Aesop’s Fables: a quick introduction

So, this whole week of Folktale and Fables got me thinking: I don’t know an awful lot about them. If you’d asked me on Monday to name three I’m not sure I’d have been able to get there. Thankfully, since then, I’ve broadened my knowledge and expanded my folky-fabley-fairy-taley education and have three wonderful tales to share with you!

So far I’ve mostly been looking at a particular group known as ‘Aesop’s fables’. Aesop’s fables were originally shared by word-of-mouth without being written down until approximately 300 years after the death of Aesop himself. Aesop was a slave and storyteller believed by most historians to have been the author of the Aesopica (otherwise known as Aesop’s fables). He was said to have lived from between 620 – 540 BC and his tales are used all over the world to teach moral lessons and inspire more complex narratives.

In particular they can be easily identified by their simple names; often the format is something along the lines of: “The [insert animal here] and the [insert different animal here]” and tells a story that most of us can find relatable in one way or another. Here are the three I thought you might like…

The Tortoise and the Hare

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This one you will have no doubt heard 1000 times: the story of the slow tortoise who beats the speedy hare in a race (huge apologies if that’s somehow a spoiler but really you should have known that already.)

~

There once was a speedy hare who bragged about how fast he could run. Tired of hearing him boast, Slow and Steady, the tortoise, challenged him to a race. All the animals in the forest gathered to watch.

Hare ran down the road for a while and then and paused to rest. He looked back at Slow and Steady and cried out, “How do you expect to win this race when you are walking along at your slow, slow pace?”

Hare stretched himself out alongside the road and fell asleep, thinking, “There is plenty of time to relax.”

Slow and Steady walked and walked. He never, ever stopped until he came to the finish line.

The animals who were watching cheered so loudly for Tortoise, they woke up Hare.

Hare stretched and yawned and began to run again, but it was too late. Tortoise was over the line.

After that, Hare always reminded himself, “Don’t brag about your lightning pace, for Slow and Steady won the race!” [Story sourced from www.storyarts.org]

~

There are a few different variations on this one, some highlight patience, others modesty. There are even versions that include more trickery than just perseverance from the dear tortoise, a message that ingenuity and outsmarting your opponent are the best ways to succeed. It’s a kind of brains vs. brawn deal in that version and it continues to be taught to children year in, year out.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf or “The Shepherd Boy and the Wolf”

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This is another of Aesop’s most widely known fables and concerns the life of a shepherd’s boy and his own tall tales.

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A Shepherd Boy tended his master’s Sheep near a dark forest not far from the village. Soon he found life in the pasture very dull. All he could do to amuse himself was to talk to his dog or play on his shepherd’s pipe.

One day as he sat watching the Sheep and the quiet forest, and thinking what he would do should he see a Wolf, he thought of a plan to amuse himself.

His Master had told him to call for help should a Wolf attack the flock, and the Villagers would drive it away. So now, though he had not seen anything that even looked like a Wolf, he ran toward the village shouting at the top of his voice, “Wolf! Wolf!”

As he expected, the Villagers who heard the cry dropped their work and ran in great excitement to the pasture. But when they got there they found the Boy doubled up with laughter at the trick he had played on them.

A few days later the Shepherd Boy again shouted, “Wolf! Wolf!” Again the Villagers ran to help him, only to be laughed at again.

Then one evening as the sun was setting behind the forest and the shadows were creeping out over the pasture, a Wolf really did spring from the underbrush and fall upon the Sheep.

In terror the Boy ran toward the village shouting “Wolf! Wolf!” But though the Villagers heard the cry, they did not run to help him as they had before. “He cannot fool us again,” they said.

The Wolf killed a great many of the Boy’s sheep and then slipped away into the forest.

~

and the moral of this tale is, of course, that a person who lies wont be trusted, even when he speaks the truth. Plus, in the version I heard the boy gets eaten too! If that’s not an incentive to be an honest person I seriously do not know what is. I seriously doubt any of us really want to be gobbled up by a nasty wolf for telling a few porkies – it’s just not worth it.

The Grasshopper and the Toad

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This one is a little less well-known, though you might still have heard of it. It’s about the dinner party fiasco of a toad and  his friend the grasshopper.

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The story starts with our two characters: the grasshopper and the toad. The toad says to the grasshopper

“come over to dinner with me and the wife tomorrow”

So the grasshopper does. As he is eating the grasshopper is making chirping noises, rubbing his forelegs together as he eats. Toad’s not a big fan of this and asks him to stop, claiming

“I cannot eat with such noise!”

Grasshopper is embarrassed and upset – he’s so angry he cannot eat.

“How about you come to my place for dinner tomorrow?” he asks.

The toad obliges and turns up to grasshopper’s house ready to eat. Grasshopper sends toad to wash his forelegs before the meal. Toad hops back after doing so and, to grasshopper’s dismay, toad is again covered in mud. Grasshopper sends toad again, and again, getting frustrated at toad’s repeatedly dirty feet. Toad comes back for the fourth time in a fit of anger.

“you just don’t want me to eat with you! You know very well that I must use my forearms to get around – of course they are going to get dirty!” he exclaims. 

“you started it yesterday!” retorts the grasshopper “you know I can’t use my forelegs to eat without them making a noise!”

The pair, frustrated each by the other’s rudeness, part ways and are friends no more.

~

Or, at least, that’s the story as I understand it; the moral being that in order to maintain good relationships in life we must learn to accept the flaws we don’t always like in one-another. That’s a lesson we could all use reminding of every now and then!

Had you heard these stories before? Which one is your favourite? Do you have any other Favourite Aesop’s fables?

Let me know in the comments!


 – Cat –

1 COMMENT

  1. Paul Moore | 25th Mar 17

    Nice one Cat good reminder to everyone to think before they act! I knew the first two of old but the third is indeed news to me! Take care and keep up the interesting blog!

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