Aesop’s fables are a group of stories well known for their wit and morals. They are favorites among many children! Who doesn’t remember being told the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf as a child? Well, wolves were not the only animals to star in Aesop’s fables. Cats had their paws in these stories too! Let’s take a look at how these stories came to be and a few great ones starring cats.
Title Photo Credit: Kreg Steppe via Flickr
Aesop – The Man, the Mystery
Who is Aesop? The truth is that no one really knows. Among those who we have documentation of having mentioned Aesop are Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and Aristophanes. Even with such esteemed mentions, it doesn’t seem that anyone one knew where Aesop was from.
Some pointed to one city in Greece as Aesop’s hometown and some to a completely different city on the other side of the country. Others even claimed that he was from Egypt or Ethiopia. Some scholars believe that Aesop may not have actually existed. Rather, Aesop himself was a made up character to embody a certain type of storytelling.
If there ever was a real man named Aesop, scholars think he probably didn’t write any of his fables down. His stories have been carried down mostly through oral tradition and thus, have changed. Several different author’s fables have been attributed to Aesop. It is impossible to say which would have actually come from Aesop himself (assuming he was a real person).
The Legend of Aesop’s Life
There have been a number of authors that have fleshed out the legends associated of Aesop’s life. One of these authors was a monk named Maximus Planudes who penned Life of Aesop in the 13th century. He used inspiration from the stories of the life of Ahiqar ( an ancient Syrian sage) and of the Bible’s Joseph.
According to Planudes, Aesop was born a mute slave in the 6th century B.C. He was given the gift of speech and of storytelling from the Egyptian goddess Isis and the Greek goddesses known as the Muses. However, they didn’t give him anything in the way of beauty because Planudes describes Aesop as being “a turnip with teeth” and a “potbellied, misshapen of head, snub-nosed, dwarfish, bandy-legged, short-armed, squint-eyed, liver-lipped—a portentous monstrosity.”
Eventually, according to the legend, Aesop would earn his freedom by impressing his second owner with his wit and wisdom. Now a free man, Aesop became involved in public affairs and traveled around Greece telling his fables. The king was really impressed with Aesop and made him an official in his court. This honor would become his undoing.
The king sent Aesop to bring some gold to Delphi, but upon arriving, Aesop found that the people of Delphi were undeserving of the gift. He chose to simply take the gold back to the king. Meanwhile, the people of Delphi were furious and plotted against him. They placed a golden bowl from Apollo’s temple in Aesop’s bag and arrested him on charges of theft and blasphemy. Aesop was sentenced to death by being thrown from a cliff.
Aesop’s Fables Starring Cats
Most of Aesop’s fables use animals as their main characters. There is a handful that even star domestic cats! These are very short tales, each with a moral. I have decided to retell these fables in my own words because it is difficult to find the correct attribution for a direct quote.
Belling the Cat
A group of mice met together to propose ways to defend themselves against a local cat. They knew how stealthy the cat was and that he was able to sneak up on them without them having any warning to run away.
A young, passionate mouse says, “I propose that we put a collar on the cat – one with a bell! Then whenever the cat is coming, we will hear his approach and have time to run away.” The proposal was met with a chorus of agreement from the other mice. “What a brilliant idea,” they said.
Finally, a wise old mouse hushed the crowd. Turning to the young passionate mouse he said, “Will you put the bell on the cat?” The young mouse said, “No. Certainly not me!” The wise old mouse then turned to the rest of the mice and said, “Who will put the bell on the cat?” Now the chorus of mice that had praised the “brilliant idea” was filled with a resounding, “Not me.”
Moral of the story: It is easy to propose solutions without a means to carry them out.
The Cat Maiden
The gods got into a debate over whether or not it is possible for a living creature to change its nature. On one side of the argument was Jupiter, who believed that a creature’s nature can be changed. On the other side of the argument was Venus who was adamant that a creature could never truly change its nature.
To settle the debate, Jupiter changed a cat into a beautiful maiden and gave her to a young man as his wife. The wedding was beautiful and it seemed that the cat was now truly a human. Jupiter was delighted with his victory, but Venus was not yet satisfied with the experiment.
During the wedding feast, Venus released a mouse into the room. Immediately upon seeing the mouse, the cat-maiden jumped out of her seat and began to stalk and pounce on the mouse. “See that,” said Venus,”her nature hasn’t truly changed.”
Moral of the story: One’s true nature will eventually begin to show itself.
The Fox and The Cat
A fox was bragging to a cat about all of the amazing ways he had learned to escape from attackers. “How many ways do you know how to escape,” the fox said to the cat. “I only know of one way, “said the cat, “but it works well for me. As they were finishing their discussion, a group of hunters with their dogs approached. “Show me your way of escape and I will show you mine,” said the fox and the cat agreed.
As the hunters drew near, the cat climbed up into a tree and hid in its branches. “It’s your turn, fox,” said the cat. The fox began laying out scenario after scenario trying to plot the most daring of his escapes to impress the cat. As he was still speaking, the hunter’s dogs pounced on him.
Moral of the story: It is better to have one simple method that works than hundreds you can’t decide between.