The North Wind and the Sun

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The North Wind and the Sun is one of Aesop's Fables (Perry Index 46). It is type 298 (Wind and Sun) in the Aarne-Thompson folktale classification.[1] The moral it teaches about the superiority of persuasion over force has made the story widely known. It is also known for being a chosen text for phonetic transcriptions.

Story and application[edit]

The wind attempts to strip the traveler of his cloak, illustrated by Milo Winter in a 1919 Aesop anthology.
The sun persuades the traveler to take off his cloak

The story concerns a competition between the North Wind and the Sun to decide which is the stronger of the two. The challenge was to make a passing traveler remove his cloak. However hard the North Wind blew, the traveler only wrapped his cloak tighter to keep warm, but when the Sun shone, the traveler was overcome with heat and soon took his cloak off.

The fable was well known in Ancient Greece; Athenaeus recorded that Hieronymus of Rhodes, in his Historical Notes, quotes an epigram of Sophocles against Euripides that parodies the story of Helios and Boreas.[2] It relates how Sophocles had his cloak stolen by a boy to whom he had made love. Euripides joked that he had had that boy too, and it did not cost him anything. Sophocles' reply satirises the adulteries of Euripides: "It was the Sun, and not a boy, whose heat stripped me naked; as for you, Euripides, when you were kissing someone else's wife the North Wind screwed you. You are unwise, you who sow in another's field, to accuse Eros of being a snatch-thief."

The Latin version of the fable first appeared centuries later in Avianus, as De Vento et Sole (Of the wind and the sun, Fable 4);[3] early versions in English and Johann Gottfried Herder's poetic version in German (Wind und Sonne) also gave it as such. It was only in mid-Victorian times that the title "The North Wind and the Sun" began to be used. In fact the Avianus poem refers to the characters as Boreas and Phoebus, the gods of the north wind and the sun, and it was under the title Phébus et Borée that it appeared in La Fontaine's Fables (VI.3).

Gilles Corrozet, who had compiled a fable collection in French verse earlier than La Fontaine, twice featured the contest between the sun and the wind in his emblem books. In Hecatomgraphie (1540), the first of these, the story is told in a quatrain, accompanied by a woodcut in which a man holds close a fur cloak under the wintry blast while on the other side he strips naked beneath the sun’s rays. It is titled with the moral “More by gentleness than strength” (Plus par doulceur que par force).[4] The same illustration was used to accompany another poem in Corrozet’s later Emblemes (1543), which counsels taking enjoyment and care as necessity demands and wisely adapting oneself to them in the same way as one dresses differently for winter than for summer.[5]

Victorian versions of the fable give the moral as "Persuasion is better than force", but it had been put in different ways at other times. In the Barlow edition of 1667, Aphra Behn taught the Stoic lesson that there should be moderation in everything: "In every passion moderation choose,/For all extremes do bad effects produce",[6] while La Fontaine's conclusion was almost the same as Corrozet's (Fables VI.3). In the 18th century, Herder came to the theological conclusion that, while superior force leaves us cold, the warmth of Christ's love dispels it,[7] and Walter Crane's limerick version of 1887 gives a psychological interpretation, "True strength is not bluster". Most of these examples draw a moral lesson, but La Fontaine hints at the political application that is present also in Avianus' conclusion: "They cannot win who start with threats". There is evidence that this reading has had an explicit influence on the diplomacy of modern times: in South Korea's Sunshine Policy, for instance, or Japanese relations with the military regime in Burma.[8]

The fable in the arts[edit]

Jean Restout made a painting of La Fontaine's fable for the Hôtel de Soubise in 1738. This shows a traveller on horseback among mountains under a stormy sky.[9] In his print of the same subject, Jean-Baptiste Oudry reverses the perspective to show the god riding a cloud chariot with the horseback traveller merely a small figure below.[10] This is also the perspective of Gustave Moreau's watercolour in the series he began painting about 1880.[11] In modern times the fable has been made into a 3-minute animated film for children by the National Film Board of Canada (1972).[12] It also figured as part of a 1987 set of Greek stamps.[13]

Jean-Baptiste Oudry's cosmic interpretation of La Fontaine's fable, 1729/34

The fable was the third of five in Anthony Plog's "Aesop’s Fables" for narrator, piano and horn (1989/93);[14] it is also one of the five pieces in Bob Chilcott's "Aesop's Fables" for piano and choir (2008).[15] The English composer Philip Godfrey has also composed a setting for children's choir and piano.

La Fontaine's Phébus et Borée was choreographed in 2006 by Karine Ponties as part of Annie Sellem's composite ballet production of La Fontaine's fables as a 25-minute performance for a male and female dancer.[16] Its creator has commented on the fable's theme that 'it demonstrates people's vulnerability to cosmic forces and the inner links there are between natural events and our life as humans.'[17] But for the Scottish artist Jane Topping (b. 1972), who referenced "The North Wind and the Sun" in her 2009 installation, the fable is to be interpreted in the context of subliminal persuasion via images.[18]

In 2011 Anat Pollack used solo ballet as part of her video installation "The North Wind and the Sun", addressing much the same themes as Karine Ponties and Jane Topping. Her artistic statement points out that 'Advanced communication and information systems are altering how information is interpreted and perceived. Interactions within our environments are increasingly information based, ephemeral, and less concrete. To understand how these changes are impacting our personal and social spaces, I have focused on a study of information processing, and the way that memory functions to locate the individual within their world.' [19] All are concerned with the subtle means by which individuals can be manipulated. From this wary point of view, the sun's way of communication may differ in kind but has the same end in view.

Use in phonetic demonstrations[edit]

The North Wind and the Sun read with Received Pronunciation

The fable is made famous by its use in phonetic descriptions of languages as an illustration of spoken language. In the Handbook of the International Phonetic Association and the Journal of the International Phonetic Association, a translation of the fable into each language described is transcribed into the International Phonetic Alphabet. It is recommended by the IPA for the purpose of eliciting all phonemic contrasts that occur in English when conducting tests by foreign users or of regional usage.[20] For example, the description of American English in the Handbook of the International Phonetic Association includes the following as a sample text:

Broad transcription
ðə ˈnoɹθ ˌwɪnd ən (ð)ə ˈsʌn wɚ dɪsˈpjutɪŋ ˈwɪtʃ wəz ðə ˈstɹɑŋɡɚ, wɛn ə ˈtɹævəlɚ ˌkem əˈlɑŋ ˈɹæpt ɪn ə ˈwoɹm ˈkloʊk.
ðe əˈɡɹid ðət ðə ˈwʌn hu ˈfɚst səkˈsidəd ɪn ˈmekɪŋ ðə ˈtɹævəlɚ ˈtek ɪz ˈkloʊk ˌɑf ʃʊd bi kənˈsɪdɚd ˈstɹɑŋɡɚ ðən ðɪ ˈəðɚ.
ðɛn ðə ˈnoɹθ ˌwɪnd ˈblu əz ˈhɑɹd əz i ˈkʊd, bət ðə ˈmoɹ hi ˈblu ðə ˈmoɹ ˈkloʊsli dɪd ðə ˈtɹævlɚ ˈfold hɪz ˈkloʊk əˈɹaʊnd ɪm;
ˌæn ət ˈlæst ðə ˈnoɹθ ˌwɪnd ˌɡev ˈʌp ði əˈtɛmpt. ˈðɛn ðə ˈsʌn ˈʃaɪnd ˌaʊt ˈwoɹmli ənd ɪˈmidiətli ðə ˈtɹævlɚ ˈtʊk ˌɑf ɪz kloʊk.
ən ˈsoʊ ðə ˈnoɹθ ˌwɪnd wəz əˈblaɪdʒd tə kənˈfɛs ðət ðə ˈsʌn wəz ðə ˈstɹɑŋɡɚ əv ðə ˈtu.
Narrow transcription (Differences emphasized.)
ðə ˈnɔɹθ ˌwɪnd ən ə ˈsʌn wɚ dɪsˈpjuɾɪŋ ˈwɪtʃ wəz ðə ˈstɹɑŋɡɚ, wɛn ə ˈtɹævlɚ ˌkem əˈlɑŋ ˈɹæpt ɪn ə ˈwɔɹm ˈkloʊk.
ðe əˈɡɹid ðət ðə ˈwʌn hu ˈfɚst səkˈsidəd ɪn ˈmekɪŋ ðə ˈtɹævlɚ ˈtek ɪz ˈkloʊk ˌɑf ʃʊd bi kənˈsɪdɚd ˈstɹɑŋɡɚ ðən ðɪ ˈʌðɚ.
ðɛn ðə ˈnɔɹθ ˌwɪnd ˈblu əz ˈhɑɹd əz hi ˈkʊd, bət ðə ˈmɔɹ hi ˈblu ðə ˈmɔɹ ˈkloʊsli dɪd ðə ˈtɹævlɚ ˈfold hɪz ˈkloʊk əˈɹaʊnd ɪm;
ˌæn ət ˈlæst ðə ˈnɔɹθ ˌwɪnd ˌɡev ˈʌp ði əˈtɛmpt. ˈðɛn ðə ˈsʌn ˈʃaɪnd ˌaʊt ˈwɔɹmli ənd ɪˈmidiətli ðə ˈtɹævlɚ ˈtʊk ˌɑf ɪz kloʊk.
ən ˈsoʊ ðə ˈnɔɹθ ˌwɪnd wəz əˈblaɪdʒd kənˈfɛs ðət ðə ˈsʌn wəz ðə ˈstɹɑŋɡɚ əv ðə ˈtu.
Orthographic version
The North Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger, when a traveler came along wrapped in a warm cloak.
They agreed that the one who first succeeded in making the traveler take his cloak off should be considered stronger than the other.
Then the North Wind blew as hard as he could, but the more he blew the more closely did the traveler fold his cloak around him;
and at last the North Wind gave up the attempt. Then the Sun shined out warmly, and immediately the traveler took off his cloak.
And so the North Wind was obliged to confess that the Sun was the stronger of the two.

The fable has also been proposed as a parallel text in comparative linguistics as it provides more natural language than the Lord's Prayer. In addition, impromptu tellings can indicate differences within languages such as dialects or national varieties.[21] The example above, for instance, has shined where British English usage is shone.[22] The previous IPA handbook transcribed shone for the Southern British and Scottish versions, but began to shine for the American English version.[23]



  1. ^ D. L. Ashliman, Wind and Sun: fables of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 298 in which the wind and the sun dispute about which of them is more powerful plus a related African-American tale
  2. ^ Fortenbaugh, William Wall; White, Stephen Augustus, eds. (2004). Lyco and Traos and Hieronymus of Rhodes: Text, Translation, and Discussion. Rutgers University Studies in Classical Humanities. XII. Transaction Publishers. p. 161. Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  3. ^ "". Retrieved 2013-03-23. 
  4. ^ Glasgow University
  5. ^ Emblem 63
  6. ^ "". Retrieved 2013-03-23. 
  7. ^ Gedichte V, Geschichte und Fabel 4, quoted in the German Wikipedia
  8. ^ "". Retrieved 2013-03-23. 
  9. ^ "". Retrieved 2013-03-23. 
  10. ^ "". Retrieved 2013-03-23. 
  11. ^ "Grenoble university site". Retrieved 2013-03-23. 
  12. ^ The North Wind and the Sun: A Fable by Aesop. View online
  13. ^ "The 5 drachma value". 1987-03-05. Retrieved 2013-03-23. 
  14. ^ A performance on You Tube
  15. ^ "There is a performance on YouTube". Retrieved 2013-03-23. 
  16. ^ The last four minutes can be seen on Vimeo
  17. ^ Il y montre aussi la vulnérabilité de l’homme face aux jeux cosmiques et les liens profonds qu’il y a entre les grandes forces physiques de notre monde et la vie humaine, Dame de Pic
  18. ^ A photo on the artist's website
  19. ^ The artist's website also has a copy of the video
  20. ^ "See for example this investigation". Retrieved 2013-03-23. 
  21. ^ "See this investigation" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-03-23. 
  22. ^ See Roach, Peter (November 2004). "British English (Received Pronunciation)". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 34 (2): 239–245. doi:10.1017/s0025100304001768.  Wikipedia Commons provides a scan of this here and the corresponding audio file here.
  23. ^ The Principles of the International Phonetic Association, being a description of the International Phonetic Alphabet and the manner of using it, illustrated by texts in 51 languages.1949

General references[edit]

  • International Phonetic Association (1999). Handbook of the International Phonetic Association. Cambridge University Press. p. 44. ISBN 0-521-63751-1. 

External links[edit]

  • Linguistics Handbook Downloads — Audio samples of The North Wind and the Sun in various languages, from the International Phonetic Association
  • Edinburgh IPA — Audio samples of The North Wind and the Sun in 70 languages.
  • 15th-20th century book illustrations of "The North Wind and the Sun online
  • 15th-20th century book illustrations of "The Sun and the Wind online
  • Librivox Dialect and Accent Collection Vol. 1 — Audio samples of The North Wind and the Sun, from Internet Archive, recorded by LibriVox volunteers