Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 259

The fables of Aesop are not difficult for a young reader to understand and are certainly entertaining to the imagination, but certain stories do represent life circumstances with a frank brutality that may unsettle some children. A notable example is the fable of “The Dying Lion,” who is beaten severely by his old enemies, the boar and the bull, and then by the cowardly donkey, who takes advantage of the lion’s weakness.

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Nevertheless, the fascinating possibilities of the fables have attracted many artists and writers throughout the ages, such that Aesop’s name now suggests the genre itself. Since the nineteenth century, English-speaking audiences have found delight in the many translations and adaptations available. More important, the fables have long been welcomed as a way to teach children the pleasures of reading and other intellectual skills, as well as the wisdom or advice of the stories themselves, such as personal responsibility and prudence. The simple story lines and captivating antics of the animal protagonists have made the fables true classics, and they offer new insights with each reading and for each age group. In this way, they are excellent mediators between the young and their parents or teachers.

Every major writer of allegory owes some debt to Aesop’s fables. Although the precise number of fables that were composed by Aesop himself may never be established and the various collections that are available often offer stories from later writers, it is without question that the fables shall remain poignant and charming examples of practical wisdom and good wit.

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