What Is A Fable?

Unlike the Homeric epics or the histories recounted in the early Biblical texts, the fables of Aesop are short allegories intended to encourage appropriate actions. As elsewhere recounted, the Homeric epics are concerned with the noble deeds of great men, particularly duality between wrath of swift-fated Achilles and long-enduring Odysseus, and the Biblical texts are concerned with the presentation of Torah, or the law. Both account for the origins of a kind of polity.

However, in the fables of Aesop, we encounter a new form of story. The fables are short and contain an element of untruth. For example, in the case of The Wolf and The Lamb, the audience knowingly accepts the untruth of the characters and even the scene. This is further evidenced by the fact that the plants and animals in a fable can speak and assume other human characteristics. The wolf and the lamb are ancillary to the moral lesson presented by their actions. The audience is expected to imagine themselves in the position of the defenseless lamb as it is wrongfully accused until eaten by the wolf. The intent is to impart the universal rule of tyranny: that a “tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny.”

By eliminating the length of the text, the author, dubiously ascribed to the mythical slave named Aesop, is given a greater opportunity to present the moral lessons to the masses. This is further supported by the form in which they are presented -anthropomorphic animals and plants. They are easy to understand and are suitable tools for rearing children. The fable is an attempt to persuade its audience by demonstrating what not to do, and the tales are made memorable through the use of forms.

The fable is the most ancient form of education known to man. When the scribe Babrius presented the Aesopica to a young Alexander, he explained that Aesop borrowed his fables from the king of Ninevah (modern Syrians). Elsewhere, we encounter African oral fables and written fables in India from the Jakata and the Panchatantra, attributed to Vishnu Sarma. The goal of the fable formula is to inculcate wisdom and prudence at a young age, for the sake of the city. Though the fable speaks deliberate untruth at the outset, as once noted by Apollonius of Tyana, they speak of a greater, more effectual truth -namely of wisdom and justice.

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