Aesop – Ancient Greece – Classical Literature
(Fabulist, Greek, c. 620 – c. 560 BCE)
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Aesop was by tradition a Greek slave, and he is known today exclusively for the genre of fables ascribed to him. â€œAesop’s Fablesâ€ (most of which have anthropomorphic animals as the main characters) have remained popular throughout history, and are still taught as moral lessons and used as subjects for various entertainments, especially children’s plays and cartoons.
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Very little is known about Aesop’s origins. Amorium, Phrygia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Samos, Athens, Sardis, Thrace and many other places have been suggested by different authors as his place of birth. Some claim that his name may be derived from â€œAethiopianâ€, a word often used by the ancient Greeks to refer to any dark-skinned people from the African interior. His date of birth is likewise uncertain, but the best estimate may be around 620 BCE. According to some medieval traditions, he was extremely ugly and deformed, although there is no contemporary evidence to that effect.
Like his birth, the rest of his life is also shrouded in obscurity. He is said to have lived for some time as a slave to a man called Xanthus in Samos. At some stage he must have been freed (possibly by his second master, Jadon, as a reward for his learning and wit) as he is later recorded as conducting the public defense of a demagogue on the Greek island of Samos. Other reports have him subsequently living at the court of Croesus, the king of Lydia, where he met (and apparently impressed with his wit) Solon and the Seven Sages of Greece, and he was also said to have visited Athens during the reign of Peisistratus.
According to the historian Herodotus, Aesop met with a violent death at the hands of the inhabitants of Delphi, although various different reasons for this have been put forward. The best estimate for his date of death is around 560 BCE.
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It is probable that Aesop himself never committed his â€œFablesâ€ to writing, but that the stories were transmitted orally. It is thought that even Aesopâ€™s original fables were probably a compilation of tales from various sources, many of which originated with authors who lived long before Aesop. Certainly, there were prose and verse collections of â€œAesop’s Fablesâ€ as early as the 4th Century BCE. They were in turn translated into Arabic and Hebrew, further enriched by additional fables from these cultures. The collection with which we are familar today is probably based on a 3rd Century CE Greek version by Babrius, itself a copy of a copy of a copy.
His fables are some of the most well known in the world, and are the source of many phrases and idioms in everyday use (such as â€œsour grapesâ€, â€œcrying wolfâ€, â€œdog in a mangerâ€, “lion’s share”, etc). Among the most famous are: The Ant and the Grasshopper, The Bear and the Travellers, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, The Boy Who Was Vain, The Cat and the Mice, The Cock and the Jewel, The Crow and the Pitcher, The Deer without a Heart, The Dog and the Bone, The Dog and the Wolf, The Dog in the Manger, The Farmer and the Stork, The Farmer and the Viper, The Frog and the Ox, The Frogs Who Desired a King, The Fox and the Crow, The Fox and the Goat, The Fox and the Grapes, The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs, The Honest Woodcutter, The Lion and the Mouse, The Lion’s Share, The Mice in Council, The Mischievous Dog, The North Wind and the Sun, The Tortoise and the Hare, The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.
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