Eiland's Online English Materials

Aesop by Velasquez
"Aesop" by Velasquez

CHILDREN'S LITERATURE... a BRIEF History: Aesop's Fables

Aesop is the name given to do what is likely a series of authors spanning back thousands of years to the time of the Greeks. Aesop's fables were first published by "Demetrius Phalerus, founder of the Alexandria Library" (Saltman 228), and later translated into English by William Paxton. Legend has it that Aesop was a slave in the 6th century B.C. whose intellect allowed him to discuss social issues in a way that revealed his feelings but shielded him from punishment. Legend further says that Aesop was a swarthy, deformed man (Aesop translates to black). The original fables were general tales that revealed the truths of life, intended primarily for an adult audience. A volume of children's works was part of a collection put together by Sir Roger L'Estrange in 1692.

Aesop's Fables generally discuss social issues, especially character traits such as patience and perseverance (The Tortoise and the Hare) as well as focus and humility (The Milkmaid). Most familiar is the moral place at the end of each tale which encapsulate my story. Aesop's fables differ from other children's literature specifically in that there is no doubt that there is some kind of lesson or moral attached to the work. Animals were often used, especially in the children's tales, symbolically representing anthropomorphically human traits... slyness in the fox, industriousness in the ant, etc. Young people were also prevalent in these works, a clear indication that misdeeds of these characters, as often was the case in these tales, led to specific negative outcomes that the readers should avoid (The Boy Who Cried Wolf).

Themes: character traits such as perseverance, patience and humility; social rules and mores
Characters: animals, children

Works Cited

Saltman, Judith. Fables. The Riverside Anthology of Children's Literature, 6th ed. Houghton Mifflin, 1985.

© T. T. Eiland, August, 2006
Last modified: August 5, 2006