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"The best time to prepare for old age is when you are young," says a British proverb. Entertaining fables contain heart-warming lessons for living. To spend quality time and good efforts with one's darlings, telling some fine fables, for example, that could well enrich them and perhaps prepare them a bit for life too.

Albert Einstein held this view:

Einstein A concerned mother once visited Albert Einstein to get his counsel on how to help her son become really good in maths. Exactly what was she to read for him to help him evolve into a prominent scientist?

"Folk tales," said Einstein.

"Okay," said the mother, "and after that?"

"More folk tales," said Einstein.

"And after that?" the mother asked again.

"Still more folk tales," answered Einstein. (Zipes, 1992:1)

Good tales may help in keeping and transmitting a culture, says the American psychologist Jerome Bruner (1996) - "Narrative" is often another word for "tale" or "story":

There appear to be two broad ways in which human beings organize and manage their knowledge of the world, indeed structure even their immediate experience: one seems more specialized for treating of physical "things," the other for treating of people and their plights. These are conventionally known as logical scientfic thinking and narrative thinking . . . They have varied modes of expression in different cultures, which also cultivate them differently. (Bruner 1996:39-40)

The intimate aspects of culture are transmitted . . . through narratives. (Bruner 1996:178)

The comprehension of narrative is hermeneutic. . . . The object of hermeneutic analysis is to provide a convincing and non-contradictory account of what a story means. (Bruner 1996:137)

Culture . . . provides us with the toolkit by which we construct not only our worlds but our very conceptions of our selves and our powers. (Bruner 1996:x) [More here]

Some well-loved Greek, Roman and later fables that are transmitted in European countries are here, with a few newer ones added separately at the end.

At first encounter fables may entertain. Further benefit may accrue, depending on how well they are digested. In most ways it is like eating food and digesting good food. The unspoiled organism in nature may like the sorts of food it needs or thrives on. Yet the body reacts to menial stories too. Below is a simple comparison:

Good food for the mind

  • If you like a story, you tend to add to it experiences you already have, and in such a way that you build an initial understanding.
  • After you have heard or seen or read a decent, good story, you process it further in the depths of your mind, often on deeper levels than you are consciously aware of. It is a period of digesting mental content and at times integrating it with what was there already. The deeper mind works of tales by stages. Hopefully you manage to "get rid of" unsuitable ones to you and build on the rest of the tales.
  • We need good food to grow on, such food that we can handle without getting ill fast or in the long run - that means absorbing good parts and do away with the insignificant or bad ones.

Thus, some forms of food for thought are to be digested in the deeper mind, and not just on the surface levels of mind where reasoning is fit. It is best to get to quality food first, and enough of it.

Some forms of food contains seeds. Good fables similarly contain life lessons. Figs and corn bear fruit in harmony with (a) the "soil" mind; (b) the gardener's care and ability to tend to the seeds - parents, teachers, other relatives and still others; (c) the seasons, climate, growth conditions - An enriching, ennobling culture is like the general conditions and means a lot too.

How to let good stories for young ones bear fruit is in part much up to mom and dad and other "gardeners" of tender sprouts in small ones. Compare the story of Einstein above and the possibilities good tales entail

Altogether, fables contain central lessons from our European history. Lessons of centuries and centuries go into some of them, as fables contain gist, and some seem to be the fruits of long-standing mistakes and sufferings in their wake, for example. Stories that are likable to those they are told to, could help in keeping or building good company. And, as Jerome Bruner (1966) is into, the culture rests on stories. Also, fairy tales suit children on deep levels of the mind: If good and suitable, they may "help blocks or sets" of imagination to be cultivated and linked deep inside. Imagination means image-producing capacity, producing images. Dreams stem from this capacity. Moreover, concepts and symbols are rooted in imagination. Compare a teaching embedded in Zoroastrism:

Imagination is . . . the most accurate and truth-telling factulty which the human mind posseses. . . . Imagination, its true force lies in its marvellous insight and foresight. [More]

Einstein had the capacity to imagine, visualise. It served him much. Also, a key element of the wide-spread Waldorf Education's first three or four grades consists in first letting young children get cosy stories, then articulate or express them somehow, preferably in some artistic enough ways too. Later, often after years, after reaching adolescence (puberty), pupils can benefit from "chewing on the cud" (stories) they have retained, to get more out them on the intellectual level too, when the individual is ready for letting imagery buds burst into such flowers of clearer, intellectual or more abstract understanding.

When developing fantasy as an in-between stage towards too speedy conceptualization, we need to marshal the inherent capacity of children to enjoy tales. (Lissau 2012:103)

David Mitchell writes:

Gordon Wells . . . identified the importance of storytelling not only for language but also for cognitive development. . . . Wells' research highlighted the importance of stories as a preparation for literacy. Stories, he concluded, were better than other methods for several reasons. Firstly, in listening to stories, children can "gain an experience of the sustained meaning-building organization of written language, and its characteristic rhythms and structures." Secondly, stories extend the range of the child's experience beyond her actual life circumstances. Thirdly, stories provide an excellent opportunity for the kind of collaborative talk between adult and child that helps children understand the world and stimulates the child's inner dialogues. This self-talk forms a key stage in the development of independent thinking.

What Wells said concerning written stories also goes for oral stories. (Mitchell 2003, 143-44)

Understanding through narrative helps children organize their experience. (Ib. 145) Stories are crucial to cognitive development and in the child's developing relationship to self and the world (Ib. 153)

Making meaning is one feature.

Stories have a role in education that goes far beyond their contribution to the acquisition of literacy. Constructing stories in the mind – or storying, as it has been called – is one of the most fundamental means of making meaning; as such, it is an activity that pervades all aspects of learning. - Gordon Wells (in (Mitchell 2003:145)

Janni Nicol (2010) goes into details about how fables and other tales may be enabling:

Storytelling is . . . one of the ways in which we learn about the world and make sense of our experiences. By giving children the experience of listening we enliven their imaginations and fantasy and educate their memory; we help them to understand their world and to become effective communicators and listeners. Family stories or those from personal experience are the easiest way to begin . . .

Next is learning stories, so that they can be told rather than read to the children. The reason for this is that it enables the children to form their own pictures. There is nothing wrong with reading stories to the child either, but the effort of learning the story beforehand . . . allows you to add something . . . which is felt inwardly by the child. . . .

Folk tales bring alive other cultures and broaden the children's worlds. Fairy tales are told to older children and help their inner life to become flexible and active. It gives wings to feeling, fires the will, stimulates thinking and allows the children to experience emotions such as joy, sympathy, fear and courage. These work on the children's inner life, allowing them to develop a moral discernment of good and evil and an inner strength, a courage to overcome and face the tasks and tests of life to come. The stories we choose [are] bearers of underlying moral truths. These truths are not explained but are left to continue working in the child's imagination, their feeling and will. . . . The fairy tale engenders a dreamlike consciousness . . . filled with images. The wisdom in fairy tales speaks figuratively of change, of enchantment and solution . . . The child can sympathise with it right away [and] the victory of good over bad.

'Fairy-tale children' experience more, they can express themselves more fully either in words or through art, are open, can listen better, and display greater pleasure in creative endeavours. They form thoughts into well-structured sentences containing a more extensive vocabulary. (von Kugelgen 1993:48) When telling fairy tales, it is important not to arouse fear by using drama in the voice. They are told with a gentle, dreamy, lilting 'storytelling voice'.

There are certain fairy tales suitable for different ages. The teacher needs to choose stories which work with the children and which suit their age or individual characteristics. Sometimes stories are also chosen carefully to deal with a particular situation, or for therapy purposes. The most important consideration is the storyteller's own relationship to the story. The teacher needs to understand it and be comfortable with it.

(Nicol 2010:66-68, passim)

The Waldorf movement's ideals and ethical principles correspond to those of Unesco.

What we meet with in many fables

Be prepared first, to know who they are, those who appear in the fables. Then read or tell many fables, one or a few each night, for example.

1. In the ancient fables we meed with many gods, goddesses and Greek heroes. Gods and goddesses often have got Roman names in the European fable tradition, in so far as many fables were made in the Roman Empire. Many of them mingle with Greek ones. There are free and online books and other books (further down) that describe many of these gods, and more of them than those who appear in Jones' translation. Some are listed further down so that you can prepare yourself before telling them to the young folks and thus help them grasp the fables neatly.

2. There are ancient occupations, trades and craftsmen in some fables. Make sure they make sense.

3. There are also plants and trees that have been cultivated, and other plants too. Fables that they appear in offer a window to learn more about them. Pictures often help.

It is be detrimental to further enjoyment to have to ask, "But what is an amaranth? - A sprat? What is a ferret?" and further, without getting fit data about it without delay. To leave main parts of a fable unexplained leaves a gap, and that may not not good for further interest or learning. Thus, be prepared.

Gods, Goddesses, Personifications and Heroes

Mentioned in the book of Jones are:

Athena — Fortune — Fortune — Grief — Heracles — Juno — Jupiter — Mercury — Minerva — Plutus — Prometheus — Theseus — Venus

Old occupations and old roles (cast)

Archer — Astronomer — Bald man — Bee-keeper — Blacksmith — Boy — Brother, sister — Butcher — Buyer — Charcoal-burner — Clown — Cobbler, shoemaker — Cook — Cook — Countryman — Customer — Debtor — Doctor — Donkey driver — Farmer — Father — Fisherman — Fowler — Gardener — Goatsherd — Huntsman — Huntsman, hunter — Ill man — King — Labourer — Man, woman, — Master — Milkmaid — Millers — Miser — Mistress — Old man — Old widow — Peasant — Ploughman — Priest — Prophet — Quack doctor — Rich man — Rider — Robber  — Rogue — Sculptor — Seagull — Servant — Shepherd — Slave — Soldier — Sweetheart — Tanner — Thief — Traveller — Travellers — Trumpeter — Wagoner — Witch — Woodman

Animals and fancied

Ant — Ape — Bat — Bear — Bee — Beetle — Boar — Bull, ox — Camel — Cat (a translation of ferret, polecat, or the similar Egyptian mongoose) — Cock — Crab — Crane — Crow — Dolphin — Donkey — Eagle — Elephant — Fawn — Flea — Fly — Fox, vixen — Frog — Gnat — Goat — Goose — Grasshopper — Hare — Hawk — Hedgehog — Horse, charger — Hound — Jackdaw — Kid — Kite — Lark — Leopard — Lion, lioness — Monkey — Mouse — Mule — Nightingale — Owl — Ox, bull, cow, heifer, calf — Peacock — Raven — Rook — Satyr — Sheep: Ram ewe, lamb — Snail — Sow — Sprat — Stag — Stork — Swallow — Swan — Tortoise — Tunny-fish — Viper — Wasp — Weasel — Whale — Wolf


Amaranth — Apple-tree — Bramble — Fig-tree — Fir — Hazelnuts — Nettles — Oak — Olive — Pomegranate — Reeds — Rose — Vine — Walnut-tree

To Fyler Townsend-translated fables, for most pat.


Fables of the European tradition, Vernon Jones, Literature  

The list of fable books is by no means conclusive:


Aesop. The Æsop for Children. Ill. Milo Winter. Chicago: Rand McNally and Co., 1919. ⍽▢⍽ Its 143 fables are lovely illustrated, the language runs well, and the book is liked also. An edition by Eirenikos Press (2013) exists.

Gibbs, Laura, tr. Aesop's Fables. Oxford: Oxford University Press (World's Classics), 2008. ⍽▢⍽ 600 translated fables with many detailed references. Much recommended.

Handford, Stanley Alexander, tr. Fables of Aesop. New ed. London: Penguin, 1964. ⍽▢⍽ 207 fables neatly presented.

Jones, Vernon, tr. Aesop's Fables. Aesop. Introduction by D. L. Ashliman. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2003.

Jones, Vernon S. V. Aesop's Fables. A New Translation by Vernon Stanley Vernon Jones. Ill. Arthur Rackham. London: William Heinemann, 2012 (also: New York: Avenel Books, 1912). ⍽▢⍽ 284 fables.

Perry, Ben Edwin, oms. Babrius and Phaedrus Fables. London: Harvard University Press, 1965. ⍽▢⍽ The fables by Babrius and Phaedrus are from Roman antiquity. Professor Perry offers translations, a survey of fables and sources. The book is for both specialists and many others. Also recommended.

Temple, Olivia and Robert, trs. The Complete Fables. London: Penguin, 1998. ⍽▢⍽ Its 358 fables are translations of Émile Chabry's French collection, the second edition from 1927.

Townsend, George Fyler, tr. Aesop's Fables. Chicago: Belford, Clarke and Co., 1887. ⍽▢⍽ Very terse fables where nouns are given capital letters.

Worthington, R. tr. Aesop's Fables: A New Revised Version from Original Sources with upwards of 200 Illustrations. Illustrators: Harrison Weir, John Tenniel and Ernest Griest. New York: Frank F. Lovell Co. 1884. ⍽▢⍽

Zipes, Jack, ed. Aesop's Fables. New York: Signet Classics, 2004. ⍽▢⍽ This well arranged edition contains 203 well-known Aesopian fables translated into readable, modern American English. The book is adapted from a version by Rev. Thomas James. Professor Zipes has written an introduction and afterword to it, and the writer Sam Pickering an introduction.


Berents, E. M. Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome. New York: Maynard, Merrill and Co, nd. (1880)

Bruner, Jerome. The Culture of Education. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Grant, Michael. Myths of the Greeks and Romans. London: Meridian/Penguin, 1995.

Grimal, Pierre. A Concise Dictionary of Classical Mythology. Ed. Stephen Kershaw, tr. A. R. Maxwell-Hyslop. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990.

Jordan, Michael. Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses. 2nd ed. New York: Facts on File, 2004.

Lissau, Magda. Awakening Intelligence: The Task of the Teacher and the Key Picture of the Learning Process. Chatham, NY: The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA), 2012.

Mitchell, David, ed. Child Development and Pedagogical Issues. Fair Oaks, CA: AWSNA (The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America), 2003.

Nicol, Janni. Bringing the Steiner Waldorf Approach to Your Early Years Practice. 2nd ed. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2010.

Taft, Michael, ed. Greek Gods and Goddesses. New York: Britannica Educational Publishing in association with The Rosen Publishing Group 2014.

Zipes, Jack. Breaking the Magic Spell. Reprint. New York: Routledge, 1992.

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