“Fable: A short tale, usually epigrammatic, with animals, men, gods, and even inanimate objects as characters. The action of a fable illustrates a moral which is usually (but not always) explicitly stated at the end. This moral often attains the force of a proverb. The fable form appears early in man’s cultural development, being a common part of the oral folk literature of primitive tribes. It appeared in Egyptian papyri of c1500 BC, and in Greece a recognizable fable was included in the works of Hesiod in the 8th century BC. By far the most famous fables are those attributed to Aesop, a Greek slave who lived about 600 BC. In India the fable also appeared early, the great Indian collection, the Panchatantra, having been composed in the 3rd century. Modern fables have been dominated by the genius and style of La Fontaine, the great French fabulist of the 17th century, who wrote fables in polished and witty poetry that have been widely translated and imitated.”
Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.