Jimmie Iller, aged ll, of Albany, New York for his question:
Was Aesop a real person?
Those wonderful Greeks of long ago were great talkers, They had plenty of thoughtful things to say, And they said them well. To them, conversation and story telling were great arts. They were interested in the facts about everyday things. They spoke of nature, science and most especially of how people could get along well together, Some of their ideas of government still live In our own form of government.
And the Greeks loved beauty. They admired it in every form ‑ art, athletic games and bodily health. Above all they admired intelligent and beautiful thoughts, this is mostly what they talked about. Strange to say, two of their most beautiful talkers were squat and ugly little men. After over two hundred centuries, the ideas of these two men are still remembered. Yet neither of them wrote down their ideas,
The great Socrates talked of philosophy ‑ a study which means love of wisdom. And people listened. His words were recorded by his pupil, Plato. Socrates helped people to understand themselves in order to get along together. His words were straightforward and often sharp.
Aesop was the other unattractive Greek who used beautiful words, He lived a hundred years or so before the great Socrates, Unlike Socrates, Aesop could not speak out his words of correction and criticism directly. For he was a slave. And people did not want their slaves to tell them better ways to live.
So Aesop wrapped his critical lessons in stories ‑ stories of animals. He told tales of silly frogs who came to grief. He told of cunning foxes who outsmarted themselves. He told of powerful lions who used their strength selfishly. And no one minded hearing tales of foolish and crafty animals,
Often they got the point of the story later. Why, I’m acting just like that crafty fox, they would think. Or, I don't want to be like that cruel lion or that silly frog. And Aesop had got his fable, his lesson in the story, across. When you read or hear one of his fables, you may well find yourself thinking afterwards, that could mean me.
Aesop's master was a wise and fair man. He heard his slave tell his fables to the children and members of his household. This man, he thought, should not be a slave. And Aesop was given his freedom. He went to live at a king's court. There a great many important people listened to his fables and learned from them.
We know for sure that Aesop was a real person. We are not too certain about the years of his birth and death. He is thought to have lived about eighty years. The year of his death is close to 560 B.C. His fables were recorded by two writers some time after his death. Written records were lost for about 1,000 years. One of the first recordings came to light about a hundred years ago. And the tales of talking animals are just as fresh and charming, just as true to life as they were 2500 years ago. People, it seems, can still learn a lot from misbehaving animals.