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“Kindness affects more than severity.” – Aesop’s fable of the wind and the sun

Who was Aesop?

Aesop was almost certainly a legendary figure. He was an ancient Greek storyteller, credited with passing down a number of fables known as Aesop’s Fables. None of his writings have survived, eventhough numerous tales were gathered across the centuries and in many languages in a storytelling tradition that continues to this day and are credited to him (Aesop’s Fables). Most of Aesop’s Fables are characterized by speaking animals and inanimate object that can solve problems, and in general show human emotions and characteristics.

Despite most scolars arguing that Aesop is most likely not a real person, there are some details of his life that can be found in ancient sources, including Aristotle, Herodotus, and Plutarch. The earliest Greek sources, including Aristotle, claim that Aesop was born around 620 BC in Thrace at a site on the Black Sea coast.

Aristotle and Herodotus tell us that Aesop was a slave in Samos and that his masters were first a man named Xanthus and then a man named Iadmon. They also assume that Aesop must eventually have been freed, because later in life he argued as an advocate for a wealthy Samian and that he eventually met his end in the city of Delphi.

Plutarch also describes how Aesop came to Delphi on a diplomatic mission from King Croesus of Lydia. There he insulted the Delphians, and was sentenced to death on a trumped-up charge of stealing from the temple of Delphi and was eventually thrown from a cliff. Before this episode, Plutarch describes how Aesop met with Periander the tyrant of Corinth. Plutarch also recounts a story of Aesop dining with the Seven Sages of Greece, sitting beside his friend Solon. For a person who may not have existed, Aesop had a pretty interesting life!

The fables attributed to Aesop are numerous and are all listed here: Aesop’s Fables

philogelos, the oldest collection of jokes
Philogelos, the world’s oldest surviving joke book

Philogelos, the oldest existing collection of jokes

Philogelos (Ancient Greek: Φιλόγελως, “Love of Laughter”) is the oldest existing collection of jokes. This collection of jokes is written in ancient Greek, most likely in the 4th century AD. Philogelos is attributed to 2 obscure writers, Hierocles and Philagrius, about whom we know very little. In joke #62 there is a mention to the celebration of a thousand years of Rome, so based on this information some historians assume that the collection perhaps dates from after that event in 248 AD.

Although it is the oldest existing collection of jokes, it is known that it was not the oldest collection ever existed, because Athenaeus has mentioned in his writtings that Philip II of Macedon requested a social club in Athens to write down its members’ jokes, and he paid for them. Also, at the beginning of the 2nd century BC, Plautus twice has a character mentioning books of jokes.

The Philogelos collection contains 265 jokes categorized into several subjects such as teachers and scholars, and eggheads and fools.

Some jokes from the book Philogelos

A man complains to the former owner that the slave he has recently purchased from him has died. “By the gods”, says the slave’s former owner, “when he was with me, he never did any such thing.”

A not so clever student wants to see if he looks good when he’s sleeping. So he stands in front of a mirror with his eyes closed.

An intellectual who had fallen sick promised to pay the doctor if he recovered. When his wife nagged at him for drinking wine while he was still sick with a fever, he said: “Do you want me to get well and be forced to pay the doctor?”

An intellectual visited a good friend who was seriously ill. When the man’s wife said that he had “departed”, the intellectual replied: “When he returns, can you please tell him that I stopped by?”

An Abderite who was a eunuch had the misfortune to develop a hernia.

A young man said to his libido-driven wife: “What should we do, darling? Eat or have sex?” And she replied: “You can choose. But there’s not a crumb in the house.”

An idiot asks a silversmith to make him a lamp. “How big do you want me to make this lamp?” the silversmith asks. “Big enough for eight people to see by!”

A misogynist was sick, at death’s door. When his wife said to him, “If anything bad happens to you, I’ll hang myself,” he looked up at her and said: “Do me the favor while I’m still alive.”

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Ancient Greek literature

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Aesop's fables

The Hare and the Tortoise

One day the hare was bragging to the other animals about his speed. “No animal can run faster than me” said he, “I have never yet been beaten and I challenge anyone here to race with me.”

The tortoise walked slowly towards him and said quietly, “Hare, I accept your challenge.”

“That is a good joke tortoise,” said the hare; “I could dance around you all the way.”

“Keep your bragging till you’ve beaten me,” answered the tortoise. “Are we going to race then or will you continue your empty talk?”

So a course was fixed and a start was made. The hare thrusted off the start line and he was almost out of sight at once, but soon looked behind him and stopped, believing that the tortoise could never catch him. So he lay down by the wayside to have a nap. The tortoise never for a moment stopped but went on with a slow but steady pace all the way to the end of the course.

When the hare woke up from his nap, he saw the tortoise just near the winning line. The hare got up and ran as fast as he could, but it was too late. He saw the tortoise crossing the line and finishing first. Then tortoise said to him:

“Slow and steady wins the race.”

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