AESOP (620-520? BC) was born into slavery most likely in Thrace, a large region of the Balkan Peninsula in what’s known today as Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Slaves toiled hard as miners, plantation workers, or if they were lucky, household servants. It was possible for a slave to earn freedom (called manumission) through diligent work and loyal service. Aesop, a hunchback with a speech impediment, had two masters during his enslavement. His second master recognized the exceptional intelligence, wit, and tact of his servant, and as a result, he eventually granted Aesop his freedom. Freed slaves were permitted to engage in civic affairs and to travel wherever they wanted, and Aesop eagerly pursued both opportunities. His reputation grew as a wise and noble man. He travelled extensively to learn as much as he could, as he grew older, to impart his wisdom to people in other countries.

Aesop’s reputation grew enormously after he arrived at Sardis, the famed capital of Lydia in Asia Minor (now Turkey), which was ruled by King Croesus. Croesus of “rich as Croesus” fame, was known as a dedicated patron of learning; he allowed Aesop to interact with the wise of the day including Solon and Thales, two of the so-called wise men of Greece. Aesop more than hold his own with these sages, and so impressed Croesus that the king instructed Aesop to make his permanent home in Sardis. In that period Aesop began to assemble his collection of instructive tales about human behavior. He used the short fables to convey universal truths and lessons about how life should be properly lived. He gave the animals human traits and set them up in various conflicts. The morals were often cautionary. His fables gained wide recognition as people passed them along by word of mouth.

Because of Aesop’s keen mind and tactfulness, Croesus enlisted him for various diplomatic missions, sending him to cities like Athens and Corinth. Aesop used his fables to calm tensions, build consensus, and facilitate governance. It was on one those diplomatic missions that Aesop met his end.

In a particular generous gesture to his subjects, Croesus sent Aesop to Delphi, home of the Oracle and the most religious sanctuary in ancient Greece, to distribute a large amount of gold among the citizenry. But once there, Aesop became disgusted with the greedy and ungrateful nature of the people in the face of such largesse. His attempts, through his fables, to show the people the error of their ways proved futile. Finally, frustrated and disillusioned with the citizens of Delphi, Aesop sent the gold back to Croesus. The people became enraged when they learned Aesop had done. They ignored his diplomatic status as well as his reputation as a good and wise man, and executed him as a public criminal by hurling him off a cliff.

aesop-2   Not long after Delphi was hit with a series of catastrophes. Many believed the misfortunes were the result of Aesop’s unjust murder, and the phrase “beset with the blood of Aesop” became a common adage signifying that the bad deeds against another will not go unpunished. The people of Delphi eventually atoned and made amends for their crime against Aesop. Lysippus, a famous Greek sculptor, immortalized the fabulist by erecting by a statue of him in Athens.

Aesop’s fables continued to be passed along for centuries through oral tradition until around 300 BC when Demetrius Phalereus, an Athenian politician, compiled about two hundred of the fables in the text Assemblies of Aesop’s Tales. Three centuries later, another freed Greek slave named Phaedrus translated the collection of stories into Latin for a much broader audience. About AD 230, a Greek poet named Valerius Babrius combined fables from India with their Greek counterparts and published the entire collection in Greek verse. Babrius’s simple and charming collection of tales is the most widely read set of fables in world literature today and provides the context for the business tales.



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