Aesop’s Fables is Book #1001 on the 1001 Book List and this review was first published in September 2012.
Well, here is a milestone of sorts. The eponymous Book 1001 is finally, after nearly 90 books, being reviewed.
I come to be reviewing this particular book because I have been reading it to my children for the past couple of weeks.
It is hard to emphasize just how important and pervasive Aesop the slave’s, not-so-little book of fables is to western society. At least, that is how it feels as you read your way through the huge number of these tales. I have the Wordsworth Classic version at home, and it contains a smidgen over 200 fables. They are all swift reading with the morals obvious in most. You can also source them online at websites such as this one.
Aesop reputedly lived between 620 and 560 BCE, and like many ancient works it is dubious how much is actually attributable to an individual versus a collective gathering of fables over an extended period of time. No matter the truth of their origins, or the likelihood or not of the existence of an individual “Aesop”, they have been gathered together under his name and continue to delight us today with their sharp observations.
Perhaps some of these titles ring a bell with you?
- The Fox and the Grapes
- The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg
- The Wolf in Sheeps Clothing
- The Hare and the Tortoise
- The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse
If the titles of others do not seem familiar, their impact and moral will be well known to you, for example The Milkmaid and Her Pail is the fable associated with “don’t count your chickens” and The Shepherd’s Boy and the Wolf is where we get the saying “don’t cry wolf”.
If you asked me, “Is it worth my time to read this?”, I would have to say “yes, it is”. You don’t need to read it all in one or two sittings, and the length of the fables naturally lends itself to dipping in to whenever you feel like it. Some are not so memorable, but some will strike a chord with you immediately. If you have children, it is possible to teach many ideas and morals of behaviour using the ever present foxes, lions, mice and dogs as your friendly guides. Not all of the fables contain animals, although the majority do. Here is a taster of the sorts of fables in my version.
THE TWO BAGS
Every man carries two bags about with him, one in front and one behind, and both are packed full of faults. The bag in front contains his neighbours’ faults, the one behind his own. Hence it is that men do not see their own faults, but never fail to see those of others.
THE MAN AND THE SATYR
A man and a satyr became friends, and determined to live together. All went well for a while, until one day in wintertime the satyr saw the man blowing on his hands. ‘Why do you do that?’ he asked. ‘To warm my hands,’ said the man. That same day, when they sat down to supper together, they each had a steaming hot bowl of porridge, and the man raised his bowl to his mouth and blew on it. ‘Why do you do that?’ asked the satyr. ‘To cool my porridge,’ said the man. The satyr got up from the table. ‘Goodbye,’ said he, ‘I’m going: I can’t be friends with a man who blows hot and cold with the same breath.’
THE STAG AND THE LION
A stag was chased by the hounds, and took refuge in a cave, where he hoped to be safe from his pursuers. Unfortunately the cave contained a lion, to whom he fell an easy prey. ’Unhappy that I am,’ he cried, ‘I’m saved from the power of the dogs only to fall into the clutches of a lion.’