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Wed, 03.26.1484

Aesop’s Fables’ first publication in English

*Aesop's Fables was published in English for the first time on this date in 1484. Aesop's Fables is a collection of stories credited to Aesop, a North African slave and storyteller who lived in ancient Greece between 620 and 564 Published by William Caxton, these diverse origins and stories by Aesop have descended to modern times through a number of sources and continue to be reinterpreted in different verbal registers and in popular as well as artistic media. The fables originally belonged to the oral tradition and were not collected for three centuries after Aesop's death. By that time a variety of other stories, jokes and proverbs were being incorrectly credited to him.  

The process of inclusion has continued until the present, with some of the fables unrecorded before the Late Middle Ages and others arriving from outside Europe. The process is continuous and new stories are still being added to the Aesop quantity, even when they are clearly more recent work and sometimes from known authors. Manuscripts in Latin and Greek were important avenues of transmission, although poetical treatments in European vernaculars eventually formed another.

On the arrival of printing, collections of Aesop's fables were among the earliest books in a variety of languages. Through the means of later collections, and translations or adaptations of them, Aesop's reputation as a fabulist and storyteller was transmitted throughout the world.  Initially the fables were addressed to adults and covered religious, social and political themes. They were also put to use as ethical guides and from the European Renaissance onward were mainly used for the education of children. Their ethical dimension was reinforced in the adult world through interpretation in sculpture, painting and other illustrative means, as well as adaptation to drama and song. In addition, there have been reinterpretations of the meaning of fables and changes in emphasis over time.  

Caribbean creole also saw a flowering of such adaptations from the middle of the 19th century onwards initially as part of the colonialist project but later as an assertion of Black African love for and pride in the dialect. A version of La Fontaine's fables in the dialect of Martinique was made by François-Achille Marbot in Les Bambous, Fables de la Fontaine travesties en patois (Port Royal, 1846) which had lasting success. As well as two later editions in Martinique, there were two more published in France in 1870 and 1885 and others in the 20th century.  

Later dialect fables by Paul Baudot from Guadeloupe owed nothing to La Fontaine, but in 1869 some translated examples did appear in a grammar of Trinidadian French creole written by John Jacob Thomas. Then the start of the new century saw the publication of Georges Sylvain's Cric? Crac! Fables de la Fontaine racontées par un montagnard haïtien et transcrites en vers créoles (La Fontaine's fables told by a Haiti highlander and written in creole verse, 1901).  On the South American mainland, Alfred de Saint-Quentin published a selection of fables freely adapted from La Fontaine into Guyanese creole in 1872. This was among a collection of poems and stories (with facing translations) in a book that also included a short history of the territory and an essay on creole grammar.

On the other side of the Caribbean, Jules Choppin was adapting La Fontaine to the Louisiana slave creole at the end of the 19th century in versions that are still appreciated. The New Orleans author Edgar Grima also adapted La Fontaine into both standard French and into dialect.  Versions of Aesop’s Fables in the French creole of the islands in the Indian Ocean began somewhat earlier than in the Caribbean. Louis Héry emigrated from Brittany to Réunion in 1820. Having become a schoolmaster, he adapted some of La Fontaine's fables into the local dialect in Fables créoles dédiées aux dames de l'île Bourbon (Creole fables for island women). This was published in 1829 and went through three editions. 

In addition, 49 fables of La Fontaine were adapted to the Seychelles dialect around 1900 by Rodolphine Young but these remained unpublished until 1983. Jean-Louis Robert's recent translation of Babrius into Réunion creole (2007) adds a further motive for such adaptation. Fables began as an expression of the slave culture and their background is in the simplicity of agrarian life. Creole transmits this experience with greater purity than the urbane language of the slave-owner. 

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