The Scorpion & The Frog: Fable & Meaning

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The Scorpion and the Frog, a fable most often attributed to the renowned storyteller Aesop, has been a well-known story told for generations. While its first known appearance is from a publication in 1944, the story is said to have originated from another fable called The Scorpion and the Turtle, which tells quite a similar tale. Fables are known for their ability to illustrate morals, so what does the story of The Scorpion and the Frog teach us?

The Scorpion And The Frog is a fable about a scorpion that stings and kills a frog that was trying to help it and dies in the process. The scorpion is often interpreted as representing the nature of humans to go against their best interests, and the frog our willingness to be too trusting.

However, there is more than one way to translate this story in terms of its meaning. Let’s take a deeper look into the fable and some of the possible meanings behind it. Everyone can form their own opinions and interpretation, but there are several commonly-held beliefs about this story.

The Scorpion And The Frog Fable

A scorpion and a frog meet each other on the banks of a stream. The scorpion is on its way to the other side of the bank and but the waters are too treacherous for it to cross.

So the scorpion politely asks the frog to help carry it across the water. The scorpion tells the frog he is an excellent swimmer with wide back that can easily carry him across.

Suspicious, the frog asks the scorpion, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion replies, “Why would I do that? Then we would both drown.” The frog is still unsure and asks the scorpion more questions. The scorpion always seems to have a logical answer.

Satisfied with the scorpion’s reasoning, the frog allows the scorpion to climb on his back and they begin their journey across the water. The waves are high and so the scorpion holds on tight to the frogs body.

However, before they can make it halfway across the stream, the frog feels a sting right in the middle of his back and feels the spread of venom slowly taking over his limbs.

The frog begins to slowly sink under the water and, realizing what has happened, has time to gasp out, “Why did you do that? Now we will both drown and die!”

As the scorpion sinks under with the frog, it replies, “It’s in my nature.”

Meaning of The Scorpion

The scorpion is often used as a representation of evil, death, and destruction. Basically, scorpions are often used to symbolize anything wicked or unpleasant.

In Egyptian mythology, the goddess Selket (also spelled Selqet or Serqet) was the goddess of the dead. Her symbolic animal was the scorpion.

People over the years have often said the scorpion in the story represents all those who take advantage of good people in the world.

This could also mean people who have no regard for their own self-interest or well-being, but instead, follow their tendencies and compulsions to do addictive, bad and destructive things.

Some have even said this fable is based around capitalism and the scorpion represents politicians, government, or people who are in power.

Scorpions are also natural predators to frogs in the wild.

Meaning of The Frog

In general, frogs now symbolize transformation, the ability to cleanse, and fertility. But frogs have both good and bad meanings in different stories.

For instance, in the story of Moses of Egypt, frogs were the second of ten plagues sent upon the land when Pharoah would not let the children of Israel go. And in Egyptian mythology, the animal symbol for the goddess Heqet, goddess of fertility, is the frog.

In this fable, the frog is commonly said to symbolize people that can be a little too trusting, always willing to offer second chances, and looking to see the best in people; even when they know the nature and tendencies of the person they’re offering trust to.

This is not to say that believing in second chances or having an optimistic perspective towards others is a bad thing. But that there are people out there who will take advantage of those who are too willing to give out their trust.

Something we can learn from the frog is knowing when enough is enough. Just like the toxins from the scorpion spread through the frog’s body, allowing toxic people into our company, no matter how much we think they can change, can cause negativity to spread in our life.

Why Does the Scorpion Sting The Frog?

Like the scorpion says at the end of the story, it’s in his “nature” to be self-destructive. If we’re following the common interpretation that the scorpion represents the human tendency to do things, even when it’s not in our best interests, we can relate that to our own human nature.

Here are two opposite arguments that reflect how likely the nature of the scorpion is, and why it would choose to sting the frog. The first is the doctrine of the Original Sin, which says that because of the Fall of Adam and Eve, all humans are guilty by nature and born with a proclivity to sin.

A scorpion that caught a frog to eat in the wild

This concept ties in more directly with the scorpion’s ending argument of destruction being in his nature. The danger of accepting this argument is that it discards the power of choice and the free will of humans. People might use this concept to say they aren’t responsible for their actions.

The other argument is based on the theory of tabula rasa, which basically means that people are born as a blank slate, with no built-in conceptions or prejudices. All knowledge is gained through experience and perception.

As stated in an article about human nature in the fable of The Scorpion and the Frog, “Man achieves knowledge through cognitive reasoning, which acts as a filter to whatever seemingly innate desires he may experience. He may feel sensations and emotions whether he wants to or not, but he will always have the ability to choose whether or not to act on said feelings.”

Moral of The Scorpion And The Frog

The Scorpion and the Frog is widely accepted as a cautionary tale about how easy it can be to believe the good in people, and how it can backfire as not everyone serves their best interests. We all have our own desires, and some people let them take control over their rationale or natural survival instinct. 

Something that has been said about this story, is that even with the terrible things that humans can do to each other, often those “frogs” who are willing to give the benefit of the doubt will time and time again allow themselves to get stung.

Perhaps this is because, while it might be human nature to not always do what would be best for us, it is also a human instinct to care and protect people, even those who might hurt us.

However people choose to interpret both the animals and moral of the popular fable, there is one thing that seems common with everyone’s different interpretations: we should be wary of who we give our trust to, well-informed before we give it, and know when to walk away from someone willing to do more harm than good in our life.

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Sources

Silverman, Karen and Kanarek, Jaret (2013) “The Scorpion And The Frog: A False Narrative Of Human Nature,” The Intellectual Standard: Vol. 2 : Iss. 1 , Article 2. Available at: https://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/tis/vol2/iss1/2

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Daniella Master Herpetologist

Daniella is a Master Herpetologist and the founder of toadsnfrogs.com, a website dedicated to educating the general population on frogs by meeting them where they are in their online Google Search. Daniella is passionate about frogs and put her digital marketing skills and teaching experience to good use by creating these helpful resources to encourage better education, understanding, and care for frogs.