John Locke (essay date 1693)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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 Æsop's Fables the best, which being stories apt to delight and entertain a child, may yet afford useful reflections to a grown man; and if his memory retain them all his life after, he will not repent to find them there, amongst his manly thoughts and serious business. If his Æsop has pictures in it, it will entertain him much the better, and encourage him to read when it carries the increase of knowledge with it …

Samuel Richardson (essay date 1740)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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,...

(The entire section is 3428 words.)

Robert Dodsley (essay date 1761)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 4310 words.)

Joseph Jacobs (essay date 1894)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1998 words.)

Guy Snavely (essay date 1908)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1611 words.)

G. K. Chesterton (essay date 1912)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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:...

(The entire section is 1455 words.)

Louis Cons (essay date 1924)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 791 words.)

J. H. Driberg (essay date 1932)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1243 words.)

Bateman Edwards (essay date 1942)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1713 words.)

Georgios A. Megas (essay date 1960)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 6371 words.)

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

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 6848 words.)

Kirby Congdon (essay date 1966)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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,...

(The entire section is 1238 words.)

Margaret Blount (essay date 1975)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 3767 words.)

George Clark (essay date 1976)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 6316 words.)

P. Gila Reinstein (essay date 1983)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 3721 words.)

Agnes Perkins (essay date 1984)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2358 words.)

Barbara Mirel (essay date 1984)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2671 words.)

Pat Pflieger (essay date 1984)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 3619 words.)

John F. Priest (essay date 1985)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 5109 words.)

H. J. Blackham (essay date 1985)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 4698 words.)