Everyone is familiar with Aesop’s Fables. They are short stories usually about animal characters designed to make a point about human behaviour. Aesop has been credited with inventing the fable. Indeed, the name Aesop has become synonymous with fables. However, animal fables existed long before Aesop. There are fables recorded in ancient artefacts of Babylon, Harappa (ancient Indian civilisation), China and Persia.
Fables are the second oldest form of story known. The first is the myth: how the world came into existence, stories of the gods and goddesses and the powers that keep the earth going. Fables were often used by public speakers or priests trying to get their message across. In the days when people lived a lot closer to nature and usually were illiterate, the easiest way to communicate an important message to them was to tell a story about animal behaviour and relate it to human behaviour.
In ancient times, all the stories were passed on by word of mouth, with nothing written down. As such, it is impossible to know exactly whether Aesop thought of the fables himself, or whether he was a wandering storyteller who collected fables. In the days of such widespread illiteracy, it is likely Aesop could not even read or write. The earliest reference to written fables we have is from Herodotus circa 300 BC. Unfortunately, Herodotus seemed to think everyone knew Aesop and his fables so well that he did not need to give any details of Aesop or his work.
Regardless of whether or not Aesop was the creative genius behind all the fables, they remain Aesop’s Fables. While we cannot know who invented them, we can still enjoy them because they are … simply … Aesop’s Fables.