Aesop’s stories have been around a long time, some 2500 years. There are so many different stories about Aesop, about the only thing everyone agrees on is that he was born around 620 B.C..
Some say Aesop was a Phrygian, others say he was not. It is known that he did live on the island of Samos for some time as a slave. Some stories say he was deformed and misshapen, an ugly man who could not speak. One story says that the goddess, Isis, gave Aesop the gift of speech for his kindness in helping one of her priestesses who had lost her way. Whatever be true, it seems that he was a man of great wit and his name became legendary for telling clever little animal tales when discussing and negotiating and making points and comments.

Aesop’s wisdom so delighted one of his masters that the slave was given his freedom. His storytelling became so popular that he was in demand in courts throughout Greece. Aesop's truths, however, disturbed some people so much that they plotted to put an end to him. One story says that they put a golden goblet among his belongings, making it look as if he had stolen it. He was then put in prison, later to be thrown from a cliff and killed.

Another story says that Aesop was heard to utter a prophetic story as he was hurled off the cliff - a story that told of famine and pestilence. And so it came to pass and many of the people of that town died from hunger and disease.

Aesop died, but the stories lived on. From mouth to mouth, country to country, culture to culture they traveled, changing, but staying the same.

The collection of stories that we call Aesop’s Fables actually come from a variety of other sources. One famous collection of animal fables is the Pańchatantra, a Buddhist collection of fables written in Sanskrit in the 3rd century a.d..

There was once a king who had three sons who did not want schooling! Teacher after teacher was tried, but with no success. Along came a wise old man named Vishnu Sharman, and he knew what to do with those boys! He took those boys and told them stories. The stories were mostly of birds and animals that dealt with topics like: the loss of friends, the winning of friends, waging war, loss or gains, ill-considered gains. In this way, in just six months, the princes had learned the art of practical life. A life in which security, prosperity, friendship and good learning combined to produce happiness.

These stories, divided into 5 books, became the Pańchatantra. Many, if not most of these stories can be recognized as ‘Aesop’s Fables.’

Other stories came from the Jatakas. These are Buddha’s stories. Buddhists believe that the Buddha was reborn many times on Earth; sometimes as a king, sometimes as a peasant, sometimes as an animal. Like the Pańchatantra, these animal stories found in the collection of Aesop’s Fables are told to teach good principles.

These stories traveled in translations, and translations of translations, into Persian, Arabic, and Hebrew and finally in the 13th century, into Latin. Once available in Latin, these Eastern fables became widely known in Europe under the title of Fables of Bidpai.

The writing of fables was revived in France during the 17th century by the French Poet, Jean de la Fontaine. He wrote rhymed versions (over a 26 year period), and added many of his own.
It has been said that Aesop only created but a few of the fables, but he is still regarded as the greatest storyteller of all times, and thus all fables are almost always attributed to him.

You can’t tell the same story once - not even twice.
Zen Proverb


Bibliography:
Thompson, Stith The Folktale
Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend,
edited by Maria Leach
The Pańchatantra. The Book of India’s Folk Wisdom, translated by Patrick Olivelle
Demi, Buddha Stories.
Aesop, the Complete Fables
, translated by Oliva and Robert Temple

 

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