Book Four: Aesop’s Fables

After struggling through Dante’s Divine Comedies I picked out a much easier and shorter, but no less enjoyable book. Many of Aesops fables I knew of even if I wasn’t sure they were considered Aesop’s. There is The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg, known as The Man and His Goose, The Tortoise and the Hare, and The Boy Who Cried Wolf, known as The Shepherd’s Boy among others. There are 100 Fables that make up this version re-written by Munro Leaf and each were as morally delightful as the last. Aesops Fables are world renowned for teaching us quick moral lessons through short sometimes funny anecdotes, but nobody really knows who Aesop is, or if he was even a singular person. Ironically enough there is a Fable that goes along with Aesop’s Fables and it tells the story of how Aesop came to telling his stories.

In 600 B.C. in Greece there lived a man named Iadmon who owned a black slave. In those days not all slaves were black but those that were came from Ethiopia so this slave was simply know as Ethiop or Aesop. Aesop had an unfortunate knack for finding himself in trouble with his master; however he was smarter than most and was able to talk his way out of trouble by telling the sage tales that we have come to know in their collected works as the Fables of Aesop.

Many of Aesop’s tales were simple enough to decipher even though he used plants and animals mainly as his characters but his master Iadmon was a fool. Perhaps because of his foolishness he became very prideful of his storytelling slave and took him to the town to show him off. This continued until one day one of Iadmon’s friends offered to buy Aesop from him. Aesop was no physical specimen, he was unfit for hard labor had a squashed in face and was hunchbacked but the man paid Iadmon full price nonetheless (something I’m sure Iadmon regretted until his dying day).

By this time Aesop’s fables have been traveling from person to person, though nobody bothered to write them down. Sadly Aesop too had been traveling from person to person until he found himself in the ownership of the Emperor Croesus. The Emperor sought to use Aesop’s sage tongue to act as an ambassador to Delphi and to distribute sums of money to the Delphian. When they came to a disagreement one day Aesop decided he would distribute the money no more until an agreement was made. This angered the Delphian and since they could not come to an agreement they took to force. In one of the first ever recorded lynch mobs the Delphian pushed Aesop from a cliff and that was the end of Aesop. However, his fables had been passed from mouth to mouth for years and in the early third century A.D. were finally written down. They have been translated and updated to modern language countless times but the stories remain the same and Aesop’s sage wisdom was preserved from the same fate his earthly body was destined.

This version of Aesop’s Fables was updated by Munro Leaf, and if that name is familiar to you it is because he is the author of one of the most celebrated children’s works: Ferdinand the Bull. The story of Ferdinand is about a bull who would rather smell the flowers in pasture then go into the ring and fight with the bullfighters. Leaf brought a great modernization to the stories where they are easy for a child to follow and understand the message but you do not lose the fact that these are ancient stories. One of my favorites was The Ass in the Lion’s Skin. It went something like this:

“An Ass one day found a Lion’s skin and, being a stupid creature he put it on and ran through the woods and meadows scaring the life out of all the flocks and herds. There was so much excitement and terror that the Ass thought he was quite remarkable. Pretty soon he met his owner and thought, “Well, here’s where I scare him too.” But his master saw his long ears sticking out and recognized him. So the master picked up a good big stick and beat a lesson into the foolish head – that, Lion Skin or no Lion Skin, he was still just a stupid Ass. The point –> Don’t pretend to be something that you are not. Someone is sure to find out”

These stories are also a reinforcement of something I wholeheartedly believe and that is it is imperative to read to children. Not all things read to children are as blatantly moralistic as Aesop’s  Fables but children take a great deal from the stories they hear. I can remember my older cousin telling me stories about a key she wore around her neck and all the magical places she could go because that key opened the door. This story wasn’t so much of a lesson or a cautionary tale but it made me open my imagination and allowed me to flex my creative muscles at a young age that I believe really comes in handy later in life.

I know when I have children I will be reading them a great deal of stories and books weather it is before bed or just at random times during the day. I also know that eventually when they are somewhat mature enough to understand the messages (even though they will be reinforced before then) I will present Aesop’s Fables to them and hopefully they will be able to take some great things from them. This little book is full of moral lessons such as treat others as you wish to be treated, and don’t make promises you can’t keep, but has some that are a little darker such as some people aren’t worth helping, and people who seem too eager to be friendly should be watched the closest. The stories are quick and fun and each give a little tidbit worth remembering, there’s not much more of a fulfilling read than that.

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