What is a Fable?

This lesson aims to introduce you to the literary genre, namely, fable by dealing with three selected fables by Aesop. As discussed in the previous lesson, the fables serve as specimens of early short stories. Before we start discussing the three selected fables, we must understand what a fable is as a genre. This is how M.H Abrams defines Fable in his A Glossary of Literary Terms

A Fable (also called an apologue) is a short narrative, in prose or verse that exemplifies an abstract moral thesis or principle of human behaviour; usually, at its conclusion, either the narrator or one of the characters states the moral in the form of an epigram. The most common is the beast fable, in which animals talk and act like the human types they represent and it is a very ancient form that existed in Egypt, India and Greece.

Thus, it may be understood that a Fable is a literary genre that is a short fictional narrative either in prose or in verse and illustrates or leads to an interpretation of a moral lesson (a “moral”), which may or may not be added at the end explicitly stated by the narrator or the characters of the story. A fable may contain animals, supernatural creatures, mythical heroes, inanimate objects like forces of nature that are given human qualities of speech and thought.

  • Epigram: an epigram is a rhetorical device that is a memorable, brief, interesting and surprising satirical statement. It has originated from a Greek word, ‘epigramma’, meaning inscription or to inscribe.

A similar genre to the Fable is a Parable which is a similar short narrative but which is about only humans and excludes animals, mythical creatures and forces of nature. It tries to draw a parallel between the characters in the story with humankind in general to stress upon a moral lesson as in a fable.

Fables have been considered one of the most enduring forms of folk literature and can be found the world over. Most fables have been passed down the ages through oral storytelling and thus one fable may have many regional variations. The same stories are sometimes found in different countries and cultures.

Fables have a long history all over the world and can be found in Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia. In Asia, India has a rich history of fables which include The Panchatantra and The Jataka Tales which include enduring and famous stories like the Hitopadesha and Vikram and Baital.

Also from Asia is the very famous collection of fables The Arabian Nights.

INTRODUCING AESOP’S FABLES

Aesop was supposed to have been a slave in ancient Greece and a famous storyteller. Aesop’s Fables also known as the Aesopica are a collection of fables that have been attributed to him although it has never been proven if he had actually composed these stories. These stories are the most famous and endearing fables for children in the entire world and have travelled down centuries through different cultures. They continue to be read and admired by children even today. Although attributed to Aesop, these stories are more like cultural fables and the stories have regional and cultural variants. Let us now take a look and read three of his fables prescribed in the course.

The Fox and The Crow

Text

A Fox once saw a Crow fly off with a piece of cheese in its beak and settle on a branch of a tree. ‘That’s for me, as I am a Fox,’ said Master Reynard, and he walked up to the foot of the tree. ‘Good-day, Mistress Crow,’ he cried. ‘How well you are looking to-day: how glossy your feathers; how bright your eye. I feel sure your voice must surpass that of other birds, just as your figure does; let me hear but one song from you that I may greet you as the Queen of Birds.’ The Crow lifted up her head and began to caw her best, but the moment she opened her mouth the piece of cheese fell to the ground, only to be snapped up by Master Fox. ‘That will do,’ said he. ‘That was all I wanted. In exchange for your cheese I will give you a piece of advice for the future .

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Moral

‘Do not trust flatterers.’

This fable by Aesop is an example of the beast fable where the story includes animals as characters that have human qualities of speech. The story plays out through the two characters of the fox that is given a name, Master Reynard and a crow that is addressed as Mistress Crow by the wily fox. A quick glance on the section above that sought to define a fable with its prevalent characteristics will reveal to the student how the story falls within that definition. It is a short narrative in prose with animal characters and one which the moral of the story is stated by one of the characters of the narrative itself. The story begins when the cunning fox sees a crow with a piece of cheese. He believes that it is he who should have that cheese as he feels he is superior to the crow since he is a fox. In order to get the piece of cheese from the crow, the fox decides to flatter the crow with many praises about the crow’s beauty and grace. He begins by wishing the crow a good day and then goes on to compliment the crow’s beautiful black shiny feathers and says how beautiful the crow looks. Then he says to the crow that its voice must be more beautiful than any other bird and wishes to hear the crow sing one song and then he would be convinced that the crow really is the queen of all birds. Flattered by the fox’s praises, the crow starts to caw as loudly as it can and in the process drops the piece of cheese from its beak. The fox has his way and collects the cheese and then goes on to advise the crow to not trust flatterers in the future which is thus the moral of the story.

The Wind and the Sun

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The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveller coming down the road, and the Sun said: ‘I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveller to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.’ So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveller. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveller wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveller, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on.

Moral

Kindness effects more than severity.

This story is another endearing fable by Aesop that seeks to teach the moral that one must be kind to people to affect changes in them rather than wishing to do so by severity. This fable anthropomorphises (a word use to describe the bestowing of human characteristics on inanimate objects, animals or forces of nature) the sun and the wind and gives them human qualities of speech and debate. The story revolves around an argument between the two main characters-the sun and the wind regarding who is stronger than the other. The introduction of a third human character allows them the opportunity to test their strengths and find out who is actually stronger than the other. They decide that whoever can make the man remove his cloak will win this battle of strength. They both agree and the sun asks the wind to try his strength first. The wind does so by blowing with all its might to try and make the cloak fly off from the man’s shoulders. However, the more the wind blew, the more tightly did the man cover himself with his cloak. The wind gave up, disheartened. It was then the sun’s turn and he came out from behind a cloud and shone in all his glory. The man found it too hot to be wearing his cloak and thus took it off. The sun thus won the contest not by showing his strength and might but by being his own kind self. The moral of the story here is not spoken by a character in the story but is included in the end of the narrative by the narrator himself.

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Hercules and the Waggoner

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A Waggoner was once driving a heavy load along a very muddy way. At last he came to a part of the road where the wheels sank half-way into the mire, and the more the horses pulled, the deeper sank the wheels. So the Waggoner threw down his whip, and knelt down and prayed to Hercules the Strong. ‘O Hercules, help me in this my hour of distress,’ quoth he. But Hercules appeared to him, and said:

‘Tut, man, don’t sprawl there. Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel.’

Moral

The gods help them that help themselves.

This fable includes the mythical character of Hercules and a simple man driving a wagon to tell a story with a moral. A man was riding a wagon with a heavy load and got stuck in the mud. The more the horses tried to pull out of the mud, the more the wheels sank in. The man got worried and started praying to Hercules who his famous for his legendary strength. Hercules heard the man’s prayers and appeared but asked the man to put his shoulder to the wheels to help it come out of the mud instead of praying to him. The moral as stated by the narrator is that gods help only those who help themselves. Thus the fable seeks to teach that we must not be disheartened when life gives us a tough time but we must overcome those obstacles with our strength of mind and will. One must not blindly pray to a higher force for help without trying to alter thesituation by hard work.

  • Hercules: Hercules is the Roman name for the Greek divine hero Heracles known for his strength and famous for his many adventures of power and strength.

MAJOR THEME

The themes of the fables differ from story to story and the morality stressed through each story is the major theme in each fable and the purpose of the fables is solely to underline the moral point of the story. Thus the theme of the Fox and the Crow story is to illustrate the moral that one must never trust flatterers while the themes of the next two fables are the same as the morals that the stories wish to portray.

STYLE AND LANGUAGE

The style and language of the fables are simple and straightforward as they are meant for children and are thus easily accessible to one and all. The style of the fables have similarities with old storytelling traditions as that is how most of the fables have been transmitted down the generations. The student can see how the stories can be read like they were being narrated by a storyteller rather than a writer writing down a story solely as written literature for children. Although the focus is the morals, the style of the fables disguises the moral in a catchy fun narrative that helps to put across the moral better otherwise the fables would have become mere preachy sermons.

In the article, the leaders can see how fables have been used the world over down the ages to inculcate certain morals and values in children by presenting a narrative in a fun way with animals and birds to teach children certain do’s and don’ts in life. The value of the first story is to teach that someone who flatters you exaggeratedly would definitely have an ulterior motive and thus one must be wary of people like that.

The second fable employs natural elements such as the sun and the wind as characters instead of the first one which used animals. Besides this, there is really not much change in the style and language of the fable. It seeks to teach a child how kindness is a virtue to be cherished and promoted by all instead of harshness and that it is kindness that affects people more than harshness or severity.

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The third fable provides us an example of the fable that includes a human being and a mythical figure that of Hercules, the Greek hero of great strength and stature. Like in the other fables, the narrative begins and ends with the main characters. This fable wishes to impart the value of strong will and the ability to not give up in times of trouble and to help oneself to overcome any obstacle.

While the theme in a fable is simple and straightforward, the learners and advised to look beyond it and analyse how the story is shaped, what is the kind of language employed and what is the overall style of the fable that
it appeals to so many, young and old alike.

One can notice the simplicity of style where the narrative does not digress but starts exactly with the characters involved just at the moment of the unfolding of the story. The language is catchy and simple and thus is enjoyed immensely by children the world over and down many generations.

Important Questions

Q. What is a Fable?

Ans. A Fable is a literary genre that has a short fictional narrative either in prose or in verse that illustrates or leads to an interpretation of a moral lesson (a “moral”), which may or may not at the end be added explicitly stated by the narrator or the characters of the story.

Q. What is a Parable?

Ans. A Parable is a short narrative. But unlike a fable which may contain animals, supernatural creatures, mythical heroes, inanimate objects like forces of nature that are given human qualities of speech and thought, a parable is about only humans and excludes animals, mythical creatures and forces of nature. It tries to draw a parallel between the characters in the story with humankind in general to stress upon a moral lesson as in a fable.

Q. How has the fables passed on from one generation to the other?

Ans. Most fables have been passed down the ages through oral storytelling.

Q. Give some examples of the fables.

Ans. India has a rich history of fables which include The Panchatantra and The Jataka Tales which include enduring and famous stories like the Hitopadesha and Vikram and Baital. The famous collection of fables from Asia titled The Arabian Nights is worth mentioning.

Q. Who we Aesop? Where was he from?

Ans. Aesop was supposed to have been a slave in ancient Greece and a famous storyteller.

Q. What are Aesop’s Fables known as?

Ans.Aesop’s Fables also known as the Aesopica are a collection of fables that have been attributed to him although it has never been proven that he actually composed these stories.

Q. What is the style of these fables?

Ans. These stories are the most famous and endearing fables for children in the entire world and have travelled down centuries through different cultures. Although attributed to Aesop, these stories are more like cultural fables and the stories have regional and cultural variants.

Q. What is the major theme of the fables?

Ans. Morality.

Q. Write a note on the style and language of the fables?

Ans. The style and language of the fables are simple and straightforward as they are meant for children and are thus easily accessible to one and all. The style of the fables have similarities with old storytelling traditions.

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