Aesop’s Fables

A bronze statue from between 330 and 100 BCE, that is believed to depict Aesop holding a papyrus scroll. Fables refer to the idea of presenting criticism or advice indirectly in a simplified, fictional setting.

A fable is a narrative, in prose or verse but usually simple and brief, that is intended to convey a moral lesson.

Fables frequently involve non-human characters-animals (real or mythic), plants, artifacts, forces of nature, and so on-that are represented as having human attributes. Fables are a common form of folk literature; the best-known fables of the Western world are credited to the legendary figure Aesop, who is supposed to have been a slave in ancient Greece sometime between 620 and 560 BCE.

Hellenistic statue claimed to depict Aesop from Rome's Art Collection of Villa Albani In the ancient classical world, fables were not considered as fare for children nor as works of literature in their own right. Rather, they were used as vehicles for indirect—and thus carefully polite—criticism and persuasion. For example, Xenophon (c. 430–354 BCE), in his Memorabilia (c. 371 BCE), describes Socrates advising a citizen named Aristarchus to tel l his ungrateful relatives—to whom he had provided capital for a business and who are now accusing him of idlenessthe fable of the dog and the sheep, concluding, “Tell your flock yonder that like the dog in the fable you are their guardian and overseer.”

Interest in fables remained high through classical antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance, with collections of fables—typically ascribed to Aesop—serving as the basisfor rhetorical textbooks and literary works. Jean de La Fontaine (1621–95) produced Fables (1668–1694), which are perhaps the most best-known original fables in modern times.

'The Classic Treasury of Aesop's Fables' by Don Daily (ISBN 0762428767) The English author and philosopher G. K. Chesterton wrote in his Alfred the Great (1908), “Fable is more historical than fact, because fact tells usabout one man and fabletells us about a million men.”

As literary tastes developed in sophistication, fables increasingly became the province of humorists such as George Ade and children’s writers such as Dr. Seuss—although the defamiliarizing effect of fables, with the artistic form being used to stimulate fresh perception of a familiar subject, is still deployed in books such as George Orwell’s criticism of Stalinism, Animal Farm (1945).

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