Fables exist in cultures all over the world and are used as an instrument of wisdom transmission. Greek fables are quite famous, mainly in Western culture, and have been present in many people’s lives since their early childhoods. They appear in kids books and educational materials and are transmitted orally in the classroom and at home.

Greek Fables Origin

The origin of Greek fables can’t be traced back exactly, but history mentions Aesop, a storyteller supposedly born in the sixth or seventh century B.C in Asia Minor, who was later brought to Greece as an enslaved man. 

One of the earliest known books printed in Guntenberg’s press in 1476 was Aesop’s Fables. French poet Jean de La Fontaine, who lived in the seventeenth century, was a great promoter of Aesop’s Fables. 

According to Theon of Alexandria (math and astronomy professor as well as scholar of books from classic authors, who lived from AD 335 to 400): “The Fable is an invented story that illustrates the truth”

What are fables?

Fables rely on animal characters with human traits.

According to InfoEscola, fables “make an analogy between human reality and the situation lived by the characters with the intent of teaching something or proving a well-established truth”, as Theon of Alexandria pointed out. Many call this well-established truth a moral lesson. 

Storytelling is an old and universal form of entertainment. For this reason, the fable’s purpose is to impact and clarify moral, ethical and social values in a pleasant, gentle, effective and non-threatening way. 

Greek fables are used as an educational tool in order to illustrate a society’s ethical, moral and social rules, so that people (usually kids) learn them without the need to live through a similar experience. 

Due to their ancient nature and to the fact that they have been spread orally throughout history, Greek fables suffered alterations and transformations with time. Its “moral lessons” at the end of the fables didn’t use to exist and people were free to interpret the story and reflect on it as they wished. 

The Moral Lesson in Greek Fables

The moral lesson might be the most popular aspect of the fables. The moral lesson is an item which is present in every single article published about fables, in every research website, information books, in how to create a fable, and so on and so forth. 

I can even remember some sentences that originate from the fables’ moral lessons: “Slow and steady wins the race”; “All actions have consequences”; “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted”

In the book “A Companion to the Works of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing”, the author John Pizer brings up some important issues raised by Lessing, a German poet, playwright, philosopher and art critic who lived in the seventeenth century. 

According to Lessing, the fables’ moral teachings have to be intuitive. Describing a fox as astute, a dog as loyal and a rooster as proud, is for him part of the semiotics of allegory, which “presuppose a need for relatively overt narrative description in linking an animal’s moral attributes to its character”. 

Lessing says that, in a simple fable, in which there are no semiotics of allegory, “such associations are directly intuited”. In other words, there’s no need to label the character because the reader will perceive its traits. According to the author, the semiotics of allegory “would block the intuitive cognition of a moral truth by now allowing the reader’s imagination to do its own work. This process of intuitive cognition is at the core of Lessing’s famous summary definition of the fable”, which “presupposes the perceptions of the narrated event as real, a perception that detailed description, given its ‘inanimate’ quality, can only obscure”. 

Considering Lessing’s stance on the subject, we leave a few important questions here: 

  • Wouldn’t it be richer to let kids think for themselves about what the story is teaching?
  • Is there really only one moral lesson in a fable?
  • What if there are more things we’re not perceiving because we assume that the moral lesson taught to us is the right one? 

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The effect of fables on kids:

According to Theda Detlor in the book “Aesop´s Fables – Reproducible Read-Aloud Tales With Instant Activities that Get Kids Discussing, Writing About & Acting on the Important Lessons in The Wise & Classic Stories”, fables help kids in many aspects: 

  • Develops their understanding of metaphors: kids are challenged to connect a series of concrete actions to a certain moral value, abstract from something specific to something more general, and understand figurative language. This promotes high-level thinking as kids develop their skills to interpret meanings and metaphors, make inferences and judgments, and create alternate solutions. 
  • Applies ethical issues to real life situations: kids develop critical thinking regarding story events and apply it to a range of ethical issues, using them in several events from the real world. 
  • Builsd a community in the classroom: through discussion and debate, kids learn to listen to one another and express their opinions about ethical behaviors. They learn to extract and expand the meaning of stories and discuss real life questions using moral reasoning. Such reflections give kids an ethical foundation in the classroom, as they explore themes and values which will create a solid ethical community. 
  • Facilitates the literacy process: the fable’s concise structure and language have an amazing effect on young readers and writers. Kids learn to recognize the structure of predictable narratives and their patterns and apply this to their own creations.
  • Fosters ethical and moral development: using the shared context of the stories, kids feel more comfortable about exploring the moral domain, developing critical thinking about ethical issues and reflecting on their own values. 

The Most Famous Greek Fables

The Ant and the Grasshopper:

The grasshopper liked to sing and enjoy life without worrying about the future. The ant, on the other hand, worked hard to store food, mainly during the summer, in order to have enough to eat throughout the winter. 

While the ant worked, the grasshopper sang. It also tried to persuade the ant to stop working and come sing with it. 

When winter came, the grasshopper had nothing to eat. The ant, however, since it had worked all summer long, was well-prepared to survive the winter. 

The Tortoise and the Hare:

The hare and the tortoise lived in the woods. The hare would always tease the tortoise for being slow and, one day, the tortoise said enough. It decided to challenge the hare to a race, who accepted, sure that it would win. 

Once the race started, both started running. The hare was way quicker than the tortoise, to the point it decided to lie down to rest right next to the finish line. However, the tortoise kept going at its slow pace and eventually reached the finish line before the hare, which woke up when it was already too late. 

The Fox and the Grapes:

Starving, the fox walked through an orchard until it spotted a bunch of grapes. It noticed the grapes were ripe and perfect to be eaten. Since the path was clear and no one was around, the fox decided to pick the grapes. 

The grapes were hanging high in the vines, but the fox spared no effort to try to catch them, despite its own limitations. It tried to reach the grapes through many ways. 

After several failed attempts, the fox was exhausted and disappointed, as well as still starving. Admitting defeat, it shrugged, turned around and left. It felt so frustrated by its unsuccessful attempts that it tried to comfort itself by saying, scornfully: “Actually, looking carefully, the grapes were rotten and not as ripe as they seemed to be when I saw them for the first time.” 

The Lion and the Mouse:

There was a lion who lived in a forest and who was feared by all the animals. One day, he was sleeping with a full belly under the shade of a tree when a little mouse woke him up as he tip-toed past him. 

Startled, the lion caught the mouse beneath his paw. The little mouse begged the lion not to eat him. He begged him so much, the lion let him go. 

Some time later, the lion was strolling through the forest. Suddenly, he got trapped in a hunter’s net. He roared in anger because he couldn’t escape. 

The little mouse, who was close by, went to check what was happening and spotted the lion stuck in the trap. He quickly gnawed at the ropes until the lion was free. 

Written by Luisa Scherer

Translated by Mariana Gruber

Editor’s Note

Knowing the fables are tools to develop many functions during childhood, we have brought them to Truth and Tales, our kids stories app that has many interactive stories for kids. 

Leo, the Lion is one of the stories available in the Truth and Tales Library, as an interactive story and in audiobook format as well. Leo, the Lion has many similarities to Rumi’s stories, to Aesop’s fables and to Indian and Afghan fables. The interactive story is an adaptation to technology in which kids can roar as lions, make music with flowers and even see themselves as a lion with the Augmented Reality tool.

There is no moral lesson in Truth and Tales’ stories because we believe that kids are free to perceive the teachings and wisdoms of the story, which can be infinite. 

Download the app and try out one of the interactive stories or audiobooks!