The Parable of the Twins
I came across this parable at the time my daughter was about to give birth to her first son and was enchanted by it. I had studied “The Republic” by Plato at Armidale Teachers’ College, and had learnt about a similar metaphor, that of The Cave, included in The Republic. Plato describes slaves imprisoned in a cave who are ignorant of the real world outside their prison. “The Parable of the Twins” expresses a similar idea of dislocation and ignorance linked to being expelled from the womb at the time of birth. My daughter has become avidly interested in the Cave Metaphor, even though she has never read “The Republic” by Plato, nor was ever willing to hear me talk about such things.
It goes something like this …
Once upon a time, twin boys were conceived in the womb. Seconds, minutes, hours passed as the two embryonic lives developed. The spark of life grew and each tiny brain began to take shape and form. With the development of their brain came feeling, and with feeling, perception—a perception of surroundings, of each other, and their own lives. They discovered that life was good and they laughed and rejoiced in their hearts.
One said to the other, “We are so lucky to have been conceived and to have this wonderful world.”
The other chimed in, “Yes, blessed be our mother who gave us life and each other.”
Each of the twins continued to grow and soon their arms and fingers, legs and toes began to take shape. They stretched their bodies and churned and turned in their little world. They explored it and found the life cord which gave them life from their mother’s blood. They were grateful for this new discovery and sang, “How great is the love of our mother – that she shares all she has with us!”
Weeks passed into months and with the advent of each new month, they noticed a change in each other and in themselves.
“We are changing,” one said. “What can it mean?”
“It means”, said the other, “that we are drawing near to birth.”
An unsettling chill crept over the two. They were afraid of birth, for they knew that it meant leaving their wonderful world behind.
Said the one, “Were it up to me, I would live here forever.”
“But we must be born,” said the other. “It has happened to all the others”. Indeed, there was evidence inside the womb that the mother had carried life before theirs. “And I believe that there is life after birth, don’t you?”
“How can there be life after birth?” cried the one. “Do we not shed our life cord and also the blood tissue when we are born? And have you ever talked to anyone that has been born? Has anyone ever re-entered the womb after birth to describe what birth is like? NO!” As he spoke, he fell into despair, and in his despair he moaned, “If the purpose of conception and our growth inside the womb is to end in birth, then truly our life is senseless.” He clutched his precious life cord to his breast and said, “And if this is so, and life is absurd, then there really can be no mothers!”
“But there is a mother,” protested the other. “Who else gave us nourishment? Who else created this world for us?”
“We get our nourishment from this cord —and our world has always been here,” said the one. “And if there is a mother —where is she? Have you ever seen her? Does she ever talk to you? No! We invented the mother when we were young, because it satisfied a need in us. It made us feel secure and happy.”
Thus, while the one raved and despaired, the other resigned himself to birth and placed his trust in the hands of his mother. Hours turned into days, and days into weeks. And soon it was time. They both knew their birth was at hand, and they both feared what they did not know.
As the one was first to be conceived, so he was the first to be born, the other following.
They cried as they were born into the light. They coughed out fluid and gasped the dry air. And when they were sure they had been born, they opened their eyes — seeing life after birth for the very first time. What they saw was the beautiful eyes of their mother, as they were cradled lovingly in her arms. They were home.
And then, more recently, I found this poem by Rumi, which is also reminiscent of “Plato’s Cave” in The Republic.
Rumi’s Poem: An allegory
What if someone said to an embryo in the womb,
“Outside of your world of black nothing
is a miraculously ordered universe;
a vast Earth covered with tasty food;
mountains, oceans and plains,
fragrant orchards and fields full of crops;
a luminous sky beyond your reach,
with a sun, moonbeams, and uncountable stars;
and there are winds from south, north and west,
and gardens replete with sweet flowers
like a banquet at a wedding feast.
The wonders of this world are beyond description.
What are you doing living in a dark prison,
Drinking blood through that narrow tube?”
But the womb-world is all an embryo knows
And it would not be particularly impressed
By such amazing tales, saying dismissively:
“You’re crazy. That is all a deluded fantasy.”
One day you will look back and laugh at yourself.
You’ll say, “I can’t believe I was so asleep!
How did I ever forget the truth?
How ridiculous to believe that sadness and sickness
Are anything other than bad dreams.”
Republished with permission from ‘Rumi Wisdom – Daily Teachings from the Great Sufi Master’