Listening to Aesop’s Animals

Blurring the lines between human and animal, Aesop's Fables challenge our understanding of human behaviour

The legendary Aesop, whom Herodotus places on Samos in the 6th century BCE (Histories, 2.134), did not write a single fable with his own hand. The fables that have survived under his name were written in the centuries after his death, composed by a diverse set of writers who labeled their stories “Aesop’s” with little concern for historical accuracy. We are left with hundreds of tales and anecdotes scattered across the remains of Classical literature, in both Greek and Latin, in prose and in verse, each one with murky origins and dubious links to the life of Aesop.  While this state of affairs poses significant challenges for the philologist and textual critic, the openness of the fable tradition, along with its simple style and moralizing tone, make Aesop a useful point of reference for investigations of early Greek thought.

The philosophical content of Aesop’s fables is perhaps best described as “popular” or “applied” ethics.   Like other ancient satiric

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