Aesop’s fables published in English

Praise goes to Aesop by a 1st century A.D. Greek philosopher: “like those who dine well off the plainest dishes, he made use of humble incidents to teach great truths.” (And this was already 300-600 years after his famous work came out.) Indeed, a good portion of our modern idioms come from Aesop. That term “sour grapes”? – that was from his “Fox and the Grapes” story. “Boy who cried wolf”? A verbatim translation of Aesop. His stories spread into every corner of the known world with the great help of the British, who were first introduced to Aesop in the fifteenth century.

On this day, March 26, the first printed English edition of Aesop’s fables was published by William Caxton, who, not coincidentally, also introduced to England the first printing press. Caxton was was translating from Greek the work of Planudes, who himself was translation from the Latin text of the classical author Phaedrus.

Not much is known about Aesop himself, save that he began his life as a slave and was then freed for his display of wit. There is good reason to believe he did not create all the fables himself — the variety of fauna he describes could not have possible been present in any of the regions he was presumed to live. He may added some from popular folklore, and had others attributed to him over the ages. Nevertheless, Aesop is the man widely credited with bringing the fables adults and children so thoroughly enjoy to this day.