Aesop’s Fables


In-class Exercise–Subtexts and Deductions in Aesop’s Fables

Writing tool–Dr. Wicked’s “Write or Die” http://writeordie.com/

Part 1. 10-15 minutes–warm up. 

Using Dr. Wicked (try it, don’t buy it), write an alternative version of one of Aesop’s short fables.  Your fable must have an implied or explicit moral lesson (ainos). Copy and paste your work into a Microsoft Word Document. You can also save your work to the desktop. Close Dr. Wicked.

Part 2. 25-30 minutes

Next, In the same Word Document, write one full paragraph about the subtext of Aesop’s original fable.  If you did an alternative version of “The Ants and the Grasshopper,” you should write about the original version. When you have finished and proofread your work, send the word document to swanstro@gmail.com as an attachment.

Example: “The Mule”

A MULE, frolicsome from lack of work and from too much corn, galloped about in a very extravagant manner, and said to himself: “My father surely was a high-mettled racer, and I am his own child in speed and spirit.” On the next day, being driven a long journey, and feeling very wearied, he exclaimed in a disconsolate tone: “I must have made a mistake; my father, after all, could have been only an ass.”

Follow this formula when you write your analysis:

1. Begin with the Subtext/Thesis: Aesop’s perspective is deterministic. It argues that one cannot escape one’s pre-ordained fate. This is not surprising, given that Aesop was himself born a slave and thus unable to change his social station.

2. Provide a summary of the text: A fable that clearly demonstrates this worldview is “The Mule.”   In it, a frisky, well-fed mule fantasizes about being a race horse.  After his master puts him back to work the next day, however, he is exhausted and accepts his lowly position as a beast of burden.

3. Provide an analysis of passage: The first line of the fable sets up the lesson about the rigid nature of one’s social status. The mule is traditionally a beast of burden, yet the beginning of the fable describes this animal as “frolicsome” or frisky because he has been well fed “from too much corn” and has enjoyed a break from labor.  It suggests initially that the mule has leisure time to indulge in the fantasy of being a different creature and might in fact be correct.  We can infer from the next sentence, however, that the mule has only been generously fed and allowed to rest so as to prepare him for a day of brutal labor.  His sad, “disconsolate” insight is one of acceptance.  His father was no racehorse and, like him, he is “only an ass.”

4. Conclude.As in so many of Aesop’s fables, “The Mule” suggests that one’s nature is equivalent to one’s social status. It encourage one to know and accept this fact. If one is born rich, he will stay rich. If one is born poor, he will stay poor. There is no such thing as social mobility.

Turn your work into one paragraph–add and edit as needed:

Aesop’s perspective throughout many of his fables is deterministic. It argues that one cannot escape one’s pre-ordained fate. This is not surprising, given that Aesop was himself born a slave and thus unable to change his social station.  A fable that clearly demonstrates this worldview is “The Mule.”   In it, a frisky, well-fed mule fantasizes about being a race horse.  After his master puts him back to work the next day, however, he is exhausted and accepts his lowly position as a drudge.   The first line of the fable sets up the lesson about the rigid nature of one’s social status. The mule is traditionally a beast of burden, yet the beginning of the fable describes this animal as “frolicsome” and frisky because he has been well fed “from too much corn” and has enjoyed a break from labor.  This suggests initially that the mule has leisure time to indulge in the fantasy of having a liberated existence.  It offers the possibility that the mule can transgress his position. We can infer from the next sentence, however, that the mule has only been generously fed and allowed to rest so as to prepare him for a day of brutal work.  His sad, “disconsolate” insight is one of acceptance.  He concludes that his father was no racehorse and, like his father, he too is “only an ass.” As in so many of Aesop’s fables, “The Mule” suggests that one’s nature is equivalent to one’s social status, which was in Aesop’s time determined by birth. It is consistent with Aesop’s deterministic attitude that the mule does not dream of running away to escape his fate.  Instead, he fantasizes about a different lineage that would provide a different birthright: the father as a racehorse.  In brief, “The Mule” encourage its readers to know and accept this fact. If one is born a working drudge, he will stay remain a working drudge. If one is born rich, he will stay rich. There is no such thing as social mobility.

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