Aesop Essay - Critical Essays



Aesop C. 620 B.C.–C. 564 B.C.

(Also transliterated as Aesopus, Hesopus, Esope, and Esop) Greek fabulist.

Aesop is credited with developing the folklore fable during the ancient Greek period into a means of indirectly conveying a political message. Thereafter, Greek, Roman, and European fables have generally been attributed to Aesop, although some extant fables may be traced to sources predating Aesop in Sumer, Assyria, Babylonia, and Egypt; some to Indian folklore and literature; and some to such lesser-known writers after Aesop as Babrius, Phaedrus, Poggio Bracciolini, and Jean de la Fontaine. The collection of Aesopic fables is the nearest source for such common expressions as "sour grapes," "familiarity breeds contempt, and "a dog in a manger" as well as for references to characters in such fables as "The Hare and the Tortoise" and "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." The typical Aesopic fable, a short allegorical tale using animals to portray a moral, has come to define the genre of fable in popular thinking. Today, the Aesopic fable, which was developed in antiquity to teach political wisdom to adults, is commonly used to instruct children in practical wisdom and to entertain them with its fantasy world of talking animals.

Biographical Information

Aesop may have been born in Thrace to the northeast of Greece around 620 B.C., according to what the historian Herodotus says about him. Herodotus describes Aesop as a slave from Thrace who served under Iadmon of Samos at the same time as the female Thracian slave Rhodopis. Herodotus also mentions that Rhodopis was later ransomed from slavery in Egypt by the brother of the famous poetess Sappho, who was born around 612 B.C. A comparison of the possible ages of Aesop, Rhodopis, Sappho, and Sappho's brother suggests the date of birth for Aesop as 620 B.C. According to Aristotle in the Constitution of the Samians, Aesop served as the slave of a certain Xanthus, then served as the slave of a certain Iadmon (who later freed him,) and then went on to gain a strong reputation among the Samians by telling them the fable of "The Fox and the Hedgehog" as a defense for a politician on trial for embezzlement. In this fable, a hedgehog's offer to remove blood-sucking ticks from a fox is refused on the grounds that other unsated ticks will come to draw more blood. A controversial and romantic Life of Aesop written in the

first century A.D. relates that Aesop was then sent by the Samians to the court of Croesus in Sardis in order to persuade Croesus not to subjugate the Samian people. Croesus was so impressed with Aesop that he put aside his plans of conquest for Samos and gave Aesop a position at his court, which gave Aesop the leisure to write out his fables. Then, as part of Aesop's continuing service to Croesus, according to the biographer and essayist Plutarch, Aesop went on a diplomatic mission to Delphi, where his life was brought to an end. According to the Life of Aesop, Aesop had offended the priests of Apollo by suggesting that they had a great reputation abroad but lacked substance in person. In revenge the priests framed Aesop by putting a golden cup from the temple in his baggage, capturing him, and condemning him to death. In his defense, Aesop related two fables. The first, "The Frog and the Mouse," tells of a frog that was carried off by a bird of prey attracted by the thrashing of a mouse being gratuitously drowned by the frog; the second, "The Eagle and the Dung-Beetle," tells of the inexorable vengeance of a lowly dung-beetle on an eagle that had refused to heed the dung-beetle's request to spare the life of a rabbit. The Delphians refused to heed the morals of the fables and threw Aesop over the cliff. However, according to Herodotus, the Delphians in the third generation afterwards paid blood-money to the descendant of Iadmon to atone for the crime of their ancestors. According to the dating of the Christian chronographer and historian Eusebius, Aesop died in Delphi in 564 B.C.

Major Works

Aesop's fables are often defined on the basis of common internal characteristics. The Aesopic fable is generally an allegorical tale of a brief, fictitious action occurring in past time, usually between particular animals who act like humans, so that the actions suggest a moral, which may or may not be explicitly stated. Ani mal types in the Aesopic fable tend to represent types of human moral qualities: foxes represent cunning; asses represent stupidity; lambs represent helpless innocence; and wolves represent ruthlessness. The Aesopic fable often appears as a cautionary tale, revealing through humor or through cynicism and satire an amoral world that does not reward abstract virtue but rather a world that requires common sense and moderation for self-preservation. Aesop's fables are often defined by contrast with the literary genres of folktale, allegory, parable, and proverb. Fable, like folktale, has animals with lives similar to humans but, unlike folktale, has a short and simple narrative and usually gives an explicit moral. Although fable provides an allegory of the human situation in the actions of the animals, fable's use of animal characters and shorter narrative distinguish it from other forms of allegory. Fable differs from parable in its use of animal actors and its frequent humorous quality. Fable differs from proverb in its use of a brief narrative of the interaction of animals in addition to the brief moral statement common to proverb and fable. The Aesopic fable can also be defined by reference to its place in the development of the fable. The fable before Aesop seems to appear after the development of the Greek city-state during the Greek Dark Ages, perhaps because the new urban environment offered greater intellectual stimulation and thus a greater possibility of understanding and appreciating metaphor, the basic concept underlying the fable. The pre-Aesopic fable seems to be directed toward a particular individual in a specific context. For example, Hesiod's "The Hawk and the Nightingale" is directed toward Hesiod's brother, and Archilochus's "The Lion and the Fox" is directed toward Archilochus's former lover. Also, such pre-Aesopic fables appear in verse, are serious, and lack an explicitly stated moral. Aesop's fables, however, seem to have been prose compositions—either orally or in writing, depending on which details of the tradition one accepts—using animal stories for comic effect as well as for conveying a political message. It is probable that the fables that might reasonably be attributed to Aesop originally lacked an explicitly stated moral. However, morals came to be attached to Aesopic fables as a result of the collection of fables attributed to Aesop compiled by Demetrius Phalerius around 300 B.C. According to Ben Edwin Perry, the addition of morals came about from moving the book-maker's heading, which summarized a fable for the purpose of indexing it according to its moral application, from its place at the beginning of the fable to the end, where it served to reinforce the moral.

Textual History

Four significant collections of Aesopic fables were published in classical antiquity. The first collection, no longer extant, was a work in Greek prose around 300 B.C. by Demetrius of Phalerum, probably for use as a reference book of fables for writers and public speak ers. The second collection is the Augustana recension, or critical revision of the text, which may with good probability have been based on a first- or second-century A.D. compilation. The Augustana recension was the basis for three other recensions, which include the fourteenth-century edition of Maximus Planudes, which served as the vulgate version of the Greek text of Aesop's Fables until the Augustana recension proper was published in 1812. The third collection is the work of Phaedrus, who probably used Demetrius's collection as the basis for his Latin verse version of the fables produced before 55 A.D., the probable year of his death. Phaedrus both expanded the Aesopic material available to him and supplemented it with material from other sources and with material of his own invention. Phaedrus's collection was rendered in Latin prose as part of a fourth- or fifth-century A.D. collection attributed to Aesop. This Latin prose derivation of Phaedrus became the basis for three medieval Latin prose paraphrases referred to respectively as "Aesop of Ademar," "Aesop ad Rufum," and "Romulus," each of which modified the text by means of expansions, deletions, or additions. The fourth and last collection is the work of Babrius, who probably used Demetrius's prose fables of Aesop as the basis for his Greek verse version of the fables, produced perhaps in the late first or second century. Babrius may also have used the Augustana collection, and he seems to have supplemented his Aesopic sources with Near Eastern fables, such as the Assyrian fables of Ahiqar and the Babylonian fable of "The Gnat on the Bull's Horns." Babrius's collection was excerpted and put into Latin prose by Avianus around the beginning of the fifth century A.D. This collection of Avianus and the Latin prose paraphrases of Phaedrus were popular during the Middle Ages, and they inspired the verse imitations of Walter the Englishman and Alexander Neckham as well as the composition of original fables in verse by Odo of Cheriton. The Latin prose versions of Babrius/Avianus and Phaedrus continued to be influential in the Renaissance with Heinrich Steinhowel's Latin-German edition (1476-77) of Romulus, Avianus, Petrus Alphonsus, the Facetiae of Poggio Bracciolini, and Rinuccio de Castiglione's Latin translation of some Greek prose adaptations of Babrius. First Steinhôwel's edition was translated into French by Julien Macho; then Macho's version was translated into English and published by William Caxton in 1484. Significant English versions of Aesop after Caxton include the versions of John Ogilby (1651), Sir Roger L'Estrange (1692), and Samuel Croxall (1722). Of these, L'Estrange's version is the only one to add significantly to the underlying text of Steinhôwel's edition with fables from the Greek Aesopic tradition that were published after Steinhôwel's edition. Modern critical work on Aesop dates from the writings of Neveletus on the Greek corpus in 1610 and that of Nilant on the Latin corpus in 1709. The scholars Richard Bentley (1662-1742) and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) solved significant problems associated with the text. Modern critical editions, such as those of Émile Chambry (1925-26), August Hausrath (1940), and Ben Edwin Perry (1952), give first place to the earliest of the Augustana recensions and then add separately material from later Augustana recensions. The latter two editions put in last place material listed under sources other than Aesop.

Critical reception

Aesop's Fables have always had a mixed reception. The classical rhetorical educator Quintilian advised children at the beginning of their education to practice translating, paraphrasing, abbreviating, and elaborating the Aesopic fables. In rhetorical theory and practice, the fable seems to have been a rhetorical device for enhancing persuasiveness in public speaking. As such, the fable was expected to be adapted to different circumstances, and so the actual wording of the fable would change from one circumstance to the next. In this context, Demetrius's collection seems to have been made as a reference work listing fables for use in rhetorical exercises and public speaking. The situations just described show a regard for the content of the fables but little regard for their textual form. The situation of the works of Phaedrus and Babrius suggests another aspect of the reception of Aesop's fables. On the one hand, putting the fables into verse raised these productions to the level of literary art, and the text of their fables in certain textual traditions remained fixed and received critical but brief attention. On the other hand, the works of both authors in other textual traditions were put into prose and spread across Europe, serving as the basis for vernacular editions of Aesop's fables. Thus, the fables enjoyed popular acclaim partly as a school text, and inspired literary works, although they were not necessarily artful themselves—a fact underlined both by the anonymous or pseudonymous nature of the late classical and medieval Latin prose paraphrases and by the constantly changing text. Today, Aesop's fables continue to be considered useful as children's literature, and the process of adaptation of the fables continues, primarily for this younger audience. Modern scholars also exhibit an ambivalent attitude toward Aesop's fables. Many tend not to critically analyze the literary aspects of relatively independent units of the corpus, such as the Augustana recension, or of groups of fables with a similar theme, or of the literary merit of individual fables. Such avoidance seems to result from a perception of a lack of literary sophistication in the Aesopic corpus and from the difficulty of proving something definitively from such an eclectic and non-homogenous text. Consequently modern scholars tend to discuss alternative aspects of the text, with some discussing the nature of the genre of fable and placing Aesop in that context. Robert Dodsley emphasizes the moral and also discusses the action, characters, and language appropriate for a fable. Ben Edwin Perry stresses the fictional, metaphorical, humorous, and satirical aspects of fable. Agnes Perkins, in comparing the Aesopic morals to the morals of the Buddhist Jatakas, proposes that Aesop's morals support action to one's personal advantage rather than action good in itself. H. J. Blackham analyzes fable according to Perry's definition as well as according to its use of images and its purpose. In addition, some scholars compare fable with other genres. Blackham compares fable with parable and allegory. Alternatively, both Margaret Blount and P. Gila Reinstein compare fable with folktale and fairy-tale. Blount suggests that folktale animals are closer to human and do not demonstrate a moral so explicitly as Aesop's animals, and Reinstein argues that Aesop's fables present a cynical and self-reliant philosophy, whereas Grimm's folktales present a belief in a moral order with the ultimate triumph of good over evil. Furthermore, other scholars discuss the sources of the fables. On the one hand, both Perry and Joseph Jacobs discuss the history of the ever-changing corpus of the written text. On the other hand, Louis Cons, J. H. Driberg, and Georgios A. Megas discuss the influence of the oral tradition. Cons suggests a neolithic source for a particlar fable; Driberg proposes African folktales as a source in general for Aesop; and Megas argues for a better preservation of the fables' internal relationships through oral transmission than through textual transmission. Finally, some scholars focus on the changes that individual authors make in their editions of Aesop's fables. Samuel Richardson, in addition to explaining his own changes, discusses those of Sir Roger L'Estrange and Samuel Croxall in their editions, especially in regard to the morals, in order to advance their own political viewpoint. Barbara Mirel discovers three methods of interpreting Aesop in various modern editions and shows how "The Fox and the Crow" is presented differently according to each. Mary-Agnes Taylor examines the changes made by various poets in favor of the ant in "The Grasshopper and the Ant." George Clark compares the fables of "The Cock and the Jewel" and "The Swallow and the Other Birds" in the versions of Aesop and Robert Henryson. In general, critics find fault with the lack of literary quality in the Aesopic corpus, with the political or religious bias of a previous collection of Aesop's works, and with the didacticism of the morals. However, critics commend the fables for their simplicity, humor, pointedness, and wisdom, and for the literary quality of particular productions.

Principal Works


"Androcles and the Lion"

"The Ant and the Fly"

"The Ant and the Grasshopper"

"The Ass in the Lion's Skin"

"The Bullfrog and the Bear"

"The Butterfly and the Wasp"

"The Cock and the Fox"

"The Cock and the Jewel"

"The Dog and the Meat"

"The Dog and the Wolf "

"The Dog in a Manger"

"The Eagle and the Beetle"

"The Eagle and the Vixen"

"The Farmer and the River"

"The Farmer and the Snake"

"The Father and His Sons"


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John Locke (essay date 1693)

SOURCE: John Locke, "Some Thoughts Concerning Education," in The Educational Writings of John Locke, edited by John William Adamson, Edward Arnold, 1912, pp. 21-180.

[In the following excerpt, reprinted in 1912, Locke describes Aesop's fables as entertaining and containing useful moral instruction for the young.]

[When a child] begins to be able to read, some easy, pleaxssant book, suited to his capacity, should be put into his hands, wherein the entertainment that he finds might draw him on, and reward his pains in reading; and yet not such as should fill his head with perfectly useless trumpery, or lay the principles of vice and folly. To this purpose I think...

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Samuel Richardson (essay date 1740)

SOURCE: Samuel Richardson, in a preface to Aesop's Fables, 1740, edited by Samuel Richardson, Garland Publishing, Inc., 1975, pp. i-xiv.

[In the following excerpt, reprinted in 1975, Richardson discusses the reasons for editing Aesop that motivated Roger L 'Estrange and S. Croxall and Richardson himself especially in regard to the modification of the moral.]

When there are so many editions of Æsop's fables, it will be expected, that some reasons should be given for the appearance of a new one; and we shall be as brief on this head, as the nature of the thing will admit. Of all the English editions, we shall consider only two as worthy of notice; to wit,...

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Robert Dodsley (essay date 1761)

SOURCE: Robert Dodsley, reprinted from "Select Fables of Esop and Other Fabulists," in An Essay on Fable, The Augustan Reprint Society, 1965, pp. lvii-lxxvii.

[In the following essay, published in a second imprint in 1764 and reprinted in 1965, Dodsley describes the characteristics of the fable including its ability to convey moral truth without an offensive air of moral superiority.]


Whoever undertakes to compose a fable, whether of the sublimer and more complex kind, as the epick and dramatick; or of the lower and more simple, as what has been called the Esopean; should make it his principal intention to illustrate some one moral...

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Joseph Jacobs (essay date 1894)

SOURCE: Joseph Jacobs, in The Fables of Aesop: Edited, Told Anew and Their History, by Joseph Jacobs, University Microfilms, Inc. 1964, 222 p.

[In the following excerpt, reprinted in 1964, Jacobs discusses how the text of Aesop's fables has been preserved and changed as it passed through successive translators and publishers from antiquity to his day.]

It is difficult to say what are and what are not the Fables of Aesop. Almost all the fables that have appeared in the Western world have been sheltered at one time or another under the shadow of that name. I could at any rate enumerate at least seven hundred which have appeared in English in various books entitled...

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Guy Snavely (essay date 1908)

SOURCE: Guy Everett Snavely, "Latin Source of deVignay's Fables" in an introduction to The Aesopic Fables in the "Mireoir Historical" of Jehan de Vignay, edited by Guy Everett Snavely, J. H. Furst Company, 1908, pp. 31-36.

[In the following excerpt, Snavely discusses how Jehan de Vignay translated Aesop's fables in a fairly literal manner from Latin prose versions into Old French.]

While the ultimate source of the short collection of Æsopic Fables contained in Jehan de Vignay's Mireoir Historial is probably to be found in Classical Greek literature,1 it will be sufficient for the purposes of the present dissertation to investigate our...

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G. K. Chesterton (essay date 1912)

SOURCE: G. K. Chesterton, in an introduction to Aesop's Fables, translated by V. S. Vernon Jones, Doubleday Page & Co., 1912, pp. v-xi.

[In the following excerpt, Chesterton describes each animal species in Aesop's fables as a symbol of a single fixed meaning, which enables the interaction of animal figures to convey its timeless message.]

Æsop embodies an epigram not uncommon in human history; his fame is all the more deserved because he never deserved it. The firm foundations of common sense, the shrewd shots at uncommon sense, that characterise all the Fables, belong not to him but to humanity. In the earliest human history whatever is authentic is universal:...

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Louis Cons (essay date 1924)

SOURCE: Louis Cons, "A Neolithic Saying and an Aesop's Fable," in American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. XXVIII, No. 3, July-September, 1924, pp. 276-77.

[In the following essay, Cons suggests that Aesop's fable of "The Farmer and the River" descends from a neolithic saying that comments on the infrequency of finding useable stone axe-heads in a river.]

In Carl Halm's collection of Aesop's Fables (Leipzig, 1863) No. 308 … ["A Woodcutter and Hermes"] (No. 44 of Corais's collection) is the story of a woodcutter who, having dropped his axe into a river, refuses to accept the gold and silver ones that Hermes offers him in exchange. He asks only to have his own...

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J. H. Driberg (essay date 1932)

SOURCE: J. H. Driberg, "Aesop," in The Spectator, Vol. 148, No. 5425, June 18, 1932, pp. 857-58.

[In the following essay, Driberg discusses the possible influence of African folktales on Aesop's fables.]

Little is known of Aesop till after he had won his freedom. Some say that he was a Phrygian slave—but that, perhaps, is because his master was Iadmon of Samos, who doubtless visited Phrygia from time to time. The more general view, however, is that he was an African, who, taken in slavery, drifted to Asia Minor and the Islands. His very name, Aesop, perverted from Acthiop, indicates his African origin. He visited the court of Croesus as a freed-man, and later met his...

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Bateman Edwards (essay date 1942)

SOURCE: Bateman Edwards, "An Aesopic Allusion in the Roman D'Alexandre," in Studies in Honor of Frederick W. Shipley, by His Colleagues, Washington University Studies, 1942, pp. 95-100.

[In the following essay, Edwards finds an allusion to Aesop in the "Roman d'Alexandre " that is not based on Phaedrus, Avianus, or any known French Translation, and so may be based on some undiscovered written source.]

The study of fable transmission, with the enormous and complex amount of material of which much is still unknown or imperfectly studied, presents one of the most difficult problems in the history of medieval culture. The Middle Ages received their knowledge of the...

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Georgios A. Megas (essay date 1960)

SOURCE: Georgios A. Megas, "Some Oral Greek Parallels to Aesop's Fable's," in Humaniora: Essays in Literature, Folklore, Bibliography, edited by Wayland D. Hand and Gustave O. Arlt, J. J. Augustin Publisher, 1960, pp. 195-207.

[In the following essay, Megas presents some oral Greek parallels to certain fables of Aesop in order to show how the oral tradition preserves the original relationships between animal actors and between action and moral better than the written tradition does.]

It can be said concerning both folktales and fables that oral tradition preserves the original relationships more intact than does literary tradition.1 This is especially true...

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Spurgeon W. Baldwin, Jr. (essay date 1964)

SOURCE: Spurgeon W. Baldwin, Jr., "The Role of the Moral in 'La Vida del Ysopet con sus Fabulas Historiadas'," in Hispania, Vol. XLVII, No. 4, December, 1964, pp. 762-65.

[In the following essay, Baldwin informs the reader that the moral in the fables of the Spanish Aesop under consideration is usually presented as a negative warning of punishment in a direct statement outside the story directed toward peasants more often than toward the aristocracy.]

The first collection of fables to appear in Spain, made up primarily but not exclusively of fables attributed to Aesop, was printed at Zaragoza in 1489, and was given the title: La Vida del Ysopet con sus fabulas...

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Ben Edwin Perry (essay date 1965)

SOURCE: Ben Edward Perry, in an introduction to Babrius and Phaedrus, edited by Ben Edward Perry, Harvard University Press, 1965, pp. xi-cii.

[In the following excerpt, Perry discusses the development of fable writing in Classical Greek and Roman literature, the transmission of the text of the fables, what constitutes a fable, and the influence of the ancient Near East on Greek fable lore.]

1. The Aesopic Fable in Antiquity

In the long history of Aesopic fable, generically so called, the publication of a series of fables in verse meant to be read consecutively, each for its own interest and literary value, without a context or a specific...

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Kirby Congdon (essay date 1966)

SOURCE: Kirby Congdon, "Aesop Revisited," in Américas, Vol. 18, No. 10, October, 1966, pp. 1-2.

[In the following essay, Congdon suggests that fables, using animals as abstract qualities, show individuals that they cannot control God but they can control themselves.]

Since there was probably never, at least in later times, any standard text of the fables, it was inevitable that both the range and their style of composition should change in accordance with the literary fashions of the day and the fancy of individual authors—Ben E. Perry. Studies in the Text History of the Life and Fables of Aesop. American Philological Association, 1936,...

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Margaret Blount (essay date 1975)

SOURCE: Margaret Blount, "Folklore and Fable," in Animal Land: The Creatures of Children's Fiction, William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1975, pp. 23-41.

[In the following excerpt, Blount compares the Aesopic fable to folktale and fairytale, and describes the effect that illustrating fables has on the interpretation of a fable.]

'Long ago, when the animals could speak.' The golden age is somewhere in the past—perhaps in Eden or before the Flood, perhaps nearer, just beyond the memory of the oldest story teller; and in that time the gulf between animals and men had not been opened, the distinctions were not so sharp, magic was all about. As youthful things and...

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George Clark (essay date 1976)

SOURCE: George Clark, "Henryson and Aesop: The Fable Transformed," in English Literary History, Vol. 43, No. 1, Spring, 1976, pp. 1-18.

[In the following essay, Clark analyzes the significant differences between Robert Henryson's version and the more established version of Aesop's fables of "The Cock and the Jewel" and "The Swallow and the Other Birds."]

Robert Henryson's Morall Fabillis of Esope the Phrygian have inspired his admirers to formulate radically differing explanations of the literary merit we recognize in these minor masterpieces. Older readings of these fables assumed that Henryson took up Aesop's plots but not his purposes, saw the excellence of...

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P. Gila Reinstein (essay date 1983)

SOURCE: P. Gila Reinstein, "Aesop and Grimm: Contrast in Ethical Codes and Contemporary Values," in Children's Literature in Education, Vol. 14, No. 1, Spring, 1983, pp. 44-53.

[In the following essay, Reinstein shows that Aesop's fables, which reflect a non-idealistic and self-reliant approach to human interactions, were preferred by older, married, non-white, working-class students as a tool for educating the young, but that Grimm 's fairy tales, which reflect an idealistic and self-sacrificing approach to human interactions, were preferred by young, single, white, middle-class students.]

People often think of Aesop's fables and the folk tales of the brothers Grimm...

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Agnes Perkins (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: Agnes Perkins, in an introduction to "The Five Hundredth Anniversary of Aesop in English," in Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 2, Summer, 1984, pp. 60-75.

[In the following essay, Perkins argues that Aesop's fables do not promote the morality of kindness and generosity that the fables of the Indian "Jatakas" do, and that Aesop's fables present what is to one's personal advantage through a satiric representation of human-like foibles.]

In 1484, William Caxton printed his translation of Aesop's Fables on the first English press. It has remained in print ever since; the book is still available in at least sixteen versions for...

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Barbara Mirel (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: Barbara Mirel, "Tradition and the Individual Retelling," in Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 2, Summer, 1984, pp. 63-66.

[In the following essay, Mirel analyzes the treatment given to the Aesopic fable of "The Fox and the Crow" by various authors representative of ways of interpreting Aesop labelled as the instructive approach, the empathetic approach, and contextualized-example approach.]

In the past fifteen years, the noted children's authors Eric Carle, Jack Kent, Eve Rice, and Paul Galdone, and the less familiar writers Heidi Holder, Jack McFarland, Harold Jones and Ruth Spriggs have all published retellings of the ancient Works of...

(The entire section is 3576 words.)

Anita C. Wilson (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: Anita C. Wilson, "To Instruct and To Amuse: Some Victorian Views of Aesop's Fables," in Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 2, Sum mer, 1984, pp. 66-68.

[In the following essay, Wilson surveys opinions of various Victorian writers regarding the explicit moral statements in Aesop's fables, showing that writers believed their readers wanted to be amused or instructed through an amusing story rather than through explicit moral statements.]

During the Christmas season of 1847, the Spectator featured a notice of a new book entitled A Selection of Aesop's Fables versified and set to Music, "with Symphonies and Accompaniments for the...

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Pat Pflieger (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: Pat Pflieger, "Fables into Picture Books," in Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 2, Summer, 1984, pp. 73-80.

[In the following essay, Pflieger discusses the effect that the use of illustrations has on the interpretation of individual fables.]

With their minimal plots, fables seem a natural choice for picture books. The author and illustrator can embellish the tale and give it a personal touch. In picture books, the main characters in fables lose their anonymity and become more individual. These books stress the entertaining qualities of the tales, though without sacrificing the lessons, which are sometimes even strengthened by the text or...

(The entire section is 2581 words.)

Mary-Agnes Taylor (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: Mary-Agnes Taylor, "The Literary Transformation of a Sluggard," in Children's Literature, Vol. 12, 1984, pp. 92-104.

[In the following essay, Taylor discusses how and why various poets change the moral of the "The Grasshopper and the Ant."]

I cannot claim that I learned to read from Dick and Jane; I can, however, say that I remember quite well the first time that I was able to decipher Baby Ray. I can also remember that our class was not allowed to linger with such innocent reading matter. Rather quickly we moved to more substantial tales such as those found in a collection of Aesop's fables. From the very beginning we were made to understand that...

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John F. Priest (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: John F. Priest, "The Dog in the Manger: In Quest of a Fable," in The Classical Journal, Vol. 81, No. 1, October-November, 1985, pp. 49-58.

[In the following essay, Priest discovers the first appearance of "The Dog in the Manger" fable in the 1476/7 collection of Steinhöwel, traces the authority for its inclusion in this edition to the classical writers Lucian and Strato, and rules out known Near Eastern fables and proverbs as possible sources for the fable.']

Locating the historical, cultural and geographical origins of gnomic sayings, is, at best, a precarious enterprise. Emerging as they do from the universals of human experience, proverb, maxim, and fable...

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H. J. Blackham (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: H. J. Blackham, in an introduction to The Fable as Literature, The Athlone Press, 1985, pp. xi-xxi.

[In the following excerpt, Blackham defines the fable through a discussion of its traditional definition, its relation to parable and allegory, its images, its purpose, and its sources.]


A reviewer who refers to a book as 'fable', casually or more intentionally, probably has in mind an eighteenth-century 'conte philosophique ', described by Voltaire as a work which says more than it seems to say; he might indeed be thinking of Candide. Any non-literary person asked about fable would most likely think of Aesop. The two...

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Further Reading


Adrados, Francisco R. "The 'Life of Aesop' and the Origins of Novel in Antiquity." Quaderni urbinati di cultura classica, n.s. I (1979): 93-112.

Discusses various incidents in the ancient "Life of Aesop" while arguing that the comic-realistic novel resulted from the merging of a Hellenic adaptation of the legend of Ahikar with the legend of a fable-telling Delphic pharmakos, or scapegoat.

Baker, Howard. "A Portrait of Aesop." Sewanee Review LXXVII, No. 4 (October-December 1969): 557-90.

Discusses various incidents in the "Life of Aesop" while...

(The entire section is 1415 words.)