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A fable is a succinct story, in prose or verse, that features animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature which are anthropomorphized (given human qualities), and that illustrates a moral lesson (a "moral"), which may at the end be expressed explicitly in a pithy maxim.

A fable differs from a parable in that the latter excludes animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as actors that assume speech and other powers of humankind.

Usage has not always been so clearly distinguished. In the King James Version of the New Testament, "μύθος" ("mythos") was rendered by the translators as "fable"[1] in First and Second Timothy, in Titus and in First Peter.



The word "fable" comes from the Latin "fabula" (a "story"), itself derived from "fari" ("to speak") with the -ula suffix that signifies "little": hence, a "little story".

Though in its original sense "fable" denotes a brief, succinct story that is meant to impart a moral lesson, in a pejorative sense, a "fable" may be a deliberately invented or falsified account of an event or circumstance. Similarly, a non-authorial person who, wittingly or not, tells "tall tales," may be termed a "confabulator."

An author of fables is termed a "fabulist," and the word "fabulous," strictly speaking, "pertains to a fable or fables." In recent decades, however, "fabulous" has come frequently to be used in the quite different meaning of "excellent" or "outstanding".


]] Fables can be described as a didactic mode of literature. That is, whether a fable has been handed down from generation to generation as oral literature, or constructed by a literary tale-teller, its purpose is to impart a lesson or value, or to give sage advice. Fables also provide opportunities to laugh at human folly, when they supply examples of behaviors to be avoided rather than emulated.

Fables frequently have as their central characters animals that are given anthropomorphic characteristics such as the ability to reason and speak. In antiquity, Aesop presented a wide range of animals as protagonists, including "the Tortoise and the Hare" who famously engage in a race against each other; and, in another classic fable, a fox which rejects grapes that are out of reach, as probably being sour ("sour grapes").

Medieval French fabliaux might feature Reynard the Fox, a trickster figure, and offer a subtext mildly subversive of the feudal social order. Similarly, the 18th-century Polish fabulist Ignacy Krasicki employs animals as the title actors in his striking verse fable, "The Lamb and the Wolves." Krasicki uses plants the same way in "The Violet and the Grass."

Personification may also be extended to inanimate objects, as in Krasicki's "Bread and Sword". His "The Stream and the River", again, offers an example of personified forces of nature.

Divinities may also appear in fables as active agents. Aesop's Fables feature most of the Greek pantheon, including Zeus and Hermes.


]] ]] ]] ]] ]] ]]

The fable is one of the most enduring forms of folk literature, spread abroad, modern researchers agree,[2] less by literary anthologies than by oral transmission. Fables can be found in the literature of almost every country.

Several parallel animal fables in Sumerian and Akkadian are among those that Erich Ebeling introduced to modern Western readers;[3] there are comparable fables from Egypt's Middle Kingdom,[4] and Hebrew fables such as the "king of trees" in Book of Judges 9 and "the thistle and the cedar tree" in II Kings 14:9.[5]

The varying corpus denoted Aesopica or Aesop's Fables includes most of the best-known western fables, which are attributed to the legendary Aesop, supposed to have been a slave in ancient Greece around 550 BC. When Babrius set down fables from the Aesopica in verse for a Hellenistic Prince "Alexander," he expressly stated at the head of Book II that this type of "myth" that Aesop had introduced to the "sons of the Hellenes" had been an invention of "Syrians" from the time of "Ninos" (personifying Nineveh to Greeks) and Belos ("ruler").[6] Epicharmus of Kos and Phormis are reported as having been among the first to invent comic fables.[7] Many familiar fables of Aesop include “The Crow and the Pitcher,” “The Hare and the Tortoise,” and “The Lion and the Mouse.”

Hundreds of fables were composed in ancient India during the first millennium BC, often as stories within frame stories. These included Vishnu Sarma's Panchatantra, the Hitopadesha, Vikram and The Vampire, and Syntipas' Seven Wise Masters, which were collections of fables that were later influential throughout the Old World. Ben E. Perry has argued that some of the Jataka tales and some of the fables in Panchatantra may have been influenced by similar Greek and Near Eastern ones.[8] Earlier Indian epics such as Vyasa's Mahabharata and Valmiki's Ramayana also contained fables within the main story, often as side stories or back-story. The most famous fables from the Middle East were the One Thousand and One Nights, also known as the Arabian Nights.

Fables had a further long tradition through the Middle Ages, and became part of European high literature. During the 17th century, the French fabulist Jean de La Fontaine (1621–1695) saw the soul of the fable in the moral — a rule of behavior. Starting with the Aesopian pattern, La Fontaine set out to satirize the court, the church, the rising bourgeoisie, indeed the entire human scene of his time. La Fontaine's model was subsequently emulated by Poland's Ignacy Krasicki (1735–1801), Spain's Félix María de Samaniego (1745-1801) and Tomás de Iriarte y Oropesa (1750-1791), and Russia's Ivan Krylov (1769–1844).

In modern times, while the fable has been trivialized in children's books, it has also been fully adapted to modern adult literature. Felix Salten's Bambi (1923) is a Bildungsroman — a story of a protagonist's coming-of-age — cast in the form of a fable. James Thurber used the ancient fable style in his books, Fables for Our Time (1940) and The Beast in Me and Other Animals (1948). Władysław Reymont's The Revolt (1924), a metaphor for the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, described a revolt by animals that take over their farm in order to introduce "equality." George Orwell's Animal Farm (1945) similarly satirized Stalinist Communism in particular, and totalitarianism in general, in the guise of animal fable.

Classic fabulists

Modern fabulists

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]] ]] [[File:|thumb|120px|José Saramago]]

Notable fables

See also


  1. ^ For example, in First Timothy, "neither give heed to fables...", and "refuse profane and old wives' fables..." (1 Tim 1:4 and 4:4, respectively).
  2. ^ Enzyklopädie des Märchens (1977), see "Fabel", "Äsopica" etc.
  3. ^ Ebeling, Die Babylonishe Fabel und ihre Bedeutung für die Literaturgeschichte (1931).
  4. ^ E. Brunner-Traut, Altägyptische Tiergeschichte und Fabel (1970)
  5. ^ Both noted by Walter Burkert, The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Early Archaic Greek Culture (1992), p 121 note 4.
  6. ^ Burkert 1992:121
  7. ^ P.W. Buckham, p. 245
  8. ^ Ben E. Perry, "Introduction", p. xix, in Babrius and Phaedrus (1965)


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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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From Middle English, from Old French, from Latin fabula, from fari (to speak, say). See Ban, and compare fabulous, fame.





fable (plural fables)

  1. A fictitious narration intended to enforce some useful truth or precept, usually with animals, birds etc as characters; an apologue. Prototypically, Aesop's Fables.
  2. Any story told to excite wonder; common talk; the theme of talk.
  3. Fiction; untruth; falsehood.
    • Joseph Addison,
      It would look like a fable to report that this gentleman gives away a great fortune by secret methods.


  • (fiction to enforce a useful precept): morality play
  • (story to excite wonder):
  • (falsehood):


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Help:How to check translations.


to fable

Third person singular

Simple past

Past participle

Present participle

to fable (third-person singular simple present fables, present participle fabling, simple past and past participle fabled)

  1. (intransitive, archaic) To compose fables; hence, to write or speak fiction ; to write or utter what is not true.
    • Shakespeare, 1 Henry VI, IV-ii:
      He Fables not.
    • Matthew Prior:
      Vain now the tales which fabling poets tell.
    • Matthew Arnold:
      He fables, yet speaks truth.
  2. (transitive, archaic) To feign; to invent; to devise, and speak of, as true or real; to tell of falsely.
    • The hell thou fablest.



  • fable in Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913

Part or all of this page has been imported from the 1913 edition of Webster’s Dictionary, which is now free of copyright and hence in the public domain. The imported definitions may be significantly out of date, and any more recent senses may be completely missing.

Simple English

A fable is a type of long story which teaches something in life or has a meaning to a word, which is usually stated in the middle of the story. The characters of a fable may be people, gods, animals or even lifeless objects. When animals and objects are used in fables, they think and talk like people, even though they act like animals or objects. For example, in a fable a clay pot might say that it is frightened of being broken.

The stories told by fables are usually very simple. To understand a fable, the reader or listener does not need to know all about the characters, only one important thing. For this reason animals are often used in fables in a way that is easily understood because it is always the same. They keep the same characteristics from story to story.

The most famous fables are those attributed to Aesop (6th century B.C.). Many fables are so well-known that their morals have become English sayings.

For example:

  • If a person says "sour grapes!" then they are referring to a fable that tells the story of a fox who saw a beautiful bunch of grapes hanging on a vine. He wanted to eat them but they were high up. He tried and tried to jump high enough to pull them down. When he was too tired to jump anymore, he went away saying "I'll bet those grapes were sour!"
So, if a person sees a beautiful thing that they want, but cannot have, sometimes they say "I don't want it, anyway! I'll bet it is really no good!" This way of thinking is called "sour grapes".
  • "Crying wolf" is another well-known English saying. This comes from the fable of a boy who was sent to mind the sheep. The owners of the sheep said, "If a wolf comes to eat the sheep, you must shout loudly, and we will chase the wolf away!" But the boy got lonely while minding the sheep. So after a while he shouted "Wolf! Wolf!" The people came running. When they saw there was no wolf, they were angry. The next day the boy got lonely again, so he shouted "Wolf! Wolf!" The people came running, but there was no wolf. They were very angry with the boy! On the third day the boy saw a large grey animal hiding behind the rocks and watching the sheep. He cried "Wolf! Wolf!" as loudly as he could, but no one came to chase the wolf away, and at the end of the day, when the people came to look for him, there was nothing left but his bones.
So if a person always makes a great fuss to get attention, or if a person says something bad has happened when it has not, then it is called "crying wolf" and people will stop bothering to pay attention, even when things go really wrong.

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