The fabulous legacy of an ancient Greek slave
Last week, fellow columnist Teresa Mallam referred to “the goose that laid the golden egg”.
I also heard someone refer to an economic forecaster as “crying wolf” and heard a hockey commentator refer to a coach’s comments on the reffing as “sour grapes”.
It made me think: How many of today’s writers will people still be quoting 2,300 years from now?
All of those phrases (and a lot of others) can be traced back to Aesop’s Fables.
How much of what we know about Aesop is real and how much is, well, a fable, is open to conjecture. It is generally accepted that he was a slave in Greece in the 4th century B.C. How many of the fables attributed to him were original with him and how many of them were ones he was simply passing one is also open to interpretation.
What isn’t open to interpretation is, as noted above, how many of the morals of his fables are still with us today in everyday use. A lot of times, people use the phrases without probably knowing where they come from. How many people, for instance, would know the name of the fable which “sour grapes” comes from? It is, in fact, The Fox and the Grapes, where the fox spies some delicious-looking grapes, but, try as he might, is unable to reach them.
In the end, he leaves them, saying, “I’m sure they were sour anyways.”
What came as almost as much of a surprise to me was which fables I thought of as being from Aesop, aren’t. There is, for instance, no indication of Aesop relating the fable of The Dog in the Manger or The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.
Even so, I can only shake my head in amazement that writings attributed to someone who lived 2,400 years ago are still in common use today.
I’m usually happy if someone remembers the following week what my column was about the previous week.