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What are Aesop's Fables?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Aesop's Fables are a collection of short stories which are designed to illustrate simple sayings. The original Aesop's Fables originated in Ancient Greece, and over the centuries numerous other stories have been added by authors from a wide range of regions. Many bookstores carry various versions of Aesop's Fables, typically in the children's literature section, and you might be surprised by how many of these fables you are familiar with, along with the number of references to these famous short stories which appear in popular culture.

Aesop himself was supposedly a real person. According to historical evidence, he was a slave in Ancient Greece between 620-560 BCE. Some historians have suggested that Aesop did not actually exist, although he was referenced by contemporaries in Greek society. It is possible that Aesop was actually a collective of people who passed down folk wisdom in the form of brief parables which were collected under one name for publication.

All of the fables are relatively short, and many of them are designed as cautionary tales. Many of them feature anthropomorphized animals, for example the Tortoise and the Hare. Each fable features a situation and a set of actions, and finishes with a brief moral: in the case of the Tortoise and the Hare, the moral is “slow and steady wins the race.” You may also be familiar with the Boy Who Cried Wolf, and the Fox and the Grapes, the inspiration for the saying “sour grapes.”

The simple stories and morals in Aesop's Fables are aimed mostly at children, and as a result collections of these fables are often lavishly illustrated to attract the attention of younger readers. Many people in the Western world have read at least a few of the fables at some point in their lives, and some have internalized the many morals of the books, although they may not realize it. Thanks to Aesop's Fables, people also make references to things like belling the cat, the goose with the golden egg, and the wolf in sheep's clothing, among many other things.

Many printings of Aesop's Fables mix the original Ancient Greek fables in with works by later authors, including modern fables. It is also common to see retellings of the stories in Aesop's Fables in other forms, like longer books, and in some regions they are part of the oral folklore tradition. Coming up with new fables to illustrate morals you think are important for the young people in your life can be a fun exercise.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By andee — On Nov 01, 2011

I home schooled my children for many years, and it might sound kind of crazy, but I used some of Aesop's fables for my lesson plans.

There are many practical lessons and truths in these fables, and each week I would take a different one and concentrate on what life lessons we could learn from it.

When these are presented in the form of a fable or story, it is easy for kids to follow and understand what is being taught. This sticks in their mind much better than just being told about it.

Everybody loves a good story, and when you can combine this with a good lesson, it is a winning situation.

A couple of my kids all time favorites were The Lion and the Mouse, and The Eagle and the Arrow. Even if you were to ask them today, they would be able to remember "the moral of the story".

By golf07 — On Nov 01, 2011

I remember many of Aesop's Fables and find it very interesting that Aesop was a real person.

Many times I find myself using some of these fables to teach my kids a lesson. When it comes to real life situations, I always prefer fables over fairy tales.

These fables teach lessons that kids and adults can relate to. My favorite is probably one of the better known ones, the Tortoise and the Hare.

There have been many times when I have been reminded of this valuable lesson. It doesn't matter how fast you get something done if you don't do it right and hurry through just to get it done.

It is too easy to make mistakes and many times you end up having to do it over again anyway. If I stick at something and keep persisting the right way, I will eventually win in the end.

By tlcJPC — On Oct 31, 2011

I am a lover of knowledge, and I am always thrilled when there are stories and legends to be passed down over centuries! I guess I am an old soul, and I feel comfortable with these sorts of things.

Aesop’s Fables are absolutely some of my favorites. I think it’s wonderful that many of the moral traditions of people that lived many years ago on the other side of the world are very much the same of many people today.

It just goes to support the old adage that no matter how much things change, the more they stay the same.

By nanny3 — On Oct 30, 2011

You know, now that I am a mother, I look at children’s stories in a whole new light. And to be honest, it sort of slapped me in the face when I realized just how gruesome and frightening some of the stories I read as a child were!

Certainly, Aesop’s Fables were some of them. But even look at your nursery rhymes and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. They are all full of violence and mischief!

However, once I got past the initial shock that most likely was brought on by living a fairly safe and sheltered life, I realized that those parts of the stories are not necessarily bad.

We do live in a vicious and cruel world at times. It is good for our children not to think that everything is always fun and games. Don’t get me wrong; I certainly don't want my children to be frightened or upset over their stories! I just think too much sheltering and protecting is not a good thing, either.

By kylee07drg — On Oct 30, 2011

@lighth0se33 - Yes, many bad things did happen in the fables to illustrate the point. However, in the one about the tortoise and the hare, the only bad thing that happens to the hare is losing the race. He doesn’t get eaten by a wolf or murdered by a human, so this one should have been safe for you to hear as a child.

That story showed me the value of persistence. It made me a bit hesitant to give in to the temptation to be lazy at times.

It also made me stop putting things off until the last minute, like homework assignments and projects. I started doing work as soon as I received it, rather than seeing how long I could wait to start it.

By lighth0se33 — On Oct 29, 2011

@cloudel - I think I was traumatized by just about every one of Aesop’s fables. Many of the characters met a tragic end so that he could better demonstrate the moral of the story. This is where the power of the fables lies.

I hated the fable about the goose and the golden egg. That poor goose had to die because of his owner’s greed!

After my mom read a few of these tales to me, I asked her to stop reading me stories. I told her if she couldn’t find something happy to read to me, I didn’t want to hear anything at all. She found this humorous, but I was serious.

By Perdido — On Oct 28, 2011

I remember that the illustrations in these children’s books were very noticeable. I still recall some of the colors and images from my youth, and that speaks to their quality.

I think that at times, I was more affected visually by the drawings than by the words themselves. Usually though, the words and images went together so well that I could not separate the two, and every time the image flashed in my mind, so would the story accompanying it.

Fables are great, but they are even better when they have a visible counterpart. What better way to communicate an idea to children than to do so through detailed drawings?

By cloudel — On Oct 28, 2011

@lonelygod - “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” was to me one of the most horrifying tales I have ever heard. I have to say that it really straightened me out in that area.

I used to love making people believe things that would get a reaction out of them, even though the things weren’t true. I once told my mother while she was putting curlers in her hair that someone was at the front door. She panicked, started yanking them out of her hair, and ran to the door.

I started giggling, and she was mad when she found out I had tricked her with a lie. She read me the fable about the boy, and I started crying. I wanted to be known as a truthful person from that point on, just in case I ever found myself in a desperate situation.

By Sara007 — On Oct 28, 2011

@lonelygod - One of my favorite stories from Aesop's Fables was, The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, as I used to read it constantly when I was little. When I was small I liked the story because of the animal characters and how I imagined them to act. The idea of a snooty city mouse was pretty funny to me.

Looking back at the story I would say that the Aesop's Fables morals were imparted to me at that time. Be happy with your lot in life and just because something looks better doesn't mean that it is. A wise idea for a child to learn young.

By lonelygod — On Oct 27, 2011

When I was a kid I remember my grandmother had a copy of Aesop's Fables that she used to read to my brother and I. Back then I didn't really know that they were all fables with morals, but now it seems like I learned quite a lot from the stories.

One of my favorite fables, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, is one I like to read to my kids today. I think that teaching them about morality and common sense through fun stories is a good way to really make the lessons stick.

Do you have any favorite stories from Aesop's Fables? What do you think you learned from it?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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