Short Stories for Teachers
Everyone is familiar with Aesop's Fables. They are short stories usually about animal characters designed to make a point about human behaviour. Aesop has been credited with inventing the fable. Indeed, the name Aesop has become synonymous with fables. However, animal fables existed long before Aesop. There are fables recorded in ancient artefacts of Babylon, Harappa (the ancient Indian civilisation), China and Persia.
Fables are the second oldest form of story known. The first is the myth: how the world came into existence, stories of the gods and goddesses and the powers that keep the earth going. Fables were often used by public speakers or priests trying to get their message across. In the days when people lived a lot closer to nature and usually were illiterate, the easiest way to communicate an important message to them was to tell a story about animal behaviour and relate it to human behaviour.
Before writing became widespread among the so-called "educated" members of the ancient societies, all the stories were passed on by word of mouth, with nothing written down. Stories were often told instead of laws being set down and adhered to. If you think about it this way: are you more inclined to "look both ways" before crossing traffic because your parents or "Constable Care" told you stories of people being hit by passing vehicles, or because the Road Traffic Act says to "be cautious when crossing a road"?
As nothing in that era was written down (except the exploits of a King or warrior), it is impossible to know exactly whether Aesop thought of the fables himself, or whether he was a wandering storyteller who collected fables. In the days of such widespread illiteracy, it is likely Aesop could not even read or write. Some have suggested he may have been blind, as Homer is suggested to be. The earliest reference to written fables we have is from the Greek historian Herodotus from around 300 BC. Unfortunately, Herodotus seemed to think everyone knew Aesop and his fables so well that he did not need to give any details of Aesop or his work.
Regardless of whether or not Aesop was the creative genius behind all the fables, they are still Aesop's Fables. Even if they were not specifically written by a person by the name of "Aesop", their value is no less. Would the fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen or the Brothers Grimm be any less loved simply because they were written by different people? Of course not. Having said that, we are as certain as is possible that Hans Christian Andersen did in fact write the fairy tales attributed to him, as with the Brothers Grimm.
Do not let this article make you enjoy Aesop's Fables any less. For in spite of all the difficulties and uncertainty surrounding the Fables, they bestow on us and on future generations the benefits of the ancient wisdom.
Mike holds a Bachelor of History and a Law degree from the University of Notre Dame. He has been involved in online marketing since mid 2005. This article is copyright 2006. Permission to use this is given on the condition that you link back to http://www.aesopresources.com