The Triumph of the Country Mouse

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

In Aesop’s Fables and Horace’s Satires a common classical allegory is variously retold about the country mouse and his sophisticated urban cousin.

The city-slicker mouse first visits his rustic cousin’s simple rural hole and is quickly bored and unimpressed by both the calm and the simple fare.

When the roles are soon reversed, the country cousin at first is delighted by big-city mouse’s sumptuous urban food scraps and the majestic halls where they may scuttle about. But as the crafty clawed house cat and sharp-toothed guard dogs threaten both, and the noise and bustle mount, the stressed-out country mouse scampers home — at last realizing that his unappreciated quiet and safe abode trump action and sophistication every time.

These Greek and Roman fables reflect the classical world’s paradox of not particularly enjoying life in the fetid, plague-ridden, and dangerous big cities of Athens, Rome, and Alexandria that nevertheless gave the world Socrates, Virgil, and magnificent libraries. As towns grew into metropolises, their sheen as heady places for art, literature, and cultural change began to fade. In response, the once commonplace farm and distant town were increasingly romanticized, especially in such genres as pastoralism and bucolic poetry. The escape to the country estate was the ideal of the Roman senator, the same way that the “ranch” sometimes becomes the getaway from the Washington swamp for American presidents.

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