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Aesop's Fables... Origins and Purpose

Discussion in 'Greek and Roman Mythology' started by sooda, Jun 13, 2019.

  1. sooda

    sooda Well-Known Member

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    Written by a former Greek slave, in the late to mid-6th century BCE, Aesop’s Fables are the world’s best known collection of morality tales. The fables, numbering 725, were originally told from person-to-person as much for entertainment purposes but largely as a means for relaying or teaching a moral or lesson.

    These early stories are essentially allegorical myths often portraying animals or insects e.g. foxes, grasshoppers, frogs, cats, dogs, ants, crabs, stags, and monkeys representing humans engaged in human-like situations (a belief known as animism). Ultimately the fables represent one of the oldest characteristics of human life: storytelling.

    Origins

    The origins of the fables pre-date the Greeks. Sumerian proverbs, written some 1,500 years before Christ, share similar characteristics and structure as the later Greek fables.

    The Sumerian proverbs included an animal character and often contained some practical piece of advice for living (“You should not boast; then your words will be trusted”). The writing style of both the earlier proverbs and the later fables were simple and direct. Neither contains many words.

    The situations re-counted in the stories begin with some type of incident and conclude with a punch line which would transform into the oft-recognized moral of the tale. It is much later that writers would begin to include the moral either at the beginning of the story (designed to tell the reader the purpose of the tale upfront) or was added to the end (to instruct the reader what the story was supposed to teach). Ultimately, the fables are designed to highlight both desired and undesirable human behaviors: what to do or what not to do.

    FABLES ARE DESIGNED TO HIGHLIGHT BOTH DESIRED AND UNDESIRABLE HUMAN BEHAVIORS: WHAT TO DO OR WHAT NOT TO DO.

    The fables, written down in Greek between the 10th-16th centuries CE, may not be recorded in the exact words as when they were first told. Over time, and largely due to the numerous times the stories were re-told, words may have been changed or eliminated in order to fit the storyteller’s purpose. Despite these changes, one characteristic that most of the fables share is the role of animals in the stories.

    The animals display human-like qualities, especially the characteristics of speech and behavior. In effect, the stories are designed to mimic human life. Most of the stories/fables are meant to highlight bad or poor human decisions and behaviors. In order to allow the animals to appear in multiple tales and roles, Aesop did not restrict the animals to behaving in a manner generally associated with that particular animal e.g. the cunning fox, the slow turtle. These looser characterizations allow for the animals to appear in other settings acting in different manners.

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  2. sooda

    sooda Well-Known Member

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    Purpose
    Often the focus of Greek learning, especially regarding instruction for children in reading and writing, Aesop’s Fables served a multitude of additional purposes.

    Politically, the fables emerged in a time period of Greek history when authoritarian rule often made free & open speech dangerous for the speaker.

    The fables served as a means by which criticisms against the government could be expressed without fear of punishment. In effect, the stories served as a code by which the weak and powerless could speak out against the strong and powerful.

    THE SUBVERSIVE NATURE OF THE TALES ALLOWED THE LOWER CLASSES IN GREEK SOCIETY A MEANS OF ESCAPE FROM A SOCIETY.

    Additionally, the stories served to remind the weak that being clever could provide a means by which they could succeed against the powerful. The subversive nature of the tales allowed the lower classes in Greek society a means of escape from a society which was often oriented around the idea that “might makes right.”

    The fables were also considered as a valuable tool in speeches especially as a means to persuade others about a specific point. Aristotle, in his Rhetoric, argued that in the absence of any concrete evidence for proving one’s point that a fable could just as well support one’s argument.

    The fables served as a form of children’s’ entertainment beyond being a simple teaching tool. The fables transmitted important life lessons while also describing the “world of childhood.”

    The primary characters often acted in a child-like manner. The stories described the challenges of adulthood thus allowing young readers to engage with the characters and morals of adulthood at an early age.

    The stories also provided an opportunity for a measure of self-reflection. At those moments when Greeks suspected their culture or civilization was not living up to expectations, the fables provided an opportunity for a degree of self-reflection.

    Although humans and animals share similar traits, humans are different due to their power of reason which allows humans to make different choices about life and living.

    continued

    Aesop's Fables
     
  3. sooda

    sooda Well-Known Member

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    Examples of Aesop's Fables
    The Serpent & the Eagle

    An Eagle swooped down upon a Serpent and seized it in his talons with the intention of carrying it off and devouring it. But the Serpent was too quick for him and had its coils round him in a moment; and then there ensued a life-and-death struggle between the two. A countryman, who was a witness of the encounter, came to the assistance of the eagle, and succeeded in freeing him from the Serpent and enabling him to escape. In revenge, the Serpent spat some of his poison into the man's drinking-horn. Heated with his exertions, the man was about to slake his thirst with a draught from the horn, when the Eagle knocked it out of his hand, and spilled its contents upon the ground.

    Moral: One good turn deserves another.
     
  4. SomeRandom

    SomeRandom Still learning to be wise

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    I remember being saddened by this one as a kid. (This is how it sounded in my head.)
    One day a man returns home to find his house a mess and the cradle his baby sleeps in overturned.
    His hound was covered in blood and greeted his master triumphantly. The man, thinking the dog had killed his baby, bashed it over the head.
    Then, when sorting through the mess, the man found the baby alive and unharmed. Beside it lay a dead snake, slain by the ever faithful hound.
    Moral. Never jump to conclusions.
    I was so upset the man killed his dog, my own dad had to console me lol
     
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  5. sooda

    sooda Well-Known Member

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    That's a good one.. I never knew there were hundreds of them.
     
  6. SomeRandom

    SomeRandom Still learning to be wise

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    I have an illustrated leather bound edition. There’s quite a few cool ones. Though even as a kid, I could tell there was something kind of “primitive” about them. Not in a sense that they were bad, but in the same way ancient folklore seems like the building blocks of modern folklore. Or that it contains something kind of primal. If that makes sense?
     
  7. sooda

    sooda Well-Known Member

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    Makes sense to me..

    The origins of the fables pre-date the Greeks. Sumerian proverbs, written some 1,500 years before Christ, share similar characteristics and structure as the later Greek fables.
     
  8. shmogie

    shmogie Well-Known Member
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    Me too ! I am not sure if it is one of Aesops, or not. I do know that in the version I read the dog was named, I can´t remember it now. I gave my puppy that name.
     
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  9. sooda

    sooda Well-Known Member

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    Aesop's Fables that Reference Dogs
    aesopsfables.org/C9_aesops_fables_about_dogs.html
    Dogs. There are 20 fables in the 'Dogs' category. Some are short and some are long, but all of them are historically and morally interesting. ...

    Click one of the fable titles below to read the desired fable. (The fables in this category are listed in alphabetical order based on their title.)

     
  10. SomeRandom

    SomeRandom Still learning to be wise

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    It is. It’s in my Aesop’s Fables collection. It’s called the Farmer and his Dog. Or alternatively, the dog and his master. Or some variation.
     
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  11. shmogie

    shmogie Well-Known Member
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    Does it have a name for the dog ?
     
  12. SomeRandom

    SomeRandom Still learning to be wise

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    No. But it potentially could in a children’s retelling.
     
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  13. shmogie

    shmogie Well-Known Member
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    Did some research. The story I read as a kid was allegedly from 12th century Wales.

    A prince finds the babyś bed upturned and in a rage kills the dog left to guard the baby.

    He then finds the baby OK and a dead wolf.

    The dogs name was Gelert.
     
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  14. SomeRandom

    SomeRandom Still learning to be wise

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    Well there are many retellings of myths from all over the world.
    As a kid I had both the Indian and Western versions of seemingly the same folk stories.
    Like the scorpion and the frog fable from Aesop becomes the mongoose and the snake in India.
    Myths have a very universal appeal because they can literally fit every culture, with only minor changes.

    I have something of a sweet tooth when it comes to myth, folklore and fairytales.
     
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  15. Estro Felino

    Estro Felino Believer in free will
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    I like the fable The fox and the grapes.
    The fox who could not reach the grapes said they were sour.
     
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