Aesop's Fables (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Aesop's Fables (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)


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Aesop's Fables, by Aesop, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:
  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

As legend has it, the storyteller Aesop was a slave who lived in ancient Greece during the sixth century B.C. His memorable, recountable fables have brought amusing characters to life and driven home thought-provoking morals for generations of listeners and modern-day readers. Translated into countless languages and familiar to people around the world, Aesop’s fables never tarnish despite being told again and again.

This collection presents nearly 300 of Aesop’s most entertaining and enduring stories—from “The Hare and the Tortoise” and “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse” to “The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs” and “The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.” Populated by a colorful array of animal characters who personify every imaginable human type—from fiddling grasshoppers and diligent ants to sly foxes, wicked wolves, brave mice, and grateful lions—these timeless tales are as fresh and relevant today as when they were first created.

Full of humor, insight, and wit, the tales in Aesop’s Fables champion the value of hard work and perseverance, compassion for others, and honesty. They are age-old wisdom in a delicious form, for the consumption of adults and children alike.

D. L. Ashliman is emeritus professor at the University of Pittsburgh. He taught folklore, mythology, German, and comparative literature at that institution for thirty-one years. He has also served as guest professor at the University of Augsburg in Germany.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593080624
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 11/01/2003
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 15,352
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

From D. L Asliman's Introduction to Aesop's Fables

“Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched!” “He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” “She has a sour-grapes attitude.” “They are killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.” “He demands the lion’s share.” “Don’t be like the boy who called ‘wolf!’” These expressions are so much a part of our everyday language and culture that they seem to have been with us forever, and that is almost the case, for the fables that produced these proverbial sayings are indeed even older than (to name but three) the modern English, French, and German languages where today they are so much at home. The fables behind these sayings are those of arguably the most famous storyteller of all time, the legendary Aesop. Who was the man who created these timeless literary gems?

The Man Aesop

Aesop (sometimes spelled Æsop, Æsopus, Esop, Esope, or—using the Greek form of his name—Aisopos) has been known in history and in legend since the fifth century b.c., or earlier, as a gifted Greek storyteller and the author of the world’s best-known collection of fables. However, it cannot be proven with any degree of certainty that he existed as a real person. Most modern scholars believe that Aesop was instead a name invented, already in antiquity, to provide attribution for a body of oral tales whose true authors were a number of anonymous storytellers. Martin Luther expressed this view some 500 years ago: “Attributing these stories to Aesop is, in my opinion, itself a fiction. Perhaps there has never been on earth a man by the name of Aesop” (quoted in Jacobs, History of the Aesopic Fabl, p. 15; see “For Further Reading”).

Although it is possible that there was indeed a gifted Greek storyteller by the name of Aesop, his reputation expanded to legendary proportions in the decades and centuries following his death, and with time many more stories and deeds were credited to him than he could have composed and performed. Supporting this view, many of the earliest references to the stories of Aesop refer to Aesopic (or Aesopian) fables rather than Aesop’s fables. In other words, Aesopic, an adjective, describes a kind of story and a literary tradition but does not claim to identify a specific author.

One thing is certain: Aesop, if he existed at all, did not leave behind a collection of written fables. His reputation is that of an oral storyteller, not an author of written literature. The oldest references to his fables refer to tales memorized and retold, not written and read. For example, from Aristophanes’s comedy Wasps (written in 422 b.c.) we learn that telling anecdotes and comic stories in the style of Aesop was common entertainment at banquets in ancient Athens. More seriously, in 360 b.c. Plato recorded in his dialog Phaedo (section 61b) that Socrates, under sentence of death in prison, diverted himself by reformulating some of Aesop’s fables. Plato’s Phaedo quotes Socrates himself: “I took some fables of Aesop, which I had ready at hand and knew, and turned them into verse.” The doomed philosopher did not have a book or manuscript of Aesop’s fables in prison with him, if such a book or manuscript even existed at the time. He knew the fables from memory, as did the partygoers in Aristophanes’s comedy.

The most frequently cited ancient reference to the man Aesop is found in the History of the Greco-Persian Wars written by the Greek historian Herodotus about 425 b.c. Here we learn that Aesop, the fable writer, was a slave of Iadmon, son of Hephaestopolis, a Samian, and that Iadmon’s grandson (also named Iadmon) claimed and received compensation for the murder of Aesop. If this account is true, Aesop would have lived during the sixth century b.c. Apart from this sketchy biography, Herodotus recorded essentially no additional details about the fable writer.

However, later Greek and Roman writers were not so reticent. One body of literature is particularly relevant in this regard. Usually referred to as The Life of Aesop, this work has survived in a number of medieval manuscripts by different anonymous compilers and is based on earlier accounts, now lost. The statements about Aesop’s life history contained in the different versions of this work often contradict one another, or they are so miraculous and fantastic as to be unbelievable by modern standards.

The ultimate source of these accounts is undoubtedly folklore: anonymous legends told and retold by generations of oral storytellers. The Life of Aesop is today generally held to be fiction, but as is the case with many legends, there could be at least a kernel of truth in one or more of the episodes. The following biographical outline has been gleaned from different versions of The Life of Aesop, most prominently the accounts published by Lloyd W. Daly in his Aesop without Morals (pp. 31–90) and the Everyman’s Library version of Aesop: Fables (pp. 17–45).

Aesop was born a slave, or possibly was captured into slavery at an early age. His birthplace is variously stated as Thrace, Phrygia, Ethiopia, Samos, Athens, or Sardis. He was dark-skinned. In fact, it is said that his name was derived from Aethiop (Ethiopian). He was physically deformed: a hunchback, pot belly, misshapen head, snub nose, and bandy legs are often mentioned. Although in his early years he suffered from a serious speech impediment, or—according to some—the inability to speak at all, he was cured through the intervention of a deity and became a gifted orator, especially skillful at incorporating fables into his speeches.

As a young man Aesop was transported by a slave trader to Ephesus (in modern Turkey). Because of his grotesque appearance, no one there would buy him, so he was taken to the island of Samos, where he was examined by Xanthus, identified in the manuscripts as “an eminent philosopher,” but a person whose existence cannot be verified historically. At first repulsed by Aesop’s appearance, Xanthus changed his mind when the slave proclaimed, “A philosopher should value a man for his mind, not for his body.” Impressed with Aesop’s astuteness, Xanthus purchased him as a manservant for his wife.

Aesop soon proved himself to be an irreverent and sarcastic trickster with a clever retort for every occasion. The following episode is typical of many others illustrating how Aesop’s quick wit saved him from punishment, sometimes deserved, sometimes not: Xanthus, wanting to know what fate awaited him on a particular day, sent Aesop to see if any crows were outside the door. According to popular belief, two crows would portend good fortune, whereas a single crow would be an omen of bad luck. Aesop saw a pair of crows and reported this to his master, who then set forth with good cheer. Upon opening the door, Xanthus saw only a single crow, for one of them had flown away, and he angrily turned on his slave for having tricked him into beginning a dangerous venture. “You shall be whipped for this!” said Xanthus, and while Aesop was being readied for his punishment a messenger arrived at the door with an invitation for Xanthus to dine with his friends. “Your omens have no meaning!” cried Aesop. “I saw the auspicious pair of crows, yet I am about to be beaten like a dog, whereas you saw the ominous single crow, and you are about to make merry with your friends.” Perceiving the irony and the wisdom of this observation, Xanthus released Aesop and spared him the threatened punishment.

Aesop’s cleverness extended from word to deed. An unrepentant trickster, his pranks ranged from tricking his fellow slaves into carrying the heavier burdens to seducing his master’s wife with her unwitting husband’s apparent blessing. His tricks often were masked by feigned stupidity on his part, which has led commentators to compare him to the German Till Eulenspiegel and the Turkish Nasreddin Hoca, two of the world’s most rascally but beloved tricksters.

Aesop’s legendary wisdom and shrewdness sometimes moved into the realm of the supernatural. He could solve seemingly impossible riddles and conundrums, foretell the future with uncanny accuracy, and unerringly discover hidden treasures. A master of human psychology, he understood what motivated people to act, and used this knowledge to manipulate them to his advantage. As his life progressed he moved to ever greater venues: from a trickster in a slave’s workroom to a lecturer in a philosopher’s auditorium to a diplomat and councilor in the courts of governors and kings.

With time his cunning, wisdom, and oratory skills brought him freedom from slavery, but in the end they cost him his life. At Delphi the citizens, offended by his lack of respect for their aristocracy and for their principal deity Apollo, planted a golden cup in his baggage, then accused him of temple theft.

Sentenced to die by being thrown over a cliff, Aesop pleaded his case with a series of fables, one of which was the story of “The Mouse, the Frog, and the Hawk” (no. 67 in the present collection). In this tale a frog and a mouse go swimming together in a pool with their feet tied together, but the mouse drowns. The frog, burdened by the dead mouse, is now an easy prey for a hawk, which forthwith captures and devours him.

Aesop compared himself to the mouse and the Delphians to the frog. “You may kill me,” he predicted, “but my unjust death will bring you great misfortune.” Aesop was executed near Delphi, and his dire prediction came true. Shortly after his death the region was visited with famine, pestilence, and warfare. The Delphians consulted the Oracle of Apollo as to the source of these calamities, and they received the answer that they were to make amends for the unjust death of Aesop. Accordingly they built there a pyramid in his honor.

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Aesop's Fables Barnes & Noble Classics Series) 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 283 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Personally, at first I was somewhat skeptical about this book. I thought it was simply a series of short stories some guy put together, and whats so great about that? now I see, this is many of the oldest and greatest human values told in a way that keeps the interest of the reader. I find it to be amazing that one man created all of these, and am glad I had time to read them. An exilent book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Short, short stories with a lot, a lot to say. Each fable tells a tale and each has a lesson for attentive readers to learn. The most famous is probably 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf,' and the lesson is 'Liars are not believed, even when they tell the truth.' Another is 'The Farmer and the Stork' and its lesson is 'Bad company proves more than bad professions. Bird of a feather flock together.' These are the most basic of rules to live your life by, and they should be learned and remembered as a child. 'He who plays a trick must be able to take a joke,' and 'Whatever your misery, there are some whose lot is worse than your own.' Read and see which stories these are from!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is very enjoyable to read. It is filled with humerous tales, morals, and lessons you can ably to your everyday life. They're classical tales you have heard before (The Tortiose and the Hare), as well as humorous stories you've probably havn't heard (The Donkey and the Lapdog). Each story is short, to the point, and has a unique life lesson. It is also a great book for travel and to read before going to bed, as you can read it in any order you prefer.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A short story and then a moral. These are the kinds of tales that all kids should be reading to keep them out of trouble. Unfortunately, kids become adults and become too ambitious and then soon forget these morals. I didn't, and I'm raising my boy with them - you should too.
GordonF More than 1 year ago
This holds the greatest number of parables of all the versions of Aesop's I have read or owned over the years. It also has a decent introduction on the who and when of Aesop, a good bibliography of terms for new readers, and other information. The only downside is that a more thorough copy-edit converting it to ebook should have been done. There are numerous typographical errors.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Filled with poignant five to ten sentence yarns, this is a special book that is a perfect gift, guestroom amenity, or casual living room read. And at this price there is no excuse not to have at least one.
Seghetto More than 1 year ago
I never actually thought about how fables composed by a person that lived over 3000 years ago could survive today. There is no clear overall message to the fables. They were collected and composed by different authors over a few millenia. An important reason to read this collection, if any, is to come to know where a lot of the proverbs in the western world come from.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Aesop's Fables' is quick and easy to read, which is good for kids of any age. Each story entertains and teaches us a lesson we should all know. These lessons written ages ago, still stand the test of time. This book is not only entertaining, but, it holds the key to literature today. References in Aesop's fable's are seen in many classics today from J.R.R. Tolkien, Chaucer, etc. These educational and entertaining stories should be shared to one and all.
MissKelbe 18 days ago
I’ve heard about fables, but I’ve never read any, until now. I really enjoyed this book as well as the stories in them. Having the stories been told through animals was definitely a twist, but that’s what fables are. Aesop was truly a gifted writer (never heard of him, but read and learned about him in this book). Thank you for your fables.
carioca on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I remember reading those fables as a kid and how magical they seemed to be - I mean, they are so believable and so utterly realistic, elephants and ants and crickets notwithstanding! Filled with poignant tales, this is a special book that is a perfect gift, guestroom amenity, or casual living room read. And at this price there is no excuse not to have at least one. But at the same time, I would love to have a hardcover, sturdier edition than this one...
quaintlittlehead on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Barnes and Noble edition of this book has a nice, lengthy selection of fables, which, although some sound like repeats of each other, give a comprehensive picture of the way this literary form has traditionally been used. The introduction and footnotes offer some interesting insight into the historical background behind the fables and into cultural references that modern readers might not be familiar with. There is a list of major characters in Greek and Roman mythology at the end of the book, as well as a short bibliography with references to websites as well as books with more information. There are also some questions for discussion at the end; though these seem a bit simplistic for the adult reader, they might be useful for those teaching younger readers. The titles of the fables are such that someone looking for an individual, lesser-known fable might not be able to find it easily, as they are titled quite simply with a lot of repetition, for example, "The Lion and the Elephant;" "The Slave and the Lion;" "The Lion, The Fox, and the Wolf" (leaving readers to wonder, which of those fables about a lion is the one I'm looking for?), so a plot index might have been helpful. However, this is overall a nice presentation of literature that will appeal to all ages.
ohdani on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed it well enough. I like that these fables were written so long ago, but are applicable to life today. I also like that Aesop was a pretty realistic, cynical dude. None of that 'forgive and forget' crap for him, but lots and lots of 'once a jerk, always a jerk", which I happen to agree with quite a bit.
ysar on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A wonderful collection, although I would not suggest reading it all in one long sitting as the whole moral story thing can become quite repetitive. The tortoise and the hare, the lion and the mouse...we all know them well. How can one's personal library not include these timeless stories?
Hazel66 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The first of "1000 Books to Read Before You Die". Interesting from a historical standpoint but am not feeling "masterpiece". I don't like all the dead and dying animals. Glad I read it and may find some of them useful for future writing and research.
melorem on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Enjoyable and enlightening. It took me a while to read because I like to read a few and then absorb the message. Also, reading many at the same time may lead to confusion as many of the same animals are used again and again. The morales of many are so applicable to today.
wikiro on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Cute, quick, simple, and smart.
Chuck37 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Severely underrated in this day and age.
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