Fable comes from the Latin fabula” (a “story”) this is when the distinction comes in between a narrative account of a perceived historical event, to a fictional narrative.  Fables are intended to provide a moral lesson by the use of characters and their actions.  In an interesting note, the word ‘fabulous’ is derived from fable, the word has since evolved to its current modern-day meaning.

Fables are one of the most enduring forms of literature, as noted in Die Enzyklopädie des Märchens (Encyclopaedia of Fairy Tales) published by linguist specialists, Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG; and originally started by ethnologist Kurt Ranke in 1977.  The international work referencing nearly 200 years of research, over 14 volumes on completion, will include a comprehensive account consisting of:

  • Theories and methods, genre questions, problems of style and structure, issues of context and performance
  • Short monographs on important tale-types and motifs
  • Biographies of scholars, collectors, and authors of literary works relevant to folk narrative research
  • National and regional surveys providing information about folk narrative tradition and folk narrative research

Because of the nature of a fables metaphoric narrative, a common literary device is to use animal characters.  These may personify and enhance specific human traits such as the fable of the frog and the scorpion.  The scorpion stung the frog halfway across the river, condemning them both to drown, yet when the frog asked the scorpion why in his dying breaths, the scorpion simply replies “Because It is in my nature.”  Such analogies between human traits and animal characteristics help to emphasise the moral message of how we should and shouldn’t behave.

One of the most famous authors of fables has to be Greek slave Aesop, who told his stories around 550BCE  His book was soon to become one of the first used in education, whereby students were required to learn and analyse the tales.  This resulted in the first gatherings of stories for collective purposes.

Fellow Greek, author, historian and philosopher Flavius Philostratus wrote about Aesop in his biography of Appollonius of Tyana, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, V:14.

“… like those who dine well off the plainest dishes, he made use of humble incidents to teach great truths, and after serving up a story he adds to it the advice to do a thing or not to do it. Then, too, he was really more attached to truth than the poets are; for the latter do violence to their own stories in order to make them probable; but he by announcing a story which everyone knows not to be true, told the truth by the very fact that he did not claim to be relating real events…  And there is another charm about him, namely, that he puts animals in a pleasing light and makes them interesting to mankind. For after being brought up from childhood with these stories, and after being as it were nursed by them from babyhood, we acquire certain opinions of the several animals and think of some of them as royal animals, of others as silly, of others as witty, and others as innocent.”






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