The Fable

  • File photo | Credit Teodora Sirko

Definition & Examples of Fable

Fable is a fictitious story, in itself improbable, generally impossible, in which irrational animals or objects are introduced as speaking, but nevertheless conveying or illustrating some moral instruction, or some opinion.

Fable differs from an AllegoryOpens in new window, first, in being improbable and necessarily fictitious, and second, in conveying generally one simple moral lesson, or opinion, without exhibiting numerous points of similarity, as the Allegory does, between the thing described and the instruction meant.

In the Second Book of Kings, chap. xiv. ver. 9, we read:

“The thistleOpens in new window that was in Lebanon sent to the cedarOpens in new window that was in Lebanon, saying, Give thy daughter to my son to wife: and there passed by a wild beast that was in Lebanon, and trode down the thistle.”

This of course could not be true, and it is therefore a fable, but the meaning of it was well understood when it was first uttered.

No better fables have ever been written than the famous productions commonly called the Fables of Aesop, which have probably been wrought into their present expressiveness and beauty by many different minds.

The Use of Fables — Fables are seldom introduced into sober composition to illustrate and enforce truth, on account of the difficulty of constructing one that shall be at the same time dignified and appropriate. They are generally composed by writers who have a genius for them, or who study to produce, and they are often alluded to or quoted by other writers.

Among the ancient Athenians it was a common amusement for someone at a dinner-table to relate a fable for the gratification of his friends. Roman history presents an instance in which a fable was invented and related with good effect. The PlebeiansOpens in new window were in rebellion against the PatriciansOpens in new window, when, to appease their violence, Menenius AgrippaOpens in new window is said to have related to the people one of Aesop's fables, The Belly and the MembersOpens in new window:

“Once on a time all the members of the body revolted against the Belly, because it received everything and contributed nothing. So, the Hand said it would no longer carry food to the Mouth; the Mouth said it would no longer receive it; and the Teeth said they would no longer chew it. They all declared they would no longer slave, as they had done, for the lazy and ungrateful Belly. So they rose in insurrection; but, lo! while the rebellious members sought to punish the Belly, they languished and punished themselves.”

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