Aesop's fables are well known in the world of children's literature, but finding fascinating facts about Aesop is a much more difficult task. While Aesop's work is legendary, there is a limited amount of information available about Aesop himself. If you're hoping to find out more about the mind behind Aesop's Fables for kids, we explore the life of the moral man who wrote them.
Who Is Aesop?
Aesop was a Greek fabulist — otherwise known as a fable writer. He is best known for his collection of fables, called Aesop's Fables. Some of the most recognizable short stories in this book include:
- "The Hare & the Tortoise" - This is a story of how a confident hare and a slow and steady tortoise compete in a race. It encourages kids to persevere.
- "The Lion & the Mouse" - This story is about the unique relationship between a tiny mouse and a large lion - and the power of kindness.
- "The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing" - This details a wolf's plan to trick nearby sheep. It shows that selfish ambition and deceit don't win in the end.
- "The Ants & the Grasshopper" - Kids can see what happens between a jovial grasshopper and a hard-working ant (and learn why being prepared can be more important than you realize).
- "The Shepherd Boy & the Wolf" - This is the tale of a foolish young boy whose trickery does him in.
In the present day, "The Shepherd Boy & the Wolf" is more commonly known by the name "The Boy Who Cried Wolf."
Astonishing Facts About Aesop
While there are a limited number of facts about this great storyteller, scholars have been able to deduce certain details about the life and work of Aesop.
Life and Death
Aesop is believed to have been born around 620 B.C.E. and to have died around 560 B.C.E. This seems consistent with the first mention of him in other ancient texts like Herodotus' History, published in 425 B.C.E. Other Greek writers also mentioned him, including Aristophanes, Xenophon, Plato, and Aristotle.
Some Question His Authorship of the Fables
While most scholars seem to accept the idea that there was a man named Aesop who wrote most of these fables, there is a body of scholars out there who suggest the fables commonly attributed to Aesop aren't actually his.
As the Encyclopedia of Ancient History points out, Sumerian proverbs often had the same structure and story as Aesop's fables. Consequently, this has led some scholars to suggest that he didn't write the proverbs. The world will likely never know for sure if he wrote these fables or if he just got the credit for them.
He Might Have Been a Slave
Some records suggest that Aesop was a Phrygian slave. It's said that he was owned by two masters during his lifetime. He was sold to his second master who supposedly let him go because of his great intelligence and wit.
He May Have Had Physical Challenges
Aesop's contemporaries describe him as having some physical challenges. According to texts by Maximus Planudes, an ancient Byzantine scholar, Aesop's face "was of black hue," and he was referred to as a "deformed dwarf."
His bust, which resides in the art collection at the Villa Albani in Rome, suggests he suffered from some type of disability. Other than the texts, there is nothing else to corroborate what he may have looked like.
He May Have Had a Speech Impediment
While it's hard to know for sure, it's suggested in several older writings that perhaps Aesop stuttered. The possibility is interesting, especially given that he told stories for a living. While the world may never know for sure, it has been a theory that perhaps Aesop invented the talking animal so he had a vehicle through which to speak freely.
He Was Likely Murdered
It seems like perhaps, after earning his freedom from slavery, he upset a few people with his wit, stories, and opinions. The tale of Aesop states that he openly criticized the priests at Delphi and angered them so much that they murdered him. How he was murdered is unknown other than the fact he never returned home after going to Delphi.
Fun Facts About Aesop's Fables
Now that you know a little more about the man who wrote these moral tales, here are some fast facts about their significance.
- Fables are short stories that contain a moral.
- They typically feature animals with human features and personalities as their characters.
- These stories were originally passed down through oral tradition.
- In total, Aesop wrote 725 moral stories, many of which are told to this day.
- Aesop's fables contain moral lessons that can be seen in other historical works, like the bible.
- For instance, in the folk tale titled "The Hare & the Tortoise" the lesson is that "the race is not always to the swift." In the bible, Ecclesiastes 9:11 states "I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."
- Aesop's Fables have been translated and written in almost every major language in the world.
- Thanks to his contributions to this writing style, Aesop is known as the Father of Fables.
- Aesop's Fables are also called "the Aesopica."
- Many aphorisms — concise and sometimes curt statements of truth — are derived from Aesop's fables.
Related: The Story Behind Fairy Tales
Aesop's Fables for Kids & His Life Story Are an Inspiration
Aesop's fables have indirectly inspired several movies, television shows, plays, and modern books. From what we do know about this fantastic fable writer, his life was not easy, but his gifts of wit and storytelling are a source of inspiration that has spanned centuries.