The Roots of the Fable Tradition

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Although it is impossible to trace the genre of the fable to a single source or a first writer, it is known that the fable tradition has its roots far back in ancient history; in fact, the fable is perhaps one of the earliest forms of the short story. Although readers have most often come to associate the fable with Aesop, even to the extent of attributing to Aesop fables written at a much later time, the fable tradition actually flourished in many cultures other than that of ancient Greece, as proven by the existence of fables in diverse ancient writings.

From the time of its very inception, the fable seems to have entailed the notion of allegory. According to the definition of the ancient Greeks, whose fables are most familiar to the Western world, the fable is a story, a tale, a narrative; the Greeks made a clear distinction between the fable’s fictional nature and other sorts of historical tales. Nevertheless, although the tale was fictive, its intent was to portray allegorically a reality of some kind, and this basic assumption concerning the fable’s nature has characterized the fable throughout centuries of varied treatment.

As it most commonly appears, the fable personifies animals, or occasionally plants, or sometimes even the elements of nature, so as to reveal some truth; ordinarily that truth concerns a particular aspect of human behavior, although some fables that are etiological (such as how the turtle got its shell) have come...

(The entire section is 473 words.)