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

Who was Aesop?

Aesop (c. 620–564 BCE) was an ancient Greek fabulist, or storyteller, credited with a number of fables now collectively known as Aesop’s Fables. Although his existence remains uncertain and no writings by him survive, numerous tales credited to him were gathered across the centuries and in many languages in a storytelling tradition that continues to this day. Many of the tales are characterized by animals and inanimate objects that speak, solve problems and generally have human characteristics.

Scattered details of Aesop’s life can be found in ancient sources, including Aristotle, Herodotus, and Plutarch. The earliest Greek sources, including Aristotle, indicate that Aesop was born around 620 BC in Thrace at a site on the Black Sea coast which would later become the city Mesembria.

From Aristotle and Herodotus we learn that Aesop was a slave in Samos and that his masters were first a man named Xanthus and then a man named Iadmon; that he must eventually have been freed, because he argued as an advocate for a wealthy Samian; and that he met his end in the city of Delphi. Plutarch tells us that Aesop had come to Delphi on a diplomatic mission from King Croesus of Lydia, that he insulted the Delphians, was sentenced to death on a trumped-up charge of temple theft and was thrown from a cliff (after which the Delphians suffered pestilence and famine). Before this fatal episode, Aesop met with Periander of Corinth, where Plutarch has him dining with the Seven Sages of Greece, sitting beside his friend Solon, whom he had met in Sardis.

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. The collection is written in Greek, and the language used indicates that it may have been written in the 4th century AD. It is attributed to Hierocles and Philagrius, about whom little is known. Because the celebration of a thousand years of Rome is mentioned in joke 62, 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, because Athenaeus wrote that Philip II of Macedon paid for a social club in Athens to write down its members’ jokes, and at the beginning of the second century BC, Plautus twice has a character mentioning books of jokes. The collection contains 265 jokes categorized into subjects such as teachers and scholars, and eggheads and fools.

Some jokes from the book Philogelos

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

A student dunce wants to see if he looks good when he’s asleep. So he stands in front of a mirror with his eyes closed.

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

An intellectual came to check in on a friend who was seriously ill. When the man’s wife said that he had “departed”, the intellectual replied: “When he comes back, will you 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 it?” 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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Aesop's fables

The Hare and the Tortoise

The Hare was once boasting of his speed before the other animals. “I have never yet been beaten,” said he, “when I put forth my full speed. I challenge anyone here to race with me.”

The Tortoise said quietly, “I accept your challenge.”

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

“Keep your boasting till you’ve beaten,” answered the Tortoise. “Shall we race?”

So a course was fixed and a start was made. The Hare darted almost out of sight at once, but soon stopped and, believing that the Tortoise could never catch him, 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 straight to the end of the course.

When the Hare awoke from his nap, he saw the Tortoise just near the winning-post. The Hare ran as fast as he could, but it was too late. He saw the Tortoise had reached the goal. Then said the Tortoise:

“Slow and steady wins the race.”

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