4umi Aesop : Life of Æsop

Life of Aesop

The Life and History of Æsop is involved, like that of Homer, the most famous of Greek poets, in much obscurity. Sardis, the capital of Lydia; Samos, a Greek island; Mesembria, an ancient colony in Thrace; and Cotiæum, the chief city of a province of Phrygia, contend for the distinction of being the birthplace of Æsop. Although the honor thus claimed cannot be definitely assigned to any one of these places, yet there are a few incidents now generally accepted by scholars as established facts, relating to the birth, life, and death of Æsop. He is, by an almost universal consent, allowed to have been born about the year 620 B.C., and to have been by birth a slave. He was owned by two masters in succession, both inhabitants of Samos, Xanthus and Jadmon, the latter of whom gave him his liberty as a reward for his learning and wit. One of the privileges of a freedman in the ancient republics of Greece was the permission to take an active interest in public affairs; and Æsop, like the philosophers Phædo, Menippus, and Epictetus, in later times, raised himself from the indignity of a servile condition to a position of high renown. In his desire alike to instruct and to be instructed, he travelled through many countries, and among others came to Sardis, the capital of the famous king of Lydia, the great patron in that day, of learning and of learned men. He met at the court of Crœsus with Solon, Thales, and other sages, and is related so to have pleased his royal master, by the part he took in the conversations held with these philosophers, that he applied to him an expression which has since passed into a proverb, “μᾶλλον ὁ Φρύξ” (mallon ho Phryx)—“The Phrygian has spoken better than all.”

On the invitation of Crœsus he fixed his residence at Sardis, and was employed by that monarch in various difficult and delicate affairs of state. In his discharge of these commissions he visited the different petty republics of Greece. At one time he is found in Corinth, and at another in Athens, endeavoring, by the narration of some of his wise fables, to reconcile the inhabitants of those cities to the administration of their respective rulers, Pariander and Pisistratus. One of these ambassadorial missions, undertaken at the command of Crœsus, was the occasion of his death. Having been sent to Delphi with a large sum of gold for distribution among the citizens, he was so provoked at their covetousness that he refused to divide the money, and sent it back to his master. The Delphians, enraged at this treatment, accused him of impiety, and, in spite of his sacred character as ambassador, executed him as a public criminal. This cruel death of Æsop was not unavenged. The citizens of Delphi were visited with a series of calamities, until they made a public reparation of their crime; and ‘The blood of Æsop’ became a well-known adage, bearing witness to the truth that deeds of wrong would not pass unpunished. Neither did the great fabulist lack posthumous honors; for a statue was erected to his memory at Athens, the work of Lysippus, one of the most famous of Greek sculptors. Phædrus thus immortalizes the event:—

These few facts are all that can be relied on with any degree of certainty, in reference to the birth, life, and death of Æsop. They were first brought to light, after a patient search and diligent perusal of ancient authors, by a Frenchman, M. Claude Gaspard Bachet de Mezeriac, who declined the honor of being tutor to Louis XIII. of France, from his desire to devote himself exclusively to literature. He published his life of Æsop, Anno Domini 1632. The later investigations of a host of English and German scholars have added very little to the facts given by M. Mezeriac. The substantial truth of his statements has been confirmed by later criticism and inquiry.

From: The Ass and his Driver.

It remains to state, that prior to this publication of M. Mezeriac, the life of Æsop was from the pen of Maximus Planudes, a monk of Constantinople, who was sent on an embassy to Venice by the Byzantine Emperor Andronicus the elder, and who wrote in the early part of the fourteenth century. His life was prefixed to all the early editions of these fables, and was republished as late as 1727 by Archdeacon Croxall as the introduction to his edition of Æsop. This life by Planudes contains, however, so small an amount of truth, and is so full of absurd pictures of the grotesque deformity of Æsop, of wondrous apocryphal stories, of lying legends, and gross anachronisms, that it is now universally condemned as false, puerile, and unauthentic. 1 It is given up in the present day, by general consent, as unworthy of the slightest credit.

G.F.T.




Notes

  1. M. Bayle thus characterises this Life of Aesop by Planudes, "Tous les habiles gens conviennent que c'est un roman, et que les absurdites grossieres qui l'on y trouve le rendent indigne de toute." (All educated people agree that it is a work of fiction, and that the gross absudities one finds in it render it totally worthless.) — Dictionnaire Historique. Art. Esope.
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 Aesop Life of Æsop The Wolf Turned Shepherd The Stag at the Pool The Fox and the Mask The Bear and the Fox The Wolf and the Lamb The One-Eyed Doe The Dog, Cock and Fox The Mouse, the Frog, and the Hawk The Dog and the Oyster The Wolf and the Shepherds The Hares and the Frogs The Lion and the Boar The Mischievous Dog The Quack Frog The Ass, the Fox, and the Lion The Wolf and the Sheep The Cock and the Jewel The Two Pots The Gnat and the Lion The Widow and her Little Maidens The Fox and the Lion The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse The Monkey and the Dolphin The Game-cocks and the Partridge The Boy and the Nettle The Trumpeter taken Prisoner The Fatal Marriage The Ass and the Charger The Vain Jackdaw The Milkmaid and her Pot of Milk The Playful Ass The Man and the Satyr The Oak and the Reeds The Huntsman and the Fisherman The Mother and the Wolf The Shepherd and the Wolf The Dove and the Crow The Old Man and the Three Young Men The Lion and the Fox The Horse and the Stag The Lion and the Dolphin The Mice in Council The Camel and the Arab The Fighting Cocks and the Eagle The Boys and the Frogs The Crab and its Mother The Wolf and the Shepherd The Man and the Lion The Ox and the Frog The Birds, the Beasts, and the Bat The Charcoal-Burner and the Fuller The Bull and the Goat The Lion and the Mouse The Horse and the Ass The Old Hound The Crow and the Pitcher The Ass Eating Thistles The Wolf and the Lion The King's Son and the Painted Lion The Trees and the Axe The Seaside Travelers The Sea-gull and the Kite The Monkey and the Camel The Rat and the Elephant The Fisherman Piping The Wolf and the House-dog The Eagle and the Kite The Dogs and the Hides The Fisherman and the Little Fish The Ass and his Purchaser The Shepherd and the Sheep The Fox and the Crow The Swallow and the Crow The Hen and the Golden Eggs The Old Man and Death The Fox and the Leopard The Mountain in Labor The Bear and the Two Travelers The Sick Kite The Wolf and the Crane The Cat and the Cock The Wolf and the Horse The Two Soldiers and the Robber The Monkey and the Cat The Two Frogs The Robbers and the Ass The Vine and the Goat The Mouse and the Boasting Rat The Dogs and the Fox The Thief and the House-Dog The Sick Stag The Fowler and the Ringdove The Kid and the Wolf The Blind Man and the Whelp The Geese and the Cranes The North Wind and the Sun The Laborer and the Snake The Bull and the Calf The Goat and the Ass The Boasting Traveler The Ass, the Cock, and the Lion The Stag and the Fawn The Partridge and the Fowler The Farmer and the Stork The Ass and his Driver The Hare and the Hound The Kites and the Swans The Dog in the Manger The Crow and the Serpent The Cat and the Fox The Eagle and the Arrow The Dog Invited to Supper The Frogs Asking for a King The Prophet The Dog and his Master's Dinner The Buffoon and the Countryman The Boar and the Ass The Fox and the Goat The Oxen and the Butchers The Horse and his Rider The Dog and the Hare The Fawn and his Mother The Lark and her Young Ones The Bowman and the Lion The Boy and the Filberts The Woman and her Hen The Lamb and the Wolf The Bear and the Gardener The Heifer and the Ox The Eagle and the Fox The Hawk and the Nightingale The Hen and the Swallow The Herdsman and the Lost Bull The Shepherd's Boy and Wolf The Hawk, the Kite, and the Pigeons The Farmer and the Cranes The Cat and the Mice The Father and his Sons The Owl and the Grasshopper The Fox and the Grapes The Ass carrying the Image The Ass and the Lap-Dog The Tortoise and the Eagle The Porcupine and the Snakes The Fox who had Lost his Tail The Old Lion The Ass and the Wolf The Horse and the Groom The Ass and his Shadow The Horse and the Loaded Ass The Mules and the Robbers The Lion and the Three Bulls The Dog and the Shadow The Ants and the Grasshopper The Thirsty Pigeon The Flies and the Honey The Great and the Little Fishes The Wolves and the Sheep The Fox and the Stork The Bat and the Weasels The Hare and the Tortoise Jupiter and the Monkey The Lion in Love The Miser The Wolf and the Goat The Bald Knight The Fox and the Wood-Cutter The Kid and the Wolf The Lion, the Bear, and the Fox The Stag in the Ox-Stall The Eagle and the Jackdaw The Three Tradesmen The Dancing Monkeys The Ass and the Grasshopper The Ass in the Lion's Skin The Boy Bathing The Cock and the Fox The Viper and the File The Oxen and the Axle-Trees The Bear and the Bee-Hives The Thrush and the Swallow The Sensible Ass The Lion and the Ass The Fox and the Ape The Lion and the Wolf The Miller, his Son and their Ass The Travelers and the Plane-Tree The Tortoise and the Two Ducks The Countryman and the Snake The Madman who Sold Wisdom The Leopard and the Fox The Hare afraid of his Ears The Peacock and the Crane The Mouse and the Weasel The Fox and the Tiger The Fox and the Turkeys The Eagle, the Cat, and the Wild Sow The Peacock and the Magpie The Two Goats The Dove and the Ant The Eagle and the Beetle The Mule The Cat, the Weasel and the Rabbit The Rat and the Frog The Widow and the Sheep The Man Bitten by a Dog The Horse and the Wolf The Goatherd and the Goats The Goose with the Golden Eggs The Old Woman and the Wine-Jar The Ass Carrying Salt The Gnat and the Bull The Lion and the Gnat The Lion, the Ass and the Fox Hunting The Dog Whose Ears were Cropped The Wind and the Sun The Wild Boar and the Fox The Hunter and the Wolf