12:19 AM

AESOP...

Ancient mythical stories portrayed this liberated slave from Phyrygia as a wise, humpbacked buffoon who associated with such famed contemporaries as King Croesus of Lydia, the courtesan Rhodopis, Solon the Athenian lawgiver, and the Seven Wise Men. Aesop is reputed to have died at the hands of the citizens of Delphi, who were insulted when he said that their celebrated oracle enabled them to profit from mankind's misfortunes. The Delphians vindictively planted a sacred golden bowl in his luggage, judged him a thief, and threw him from a cliff.

For generation, Aesop's fables, with their all-too-human animal characters in allegorical situations, have been learned by most people in early childhood; whether at bedtime, in school or even in Bugs Bunny cartoons. Despite all their interpretation, the fables still retain their simple, humorous charm. The tales of others, like Mother Goose, the Brother Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, have also had a lasting effect on children, but Aesop's fables were the first of their kind. Many of his stories are believed to have originated as far back as prehistoric times. Aesop would have recomposed them to represent his beliefs.

Like Homer's epics, the stories are believed to have circulated orally, until they were recorded 300 BC. In Hellenistic times, schoolboys studied his tales, while orators and philosophers used them to illustrate a point.

Each fable contains a cautionary, ageless moral. "The Tortoise and the Hare" teaches that perseverance can be more valuable than skill, while "The Ant and the Grasshopper" illustrates that diligence has life-sustaining rewards.

The fables have also given us such popular expressions as the regretful "sour grapes" from "The Fox and the Grapes."

There is also the often-used phrase "a wolf in sheep's clothing, " which comes from yet another fable in which Aesop tells of a wolf disguises himself as a sheep in order to get into a flock of sheep grazing in a meadow.

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