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A fable is a short story, completely fictitious to the point of often using talking animals as the characters, that generally provides a lesson or moral intended to enlighten the reader, especially children. A very good example of a fable certainly appropriate for an exercise in translating English prose into Latin is provided in the essay, a link to which is provided below, on Aesop’s Fables. Aesop, who lived in ancient Greece, is believed to have lived from 620 BC to 564 BC, and is credited with a number of fables still routinely read and referenced today. The oft-repeated metaphor of the “tortoise and the hare” has its origins with Aesop’s Fables.
Nobody can – or should – write the fable for a student assigned to write one him- or herself. In the interest of facilitating progress, however, it is recommended that the student in question begin with a moral or lesson he or she wishes to convey. That moral can involve any issue from ancient to modern times, including the wisdom of hearing the entirety of an argument before making a decision; the importance of looking both ways before crossing the Appian Way; the importance of a good diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables – use of a rabbit as a central character would be advisable – the old adage about judging books by their cover; or never betting more than you can on a football game. Using a different type of animal for each character, while employing attributes known to be associated with each type of animal (for example, the wisdom of the owl; the cunning of the fox) is also advisable.
A fable can, and should be, short. It is intended to make a point as concisely as possible without preaching. Spending a half-hour reading through Aesop’s Fables or, if time permits, perusing George Orwell’s Animal Farm will help to place one in the proper frame of mind. Writing a fable needs to begin, however, with a notion of what the moral or lesson of the story should teach children, or even adults. One hundred to two hundreds worth is not a lot. One need only relax, peruse a couple of short fables written by others, and come up with a fable of one’s own. Students studying Latin are exposed to many myths and stories that provide ample fodder for use in drafting a paragraph or two with talking animals. One could even consider as a theme the stories surrounding the stellar constellations. That would be entirely appropriate for a Latin class.
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