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Anthropomorphic cat guarding geese, Egypt, c. 1120 BCE

Fable is a literary genre defined as a succinct fictional story, in prose or verse,[1] that features animals, legendary creatures, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature that are anthropomorphized, and that illustrates or leads to a particular moral lesson (a "moral"), which may at the end be added explicitly as a concise maxim or saying.

A fable differs from a parable in that the latter excludes animals,[2] plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as actors that assume speech or other powers of humankind.[3][4] Conversely, an animal tale specifically includes talking animals as characters.[5][6]

Usage has not always been so clearly distinguished. In the King James Version of the New Testament, "μῦθος" ("mythos") was rendered by the translators as "fable"[7] in the First Epistle to Timothy, the Second Epistle to Timothy, the Epistle to Titus and the First Epistle of Peter.[8]

A person who writes fables is referred to as a fabulist.[9][10]


The fable is one of the most enduring forms of folk literature, spread abroad, modern researchers agree,[11] less by literary anthologies than by oral transmission. Fables can be found in the literature of almost every country.[12][13]

Aesopic or Aesop's fable[edit]

The varying corpus denoted Aesopica or Aesop's Fables includes most of the best-known western fables, which are attributed to the legendary Aesop, supposed to have been a slave in ancient Greece around 550 BCE. When Babrius set down fables from the Aesopica in verse for a Hellenistic Prince "Alexander", he expressly stated at the head of Book II that this type of "myth" that Aesop had introduced to the "sons of the Hellenes" had been an invention of "Syrians" from the time of "Ninos" (personifying Nineveh to Greeks) and Belos ("ruler").[14] Epicharmus of Kos and Phormis are reported as having been among the first to invent comic fables.[15] Many familiar fables of Aesop include "The Crow and the Pitcher", "The Tortoise and the Hare" and "The Lion and the Mouse". In ancient Greek and Roman education, the fable was the first of the progymnasmata—training exercises in prose composition and public speaking—wherein students would be asked to learn fables, expand upon them, invent their own, and finally use them as persuasive examples in longer forensic or deliberative speeches. The need of instructors to teach, and students to learn, a wide range of fables as material for their declamations resulted in their being gathered together in collections, like those of Aesop.


African oral culture[16] has a rich story-telling tradition. As they have for thousands of years, people of all ages in Africa continue to interact with nature, including plants, animals and earthly structures such as rivers, plains, and mountains. Children and, to some extent, adults are mesmerized by good story-tellers when they become animated in their quest to tell a good fable.

The Anansi oral story originates from the tribes of Ghana. "All Stories Are Anansi's" was translated by Harold Courlander and Albert Kofi Prempeh and tells the story of a god-like creature Anansi who wishes to own all stories in the world.[17] The character Anansi is often depicted as a spider and is known for its cunning nature to obtain what it wants, typically seen outwitting other animal characters.[17]

Joel Chandler Harris wrote African-American fables in the Southern context of slavery under the name of Uncle Remus.[18] His stories of the animal characters Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Bear are modern examples of African-American story-telling, this though should not transcend critiques and controversies as to whether or not Uncle Remus was a racist or apologist for slavery. The Disney movie Song of the South introduced many of the stories to the public and others not familiar with the role that storytelling played in the life of cultures and groups without training in speaking, reading, writing, or the cultures to which they had been relocated to from world practices of capturing Africans and other indigenous populations to provide slave labor to colonized countries.


India has a rich tradition of fables, many derived from traditional stories and related to local natural elements. Indian fables often teach a particular moral.[19] In some stories the gods have animal aspects, while in others the characters are archetypal talking animals similar to those found in other cultures. Hundreds of fables were composed in ancient India during the first millennium BCE, often as stories within frame stories. Indian fables have a mixed cast of humans and animals. The dialogues are often longer than in fables of Aesop and often comical as the animals try to outwit one another by trickery and deceit. In Indian fables, humanity is not presented as superior to the animals. Prime examples of the fable in India are the Panchatantra and the Jataka tales. These included Vishnu Sarma's Panchatantra, the Hitopadesha, Vikram and The Vampire, and Syntipas' Seven Wise Masters, which were collections of fables that were later influential throughout the Old World. Ben E. Perry (compiler of the "Perry Index" of Aesop's fables) has argued controversially that some of the Buddhist Jataka tales and some of the fables in the Panchatantra may have been influenced by similar Greek and Near Eastern ones.[20] Earlier Indian epics such as Vyasa's Mahabharata and Valmiki's Ramayana also contained fables within the main story, often as side stories or back-story. The most famous folk stories from the Near East were the One Thousand and One Nights, also known as the Arabian Nights.

The Panchatantra is an ancient Indian assortment of fables. The earliest recorded work, ascribed to Vishnu Sharma, dates to around 300 BCE. The tales are likely much older than the compilation, having been passed down orally prior to the book's compilation. The word "Panchatantra" is a blend of the words "pancha" (which means "five" in Sanskrit) and "tantra" (which means "weave"). It implies weaving together multiple threads of narrative and moral lessons together to form a book.


Printed image of the fable of the blacksmith and the dog from the sixteenth century[21]

Fables had a further long tradition through the Middle Ages and became part of European high literature. During the 17th century, the French fabulist Jean de La Fontaine (1621–1695) saw the soul of the fable in the moral—a rule of behavior. Starting with the Aesopian pattern, La Fontaine set out to satirize the court, the church, the rising bourgeoisie, indeed the entire human scene of his time.[22] La Fontaine's model was subsequently emulated by England's John Gay (1685–1732);[23] Poland's Ignacy Krasicki (1735–1801);[24] Italy's Lorenzo Pignotti (1739–1812)[25][verification needed] and Giovanni Gherardo de Rossi (1754–1827);[26][verification needed] Serbia's Dositej Obradović (1745–1801)[27]; Spain's Tomás de Iriarte y Oropesa (1750–1791);[28][verification needed] France's Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian (1755–1794);[29] and Russia's Ivan Krylov (1769–1844).[30]

Modern era[edit]

In modern times, while the fable has been trivialized in children's books, it has also been fully adapted to modern adult literature. Felix Salten's Bambi (1923) is a Bildungsroman—a story of a protagonist's coming-of-age—cast in the form of a fable. James Thurber used the ancient fable style in his books Fables for Our Time (1940) and Further Fables for Our Time (1956), and in his stories "The Princess and the Tin Box" in The Beast in Me and Other Animals (1948) and "The Last Clock: A Fable for the Time, Such As It Is, of Man" in Lanterns and Lances (1961). Władysław Reymont's The Revolt (1922), a metaphor for the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, described a revolt by animals that take over their farm in order to introduce "equality". George Orwell's Animal Farm (1945) similarly satirized Stalinist Communism in particular, and totalitarianism in general, in the guise of animal fable.

In the 21st century, the Neapolitan writer Sabatino Scia is the author of more than two hundred fables that he describes as "western protest fables". The characters are not only animals, but also things, beings, and elements from nature. Scia's aim is the same as in the traditional fable, playing the role of revealer of human society. In Latin America, the brothers Juan and Victor Ataucuri Garcia have contributed to the resurgence of the fable. But they do so with a novel idea: use the fable as a means of dissemination of traditional literature of that place. In the book "Fábulas Peruanas" , published in 2003,[31] they have collected myths, legends, and beliefs of Andean and Amazonian Peru, to write as fables. The result has been an extraordinary work rich in regional nuances.[32]




Notable fable collections[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stevenson, Robert (2017-10-02). Fables. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 978-1-9778-5352-3.
  2. ^ Khanna, Neerja Deswal & Pooja. English Language Through Literature (For University of Delhi). Vikas Publishing House. p. 58. ISBN 978-93-5453-204-7.
  3. ^ YAO, DAVID. Decoding Greek and Latin roots in English (Part 2/4) 探源英语词根,轻松扩大英语词汇: Expand English Vocabulary in Unique Smart Way! Version 2022. Legoo Mandarin. p. 17.
  4. ^ Rakhmi, Annisa (2012-01-01). Lets Narrate A Text!. PT Balai Pustaka (Persero). p. 56.
  5. ^ Atherton, Mark (2012-08-20). There and Back Again: J R R Tolkien and the Origins of The Hobbit. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 10. ISBN 978-0-85772-166-2.
  6. ^ Vigil, Angel (2000-06-15). The Eagle on the Cactus: Traditional Stories from Mexico. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. pp. XLVI. ISBN 978-0-313-06991-8.
  7. ^ For example, in First Timothy, "neither give heed to fables...", and "refuse profane and old wives' fables..." (1 Tim 1:4 and 4:4, respectively).
  8. ^ Strong's 3454. μύθος muthos moo’-thos; perhaps from the same as 3453 (through the idea of tuition); a tale, i.e. fiction ("myth"):—fable.
    "For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty." (2nd Peter 1:16)
  9. ^ Danner, Horace Gerald (2014-03-27). A Thesaurus of English Word Roots. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 270. ISBN 978-1-4422-3326-3.
  10. ^ Rothstein, Andrew; Rothstein, Evelyn; Lauber, Gerald (2006-12-13). Writing as Learning: A Content-Based Approach. Corwin Press. p. 188. ISBN 978-1-4522-3966-8.
  11. ^ Enzyklopädie des Märchens (1977), see "Fabel", "Äsopica" etc.
  12. ^ Sargsyan, Armen (2019-03-06). Armenian Folk Fables. Amazon Digital Services LLC - KDP Print US. ISBN 978-1-7989-0520-3.
  13. ^ "Tribhuvan University Michael Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost" (PDF). Retrieved 2024-03-21.
  14. ^ Burkert 1992:121
  15. ^ P. W. Buckham, p. 245
  16. ^ Atim Oton (October 25, 2011). "Reaching African Children Through Fables and Animation". Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved May 8, 2012.
  17. ^ a b The Norton Anthology World Literature (4th ed.). 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company. 2018. pp. 902–905. ISBN 978-0-393-60285-2.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  18. ^ Harris, Joel Chandler (2015-06-12). Uncle Remus. Xist Publishing. ISBN 978-1-68195-042-6.
  19. ^ Ohale, Nagnath (2020-05-25). "Indian Fables Stories – In Indian Culture Indian fables with morals". In Indian Culture. Archived from the original on 2020-07-31. Retrieved 2020-07-16.
  20. ^ Ben E. Perry, "Introduction", p. xix, in Babrius and Phaedrus (1965)
  21. ^ "Fabel van de smid en de hond". lib.ugent.be. Retrieved 2020-09-28.
  22. ^ Translations of his 12 books of fables are available online at oaks.nvg.org
  23. ^ His two collections of 1727 and 1738 are available in one volume on Google Books at books.google.co.uk
  24. ^ His Bajki i przypowieści (Fables and Parables, 1779) are available online at ug.edu.pl
  25. ^ His Favole e Novelle (1785) is available on. da'torchi di R.di Napoli. 1830. Retrieved May 8, 2012 – via Internet Archive. pignotti favola.
  26. ^ Rossi, Giovanni Gherardo De (1790). His Favole (1788) is available on Google Books. Retrieved May 8, 2012.
  27. ^ 9 books of fables are available online in Spanish at amediavoz.com
  28. ^ His Fabulas Literarias are available on. 1816. Retrieved May 8, 2012 – via Internet Archive. Tomás de Iriarte y Oropesa fabulas.
  29. ^ His five books of fables are available online in French at shanaweb.net Archived 2010-06-12 at the Wayback Machine
  30. ^ 5 books of fables are available online in English at friends-partners.org Archived 2011-02-21 at the Wayback Machine
  31. ^ García, Juan Miguel Ataucuri (2002). Fábulas peruanas (in Spanish). Gaviota Azul Editores.
  32. ^ Juan y Víctor Ataucuri García, "Fábulas Peruanas", Gaviota Azul Editores, Lima, 2003 ISBN 9972-2561-0-3.
  33. ^ Kermode, Mark (30 July 2013). "The Devil's Backbone: The Past Is Never Dead . . ". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 25 June 2016. For those with a weakness for the beautiful monsters of modern cinema, del Toro has earned himself a reputation as the finest living exponent of fabulist film.
  34. ^ Aesop (1994). Aesop's Fables. Wordsworth Editions. ISBN 978-1-85326-128-2.
  35. ^ Francis, Henry Thomas; Thomas, Edward Joseph (1916). Jataka Tales. Cambridge University Press.
  36. ^ Sharma, Vishnu (2021-08-01). Panchatantra. Prakash Books. ISBN 978-93-5440-376-7.
  37. ^ Burton, Richard F. (2023-07-16). Vikram and the Vampire. BoD - Books on Demand. ISBN 979-10-418-0758-1.
  38. ^ Orbeliani, Sulxan-Saba (1982). A Book of Wisdom and Lies. Octagon Press. ISBN 978-0-900860-97-3.
  39. ^ Marzolph, Ulrich (2007). "Arabian Nights". In Kate Fleet; Gudrun Krämer; Denis Matringe; John Nawas; Everett Rowson (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam (3rd ed.). doi:10.1163/1573-3912_ei3_COM_0021. Arabian Nights, the work known in Arabic as Alf layla wa-layla
  40. ^ The Thousand and One Nights: The Arabian Nights Entertainments. J.C. Nimmo and Bain. 1883.
  41. ^ Andersen, Hans Christian (2015-09-28). Andersen's Fairy Tales and Stories: Fairy Tales, Folktales Collections. 谷月社.
  42. ^ Harris, Joel Chandler (1881). Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings; the Folk-lore of the Old Plantation. D. Appleton.
  43. ^ Bierce, Ambrose (1898). Fantastic Fables. G. P. Putnam's sons. ISBN 978-1-4429-9139-2.


  • Buckham, Philip Wentworth (1827). Theatre of the Greeks. J. Smith. The Theatre of the Greeks.
  • King James Bible; New Testament (authorised).
  • DLR [David Lee Rubin]. "Fable in Verse", The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics.
  • Read fables by Aesop and La Fontaine

Further reading[edit]