What’s it all about?:
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 collections of 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.
What did I think?:
This is the first book in my Kid-Lit challenge which I participate in with my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads. It’s also one I’ve been meaning to get round to for a while as I find some of the old fables quite amusing and charming. This collection consists of 600 original fables, attributed to Aesop but acknowledged to be written by a number of classical scholars including Aristophanes, Phalereus and Socrates. Aesop himself was thought to be a slave and storyteller who lived in ancient Greece during the 5th century BC, if indeed he existed at all. Most fables from around this time are connected to Aesop if there is no other known literary source and passed down by oral tradition. The fables are mostly quite short in order to get the point across, and include a moral or expand on a proverb. The philosopher John Locke was determined on the idea that they could be used to teach young children and in effect, groom young minds.
Aesop’s fables, in his opinion are
“apt to delight and entertain a child. . . yet afford useful reflection to a grown man. And if his memory retain them all his life after, he will not repent to find them there, amongst his manly thoughts and serious business. If his Aesop has pictures in it, it will entertain him much better, and encourage him to read when it carries the increase of knowledge with it For such visible objects children hear talked of in vain, and without any satisfaction, whilst they have no ideas of them; those ideas being not to be had from sounds, but from the things themselves, or their pictures.”
Some of the fables were quite new to me (well, there are six hundred!) but others were old favourites that I immediately recognised including The Tortoise and The Hare, Androcles and the Lion, The Boy Who Cried Wolf and The Ant and the Cricket. All include a little lesson for life that we recognise in sayings such as: “slow and steady wins the race,” “a wolf in sheeps clothing,” “one swallow does not a summer make,” some of which I hadn’t realised originated from these classic fables. As for being a tool for teaching, I do agree that children can learn some valuable lessons when regarding morality and the difference between bad and good. However, some of the fables require serious revising or re-structuring to conform to today’s moral code. I’m talking about the ones that advocate slavery, are highly sexist or accuse all Arabs of being evil.
In general, there’s a really nice set of fables here that have the potential to be revised and updated to reflect current times more accurately. At times it felt a bit tedious (perhaps six hundred fables at once is a bit much?), and there are a few that seem slightly repetitive save for a change in animal, but I enjoyed the book on a whole. I also found the structure quite interesting i.e. it was split up into different categories – fables about slaves and masters, fables about self-destruction and even fables with a bit of toilet humour. And hey, who isn’t delighted and entertained by a talking animal?!
These are a couple of my favourites that I think illustrate a dry wit that has stayed with us through the centuries and imprinted itself on our memories.
The Mother, the Child and the Crow
The mother of a small baby consulted a soothsayer who told her that her child would be killed by a crow. Terrified, the mother ordered that a large chest be built and she shut her baby inside, protecting him so that no crow could harm him. She continued in this way, opening the chest at regular intervals in order to give the baby the food that he needed. Then one day, after she had opened the chest and was using an iron bar to prop up the lid, the child recklessly stuck his head out. At that moment, the iron bar – it was a crow bar – fell down on top of the boy’s head and killed him.
Zeus and the Tortoise
Zeus invited all the animals to his wedding. The tortoise alone was absent, and Zeus did not know why, so he asked the tortoise her reason for not having come to the feast. The tortoise said, “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.” Zeus got angry at the tortoise and ordered her to carry her house with her wherever she went.
For Chrissi’s take on Aesop’s Fables please see her fabulous post HERE.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):