I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
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.
Wow, was this collection of the Fables different from what I remember reading as a child. As the translator points out, we now think of fables as children’s literature, but they were originally meant for an adult audience and it certainly shows in this volume. There are a few rude and crude fables and a small selection of humourous fables.
As a farm child, I was always excited when we received a new box of books in the mail from the University of Alberta through their library extension program. I know that I read multiple versions of Aesop, as well as loads of Greek mythology and various fairy tales. So I was familiar with a number of the sayings that we still have today that have their origins in these little stories.
Have you ever spoken of “receiving the lion’s share” of something, i.e. most of it? How about talking of a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Ever thought that someone’s negative assessment of something was just sour grapes? It’s amazing to me how many of our current sayings can be traced back into antiquity.
Although this book was in many ways a walk down memory lane, it also included so many fables that I had never encountered before. I was somewhat disconcerted with how many of them were designed to keep people in their appointed social ranks—telling slaves that getting a new owner didn’t necessarily mean an improvement in life, that freedmen should remember where they came from (somewhat ironic, as Aesop was reputedly a freedman), and that craftspeople should stick to their specialties rather than trying to acquire new skills.
A worthwhile read for those interested in the history of literature.