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Aesop's Fables

By definition, fables are not true stories. Nevertheless, these are maxims; proverbial truths we are already fully aware of, but nevertheless benefit from being reminded of from time to time.

These timeless stories have been passed down for thousands of years by different cultures around the world, including one of the stories discovered on Egyptian papyri from 3,000 years ago. About 2,600 years ago, a man named Aesop, like the Brothers Grimm, wrote down many of these short and delightful stories, some of which are reproduced below. The fine details have undoubtedly changed but the moral within each fable remains the same. So much so that they have become the "user guide to life", the moral diet for educators; told and retold, easy to remember and understand by all ages.

Some of these fables are contradictions of others and so might not have been penned by Aesop (marked * in the list below) but have slipped into the Aesopica over the centuries. Indeed, some people suggest that Aesop's very existence is a fable, in which case any mis-attributation is a not something to worry about.

Instead just read these fables, be entertained, learn the origin of terms such as "sour grapes", listen to the viper talking with the metal file, lose yourself in the absurd fantasies, and emerge a better person than you were yesterday.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
A fair face is of little use without sense.
A little common sense is often of more value than much cunning.
A man is known by the company he keeps.
A man who can strike from a distance is no pleasant neighbour.
A man who talks for both sides is not to be trusted by either.
A mother's love blinds her to many imperfections.
A silly Hare, seeing the shadow of his ears, was in great fear lest they should be taken for horns, and scampered away.
A thief cannot be trusted, even by another thief.
Acquaintance softens prejudices.
Advice prompted by selfishness should not be heeded.
An evil mind will show in evil action, sooner or later.
At last, having long waited in vain, he laid aside his flute, and casting his net into the sea, made an excellent haul.
Attempt not impossibilities.
Avoid a remedy that is worse than the disease.
Avoid even appearances of danger.
Be not hasty to envy the condition of others.
Be not in haste to believe what is said in anger or thoughtlessness.
Because we are like the great in one respect we must not think we are like them in all.
Better a little in safety, than an abundance surrounded by danger.
Better be wise by the misfortunes of others than by your own.
Better have no friend at all than a foolish one.
Better poverty without care, than riches with.
Beware of unequal matches. Alliances prompted by ambition often prove fatal.
Birds of a feather flock together.
But, in his carelessness, he flew directly into a spider's web, and the spider instantly seized and killed him.
By endeavouring to please every-body, he had succeeded in pleasing nobody, and lost his Ass into the bargain.
By too much attention to danger, we may fall victims to it.
Change not friends for foes.
Change of habit cannot alter nature.
Counsel, without help, is useless.
Count not your chickens before they are hatched.
Covetousness overreacheth itself.
Critics are not always to be depended upon.
Cure a boaster by putting his words to the test.
Danger sometimes comes from a source that is least suspected.
Dignity cannot afford to quarrel with its inferiors.
Distance exaggerates dangers.
Disunited families are easily injured by others.
Do not attempt too much at once.
Do not be in a hurry to change one evil for another.
Do not presume to teach your elders.
Do not rely upon a boaster.
Do nothing without a regard to the consequences.
Do you not know that labour is the source of every blessing, and that none but those who work are entitled to eat?
Don't make much ado about nothing.
Economy may be carried too far.
Equals make the best friends.
Every man for his trade.
Every man should be content to mind his own business.
Every one should keep his own colours.
Every one to his taste: one man's meat is another man's poison, and one man's poison is another man's meat; what is rejected by one person may be valued very highly by another.
Every one to his trade.
Evil companions bring more hurt than profit.
Evil tendencies are shown early in life.
Example is more powerful than precept.
False confidence often leads into danger.
Fine feathers don't make fine birds.
Fine weather friends are not worth much.
Flattery is a dangerous weapon in the hands of an enemy.
Flattery is not a proof of admiration.
Harm hatch, harm catch.
Have a care, my good fellow, of that smooth surface, it is only looking out for your Dates.
He that submits his principles to the influence and caprices of opposite parties will end in having no principles at all.
He who incites strife is as guilty as they who strive.
He who listens to flattery is not wise, for it has no good purpose.
He who offers bribes needs watching, for his intentions are not honest.
He who once begins to tell falsehoods is obliged to tell others to make them appear true, and, sooner or later, they will get him into trouble.
He who proclaims himself ready to buy up his enemies will never want a supply of them.
He who seeks to injure others often injures only himself.
He who slights his friends when they are not needed must not expect them to serve him when he needs them.
He who stops to parley with temptation, will be very likely to yield.
He who will steal a part will steal the whole.
Hope not to succeed in borrowed plumes.
Hospitality is a virtue, but should be wisely exercised; we may by thoughtlessness entertain foes instead of friends.
Hypocritical speeches are easily seen through.
I assure you, you would have frightened me too, if I had not known you to be an Ass.
I have brought it all on myself! Why could I not have been contented to labour with my companions, and not try to live by idleness?
I must have made a mistake; my father, after all, could have been only an ass.
It is easy to be brave from a safe distance.
I should be a very simple fellow, if I were to forego my certain gain for an uncertain profit.
I would rather have one barleycorn than all the jewels in the world.
Idleness brings want.
If men had all they wished, they would be often ruined.
If one would not be hurt by a Madman, he must put a bunch of thread over his ears.
If we nourish evil, it will sooner or later turn upon us.
If words suffice not, blows must follow.
If you will examine my foot, you will find what ails me.
If you will fight, it is a kindness to crop your ears, that they may not give your enemy the advantage.
If you wish to do a service, do it right.
If your sister wishes for rain, and you for dry weather, with which of the two am I to join my wishes?
If, therefore, the Eagle, the Vulture, and the Kite, should make a descent upon us, what means would you take for our defense?
Impossible things we cannot hope to attain, and it is of no use to try.
In injuring others we are apt to receive a greater injury.
In quarreling about the shadow we often lose the substance.
In serving the wicked, expect no reward, and be thankful if you escape injury for your pains.
In union is strength.
In yielding the rights of others, we may endanger our own.
Incentive spurs effort.
Inconsiderate and ill-matched alliances generally end in ruin; and the man who compasses the destruction of his neighbour, is often caught in his own snare.
Indeed, I should have thanked you most fervently, if your deeds had been as good as your words.
Invitations prompted by selfishness are not to be accepted.
Is the level way through the desert closed?
It does no good to deny those who make false accusations knowingly.
It has ever been deemed that persuasion is better than force.
It is absurd to ape our betters.
It is easy to kick a man that is down.
It is hard to forget injuries in the presence of him who caused the injury.
It is not wise to be too greedy.
It is not wise, to hold too exalted an opinion of one's self.
It is safer to be among friends than enemies.
It is too late to whet the sword when the trumpet sounds to draw it.
It shows an evil disposition to take advantage of a friend in distress.
It sometimes happens that one man has all the toil, and another all the profit.
Keep to your place, if you would succeed.
Kindness to the ungrateful and the vicious is thrown away.
Laziness often prepares a burden for its own back.
Let every one stick to his own element.
Let those who propose be willing to perform.
Like will draw like.
Look before you leap.
Men are too apt to condemn in others the very things they practice themselves.
Men of evil reputation, when they perform a good deed, fail to get credit for it.
Men often fall into the trap which they prepare for others.
Might makes right.
Misfortune tests the sincerity of friends.
Much wants more, and loses all.
My greatest enemy is he who gives me most to carry.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
Nip evil in the bud.
No arguments will give courage to the coward.
No disguise will hide one's true character.
No one is too weak to do good.
No one should be blamed for his infirmities.
Nothing can compensate us for the loss of our liberty.
O foolish creatures that we are! For the sake of a little pleasure we have destroyed ourselves
O Monkey, and are you, with such a mind as yours, going to be king over the Beasts?
One story is good till another is told.
One thief is no better than another.
Our insignificance is often the cause of our safety.
Our mere anticipations of life outrun its realities.
People are not to be judged by their coats.
Perseverance is surer than swiftness.
Persuasion is better than Force.
Pleasures are heightened by abstinence.
Pray do not grieve so; bury a stone in the hole, and fancy it is the gold. It will serve you just as well, for when the gold was there you made no use of it.
Pride goes before destruction.
Professions are best tested by deeds.
Promises of a suitor must be taken with caution.
Retribution is certain.
Revile not things beyond your reach.
Self-help is the best help.
Some men despise their best blessings because they come without cost.
Stoop to conquer.
Stop there, my friend, and fast till you are thin; for you will never come out till you reduce yourself to the same condition as when you entered.
Strangers should avoid those who quarrel among themselves.
Such a silly son as I have in this same Thrush.
Sweet words may deliver us from peril, when harsh words would fail.
That which we are anxious to find, we are sometimes even more anxious to escape from, when we have succeeded in finding it.
The basest ingratitude is that which injures those who serve us.
The Bat assured him that he was not a mouse, but a bat; and thus a second time escaped.
The Bees settled in swarms about his head, and stung his eyes and nose so much, that, maddened with pain, he tore the skin from his head with his own claws.
The conspicuous run the greatest risk.
The covetous are poor givers.
The desire for imaginary benefits often involves the loss of present blessings.
The foolish pair, thus hoping to become rich all at once, deprived themselves of the gain of which they were day by day assured.
The grateful heart will always find opportunities to show its gratitude.
The greatest braggarts are the greatest cowards.
The greedy man and the miser cannot enjoy their gains.
The lives of the idle can best be spared.
The memory of a good deed lives.
The misfortunes arising from a man's own misconduct are the hardest to bear.
The perverse generally come to harm.
The poor and weak are often made to suffer for the follies of the great.
The same measures will not suit all circumstances.
The smaller the Mind the greater the Conceit.
The strong are apt to settle all questions by the rule of might.
The tyrant is never safe from those whom he oppresses.
The tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny, and it is useless for the innocent to try by reasoning to get justice, when the oppressor intends to be unjust.
The value is in the worth, not in the number.
The vices we teach may be practiced against us.
The weak often revenge themselves on those who use them ill, even though they be the more powerful.
The woodman set upon him with his club.
There is always some vulnerable point in the strongest armour.
There is no believing a liar, even when he speaks the truth.
They are no friends whom you know not whether to trust or to distrust.
They are not wise who take to themselves the credit due to others.
They found no treasure, but the vines repaid their labour by an extraordinary and superabundant crop.
They locked horns and fought for the right of way, until they both fell into the torrent below and were drowned.
They who assume a character will betray themselves by their actions.
They who neglect their old friends for the sake of new ones, are rightly served if they lose both.
Those who achieve notoriety often mistake it for fame.
Those who are caught are not always the most guilty.
Those who are not able to roam should stay at home.
Those who attempt to act in disguise are apt to overdo it.
Those who cannot take care of their own, should not be entrusted with the care of another's property.
Those who do not know their right place must be taught it.
Those who enter by the back stairs must not complain if they are thrown out by the window.
Those who practice cunning must expect to suffer by it.
Those who practice deceit must expect to be shunned.
Those who pretend that they can mend others should first mend themselves, and then they will be more readily believed.
Those who stir up enmities are not to be trusted.
Those who strive are often watched by others who will take advantage of their defeat to benefit themselves.
Those who suffer most cry out the least.
Those who try to entrap others are often caught by their own schemes.
Those who would sacrifice their friends to save themselves from harm are not entitled to mercy.
To aid the vicious is to become a partner in their guilt.
To enjoy our blessings we must have freedom.
Together, we stand. Divided, we fall
Traitors must expect treachery.
Two blacks do not make one white.
Two sureties are better than one.
Unlawful acts to escape trials only increase our troubles.
We are all very well, and shall continue so, if you will only be good enough to go away, and leave us as we are.
We are encouraged by seeing others that are worse off than ourselves.
We do not always like to be taken at our word.
We had better bear our troubles bravely than try to escape them.
We must make friends in prosperity, if we would have their help in adversity.
We should never look so high as to miss seeing the things that are around us.
We should not deprive others of blessings because we cannot enjoy them ourselves.
We should not permit our ambition to lead us beyond the limits of our power.
We should not think wholly of ourselves, and we should remember that life is uncertain.
We should not wait till a person is dead, to give him our respect.
We would rather perish in the contest, than be reconciled by you.
What is most truly valuable is often underrated.
What is safety for one is not always safety for another.
What seem to be blessings are not always so.
What we do in sport often makes great trouble for others.
Whatever you do, do with all your might.
When a coward is once found out, his pretensions of valor are useless.
When the Ass saw that the huge beast could be assailed with impunity, he let drive at his forehead with his heels.
When we throw off rulers or dependents, who have already made the most of us, we do but, for the most part, lay ourselves open to others, who will make us bleed yet more freely.
When you seek to change your condition, be sure that you can better it.
Where one may live, another may starve.
Where, O boaster, are now all thy gay trappings, thou who art thyself reduced to the condition you so lately treated with contempt?
Who acts in haste repents at leisure.
Woe is me, that I, who can wage war successfully with the hugest beasts, should perish myself from this spider.
You a king, and not understand a trap!
You say you can foretell the fortunes of others; how is it you did not foresee your own?
Zeal should not outrun discretion.

* Some of the above may not have been written by Aesop

Aesop may have been Ethiopian. The Greek word Aethiop means 'Ethiopia'

The asp and the rasp. See The Viper and the File


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