another is told in Islamic tradition as occurring during the boyhood of Jesus.[3]

Later European versions[edit]

That the basic situation of the blind and the lame helping each other was still known in Greek sources is suggested by a fresco dating from 1347 in the Lesnovo monastery of the Archangel Michael, located in northeastern Macedonia.[4] More significantly, the situation is adapted among the Latin stories that appeared in the Gesta Romanorum at the turn of the 14th century. There an emperor declares a general feast and the lame man proposes the means of getting there to the blind.[5]

New life was given to the theme in the Renaissance when Andrea Alciato adapted the poem by Leonidas into Latin and used it in his Book of Emblems to symbolise the theme of mutual support.[6] However, it does not appear in fable collections until its inclusion as a poem in Christian Fürchtegott Gellert's Fabeln und Erzählungen (1746-1748).[7] In this a blindman in the street asks a cripple for help and suggests how they can aid each other. When Robert Dodsley adapted the story in the second section ("Modern Fables") of his Select fables of Esop and other fabulists (1761), he gave it a context from which later versions of the story were to develop. In his prose version, the two meet at 'a difficult place in the road' and Dodsley prefaces it with the comment that 'the wants and weaknesses of individuals form the connections of society'.[8] Dodsley's version was later illustrated by Thomas Bewick and included in his Select Fables of Aesop (1818).[9]

An illustration of the fable in Jefferys Taylor's Aesop in Rhyme, 1820

Two other European writers embroidered the theme further. The sceptical Polish bishop Ignacy Krasicki has the blind man pay no heed to his lame guide until, after various mishaps, they fall over a precipice.[10] The French fabulist Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian sets his story of L'aveugle et le paralytique in an Asian town. The poem is prefaced by a saying of Confucius that the sharing of trouble lightens it and tells of two beggars who enter into a pact of mutual aid.[11] Later rhymed versions in English keep the story short and simple. Brooke Boothby tells of the two helping each other to ford a swift river,[12] while Jefferys Taylor has them meet 'in a dangerous place' which the illustration reveals to be planks laid over a brook.[13] Authors up to then had been careful to mention that their collections contained fables by Aesop 'and others', but the story was often to be ascribed simply to Aesop later on.

It was Claris de Florian's version of the fable that achieved lasting popularity and was taken up by the artistic world. Honoré Daumier made a political satire of it in a caricature titled "Blind system and paralytic diplomacy" published in Le Charivari in 1834. It pictures King Louis Philippe I staggering under the weight of Talleyrand.[14] The fable was also one of those illustrated by a Japanese woodcut in the Tokyo edition of 1895[15] and by Auguste-Barthélemy Glaize's engraving as part of the French exhibit at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.[16] An 1883 marble statue of the subject by Jean Turcan (1846–95) was placed in the national library at Arles in 1888.[17] A bronze version was cast in 1892 but melted down during World War II. In the 20th century the fable was the subject of Belgian charity stamps in 1954 and one of a twenty-stamp set dedicated to fairy tales that was issued by Burundi in 1977.[18]


  1. ^ III.11, 12, 13, 13b
  2. ^ Richard N. Longenecker, The challenge of Jesus' parables, Grand Rapids, Michigan 2000 pp.64-5
  3. ^ Muhammad Ata Ur-Rahim, Ahmad Thomson, Jesus, prophet of Isam, Norwich UK, 1977 p.20
  4. ^ View online
  5. ^ University of Michigan
  6. ^ Emblem 161
  7. ^ Translation online
  8. ^ Fable 36
  9. ^ A tailpiece adapted for British Birds II (1804)
  10. ^ Fables and Parables (1779) Translation on Wikisource
  11. ^ Fables (1792). translated by Sarah Ann Curzon (1833-1898), I.20
  12. ^ Fables and Satires (1809) II.32
  13. ^ Aesop in Rhyme (1820), pp.65-6
  14. ^ View online
  15. ^ By Kano Tobonobu
  16. ^ View online
  17. ^ Article and illustration on French Wikipedia
  18. ^ Illustrated online