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Aesop's Fables (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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The fables of Aesop have become one of the most enduring traditions of European culture, ever since they were first written down nearly two millennia ago. Aesop was reputedly a tongue-tied slave who miraculously received the power of speech; from his legendary storytelling came the collectionsof prose and verse fables scattered throughout Greek and Roman literature. First published in English by Caxton in 1484, the fables and their morals continue to charm modern readers: who does not know the story of the tortoise and the hare, or the boy who cried wolf?This new translation is the first to represent all the main fable collections in ancient Latin and Greek, arranged according to the fables' contents and themes. It includes 600 fables, many of which come from sources never before translated into English.

Author Biography

D. L. Ashliman, an emeritus professor at the University of Pittsburgh, taught folklore, mythology, German, and comparative literature at that institution for 33 years. He has also served as guest professor at the University of Augsburg in Germany.

Table of Contents

The World of Aesop and His Fables ix
Introduction by D.L. Ashliman xiii
1. The Fox and the Grapes
2. The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs
3. The Cat and the Mice
4. The Mischievous Dog
5. The Charcoal Burner and the Fuller
6. The Mice in Council
7. The Bat and the Weasels
8. The Dog and the Sow
9. The Fox and the Crow
10. The Horse and the Groom
11. The Wolf and the Lamb
12. The Peacock and the Crane
13. The Cat and the Birds
14. The Spendthrift and the Swallow
15. The Old Woman and the Doctor
16. The Moon and Her Mother
17. Mercury and the Woodman
18. The Ass, the Fox, and the Lion
19. The Lion and the Mouse
20. The Crow and the Pitcher
21. The Boys and the Frogs
22. The North Wind and the Sun
23. The Mistress and Her Servants
24. The Goods and the Ills
25. The Hares and the Frogs
26. The Fox and the Stork
27. The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
28. The Stag in the Ox Stall
29. The Milkmaid and Her Pail
30. The Dolphins, the Whales, and the Sprat
31. The Fox and the Monkey
32. The Ass and the Lapdog
33. The Fir Tree and the Bramble
34. The Frogs' Complaint against the Sun
35. The Dog, the Cock, and the Fox
36. The Gnat and the Bull
37. The Bear and the "Travelers
38. The Slave and the Lion
39. The Flea and the Man
40. The Bee and Jupiter
41. The Oak and the Reeds
42. The Blind Man and the Cub
43. The Boy and the Snails
44. The Apes and the Two Travelers
45. The Ass and His Burdens
46. The Shepherd's Boy and the Wolf
47. The Fox and the Goat
48. The Fisherman and the Sprat
49. The Boasting Traveler
50. The Crab and His Mother
51. The Ass and His Shadow
52. The Farmer and His Sons
53. The Dog and the Cook
54. The Monkey as King
55. The Thieves and the Cock
56. The Farmer and Fortune
57. Jupiter and the Monkey
58. Father and Sons
59. The Lamp
60. The Owl and the Birds
61. The Ass in the Lion's Skin
62. The She-Goats and Their Beards
63. The Old Lion
64. The Boy Bathing
65. The Quack Frog
66. The Swollen Fox
67. The Mouse, the Frog, and the Hawk
68. The Boy and the Nettles
69. The Peasant and the Apple Tree
70. The Jackdaw and the Pigeons
71. Jupiter and the Tortoise
72. The Dog in the Manger
73. The Two Bags
74. The Oxen and the Axletrees
75. The Boy and the Filberts
76. The Frogs Asking for a King
77. The Olive Tree and the Fig Tree
78. The Lion and the Boar
79. The Walnut Tree
80. The Man and the Lion
81. The Tortoise and the Eagle
82. The Kid on the Housetop
83. The Fox without a Tail
84. The Vain Jackdaw
85. The Traveler and His Dog
86. The Shipwrecked Man and the Sea
87. The Wild Boar and the Fox
88. Mercury and the Sculptor
89. The Fawn and His Mother
90. The Fox and the Lion
91. The Eagle and His Captor
92. The Blacksmith and His Dog
93. The Stag at the Pool
94. The Dog and His Reflection
95. Mercury and the Tradesmen
96. The Mice and the Weasels
97. The Peacock and Juno
98. The Bear and the Fox
99. The Ass and the Old Peasant
100. The Ox and the Frog 100(1)
101. The Man and the Image 101(1)
102. Hercules and the Wagoner 102(1)
103. The Pomegranate, the Apple Tree, and the Bramble 103(1)
104. The Lion, the Bear, and the Fox 103(1)
105. The Blackamoor 104(1)
106. The Two Soldiers and the Robber 104(1)
107. The Lion and the Wild Ass 105(1)
108. The Man and the Satyr 106(2)
109. The Image Seller 108(1)
110. The Eagle and the Arrow 108(1)
111. The Rich Man and the Tanner 109(1)
112. The Wolf, the Mother, and Her Child 109(1)
113. The Old Woman and the Wine Jar 110(1)
114. The Lioness and the Vixen 111(1)
115. The Viper and the File 111(2)
116. The Cat and the Cock 113(1)
117. The Hare and the Tortoise 113(1)
118. The Soldier and the Horse 114(1)
119. The Oxen and the Butchers 114(1)
120. The Wolf and the Lion 115(1)
121. The Sheep, the Wolf, and the Stag 115(1)
122. The Lion and the Three Bulls 116(1)
123. The Horse and His Rider 116(1)
124. The Goat and the Vine 117(2)
125. The Two Pots 119(1)
126. The Old Hound 119(1)
127. The Clown and the Countryman 120(1)
128. The Lark and the Farmer 121(1)
129. The Lion and the Ass 122(1)
130. The Prophet 123(1)
131. The Hound and the Hare 124(1)
132. The Lion, the Mouse, and the Fox 125(1)
133. The Trumpeter Taken Prisoner 125(2)
134. The Wolf and the Crane 127(1)
135. The Eagle, the Cat, and the Wild Sow 127(1)
136. The Wolf and the Sheep 128(1)
137. The Tuna Fish and the Dolphin 129(1)
138. The Three Tradesmen 129(1)
139. The Mouse and the Bull 130(1)
140. The Hare and the Hound 131(1)
141. The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse 132(1)
142. The Lion and the Bull 133(2)
143. The Wolf; the Fox, and the Ape 135(1)
144. The Eagle and the Cocks 135(1)
145. The Escaped Jackdaw 136(1)
146. The Farmer and the Fox 137(1)
147. Venus and the Cat 138(2)
148. The Crow and the Swan 140(1)
149. The Stag with One Eye 141(1)
150. The Fly and the Draft Mule 141(2)
151. The Cock and the Jewel 143(1)
152. The Wolf and the Shepherd 143(1)
153. The Farmer and the Stork 144(1)
154. The Charger and the Miller 144(1)
155. The Grasshopper and the Owl 145(1)
156. The Grasshopper and the Ants 146(1)
157. The Farmer and the Viper 147(1)
158. The Two Frogs 147(1)
159. The Cobbler Turned Doctor 148(1)
160. The Ass, the Cock, and the Lion 148(1)
161. The Belly and the Members 149(1)
162. The Bald Man and the Fly 150(1)
163. The Ass and the Wolf 151(1)
164. The Monkey and the Camel 152(1)
165. The Sick Man and the Doctor 153(2)
166. The Travelers and the Plane Tree 155(1)
167. The Flea and the Ox 155(1)
168. The Birds, the Beasts, and the Bat 156(1)
169. The Man and His Two Mistresses 156(1)
170. The Eagle, the Jackdaw, and the Shepherd 157(1)
171. The Wolf and the Boy 158(1)
172. The Miller, His Son, and Their Ass 158(2)
173. The Stag and the Vine 160(1)
174. The Lamb Chased by a Wolf 160(1)
175. The Archer and the Lion 161(2)
176. The Wolf and the Goat 163(1)
177. The Sick Stag 163(1)
178. The Ass and the Mule 164(1)
179. Brother and Sister 165(1)
180. The Heifer and the Ox 166(1)
181. The Kingdom of the Lion 167(1)
182. The Ass and His Driver 168(1)
183. The Lion and the Hare 168(1)
184. The Wolves and the Dogs 169(1)
185. The Bull and the Calf 169(2)
186. The Trees and the Ax 171(1)
187. The Astronomer 171(1)
188. The Laborer and the Snake 172(1)
189. The Caged Bird and the Bat 172(1)
190. The Ass and His Purchaser 173(1)
191. The Kid and the Wolf 174(1)
192. The Debtor and His Sow 175(1)
193. The Bald Huntsman 175(1)
194. The Herdsman and the Lost Bull 176(1)
195. The Hound and the Fox 176(1)
196. The Mule 177(1)
197. The Father and His Daughters 177(1)
198. The Thief and the Innkeeper 178(1)
199. The Pack Ass and the Wild Ass 179(1)
200. The Ass and His Masters 179(1)
201. The Pack Ass, the Wild Ass, and the Lion 180(1)
202. The Ant 181(1)
203. The Frogs and the Well 182(1)
204. The Crab and the Fox 182(2)
205. The Fox and the Grasshopper 184(1)
206. The Farmer, His Boy, and the Rooks 184(1)
207. The Ass and the Dog 185(1)
208. The Ass Carrying the Image 186(1)
209. The Athenian and the Theban 187(2)
210. The Goatherd and the Goat 189(1)
211. The Sheep and the Dog 189(1)
212. The Shepherd and the Wolf 190(1)
213. The Lion, Jupiter, and the Elephant 190(2)
214. The Pig and the Sheep 192(1)
215. The Gardener and His Dog 192(1)
216. The Rivers and the Sea 193(1)
217. The Lion in Love 193(1)
218. The Beekeeper 194(1)
219. The Wolf and the Horse 194(2)
220. The Bat, the Bramble, and the Seagull 196(1)
221. "The Dog and the Wolf 196(1)
222. The Wasp and the Snake 197(1)
223. The Eagle and the Beetle 198(1)
224. The Fowler and the Lark 199(1)
225. The Fisherman Piping 200(1)
226. The Weasel and the Man 200(2)
227. The Plowman, the Ass, and the Ox 202(1)
228. Demades and His Fable 202(1)
229. The Monkey and the Dolphin 203(2)
230. The Crow and the Snake 205(1)
231. The Dogs and the Fox 205(1)
232. The Nightingale and the Hawk 206(1)
233. The Rose and the Amaranth 206(1)
234. The Man, the Horse, the Ox, and the Dog 207(1)
235. The Wolves, the Sheep, and the Ram 208(1)
236. The Swan 208(1)
237. The Snake and Jupiter 209(1)
238. The Wolf and His Shadow 210(1)
239. The Plowman and the Wolf 211(1)
240. Mercury and the Man Bitten by an Ant 211(1)
241. The Wily Lion 212(1)
242. The Parrot and the Cat 213(1)
243. The Stag and the Lion 213(1)
244. The Imposter 214(1)
245. The Dogs and the Hides 214(1)
246. The Lion, the Fox, and the Ass 215(1)
247. The Fowler, the Partridge, and the Cock 216(1)
248. The Gnat and the Lion 217(2)
249. The Farmer and His Dogs 219(1)
250. The Eagle and the Fox 219(1)
251. The Butcher and His Customers 220(1)
252. Hercules and Minerva 221(1)
253. The Fox Who Served a Lion 221(1)
254. The Quack Doctor 222(1)
255. The Lion, the Wolf, and the Fox 223(1)
256. Hercules and Plutus 224(1)
257. The Fox and the Leopard 225(1)
258. The Fox and the Hedgehog 225(1)
259. The Crow and the Raven 226(1)
260. The Witch 227(1)
261. The Old Man and Death 227(2)
262. The Miser 229(1)
263. The Foxes and the River 229(1)
264. The Horse and the Stag 230(1)
265. The Fox and the Bramble 230(1)
266. The Fox and the Snake 231(1)
267. The Lion, the Fox, and the Stag 231(2)
268. The Man Who Lost His Spade 233(1)
269. The Partridge and the Fowler 233(1)
270. The Runaway Slave 234(1)
271. The Hunter and the Woodman 234(1)
272. The Serpent and the Eagle 235(1)
273. The Rogue and the Oracle 236(1)
274. The Horse and the Ass 237(1)
275. The Dog Chasing a Wolf 238(1)
276. Grief and His Due 238(1)
277. The Hawk, the Kite, and the Pigeons 239(1)
278. The Woman and the Farmer 239(1)
279. Prometheus and the Making of Man 240(1)
280. The Swallow and the Crow 240(1)
281. The Hunter and the Horseman 241(1)
282. The Goatherd and the Wild Goats 241(1)
283. The Nightingale and the Swallow 242(1)
284. The Traveler and Fortune 243(2)
Glossary of Names and Terms from Classical Mythology 245(4)
Appendix (Aesopic Fables and Their Aarne-Thompson Type Numbers) 249(3)
Inspired by Aesop 's Fables 252(3)
Comments & Questions 255(3)
For Further Reading 258(2)
Alphabetical Index of Fables 260


From D. L. Ashliman's Introduction to Aesop's Fables

“Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched!” “He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” “She has a sour-grapes attitude.” “They are killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.” “He demands the lion’s share.” “Don’t be like the boy who called ‘wolf!’” These expressions are so much a part of our everyday language and culture that they seem to have been with us forever, and that is almost the case, for the fables that produced these proverbial sayings are indeed even older than (to name but three) the modern English, French, and German languages where today they are so much at home. The fables behind these sayings are those of arguably the most famous storyteller of all time, the legendary Aesop. Who was the man who created these timeless literary gems?

The Man Aesop

Aesop (sometimes spelled Æsop, Æsopus, Esop, Esope, or—using the Greek form of his name—Aisopos) has been known in history and in legend since the fifth century b.c., or earlier, as a gifted Greek storyteller and the author of the world’s best-known collection of fables. However, it cannot be proven with any degree of certainty that he existed as a real person. Most modern scholars believe that Aesop was instead a name invented, already in antiquity, to provide attribution for a body of oral tales whose true authors were a number of anonymous storytellers. Martin Luther expressed this view some 500 years ago: “Attributing these stories to Aesop is, in my opinion, itself a fiction. Perhaps there has never been on earth a man by the name of Aesop” (quoted in Jacobs, History of the Aesopic Fabl, p. 15; see “For Further Reading”).

Although it is possible that there was indeed a gifted Greek storyteller by the name of Aesop, his reputation expanded to legendary proportions in the decades and centuries following his death, and with time many more stories and deeds were credited to him than he could have composed and performed. Supporting this view, many of the earliest references to the stories of Aesop refer to Aesopic (or Aesopian) fables rather than Aesop’s fables. In other words, Aesopic, an adjective, describes a kind of story and a literary tradition but does not claim to identify a specific author.

One thing is certain: Aesop, if he existed at all, did not leave behind a collection of written fables. His reputation is that of an oral storyteller, not an author of written literature. The oldest references to his fables refer to tales memorized and retold, not written and read. For example, from Aristophanes’s comedy Wasps (written in 422 b.c.) we learn that telling anecdotes and comic stories in the style of Aesop was common entertainment at banquets in ancient Athens. More seriously, in 360 b.c. Plato recorded in his dialog Phaedo (section 61b) that Socrates, under sentence of death in prison, diverted himself by reformulating some of Aesop’s fables. Plato’s Phaedo quotes Socrates himself: “I took some fables of Aesop, which I had ready at hand and knew, and turned them into verse.” The doomed philosopher did not have a book or manuscript of Aesop’s fables in prison with him, if such a book or manuscript even existed at the time. He knew the fables from memory, as did the partygoers in Aristophanes’s comedy.

The most frequently cited ancient reference to the man Aesop is found in the History of the Greco-Persian Wars written by the Greek historian Herodotus about 425 b.c. Here we learn that Aesop, the fable writer, was a slave of Iadmon, son of Hephaestopolis, a Samian, and that Iadmon’s grandson (also named Iadmon) claimed and received compensation for the murder of Aesop. If this account is true, Aesop would have lived during the sixth century b.c. Apart from this sketchy biography, Herodotus recorded essentially no additional details about the fable writer.

However, later Greek and Roman writers were not so reticent. One body of literature is particularly relevant in this regard. Usually referred to as The Life of Aesop, this work has survived in a number of medieval manuscripts by different anonymous compilers and is based on earlier accounts, now lost. The statements about Aesop’s life history contained in the different versions of this work often contradict one another, or they are so miraculous and fantastic as to be unbelievable by modern standards.

The ultimate source of these accounts is undoubtedly folklore: anonymous legends told and retold by generations of oral storytellers. The Life of Aesop is today generally held to be fiction, but as is the case with many legends, there could be at least a kernel of truth in one or more of the episodes. The following biographical outline has been gleaned from different versions of The Life of Aesop, most prominently the accounts published by Lloyd W. Daly in his Aesop without Morals (pp. 31–90) and the Everyman’s Library version of Aesop: Fables (pp. 17–45).

Aesop was born a slave, or possibly was captured into slavery at an early age. His birthplace is variously stated as Thrace, Phrygia, Ethiopia, Samos, Athens, or Sardis. He was dark-skinned. In fact, it is said that his name was derived from Aethiop (Ethiopian). He was physically deformed: a hunchback, pot belly, misshapen head, snub nose, and bandy legs are often mentioned. Although in his early years he suffered from a serious speech impediment, or—according to some—the inability to speak at all, he was cured through the intervention of a deity and became a gifted orator, especially skillful at incorporating fables into his speeches.

As a young man Aesop was transported by a slave trader to Ephesus (in modern Turkey). Because of his grotesque appearance, no one there would buy him, so he was taken to the island of Samos, where he was examined by Xanthus, identified in the manuscripts as “an eminent philosopher,” but a person whose existence cannot be verified historically. At first repulsed by Aesop’s appearance, Xanthus changed his mind when the slave proclaimed, “A philosopher should value a man for his mind, not for his body.” Impressed with Aesop’s astuteness, Xanthus purchased him as a manservant for his wife.

Aesop soon proved himself to be an irreverent and sarcastic trickster with a clever retort for every occasion. The following episode is typical of many others illustrating how Aesop’s quick wit saved him from punishment, sometimes deserved, sometimes not: Xanthus, wanting to know what fate awaited him on a particular day, sent Aesop to see if any crows were outside the door. According to popular belief, two crows would portend good fortune, whereas a single crow would be an omen of bad luck. Aesop saw a pair of crows and reported this to his master, who then set forth with good cheer. Upon opening the door, Xanthus saw only a single crow, for one of them had flown away, and he angrily turned on his slave for having tricked him into beginning a dangerous venture. “You shall be whipped for this!” said Xanthus, and while Aesop was being readied for his punishment a messenger arrived at the door with an invitation for Xanthus to dine with his friends. “Your omens have no meaning!” cried Aesop. “I saw the auspicious pair of crows, yet I am about to be beaten like a dog, whereas you saw the ominous single crow, and you are about to make merry with your friends.” Perceiving the irony and the wisdom of this observation, Xanthus released Aesop and spared him the threatened punishment.

Aesop’s cleverness extended from word to deed. An unrepentant trickster, his pranks ranged from tricking his fellow slaves into carrying the heavier burdens to seducing his master’s wife with her unwitting husband’s apparent blessing. His tricks often were masked by feigned stupidity on his part, which has led commentators to compare him to the German Till Eulenspiegel and the Turkish Nasreddin Hoca, two of the world’s most rascally but beloved tricksters.

Aesop’s legendary wisdom and shrewdness sometimes moved into the realm of the supernatural. He could solve seemingly impossible riddles and conundrums, foretell the future with uncanny accuracy, and unerringly discover hidden treasures. A master of human psychology, he understood what motivated people to act, and used this knowledge to manipulate them to his advantage. As his life progressed he moved to ever greater venues: from a trickster in a slave’s workroom to a lecturer in a philosopher’s auditorium to a diplomat and councilor in the courts of governors and kings.

With time his cunning, wisdom, and oratory skills brought him freedom from slavery, but in the end they cost him his life. At Delphi the citizens, offended by his lack of respect for their aristocracy and for their principal deity Apollo, planted a golden cup in his baggage, then accused him of temple theft.

Sentenced to die by being thrown over a cliff, Aesop pleaded his case with a series of fables, one of which was the story of “The Mouse, the Frog, and the Hawk” (no. 67 in the present collection). In this tale a frog and a mouse go swimming together in a pool with their feet tied together, but the mouse drowns. The frog, burdened by the dead mouse, is now an easy prey for a hawk, which forthwith captures and devours him.

Aesop compared himself to the mouse and the Delphians to the frog. “You may kill me,” he predicted, “but my unjust death will bring you great misfortune.” Aesop was executed near Delphi, and his dire prediction came true. Shortly after his death the region was visited with famine, pestilence, and warfare. The Delphians consulted the Oracle of Apollo as to the source of these calamities, and they received the answer that they were to make amends for the unjust death of Aesop. Accordingly they built there a pyramid in his honor.

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