One cannot establish with certainty the life, or even the existence, of Aesop, a slave, a fable writer and one of the main inspirers of John of the Source because of his fables. His story is full of tales and inventions.
According to the legend, he was born, a slave, in Ammonius, a relatively dark city of Phrygia.
Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash
All the stories agree that he had an extremely deformed body, but his greatest weakness was his speech, which was slow, inarticulate and difficult to understand.
Nature, however, would have compensated for these weaknesses with a clear and consummate mind, capable of the highest and most sublime impulses of ideas.
Aesop (7th-6th century B.C.) is a Greek writer of Phrygian origin, who is attributed the authorship of fables as literature or literary genre.
Nothing is certain in Aesop’s life. The first testimony is that of Herodotus, that Aesop was a slave of Iadmon, together with Rhodopis.
This vision is later taken up by Heraclides of the Bridge, who presents it as originating in Thrace, near the Black Sea.
This thesis is confirmed by a certain Eugeiton who states that Aesop was from Mesemburg, city of the Cyclones, on the coast of Thrace.
As Chambry points out, “if this Eugeiton must be identified with a certain Eugeion, who has been conjectured to be the source of Herodotus, his testimony would have weight, and the fable writer could be considered a Thracian.
But the most widespread tradition made Aesop a Phrygian. Phaedra, Dion Chrysostom, Lucien, Aulu-Gelle, Maximus of Tyre, Aelius Aristide, Himerius, Stobaeus, Suidas (reporting the word borrowed from Croesus: “The Phrygian spoke better than all the others. “), they agreed to assign Phrygia as their homeland.
Some even specified the city of Phrygia where he was born: it was, according to La Souda and Constantine Porphyrogenetus, Cotyaion; it was Amorion, according to the legendary life of Aesop. »
According to Chambry, “if we have looked for Aesop’s homeland outside of Greece, in Phrygia, it is because the name Αἴσωπος does not seem to be a Greek name; we think we saw a Phrygian name, which was related to the name of the Phrygian river Αἴσηπος, and perhaps to the Trojan warrior Αἴσηπος to which Homer refers; we also relate it to the word Ἢσοπος which is read on a vase in Signea.
Aesop’s life makes him a Lydian, probably because, according to the tradition that first appears in Heraclid, he was a slave of the Lydian Xanthos.
In short, since all these traditions are based only on conjecture, it would not make sense to stop at any of them: it would be better to resign oneself to ignoring what one cannot know. »
As for the time he lived, the same uncertainty reigns. If we follow Herodotus, who makes him a contemporary of Rhodopis, he would have lived between 570 and 526.
M.L. West hypothesizes that Samos is the place where his legend was formed.
The legend of Aesop is known to us through the story of Maximus Planude, a thirteenth-century Byzantine scholar who popularized a life of Aesop from material probably dating from the first century.
The text comes from various traditions, some ancient, others from the Roman period. The most important loan is the account of Aesop’s life in Babylon, which is a transposition of the account of Ahiqar’s life, which was circulating in Syria at that time.
La Fontaine adapted this story and put it at the head of his collection of fables under the title The Life of Aesop the Phrygian.
According to this account, “Aesop was the ugliest of his contemporaries; he had a pointed head, a nose like a shrimp, a very short neck, protruding lips, a black complexion, hence his name, which means black; chubby, knobbly, hunched over, he was uglier than Homer’s Therapy; but, what is worse, he was slow to express himself and his speech was confused and not very articulate. »
These caricatured features were enough for some authors to speculate on their blackness.
According to the legend, Aesop, having dreamt that Fortune had loosened his tongue, woke up one day cured of his stutter.
Bought by a slave trader, he arrives at the house of a Samoan philosopher, Xanthos, with whom he competes with tricks and good words. Finally freed, he goes to Croesus to try to safeguard the independence of Samos.
He succeeds in his embassy by telling the king a fable. He then puts himself at the service of the “king of Babylon”, who takes pleasure in the enigmas of the fable writer.
It also brilliantly solves the enigmas that the king of Egypt would have asked his master.
Traveling through Greece, he stopped in Delphi, where, according to the legend, he made fun of the inhabitants of Delphi because, instead of cultivating the land, they lived on offerings made to the god.
In revenge, the Delphi would have accused him of stealing sacred objects and sentenced him to death.
To defend himself, Aesop told them two fables, The Frog and the Rat and The Eagle and the Carbot, but nothing happened and he died precipitately on the rocks of the Phaedriads.
During his life as a slave, Aesop fights ceaselessly against his master Xanthos, whose name means “Blond”.
The historical reality of the prodigious destiny of this stuttering and deformed ex-slave who managed to free himself and came to advise kings thanks to his ability to solve enigmas has often been questioned.
“The whole story of Aesop’s life is based on the theme of laughter, the good joke by which the weak, the exploited, impose themselves on the masters, the powerful.
In this sense, Aesop is a precursor of the anti-hero, ugly, despised, without initial power, but who manages to get away with it because of his ability to decipher enigmas. ».
Aesop was already very popular in the classical era, as is shown by the fact that Socrates himself is said to have spent his last moments in prison before his death by putting into verse fables by this author.
The philosopher would have explained it to his disciple as follows: “A poet must take as his theme the myths… So I chose the myths that I had at hand, those fables of Aesop that I knew by heart, by chance of the meeting” Diogenes Laërce even attributes a fable to Socrates, who started this way: “One day, Aesop said to the inhabitants of Corinth that virtue should not be submitted to the judgment of the people.
“This is a precept today typically associated with the philosopher rather than the fable writer. Socrates probably used the name Aesop to convey his precepts through apologists.
- You cannot change your destiny.
- It’s easy to be brave from a safe distance.
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