Sunday, September 16, 2012


"For so many years all fables were called 'Aesop's Fables' that none can be definitely attributed to Aesop himself, who lived early in the 6th century B.C. For literary purposes Aesopian is a better word than Aesop's and two criteria should be applied to the fables: Each must have sentient animals as characters and must lead to a 'moral' as a conclusion; and each must have been included in the collection made by Phaedrus, first-century Latin poet. This is not to say that all or even any of the fables in Phaedrus's collection were necessarily written by Aesop."--IWE World's Greatest Literature Supplement, 1958.

Main encyclopedia article on subject from the same source:

"Aesop was a writer (1) who lived 2,600 years ago in ancient Greece. His stories, called fables, were so clever and amusing that they are still read today...

...Aesop lived on Samos (2), a Greek Island in the Aegean Sea. He is said to have been a slave (2) who was freed by his master (3). The exact time or reason for his death is not known (4), but some writers of history say that he angered a mob of people in the Greek city of Delphi and they threw him over a cliff."

Here, a more up-to-date quotation from the English classical scholar Martin Litchfield West:

"The name of Aesop is as widely known as any that has come down from Graeco-Roman antiquity [yet] it is far from certain whether a historical Aesop ever the latter part of the fifth century [BC] something like a coherent Aesop legend appears, and Samos seems to be its home."

(Not my personal copy of the book. I don't have one.)

Some additional notes on the second passage above:

1. Seeing as there is considerable uncertainty as to whether "Aesop" refers to an actual person, stating that he was a writer of some kind when neither original writings attributed to him nor specific, creditable references to the existence of such writings in literary, or book, form survive, is obviously taking a bit of a liberty.

2. Most ancient sources appear to agree that the supposed Aesop lived in Samos and was a slave at some point. His place of birth on the other hand was much disputed among these same sources: claims were made more Mesembria in Thrace, the city of Sardis in Lydia (Western Asia Minor), and the country of Phrygia, which was east of Lydia, in present-day west-central Anatolia. None of these places appear to have a stronger claim than any of the others. There does seem to be some consensus, tentatively approved by modern scholarship as at least the most likely dates if there are to any at all, that Aesop would have been born around 620 B.C. and died around 564. More on this in a later note.

3. Plutarch, supposedly in the Life of Solon (I don't remember this), relates the story of Aesop's death in Delphi (more below), in which he states that Aesop was in Delphi on a diplomatic mission from King Croesus in Lydia. This is the primary source of the speculation that Aesop was at one point freed from slavery.

4. I am going to quote from the Wikipedia article re this one: "[Aesop scholar Ben Edwin] Perry...dismissed Aesop's death in Delphi as legendary; but subsequent research has established that a possible diplomatic mission for Croesus and a visit to Periander are consistent with the year of Aesop's death."

There is also a long tradition of speculation that Aesop may have been of black African origin or descent, based on descriptions and depictions of him as swarthy and of otherwise unusual appearance.

So I have never read through one of the serious compilations of Aesop's Fables. Aesop may also be the only ancient Greek content originator on this new list that was not read, and maybe even not talked about, at SJC Annapolis, though it is possible sentences or fragments from him were used as exercises in our Greek manual/textbook Still, now that we have our first ancient Greek on board the site, as well as an Italy-based ancient Roman, it is starting to really feel like the monument to lost ambitions and lost possibilities I have hoped to build up here. We still need to get some of the French in here especially, and the Germans and Russians as well, for the mausoleum of my mind to attain something like its full form, but I am beginning to see it coming into shape.

I am going to include Samos and Delphi, as the places most associated with the life and death of Aesop, on the travel list. They are places one would want to see anyway, and the excuse for giving them the official imprimatur of being on the List and therefore priority destinations, is too convenient.

1947 short film of "The Tortoise and the Hare". The matter of interest to me in this is that the movie is a Encyclopedia Britannica/University of Chicago production. I did not know that they dabbled in filmmaking at this time, and of course this is right during the period when they were cranking up all the Great Books stuff. The film has its charm, though I am surprised at how gratingly Middle American the voice of the narrator was. I was anticipating maybe one of the myriad genius European professors that were on campus at the time, or at least a top-shelf graduate student.

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