Aesop (620BC-560BC) gathered most of his stories and tales from hearsay and literally “passers-by”. Few are attributed to him and he is considered a gatherer rather than a creator of fables. However, if it weren’t for his ability at listening and realising their importance, the majority would probably have been lost forever.
He was probably born in Sardis on the Greek island of Samos. He was enslaved but his owner Iadmon, who was inspired by his wisdom and wit and gave him his freedom. He travelled the country as a defender of people’s rights. However, the ruler of Athens, Peisistratus, an opponent of free speech, got word of him and he was eventually condemned to death.
Some time later when free speech was established, some of the surviving fables were used by scholars as starting points for ethical debates. The first collection under the title “Assemblies of Aesopic Tales” appeared about 300BC in The Alexandria Library. Later, a Greek slave by the name of Phaedrus imitated the fables in Latin and brought together others from India and Libya to form the basis of the fables we know today. The first fables to be published in English were printed by William Caxton in 1484. Many have imitated fables throughout history, some of the more illustrious being Jonathan Swift, Benjamin Franklin and Leo Tolstoy.
However, all of them share the common purpose of revealing a universal truth or a simple moral. Here’s one of them and more to come later.
The Dog, the Cock, and the Fox
A dog and a cock set out on their travels together and by nightfall they found themselves in a forest. So the cock flew up into a tree and perched himself on a high branch, while the dog dozed below at the foot. When day finally dawned, the cock, as usual, crowed very loudly and drew the attention of a fox, who thought he would make a meal of him. So, he approached the tree and spoke to the cock from beneath the branches,
“You’re a good–looking little bird and most useful to your fellow creatures. So, why don’t you come down, and we can sing our matins and rejoice together?”
“Go to the foot of the tree, my good friend,” replied the cock, “and tell my sacristan to toll the bell.”
But when the fox approached the foot of the tree, the dog promptly jumped up and made a quick end of him.
The moral of this fable is: “He who lays traps for others is often caught by his own snare.”
Happy English learning!!