Greek fabulist. According to tradition, the author of Aesop’s Fables was a Phrygian slave who probably lived from 620 to 560 BC. It is inferable from Aristotle’s mention of Aesop’s acting as a public defender that he was freed from slavery, and Plutarch’s statement that the Athenians erected a noble statue of him would tend to contradict the tradition that Aesop was deformed. There is little information on Aesop’s life, and several scholars have consequently been led to doubt that he ever existed at all. The earliest extant collections of Aesop’s stories were made by various Greek versifiers and Latin translators, to whose compilations were added tales from Oriental and ancient sources, to form what we now know as Aesop’s Fables. The majority of European fables, including those from La Fontaine, are largely derived from these succinct tales, in which talking animals illustrate human vices, follies, and virtues. Since some of Aesop’s fables have been discovered on Egyptian papyri dating from eight hundred to one thousand years before his time, it cannot be claimed that he was by any means the author of all the fables.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

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