Aesop’s best fables (explained and analyzed)

Who did not hear, in their childhood, some of these fables before going to sleep? These short stories, followed by a moral, are part of the collective imagination and have endured over time to this day.

Let’s now get to know the best-known teller of fables, Aesop, and some of his most famous stories, in the translation by Pedro Bádenas de la Peña and Javier López Faca.

“The Hare and the Tortoise”

The story below is a classic fable attributed to Aesop and retold by La Fontaine, another prominent figure in this literary genre. “The Hare and the Tortoise” is a typical fable: it’s unclear where or when the events took place, and the main characters are anthropomorphized animals, possessing consciousness, language, and human-like feelings.

A tortoise and a hare were arguing over who was faster. So, they set a date and a place and went their separate ways. The hare, relying on its natural swiftness, neglected to start the race, lounged beside the road, and fell asleep. However, the tortoise, aware of its own slowness, kept steadily moving and thus managed to overtake the sleeping hare, winning the prize of triumph.

The fable illustrates that often, effort triumphs over careless nature.

“The Ant and the Grasshopper”

“The Ant and the Grasshopper” is perhaps one of Aesop’s most famous and widely circulated fables. The story is concise, consisting of just two paragraphs, and features two antagonistic animals as the main characters: the ant, symbolizing hard work and diligence, and the grasshopper, symbolizing laziness and neglect. While the ant worked diligently all summer to prepare for the winter, the grasshopper, being immediate in its actions, spent time singing without thinking about the impending winter.

During winter, an ant brought out grains from its anthill that it had gathered during the summer. A hungry grasshopper begged for some food to survive. “What were you doing last summer?” asked the ant. “I wasn’t idling,” said the grasshopper, “but occupied all the time in singing.” Laughing, the ant stored away the grain and said, “Then dance in winter since you played the flute in summer.

“The Lion and the Mouse”

The fable of “The Lion and the Mouse” teaches the reader about the cycle of generosity and the value of life in a community. When the mouse needed help, the lion aided him. Later, when the lion found himself in trouble, the mouse was willing to assist him. The fable urges practicing kindness and teaches that one day we may help, and another day, we may need help.

While a lion slept, a mouse scurried over its body. The lion woke and was about to devour the mouse. The mouse begged to be released, promising gratitude if spared. Smiling, the lion let him go. Soon after, the lion was saved by the mouse. Hunters had captured the lion, tying him to a tree. Upon hearing his cries, the mouse rushed over, gnawed through the rope, and freed him, saying, “You laughed at me before, thinking I could never repay your favor, but now you know that even among mice, there is gratitude.”

The fable illustrates that in times of changing fortune, the mighty can become dependent on the weakest.

“The Wolf and the Lamb”

In the fable “The Wolf and the Lamb,” these animals occupy opposing positions. While the lamb represents innocence and humility, always trying to justify and resolve the problems that arise, the wolf symbolizes cruelty and wickedness.

A wolf spotted a lamb in a river and wanted to eat it with a plausible pretext. Even though the lamb was downstream, the wolf accused it of muddying the water and preventing him from drinking. The lamb replied that it was drinking with just the tip of its lips and, moreover, it was impossible for him, being downstream, to muddy the water upstream. The wolf, failing with his accusation, said, “But last year, you insulted my father.” The lamb retorted that a year ago, it hadn’t even been born. The wolf then said, “Well, even if your excuses are right, I’m still going to eat you.”

The fable illustrates that for those who intend harm, no just argument holds any value.

“The Fox and the Crow”

Foxes are one of the most recurrent animals in Aesop’s fables. Characterized by unparalleled cunning, the fox often finds unconventional solutions to achieve its goals. In the story “The Fox and the Crow,” the fox steals a piece of food from the crow, which the crow had stolen first. The story teaches about the dangers of vanity and pride.

A crow had stolen a piece of meat and perched on a tree. A fox, seeing this, wanted to take the meat. It stopped and began praising the crow’s size and beauty, telling the crow that it had all the qualities to be the king of birds, surely, if it had a voice. But when the crow tried to demonstrate its voice to the fox, it dropped the meat and began cawing loudly. Seizing the opportunity, the fox snatched the meat and said, “Crow, if only you had judgment, you’d lack nothing to be the king of birds.”

The fable serves as a lesson for the foolish.


Little is known about Aesop, and indeed, some even doubt his existence. The first reference to this writer was made by Herodotus, who recounted that this fable teller had been a slave.

Supposedly born between the 7th and 6th centuries BC in Asia Minor, Aesop was a storyteller of immense culture, captured and brought to Greece to serve as a slave.

His influence in Greece became so significant that the sculptor Lysippus erected a statue in his honor. The fabulist met a tragic end when he was sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit.

Heracleides Ponticus, a scholar from the Alexandrian period, recounted the trial and death sentence of Aesop. He was accused of stealing a sacred object, a crime that carried a fatal penalty.

Aristophanes also confirmed this story told by Heracleides and provided more details: Aesop, while visiting Delphi, provoked its inhabitants by declaring that they did not work and lived solely on offerings dedicated to the god Apollo. Furious, the locals planted a sacred cup in Aesop’s luggage to incriminate him. When the “theft” was discovered, Aesop was sentenced to be fatally thrown off a cliff.

We know of Aesop’s work thanks to the Greek Demetrius of Phaleron (280 BC), who compiled the stories. The Byzantine monk Planudes also compiled other stories attributed to him.

What are fables?

Fables are a narrative literary genre derived from tales, but they differ in that the storyteller imparts a moral lesson through the story told.

Fables often feature personified animals to which human characteristics are attributed.

Fables were created in the East and spread around the globe. It is believed they traveled from India to China, then to Tibet, and finally to Persia.

However, it’s often said that fables originated in Greece, where they took on the form and characteristics we know today.

The earliest recorded fables date back to the 8th century BC. The first volume found, Pantchatantra, was written in Sanskrit and later translated into Arabic.

Aesop was one of the most famous fabulists, although he did not invent the genre. Therefore, he is remembered today as its great disseminator.

We cannot be certain how many stories Aesop created. A series of manuscripts have been found over time, although guaranteeing their authorship is impossible. The leading specialist in Aesop’s production was the Frenchman Émile Chambry (1864-1938).