The professor was a fox

The ancient Greek poet Archilochus, by tradition the first poet after Homer, and the inventor of iambic verse, wrote: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one great thing.”

The following tale, in which the professor takes the role of the fox and the boatman the role of the hedgehog, gives one interpretation of this saying:

A professor was being ferried across a river by a boatman, who was no scholar. So the professor said, “Can you write, my man?” “No, Sir,” said the boatman. “Then you have lost one third of your life,” said the professor. “Can you read?” again asked he of the boatman. “No,” replied the latter, “I can’t read.” “Then you have lost the half of your life,” said the professor. Now came the boatman’s turn. “Can you swim?” said the boatman to the professor. “No,” was his reply. “Then,” said the boatman, “you have lost the whole of your life, for the boat is sinking and you’ll be drowned.”

Rev. Henry Woodcock, The Hero of the Humber: History of the Late Mr. John Ellerthorpe, Foreman of the Humber Dock Gates, Hull, 2nd. ed. (London: 1880), p. 32.