Guest Author - Phyllis Doyle Burns
Aesop, writer of fables was supposedly born in 619 BC and died in 559 BC. He is best known as "The Fabulist", credited with "The Tortoise and the Hare". It is uncertain as to where his birthplace was and some scholars debate if he really existed. Was Aesop himself a myth?
Aristotle and other early Greek sources indicate that Aesop was born around 620 BC in Thrace at a site on the Black Sea coast. Later sources from the Roman imperial period claim Aesop was born in Phrygia, a kingdom in the west central part of Anatolia, in what is now modern-day Turkey. Callimachus, a third century BC poet, called the famed writer "Aesop of Sardis". Maximus of Tyre, a Greek rhetorician and philosopher, referred to Aesop as "the sage of Lydia".
Either Aesop traveled a lot, or there was much confusion and speculation about his true life. Aristotle and Herodotus claimed Aesop was a slave in Samos, a Greek island in the eastern Aegean Sea. In the time when Aesop lived, Samos was a particularly rich and powerful city-state.
Aesop reportedly was very intelligent and highly respected by the people who knew him, for both Aristotle and Herodotus told of how Aesop must eventually have been freed from his bondage when he argued as an advocate for a wealthy Samian. Plutarchus (46 - 150 CE), a Greek historian, biographer, and essayist, claimed that Aesop was sent to Delphi on a diplomatic mission by King Croesus of Lydia. Also, according to Plutarchus, Aesop dined with the Seven Sages of Greece, as he sat beside his friend, Solon, who was an Athenian statesman, lawmaker, and poet. Aesop, indeed, traveled with well known, intelligent, and wealthy people.
There are no writings by Aesop that survived. Numerous fables were, however, attributed to him and collected. In the centuries since Aesop's death, these attributions have been gathered and set in writing as a collection of Aesop's Fables.
In the folk book titled The Aesop Romance, it is written that Aesop wrote down his fables and deposited them in the library of King Croesus. Scholars speculate whether or not Aesop actually wrote the fables. Yet by the time of Classical Greece, the fables were widely known and still attributed to Aesop. The works of Aesop's Fables was transcribed by several writers in both Greek and Latin. Over time many authors made collections of the fables, but they have all been lost.
Sadly, Aesop came to a tragic end. Around 564 BC, when on his diplomatic mission from King Croesus, Aesop met with a violent death. Plutarchus tells that Aesop insulted the Delphians in some manner. A trumped-up charge falsely accused him of stealing from a temple. Aesop was sentenced to death and thrown from a cliff. In retribution from an unknown source, the Delphians then suffered a pestilence and famine.
Aesop's fables are famous world wide. His short tales portrayed human nature and life's truths. A fable is a short story with a moral -- often using animals or inanimate objects as characters. The moral is to make the distinction between the right way and the wrong way of doing things.
If Aesop did in fact exist, it is easy to imagine why he wrote fables about the truths in life and learning right from wrong. Aesop was not only a slave, but, of abnormal stature. He was depicted in sculpture, paintings and woodcuts as a dwarfish hunchback with deformed facial features and disproportionate limbs and body. How he was treated in life may have influenced his writings. If he really had been a dwarfish hunchback with deformed features and still treated with respect and honour, then this could very well have been an inspiration for writing tales of right and wrong and how one should be treated.
Aesop's fable of "The Ant and the Chrysalis"
An Ant nimbly running about in the sunshine in search of food came
across a Chrysalis that was very near its time of change. The
Chrysalis moved its tail, and thus attracted the attention of the Ant,
who then saw for the first time that it was alive. "Poor, pitiable
animal!" cried the Ant disdainfully. "What a sad fate is yours!
While I can run hither and thither, at my pleasure, and, if I wish,
ascend the tallest tree, you lie imprisoned here in your shell, with
power only to move a joint or two of your scaly tail." The Chrysalis
heard all this, but did not try to make any reply. A few days after,
when the Ant passed that way again, nothing but the shell remained.
Wondering what had become of its contents, he felt himself suddenly
shaded and fanned by the gorgeous wings of a beautiful Butterfly.
"Behold in me," said the Butterfly, "your much-pitied friend! Boast
now of your powers to run and climb as long as you can get me to
listen." So saying, the Butterfly rose in the air, and, borne along
and aloft on the summer breeze, was soon lost to the sight of the
Moral: Appearances are deceptive.
Aesop portrait in the Museo del Prado, by Diego Velasquez, 1640
Source: Public Domain, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Diego_Velasquez,_Aesop.jpg
Aesop by Wenceslas Hollar (1607 1677)
Source: Public Domain, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wenceslas_Hollar_-_Aesop_2.jpg
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