Born: 620 BC
Died At Age: 55
Born in: Nessebar, Bulgaria
Famous as: Fabulist
Died on: 565 BC
place of death: Delphi, Greece
Aesop was a Greek fabulist who is remembered for some of the most popular fables ever written, broadly known as ‘Aesop’s Fables’. There is hardly anyone who hasn’t heard of ‘Aesopica’. Most of these stories have anthropomorphic characters and have a moral attached to them. However, it is wise to remember that his stories were compiled by others throughout history. There is no actual evidence whether or not he told these stories. Similar fables have been found in other ancient cultures as well. There is a mystery surrounding his origin as well, with many speculating if Aesop was actually another storyteller’s fictional name. The love for these fables has survived centuries because of their simplicity. It doesn’t hurt that they have remained relatable throughout time and history and have been used to teach moral values to children. Some of the most popular fables are ‘The Ant and the Grasshopper’, ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’, and ‘The Crow and the Pitcher’ etc. Additionally, morals like “birds of a feather flock together”, “necessity is the mother of invention”, and “slow but steady wins the race” are also ascribed to him.
Childhood & Early Life
Aesop or Aisōpos (Αἴσωπος in Greek) is thought to have been born in 620 BCE. However, there is no concrete evidence as to his origins. Some think he was born in Phrygia. However, Amorium, Phrygia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Samos, Athens, Sardis, Thrace and many other places have been suggested by different authors as his place of birth
Greek historians like Herodotus believed that he was a slave in 6th century BCE. Plutarch thought he was an adviser to 6th century Lydian King Croesus. There are other sources, claiming he was Egyptian or black.
Many researchers think that he was a slave on the island of Samos. His master was Xanthus. He earned his freedom by helping his master avoid humiliation and saving all his wealth.
He is depicted in many historical sources as being ugly, grotesquely figured, with an oversized head. Spanish painter Diego Velázquez paints him as a philosopher with no deformities. He has been similarly painted by Jusepe de Ribera, in ‘Aesop, poet of the fables’ and ‘Aesop in beggar’s rags’.
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‘Aesop’s Fables’ or ‘Aesopica’ consists of a number of stories that depict anthropomorphic characters, animals with human characteristics. They also contain morals, teaching valuable life lessons.
The origins of his fables are a contested fact. Most of the information has been found in records by ancient Greek historians. He was a storyteller, not a writer. They were only written down three centuries after his death.
Similar stories exist in some of the earliest civilizations like that of Sumer and Akkad of ancient Mesopotamia. Additionally, similar tales can be found in ancient Indian culture as well. Notable among them are the Buddhist ‘Jataka Tales’ and the Hindu ‘Panchatantra’.
Amongst the fables attributed to Aesop, the most famous are, ‘The Boy who was Vain’, ‘The Cat and the Mice’, ‘The Deer without a Heart’, ‘The Dog and the Wolf’, and ‘The Dog in the Manger’.
He is also credited with popular fables like ‘The Farmer and the Viper’, ‘The Frog and the Ox’, ‘The Fox and the Grapes’, ‘The Honest Woodcutter’, ‘The Lion and the Mouse’, and ‘The Mischievous Dog’, etc.
Some of the most familiar moral lessons are attributed to ‘Aesop’s Fables’. These include “quality, not quantity” from ‘The Lioness and the Vixen’ and “honesty is the best policy” from ‘Mercury and the Woodman’.
Many other everyday expressions are credited to his stories as well. “Pride comes before a fall” from ‘The Eagle and the Cockerels’, “don’t make a mountain out of a molehill” from ‘The Mountain in Labor’, and “it’s easy to kick a man when he’s down” from ‘The Dogs and the Fox’ are very well-known as well.
A few other moral lessons found in the fables are “necessity is the mother of invention” from ‘The Crow and the Pitcher’ and “look before you leap” from ‘The Fox and the Goat’.
“Sour grapes” from ‘The Fox and the Grapes’ and “fair weather friends are not much worth” from ‘The Swallow and the Crow’ have become part of life lessons.
Family & Personal Life
Ancient Greek historians like Herodotus wrote that the 6th century BCE Greek hetaera or prostitute, Rhodopis or Rhodope or Doricha was a fellow slave of Aesop. She is thought to be his concubine. A famous engraving by Francesco Bartolozzi of an Angelica Kauffman painting depicts the two in love.
After he earned his freedom, he was sent on a mission to Delphi by King Croesus. However, he found the people to be narcissistic, rich, and corrupt. He addressed them sarcastically. Feeling insulted, they falsely accused him of theft from Apollo’s temple. Aesop was executed by being thrown off a cliff in 564 BCE.
Research by eminent scholar Ben Edwin Perry shows a chronological mismatch between the time of his death and Croesus’s reign. Similarly, a story by freedman Phaedrus suggests him visiting Athens during the rule (561 - 527 BC) of King Peisistratos. This contradicts his presumed year of death.