These stories are succinct, using few characters, and are generally focused on one specific lesson they want to teach or moral they want to promote.
Parables use literary devices such as similes, metaphors, and symbolism in order to convey their meaning. The word itself comes from the Greek meaning “comparison”. Parables are most commonly found in religious text, such as the Bible.
Purpose of Parables
Today, as in the past, parables are used to teach those around us a story about what is right and wrong in life. They help others learn from past mistakes and smoothly direct everyone into a common way of thinking and caring about one another and the world. They also make large ideas, such as the manning of life or what happens after death, easier to comprehend. They might not provide the answers, they provide ways of thinking about these topics and many others.
Parable or Fable?
Often confused, parables and fables do have distinct differences. A fable, while also concerned with morality, is less associated with religion and more with common beliefs and attitudes. They also use animals, plants and inanimate objects to convey to lesson. The writers utilize personification and anthropomorphism to make the stories engaging and meaningful.
Examples of Parables
Example #1 The Prodigal Son
One of the best-known examples of a parable comes from the Christian Bible. It appears in the book of Luke (15:11-32) and expounds on Christ’s love for humankind. In the story the prodigal son send his inheritance rather than saving it and taking care of himself. He is soon without money or friends and returns home.
There, he begs to be taken on as one of his father’s servants just so that he can make a little bit of money and have a roof over his head. The father gladly welcomes him back when one might expect him to be angry. It is with these lines that a reader understands the meaning of the parable:
Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
The father loves his son purely and without question. A reader should finish this parable with the understanding that this is the same love that God has for all of his creation.
Example #2 The Good Samaritan
Another of the best-known parables is The Good Samaritan, a story from the Christian Bible that can be found in the Gospel of Luke (10:29-37).It tells of a traveler who was beaten by robbers and was helped by a Samaritan. The man was the first to stop after a couple of others passed him by. He did not worry about who the person was or if they were on either side of an ideological divide. The traveler who was beaten is later revealed to have been Christ.
The moral of this parable is very clear, that one should help those around them without regard for who that person is or what they believe.
Example #3 Hercules at the Crossroads
This parable, which originates from ancient Greece, is also known as “The Choice of Hercules” and “The Judgement of Hercules”. It is believed that the story was composed by Prodicus.
Hercules at the Crossroads depicts the young Hercules who is offered the classic choice between good and bad, Vice and Virtue. One is going to bring him a pleasurable life and the other a hard one, but an honourable one.
Example #4 The Rooster Prince
A lesser-known, although still impactful, parable, The Rooster Prince comes from Hasidic Judaism. Specially, it is attributed to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. It was published in Sippurei Ma’asiot. In the story, a prince goes insane and starts to believe that he is a rooster. He does everything he thinks a rooster would do, including taking his clothes off and pecking food off the floor.
The king and queen, father and mother to this young man, don’t know what to do about it. They try to get healers to help but nothing works. Finally, a new man comes to the palace. He takes his clothes off and does everything the prince does. They become friends and then the wise man tells the prince that roosters can do everything people do. The Rooster Prince takes these words at face value and eventually reverts to being entirely human and normal again.
There are various interpretations of this story but the main one is that the prince is meant to be a Jew who has forgotten God. The wiseman who saves him is a Hasidic Rebbe. He cures his soul and helps him return to God.