Happy Birthday

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Happy Birthday, Aesop, Ancient Creator of Fables

June 04, 2009
by findingDulcinea Staff
Aesop, who was most likely a Greek slave, is credited with the creation of numerous fables that were originally intended for adults but have evolved, over time, into timeless bedtime stories and teaching tools.

Aesop's Early Days

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Aesop’s place of birth is unknown, but most historians agree that he was born a slave in 620 B.C.E. Unfortunately, not much else is certain about his life. Aesop’s biography on the Web site NNDB calls him "famous for his Fables," but it is "probable" that Aesop himself did not write down any of his fables; others, including Socrates, likely copied them into verse. NNDB reports that Avianus "translated 42 of the fables into Latin elegiacs." According to Literature.org, a 14th-century monk named Maximus Planudes wrote a collection of the fables and a biography of Aesop.

A 17th-century French scholar, M. Claude Gaspard Bachet de Mezeriac, attempted to chronicle the sketchy facts known about Aesop in his book, “Life of Aesop,” reports Literature.org. Many of the details found in this book are consistent with other information about the philosopher and storyteller.

All accounts agree that Aesop was a slave who had two masters and was eventually freed by the second; it is also relatively certain that Aesop traveled a great deal. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, a 1st century AD biography of Aesop "places him on the island of Samos as a slave who gained his freedom from his master, thence going to Babylon as riddle solver to King Lycurgus, and, finally, meeting his death at Delphi."

Many scholars are frustrated because Mezeriac’s story “has a flavor reminiscent of Roman satire,” reports FairyTalesCollection.com. Some details in the book may actually reflect elements of his life, but others are fantastical and mythic.

Aesop's Notable Accomplishments

It cannot be confirmed that Aesop wrote all the fables attributed to him, but we do know that they originated during his lifetime or even before. Primarily communicated by the practice of oral storytelling, the fables have lasted because of their timeless applicability. Although the fables were originally intended for adults, not children, over time they have morphed into bedtime stories and teaching tools, as the Aesop's Fables Web site explains.

Project Gutenberg offers the fables for download in a variety of formats.

The Rest of the Story

The people of Delphi executed Aesop around 560 B.C.E., although no one can agree on the reason why, according to NNDB. Meanwhile, Aesop’s influence continues to prevail in modern culture. His fables are literature, teaching tools and folklore, and have inspired others to invent new fables and adapt the originals. The 15th-century printer William Caxton was the first to translate Aesop’s fables into English. In the epilogue, available on Bartleby.com, he constructs his own tale of morality, in which a modest priest teaches one that has been more financially successful the true meaning of faith and public service.

A professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has had her art students do computerized illustrations of Aesop’s fable since 1994. Some of the animation is a bit dated, but one particularly amusing aspect of the site is the traditional and modern versions of each tale. For example, the tale of the donkey and the lap dog was transformed into a story about a laptop and a desktop.
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