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Aesop's Fables by  J. H. Stickney



Front Matter

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HE good fortune which has attended the earlier edition of this book is a proof that there is less occasion now than formerly to plead the cause of fables for use in elementary schools. And yet their value is still too little recognized. The homely wisdom, which the fables represent so aptly, was a more common possession of intelligent people of a generation or two ago than it is at the present time. It had then a better chance of being passed on by natural tradition than is now the case among the less homogenous parentage of our school children. And there has never been a greater need than now for the kind of seedsowing for character that is afforded by this means. As in the troubled times in Greece in Aesop's day, twenty-five centuries ago, moral teaching to be salutary must be largely shorn of didactic implications and veiled with wit and satire. This insures its most vital working wherever its teaching is pertinent. To be [iv] whipped, warned, shamed, or encouraged, and so corrected, over the heads of animals as they are represented in the expression of their native traits, is the least offensive way that can fall to a person's lot. Among several hundred episodes, knowledge of which is acquired in childhood as a part of an educational routine, most conservative estimates would allow for large, substantial results in practical wit and wisdom, to be reaped as later life calls for them.

It is well recognized by scholars, and should be taught to children, that not all the fables attributed to Aesop are of so early a date. Imitations of his genius all along the centuries have masqueraded under his name. Facts about him appear in the Introduction.

No occasion has been found to change in this edition the style of presentation so highly approved in the original one; but, as a considerable number of the stories, especially in the earlier pages of the book, are amplified somewhat in language form to accommodate them to the needs of children unfamiliar with the animals portrayed, it has been thought wise to present these in the briefer form in which they are generally known to adult readers. These [v] are to be found in an Appendix to the present volume. The ingenious teacher will find numerous ways in which this duplication of stories may be turned to account. Comparison of the two forms will suggest many exercises to be performed by the pupils themselves, in which the longer forms of the fables may be built up from the shorter forms, and vice versa. The teacher who is interested in dramatic work will find also that many of the fables will make excellent material for dramatic presentation in the classroom.


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ODERN Versions of Aesop go back no further than 480 A.D. In their earliest use they are related to the folklore current among all primitive peoples. This folklore had risen in Greece to the rank of literary form a thousand years before the above-mentioned revival in Germany, France, and England. As the creation of Aesop it was the answer to a need for trenchant, but veiled, characterization of men and measures in the dangerous times of the Tyrants. In mirth-provoking utterances, quite apart from seasonal criticism, things could be intimated with all the force of specific judgments, yet in such veiled from that to resent them was tacit confession that they applied. Later on, when free speech became safer, the grammarians and rhetoricians raised these clever, pithy stories to the literary form they have since maintained.

[xiv] There is for Aesop's Fables no authorized original version. Always, it appears, they were subject to interpolations and special versions. They took on metrical forms in Latin, and in later times in French. It is the particular distinction of a real fable that it bears this amplification, yet can at any time and from any true version shake off the accessories of particular phrasing and in its bare facts meet all the requirements of a literary and artistic whole. It is this static character which has made the fable of such value to language students. Even little children, comparing different versions, learn to distinguish the raw material of a real story from its varying renderings. Subjoined is an account of Aesop, called the Inventor and Father of Fable in its present form.

Aesop, the Father of the Fable The life of Aesop, like that of Homer, the most famous of Greek poets, is involved in much obscurity. Sardis, the capital of Lydia; Samos, a Greek island; Mesembria, an ancient colony in Thrace; and Cotiaeum, the [xv] chief city of a province of Phrygia, contend for the distinction of being his birthplace. Although the honor thus claimed cannot be definitely assigned to any one of these places, yet there are a few incidents now generally accepted by scholars as established facts relating to the birth, life, and death of Aesop. He is, but an almost universal consent, allowed to have been born about the year 620 B.C. and to have been by birth a slave. He was owned by two masters in succession, Xanthus and Jadmon, both inhabitants of Samos, the latter of whom gave him his liberty as a reward for his learning and wit. One of the privileges of a freedman in the ancient republics of Greece was the permission to take an active interest in public affairs; and Aesop, like the philosophers Phaedo, Menippus, and Epictetus in later times, raised himself from the indignity of a servile condition to a position of high renown. In his desire alike to instruct and to be instructed, he traveled through many countries, and among others came to Sardis, the capital of the famous king of Lydia, the great patron, in that day, of learning and of learned men. At the court of Craesus he met with [xvi] Solon, Thales, and other sages, and is related so to have pleased his royal master by the part he took in the conversations held with these philosophers that Craesus applied to him an expression which has since passed into a proverb—"The Phrygian has spoken better than all."

On the invitation of Craesus he fixed his residence at Sardis, and was employed by that monarch in various difficult and delicate affairs of state. In his discharge of these commissions he visited the different petty republics of Greece. At one time he is found in Corinth, and at another in Athens, endeavoring, by the narration of some of his wise fables, to reconcile the inhabitants of those cities to the administration of their rulers. One of these missions, undertaken at the command of Craesus, was the occasion of is death. Having been sent to Delphi with a large sum of gold for distribution among the citizens, he was so indignant at their covetousness that he refused to divide the money and sent it back to his master. The Delphians, enraged at this treatment, accused him of impiety and, in spite of his sacred character as ambassador, executed [xvii] him as a public criminal. But the great fabulous did not lack posthumous honors, for a statue was erected to his memory at Athens, the work of Lysippus, one of the most famous of Greek sculptors. These few facts are all that can be relied on with any decree of certainty in reference to the birth, life, and death of Aesop.

The fable on pages 197-200 is a translation of La Fontaine's metrical version of one of the most popular of the Aesop Fables. La Fontaine, who died at Paris in 1695, was a popular writer of drama and the most noted of the French fabulists. Following this, on pages 201-214, are fables from the Russian of Kriloff, a writer who for nearly twenty years was one of the librarians at the Imperial Public Library at St. Petersburg, in which city he died in 1844.

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