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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 22 June 2009
This is a strange little treasure, one that is dark and funny, short and profound and a little horrid. If you are interested in the ancient Greeks and writers like Ovid, then I definitely recommend what is certainly a singular little ancient philosophical joke book, full of witty anecdotes and memorable scenes.

So who's the real Aesop? And is the this the ultimate collection of his fables? I was a little surprised when reading the introduction by Robert Temple as he basically says that a 'proper' edition of all Aesop's fables entirely written by Aesop would be impossible for many reasons. For starters little is known about Aesop and almost nothing can be proven. Even in his own time hardly anything was known about him, instead he was a legendary figure and only more so in later centuries. Because of this Temple speculates that similar witty animal tales likely grew around his name as time went on and these found their way into collections of his work. Also many may not even be Greek in origin as they talk about animal characteristics that wouldn't be known to the Greeks. In fact he postulates that over 250 of the fables attributed to Aesop my be non-Aesopic. According to Temple the children editions available further distort the fables as most of them are carefully selected, heavily re-written and artificially expanded. As I haven't gotten my hands on a children's edition I cannot say if the content differs greatly i.e. if some of the more gruesome stuff is edited out.

Included with some of the fables are morals, these were not written by Aesop but likely added later by collectors of the fables. These are short and written in italics after the fables. Many of them are highly philosophical and really add to the fables whereas other are a little stupid, feel tacked on and do nothing to enliven the fable. Under these notes on the fables are often included, which offer possible dates and historical titbits and information on other versions. Both of these things makes reading the fables more interesting and odd.

The Text used for this translation is Professor Emile Chambry's which was published in 1927. Therefore the 358 fables included in that volume are the one's included here, they are also published in the same order, numbered consecutively from their alphabetical arrangement by Greek title. So this edition is nothing ground-breaking, it is basically an English translation. However Temple makes it clear that nothing has been added to the text and that they have also taken much care to translate the species of the plants and animals correctly, they've also included some Greek terms to aid with our understanding. So although he acknowledges that this is not Aesop's complete fables and in fact that none of the contents can be proven to have been written by Aesop he argues that the act of compiling an edition means altering the text by taking away some fables and adding others. He is also convinced that there is a charm to presenting the fables the way he has and that all the fables in this volume, no matter their origin will add to our understanding of our past and human nature.

I agree with his justifications to a certain extent; the differences in the fables and the oddness of the morals do make reading this more interesting but I get the impression that this edition is a bit of a cop-out. What I mean is that if scholars can make educated guesses as to which fables Aesop actually wrote, why hasn't a collection been translated and compiled by now? I don't understand why such a well known name hasn't garnered more interest from experts. I would like to see all the fables translated faithfully into English and then have these convincing arguments that Temple mentions effecting what fables are included and which are not.

I think the material deserves this attention because the fables are so charming, they make me smile when I read them for their attitude, sense, power, relevance and strangness. My favourite fables are the ones Temple believes are most likely written by Aesop; the ones with mythological elements. Temple tells us that as time progressed the fables became 'de-mythologized'. For as the Greek gods became less important to Greek culture the fables began to lose their original mythological elements. In later versions references to the gods and ancient beings were replaced by neutral forces of nature and more benign animals. These ones feel more raw and powerful to me.

These are not the cutesy animal stories that people may think they are, instead they are '...savage, coarse, brutal, lacking in all mercy or compassion, and lacking also in any political system other than absolute monarchy...the is largely a world of brutal, heartless men - and of cunning, of wickedness, of murder, of treachery and deceit, of laughter at the misfortune of others, of mockery and contempt. It is also a world of savage humour, of deft wit, of clever wordplay, of one-upmanship, of 'I told you so!...' I've quoted Temple here because that description is perfect. But in short I would say that it is simply very, very Greek! And a strange, funny, intelligent, odd treasure that is well worth taking the time to flick through to enjoy its many wonders.
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on 15 September 2010
A thought provoking and sometimes moving set of moral lessons and stories, they are genuinely inventive and relate to many issues even today. This particular edition is great because it provides an interesting introduction, a spot-on translation, and useful footnotes explaining the historical references in the text.

Oh, and this is NOT a children's book, although doubtless a child would appreciate the animal tales at face value.
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on 21 February 2014
This review is of the Penguin Classics edition, on Kindle.

This complete works - 358 fables, most less than a page long - is simply written and nicely annotated, including a "This fable means..." summary for your kids. But the stories themselves resonate much more deeply, being about timeless themes of honour and jealousy, and are worth reading even if you're alone as an adult. After all, these ancient Greeks shaped the way many of us in the West think today.

Problems: on Kindle, the table of contents is nonexistent. A persistent problem with texts converted to Kindle; it seems to happen in around a third of Penguin Classics. More attention to detail would be welcome here, especially since the Kindle versions aren't cheap.
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on 27 September 2011
This reminded me of my childhood and whilst I was expecting an illustrated version as I remembered from my childhood, this has still given me a good read. Lots of individual fables with the morals set out at the end.
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on 5 April 2015
just what it says on the cover..
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on 16 December 2015
Love Aesop's tales, well worth reading and is a nice book
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on 22 April 2016
Arrived in good condition. A very good read.
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on 13 April 2016
Witty and a pleasure to read
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on 11 March 2013
This is the beginning and end of story telling. After this it just gets more complicated, and noisier and funnier
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on 22 December 2011
This translation, according to reviewer Jessica: "is Professor Emile Chambry's which was published in 1927." Another reviewer - "a philosophy student" - thinks that this is "a spot-on translation". But from what?

As an alternative to the Temples' translation for Penguin there's Laura Gibbs' translation for Oxford World's Classics first published in 2002 and reprinted in 2008 (ISBN 978-0199540754). Her 600 "Aesop's Fables" are also available on-line at mythfolklore.net/aesopica.

There is also the authoritative Loeb Classical Library's hardcover edition (ISBN 978-0674994805) with a literal translation by Ben E. Perry which, of course, gives the Greek/Latin on the left page and English on the right.

And there is an older translation by a Mrs Edgar Lucas which was first published in 1909 and reprinted in 1981 by Hodder & Stoughton as "The Fables of Aesop" (ISBN 978-0340267660) and by the Folio Society (from 1998 through to 2009). These hardcover editions are superbly bound and contain 22 full-page coloured illustrations by the artist Edward J. Detmold. Not being reproduced by Amazon on LOOK INSIDE! I can't comment on the translation but I suspect that the stories were bowdlerized to make them palatable for children and sensitive adults.
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