Fables are short stories that exhibit a moral lesson or value through the use of animals, inanimate objects and mythical creatures. Even though the genre is generally attributed to Aesop, fables’ origins are deeply rooted within ancient Sumerian and Akkadian civilizations (modern day Iraq), as archaeological evidence suggests. Earlier forms of Aesopic tales came from neo-Babylonian and Assyrian wisdom literature dating back to third millennium BCE, long before Aesop’s existence (600 BCE). Aesop was a slave who many believe lived in Samos, a Greek island in the eastern Aegean Sea. The name of his first owner was Xanthus. It is believed that he eventually became a free man.
Aesop was a foreign, captured slave of African descent, Nubian (modern day Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia) according to speculations. The etymology of his name further supports this notion as Aesops comes from Aesopus, which is synonymous with Aethiops, meaning Ethiopia or burnt-faced people. This explains his integration of animals such as lions, elephants and camels into his fables, which were creatures unfamiliar to Greek terrain at the time. Furthermore, some of his tales give mention to the great river Nile, the majority of which passes through Egypt and Ethopia. Many of the tales that came to be associated with Aesop convey conflicting morals thus suggesting the idea that more fables were attributed to him than he actually recounted as a Nubian Kummaji, a folkteller from the oral tradition, thus questioning the authorship of many of these fables. It is not known exactly when the first Book of Aesop’s fables were written as the fables were originally handed down from one generation to the next just like a myths, tales and legends.
Aesop’s fables were first printed in English by William Caxton in 1484, from his own translation made from the French. Aesop’s fables were not believed to have been written as Children’s literature and the book of fables were originally used to make thinly disguised social and political criticisms. Nonethless, the messages given in the fables like ‘The hare & the tortoise’, ‘Lion & the mouse’, ‘The fox & the grapes’ have proved appropriate throughout the centuries.