1001 Reads

Regularly updated blog charting the most important novels of the last 2000 and something years

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

1. Aesop - Aesop's Fables (first edition 4 BCE)

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Francisco: Fun little booky. Strangely enough I knew about 90% of the very short tales contained in this book. You're brought up on them, at least in Portugal. But disregarding that and looking at the book with non-5 year old eyes I have to say it is an interesting bit of storytelling.

Firstly, the tales are not all written by the same person. This happens with all these ancient collections but it is completely obvious in the Fables. There are stories which are all about freedom from oppression and bringing down the system, while others are all about upholding the Status Quo (not the band, which is probably contemporary to Aesop). Of course, lefty as I am I find the "stick it to the man stories" much more interesting.

In terms of form, it's the kind of book you read in one sitting, each story is usually less than a page long and there's about 203 of them. All stories end with a little moral teaching, either explicit in italics or implicit, some of them however just look they were written by a shroom-head. And it's not all about talking animals either. There's stories about people and even some about inanimate speaking objects.

All in all, an easy read that is readily available everywhere (kind of copyright free) and that won't make you lose to much time reading it.

Vanda: We all grew up with these stories, in one version or another, so it was no big surprise that I already knew most of them. I had never read them in the "original" format (no such thing, I'm aware, but indulge me), however, and what DID surprise me was how condensed they originally are. There are no embellishments, or any kind of back story - the tales are simply presented in a way that they get as quickly as possible to the moral lesson it was meant to convey.

Some of them made me go "ah, yes, how true", some of them are quite pedestrian in their obviousness, and some of them make me believe that mushrooms were in plentiful supply when of the penning of some of the tales. Some have contradictory morals, and a fairly big percentage are only concerned with perpetuating the status quo, in the "stick to your place in life, stop being uppity" sense. The best ones, however, and the most probable to have actually been written by Aesop (if there are indeed any) are the ones which concern personal freedom, and the sillyness and cruelty of authority figures.

It has to be read, I think. It gains a new dimension with age a better understanding of human nature that comes with it.

Final Grade

6/10 Francisco
6/10 Vanda (how original)


The number of the tales is uncertain it goes form 55 in some versions to 359 in the biggest available one. I read the Penguin one, which contains 203.

For the heck of it, a William Caxton published tale (first version in English) here you go:

Men ought not to leue that thynge whiche is sure & certayne / for hope to haue the vncertayn / as to vs reherceth this fable of a fyssher whiche with his lyne toke a lytyll fysshe whiche sayd to hym / My frend I pray the / doo to me none euylle / ne putte me not to dethe / For now I am nought / for to be eten / but whanne I shalle be grete / yf thow come ageyne hyther / of me shalt thow mowe haue grete auaylle / For thenne I shalle goo with the a good whyle / And the Fyssher sayd to the fysshe Syn I hold the now / thou shalt not scape fro me / For grete foly hit were to me for to seke the here another tyme.

Wasn't that fun?

Can you tell that we'd talked about the book before we reviewed it? We have just now made the decision that we will not discuss the book before the next review. But hey! Great minds....


  • At 8:53 PM, Blogger Historian said…

    Thanks for the reference. Sounds just what I've been looking for. I also have a site on Aesop's Fables. It's only new, but my goal is for it to be the best fable site out there! Come check it out if you have time. It's www.AesopResources.com.

  • At 5:50 AM, Blogger Geoffrey Hogswash said…

    After having grown up with picture books of 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf', 'The Tortoise and the Hare' et al., it was interesting to read these novels in a more academic vein.

    They're still enjoyable, essentially because of their brevity. The 203 stories are a breeze to get through. Some have dated - one saying people who leave their home town to discover a new life shouldn't be trusted by the locals, is frankly offensive in its intolerance. Some remind us that we have progressed in a wrong fashion and that the Greeks were a far more clever civilisation.

    Still, the stories that stand out are the childhood favourites. This Penguin Book collection will never replace that picture book on my book shelf.


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