26
Nov
13

A Fresh Take On Aesop

Aesop's FablesAesop’s Fables, translated by Laura Gibbs

With so many different versions of Aesop’s Fables, it’s probably futile to say one is the one to get. But still: if you’re only going to get one collection, you can’t go wrong with the Oxford World Classics edition.

For starters, it’s about as complete as you’re going to get. It collects 600 fables, taken from sources as diverse as Ancient Romans like Babrius and Phaedrus to Medieval manuscripts by Ademar and Odo of Cheriton. It’s a much wider cross-section than other collections (Penguin, for instance, has less than 400 fables in their “complete” collection). It has all the ones you remember, from the boy who cried wolf to the tortoise and the hare, but it has dozens most are likely unfamiliar with.

Here’s where this collection’s second strength comes in: the editorial work of Laura Gibbs. Not only has she translated all 600 fables into clear and modern English, but she’s gone a step further and organizing them by subject. All the fables about gratitude are lumped together, separate from ones about judges and ones about foolish gods. As a result, it’s a less haphazard read and makes it easier to navigate, especially if you’re looking for one in particular. She’s also supplied each with it’s Perry number, making it easy for people who want to compare it to Perry’s untranslated Greek and Latin edition. She’s also provided some useful footnotes and a nice introduction.

What about the fables themselves? They’re a blast, running the gamut from witty to instructive. Most offer at least some practical lesson – it’s not hard to see why so many people become familiar with them as children – but nearly all of them have a clever little turn of phrase or joke in them. Indeed, there’s a few sections included here of Aesopic jokes. One of my favorites has Diogenes getting insulted by a bald man and replying :

“Far be it from me to make such insults. But I want to complement your hair on abandoning such a worthless head.” (pg 268)

There are others I enjoyed, like Aesop and the Soothsayers or The Fox and The Stork. And there’s a ton you’ll recognize: the story of two pots, the snake and the farmer or the one about the goose who lays golden eggs.

The big drawback here comes from it’s sheer bulk. There’s so many fables that reading it cover to cover makes them all feel kind of samey after a while: some are variants, others just touch on similar themes. I found that reading them in a row led to some of them all blending together after a while. This is book that’s better read piecemeal, dropping in here and there for a fable or two.

Rating: 8/10. Even though they can blend together, this is as good a collection of Aesop as I know of. It’s bulk blows the Penguin and Signet editions out of the water, it’s translation never feels watered down or meant for children and it’s cheaper than the Loeb edition.  Recommended!

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