March 08, 2012

#03-018: Aesop and His Fables

an old woodcut of an ugly hunchbacked man surrounded by many objects, including a grasshopper, a crow, and a castle; above the man's head is the word "ESOPVS" (Aesop)
A woodcut of Aesop

Note: A freed Greek slave has remained famous through the ages for his moral teachings, often put in the mouths of animals. Meet Aesop!

Get Ready: Do you think that telling stories is a good way to teach moral lessons? Is there a better way?

Ming, a Chinese student, asks Mark, an American, a question in the Common Room of their dorm.

Ming: Hi, Mark. Can you help me out?

Mark: Sure. What's the problem?

Ming: Yesterday one of my teachers mentioned a writer. I think he said "Esop." But I couldn't find it in my dictionary under "E."

Mark: Ah, right. That's the right pronunciation, but the spelling is A-E-S-O-P.

Ming: Well, that explains it! So, do you know anything about him?

Mark: Everyone does! He was famous for writing fables.

Ming: What's a fable?

Mark: It's a kind of story, usually with animals, that has a lesson at the end. The lesson is called "the moral of the story."

Ming: Oh, like "The Turtle and the Rabbit"?

Mark: Hey! That's Aesop! Except we usually call it "The Tortoise and the Hare."

Ming: I've heard that story like a million times, about the turtle and rabbit having a race, and the turtle wins because the rabbit stops to sleep.

Mark: So, what's the moral?

Ming: Something like "Slow but steady wins the race"?

Mark: Exactly. Can you think of any of Aesop's other fables?

Ming: I think there's one about a boy who kept telling people there was a wolf, but there wasn't?

Mark: Yes, that's Aesop, too. "The Boy Who Cried Wolf."

Ming: And then a real wolf comes and eats the boy.

Mark: Right, the moral being, "You can't believe a liar, even when he speaks the truth."

Ming: Yes! Do you know others?

Mark: Lots! There's "The Fox and the Grapes," where a fox can't reach some grapes and decides they must be sour.

Ming: Is that where we get the idea of "sour grapes," where someone speaks ill of something they can't have?

Mark: That's it. Also, do you know about "The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs"?

Ming: Nooo...

Mark: A man has this magic goose that lays one golden egg a day. But he wants to speed things up and get rich faster, so he cuts the goose open thinking he'll get all the eggs at once, and there's nothing inside.

Ming: Greedy! And the moral?

Mark: "Those who want too much lose everything."

Ming: Great! One more--I love these!

Mark: You probably know "The Ant and the Grasshopper."

Ming: Yes! The grasshopper plays around all summer, while the ants work to store up food.

Mark: That's it! And when winter comes, the ants are ready, but the grasshopper dies of hunger.

Ming: Right. I heard the moral was, "Work today to eat tomorrow."

Mark: Yes, that's one of them.

Ming: Okay. By the way, how many stories did Aesop write?

Mark: No one knows, but the collection today is around 650.

Ming: What do you mean, "no one knows"?

Mark: Well, lots of stories have been added through the years since the original collection around 2500 years ago. In fact, no one's even sure if Aesop is a real person! It could just be a name added to a group of stories. But tradition says he was a freed slave--and hideously ugly!

Ming: Wow! Interesting! Well, thanks for your help.

Mark: No problem!


Read more:

Practice: Match the fable to the lesson it teaches:

  1. The Ant and the Grasshopper
  2. The Boy Who Cried Wolf
  3. The Fox and the Grapes
  4. The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs
  5. The Tortoise and the Hare

  1. We should always tell the truth, so people can trust us.
  2. We shouldn't be greedy or try to "get rich quick."
  3. We should work hard now to prepare for the future.
  4. We shouldn't talk bad about something just because we can't have it.
  5. We should work at things steadily, not in short bursts.

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for March 8, 2012

This lesson received 190 visits on my old site between March, 2012, and July, 2021.

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