Monday, October 1, 2007




1. To credit or assign, as to a cause or source; attribute; impute: The alphabet is usually ascribed to the Phoenicians.

2. To attribute or think of as belonging, as a quality or characteristic: They ascribed courage to me for something I did out of sheer panic.


Aesop, known only for the genre of fables ascribed to him, was by tradition a slave who was a contemporary of Croesus and Peisistratus in the mid-sixth century BC in ancient Greece. The various

collections that go under the rubric "Aesop's Fables" are still taught as moral lessons and used as subjects for various entertainments, especially children's plays and cartoons. Most of what are known as

Aesopic fables is a compilation of tales from various sources, many of which originated with authors who lived long before Aesop. The roots of fables go back all the way to India, where they were

associated with Kasyapa, a mystical sage, and they were subsequently adopted by the early Buddhists. Nearly three hundred years later, some of these fables made their way to Alexandria. This collection

introduced the use of the moral to sum up the teaching of a fable, which is similar to the “gatha” of the Jatakas. Aesop himself is said to have composed many fables, which were passed down by oral

tradition. Socrates was thought to have spent his time turning Aesop’s fables into verse while he was in prison. Demetrius Phalereus, another Greek philosopher, made the first collection of these fables

around 300 BC. This was later translated into Latin by Phaedrus, a slave himself, around 25 BC. The fables from these two collections were soon brought together and were eventually retranslated into

Greek by Babrius around A.D. 230. Many additional fables were included, and the collection was in turn translated to Arabic and Hebrew, further enriched by additional fables from these cultures.


The place of Aesop's birth was and still is disputed: Thrace, Phrygia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Samos, Athens, Sardis and Amorium all claimed the honour. It has been argued by modern writers that he may have

been of African origin: the scholar Richard Lobban has argued that his name is likely derived from "Aethiopian", a word used by the Greeks to refer mostly to dark skinned people of the African interior.

He continues by pointing out that the stories are populated by animals present in Africa, many of the creatures being quite foreign to Greece and Europe.

The life of Aesop himself is shrouded in obscurity. He is said to have lived as a slave in Samos around 550 B.C. An ancient account of his life is found in The book of Xanthus the Philosopher and His

Slave Aesop. According to the sparse information gathered about him from references to him in several Greek works (he was mentioned by Aristophanes, Plato, Xenophon and Aristotle), Aesop was a

slave for someone called Xanthus, who resided on the island of Samos. Aesop must have been freed, for he conducted the public defence of a certain Samian demagogue (Aristotle, Rhetoric, ii. 20). He

subsequently lived at the court of Croesus, where he met Solon, and dined in the company of the Seven Sages of Greece with Periander at Corinth. During the reign of Peisistratus he was said to have

visited Athens, where he told the fable of The Frogs Who Desired a King to dissuade the citizens from attempting to depose Peisistratus for another ruler. A contrary story, however, said that Aesop spoke

up for the common people against tyranny through his fables, which incensed Peisistratus, who was against free speech.

According to the historian Herodotus, Aesop met with a violent death at the hands of the inhabitants of Delphi, though the cause was not stated. Various suggestions were made by later writers, such as

his insulting sarcasms, the embezzlement of money entrusted to him by Croesus for distribution at Delphi, and his alleged sacrilege of a silver cup. A pestilence that ensued was blamed on his execution,

and the Delphians declared their willingness to make compensation, which, in default of a nearer connection, was claimed by Iadmon, grandson of Aesop's former master.

Popular stories surrounding Aesop were assembled in a vita prefixed to a collection of fables under his name, compiled by Maximus Planudes, a fourteenth-century monk. He was by tradition extremely

ugly and deformed, which is the sole basis for making a grotesque marble figure in the Villa Albani, Rome, a "portrait of Aesop". This biography had actually existed a century before Planudes. It

appeared in a thirteenth century manuscript found in Florence. However, according to another Greek historian Plutarch's account of the symposium of the Seven Sages, at which Aesop was a guest,

there were many jests on his former servile status, but nothing derogatory was said about his personal appearance. Aesop's deformity was further disputed by the Athenians, who erected in his honour a

noble statue by the sculptor Lysippus. Some suppose the sura, or "chapter," in the Qur'an titled Luqman to be referring to Aesop, a well-known figure in Arabia during the time of Muhammad.

Aesop was also briefly mentioned in the classic Egyptian myth, "The Girl and the Rose-Red Slippers", considered by many to be history's first Cinderella story. In the myth, the freed slave Rhodopis

mentions that a slave named Aesop told her many entrancing stories and fables while they were slaves on the island of Samos.


Aesop, or Æsop (c.6th. century BC), legendary Greek source of over 600 fables including The Tortoise and the Hare, written from the oral, have been translated into English by many including the Rev.

George Fyler Townsend (1814-1900) and Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914).

Through the use of (mostly) animal protagonists, Aesop's fables consist of simple tales with moral endings transcending time and place so to be as relevant today as they were millennia ago. Universally

popular, they still inspire many contemporary stories, plays, and movies.

The Life of Aesop contains some contradictory details of his life, though contributes to his mythic proportions. The location of his birth is open to much conjecture though the ancient colony of Thrace,

Phrygia, Aethiopia, the Greek island of Samos, the city of Athens and Sardis, the capitol of Lydia, are included in the possibilities. His name is from the archaic Greek "Ethiop" in reference to a person of

African descent. The first known mention to the man Aesop is contained in the Greek historian Herodotus' History (c.425). There are many other allusions to his life in Greek literature including writers'

Aristophanes, Xenophon, Plato, and Aristotle. Born into slavery and depicted in some sculptures with physical deformity, it is also mentioned that at an early age he suffered a speech impediment,

miraculously eradicated by a deity. He was eventually freed by his master Iadmon, according to Herodotus. Most likely due to his literacy and wit. However, because of the overwhelming lack of proof of

his life lived, many scholars, including Martin Luther (1483-1546), deny his existence. The use of the adjective Aesopic is sometimes used for ambiguous or allegorical political reference due to

censorship; or for stories in the literary tradition given no attribution to a specific author.

It is said that Aesop escaped punishment for his irreverence and tomfoolery many times by his ability to stand up to his accusers with a clever turn of phrase, pointing out their ironies and hypocrisy. In

his public orations on ethics to the common people he sometimes spoke out against the power structure of his time, using his gift for sarcasm and clever retort to quell his critics. The Frogs Asking for a

King is his attempt to dissuade the people from overthrowing their leader. He is critical of a hoarding miser, and uses a dog to illustrate irrational greed. As a free man he spoke to aristocrats,

philosophers, and kings. From The Shepherd’s Boy and the Wolf we today have the proverbial saying "the boy who cried wolf", exemplifying the life-lesson that telling lies leads one to lose credibility,

that one "reaps what you sow". The Oak Tree and the Reeds uses elements of nature and thus we have the saying "survival of the fittest". The tales provide many allegorical references and practical

advice on contemporary human issues such as politics and self-knowledge.

Although it is widely disputed, the death of Aesop is sometimes attributed to his stealing a gold or silver cup, his sentence for the crime to be thrown from a cliff in Delphi. He prophesised: “You may kill

me, but my unjust death will bring you great misfortune” and the Oracle of Apollo confirmed to the Delphians that the ensuing pestilence, famine, and warfare were caused by his death.

Aesop's Fables have been told and re-told, then written and re-written countless times as a form of entertainment and education. Anecdotal and comic sketches were everyday forms of amusement in

ancient Athens and Delphi. Today these works envelop many realms of life including psychology, politics, spirituality, education, health and well-being. Whether the man himself or Aesop the modern

construct of scholars, his influence and commentary on human behaviour has been firmly established.


THE LIFE and History of Aesop is involved, like that of Homer, the most famous of Greek poets, in much obscurity. Sardis, the capital of Lydia; Samos, a Greek island; Mesembria, an ancient colony in

Thrace; and Cotiaeum, the chief city of a province of Phrygia, contend for the distinction of being the birthplace of Aesop.

Although the honor thus claimed cannot be definitely assigned to any one of these places, yet there are a few incidents now generally accepted by scholars as established facts, relating to the birth, life,

and death of Aesop.

He is, by an almost universal consent, allowed to have been born about the year 620 B.C., and to have been by birth a slave. He was owned by two masters in succession, both inhabitants of Samos,

Xanthus and Jadmon, the latter of whom gave him his liberty as a reward for his learning and wit.

One of the privileges of a freedman in the ancient republics of Greece, was the permission to take an active interest in public affairs; and Aesop, like the philosophers Phaedo, Menippus, and Epictetus,

in later times, raised himself from the indignity of a servile condition to a position of high renown.

In his desire alike to instruct and to be instructed, he travelled through many countries, and among others came to Sardis, the capital of the famous king of Lydia, the great patron, in that day, of learning

and of learned men. He met at the court of Croesus with Solon, Thales, and other sages, and is related so to have pleased his royal master, by the part he took in the conversations held with these

philosophers, that he applied to him an expression which has since passed into a proverb, "The Phrygian has spoken better than all."

On the invitation of Croesus he fixed his residence at Sardis, and was employed by that monarch in various difficult and delicate affairs of State. In his discharge of these commissions he visited the

different petty republics of Greece.

At one time he is found in Corinth, and at another in Athens, endeavouring, by the narration of some of his wise fables, to reconcile the inhabitants of those cities to the administration of their respective

rulers Periander and Pisistratus.

One of these ambassadorial missions, undertaken at the command of Croesus, was the occasion of his death. Having been sent to Delphi with a large sum of gold for distribution among the citizens, he

was so provoked at their covetousness that he refused to divide the money, and sent it back to his master. The Delphians, enraged at this treatment, accused him of impiety, and, in spite of his sacred

character as ambassador, executed him as a public criminal.

This cruel death of Aesop was not unavenged. The citizens of Delphi were visited with a series of calamities, until they made a public reparation of their crime; and, "The blood of Aesop" became a well-

known adage, bearing witness to the truth that deeds of wrong would not pass unpunished.

Neither did the great fabulist lack posthumous honors; for a statue was erected to his memory at Athens, the work of Lysippus, one of the most famous of Greek sculptors.

Phaedrus thus immortalizes the event:

Aesopo ingentem statuam posuere Attici, Servumque collocarunt aeterna in basi: Patere honoris scirent ut cuncti viam; Nec generi tribui sed virtuti gloriam.

These few facts are all that can be relied on with any degree of certainty, in reference to the birth, life, and death of Aesop.

They were first brought to light, after a patient search and diligent perusal of ancient authors, by a Frenchman, M. Claude Gaspard Bachet de Mezeriac, who declined the honor of being tutor to Louis XIII

of France, from his desire to devote himself exclusively to literature.

He published his Life of Aesop, Anno Domini 1632. The later investigations of a host of English and German scholars have added very little to the facts given by M. Mezeriac. The substantial truth of his

statements has been confirmed by later criticism and inquiry.

It remains to state, that prior to this publication of M. Mezeriac, the life of Aesop was from the pen of Maximus Planudes, a monk of Constantinople, who was sent on an embassy to Venice by the

Byzantine Emperor Andronicus the elder, and who wrote in the early part of the fourteenth century. His life was prefixed to all the early editions of these fables, and was republished as late as 1727 by

Archdeacon Croxall as the introduction to his edition of Aesop.

This life by Planudes contains, however, so small an amount of truth, and is so full of absurd pictures of the grotesque deformity of Aesop, of wondrous apocryphal stories, of lying legends, and gross

anachronisms, that it is now universally condemned as false, puerile, and unauthentic. *l* It is given up in the present day, by general consent, as unworthy of the slightest credit. G.F.T.

Aesop's Fables

Aesop's Fables or the collection of fables assembled as Aesopica refers to various collections of moralized fables credited to Aesop. "Aesop's Fables" has also become a blanket term for collections of

brief fables, usually involving personified animals. The Fox and the Grapes (from which the idiom "sour grapes" is derived), The Tortoise and the Hare, The North Wind and the Sun and The Shepherd

Boy and the Wolf (also known as The Boy Who Cried Wolf), are well-known throughout the world. French poet Jean de La Fontaine adapted many of the fables. Russian writer Leo Tolstoy wrote free

adaptations of some of his fables.

The Cock and the Pearl
The Wolf and the Lamb
The Dog and the Shadow
The Lion's Share
The Wolf and the Crane
The Man and the Serpent
The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse
The Fox and the Crow
The Sick Lion
The Ass and the Lapdog
The Lion and the Mouse
The Swallow and the Other Birds
The Frogs Desiring a King
The Mountains in Labour
The Hares and the Frogs
The Wolf and the Kid
The Woodman and the Serpent
The Bald Man and the Fly
The Fox and the Stork
The Fox and the Mask
The Jay and the Peacock
The Frog and the Ox
The Bat, the Birds, and the Beasts
The Hart and the Hunter
The Serpent and the File
The Man and the Wood
The Dog and the Wolf
The Belly and the Members
The Hart in the Ox-Stall
The Fox and the Grapes
The Horse, Hunter, and Stag
The Peacock and Juno
The Fox and the Lion
The Lion and the Statue
The Ant and the Grasshopper
The Tree and the Reed
The Fox and the Cat
The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
The Dog in the Manger
The Man and the Wooden God
The Fisher
The Shepherd's Boy
The Young Thief and His Mother
The Man and His Two Wives
The Nurse and the Wolf
The Tortoise and the Birds
The Two Crabs
The Ass in the Lion's Skin
The Two Fellows and the Bear
The Two Pots
The Four Oxen and the Lion
The Fisher and the Little Fish
Avaricious and Envious
The Crow and the Pitcher
The Man and the Satyr
The Goose With the Golden Eggs
The Labourer and the Nightingale
The Fox, the Cock, and the Dog
The Wind and the Sun
Hercules and the Waggoner
The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey
The Miser and His Gold
The Fox and the Mosquitoes
The Fox Without a Tail
The One-Eyed Doe
Belling the Cat
The Hare and the Tortoise
The Old Man and Death
The Hare With Many Friends
The Lion in Love
The Bundle of Sticks
The Lion, the Fox, and the Beasts
The Ass's Brains
The Eagle and the Arrow
The Milkmaid and Her Pail
The Cat-Maiden
The Horse and the Ass
The Trumpeter Taken Prisoner
The Buffoon and the Countryman
The Old Woman and the Wine-Jar
The Fox and the Goat

Favorite Fable:

A Peacock once placed a petition before Juno desiring to have the voice of a nightingale in addition to his other attractions; but Juno refused his request. When he persisted, and pointed out that he was her favourite bird, she said:

"Be content with your lot; one cannot be first in everything."

Bibilography: ~ Read the fables he wrote.

No comments: