Aesopea, fourth century b.c.e. (Aesop’s Fables, 1484, expanded translation as The Complete Fables, 1998).
Although many Greek cities claim to be the birthplace of Aesop (EE-sahp), most scholars believe he never existed. In a marble figure on the Villa Albani, Paris, he is depicted as a dwarf, deformed and ugly, perhaps to symbolize his near approach to the so-called lower animals and his peculiar sympathy for their habits. Yet history contains a reference to a “noble statue” of him by Lysippus in Athens. Diego Velasquez’s painting presents him as a sturdy figure in a brown cloak.
Many fables, supposedly by Aesop, have been traced to earlier Indian or fourteenth century
Phaedrus, a Macedonian freedman of Augustus, translated the fables in five volumes of Latin verse. Babrius versified them two centuries later, and Planudes Maximus, a learned thirteenth century Byzantine monk, compiled a collection in prose, prefaced by his account of Aesop’s life. Children and people of all ages and all ranges of sophistication have enjoyed the fables ever since. Jean de La Fontaine gave them their most polished and sophisticated form in his Fables (1668-1694).