Last year we posted a lot of fables. Why? Because they are fabulous. But, also, because they are fun, fascinating, and a fine way to seek shelter from current events (while still doing some thinking). Ancient literature does not include a great deal of critical reflection on the Fable, but we do find it prized at the beginning of an education (by Quintilian) and the end of Socrates’ life.
Quintilian, Inst. Orat. 1.9.1-3
“Therefore, let children learn to relay Aesop’s fables—which follow closely the stories of the nursery, in a simple speech and without adding too much and then to write them down in the same unadorned fashion. They should first analyze the verse, then interpret it in their own words, and finally expand it in their own version in which they may either compress some parts or elaborate others with without losing the poet’s meaning.”
 igitur Aesopi fabellas, quae fabulis nutricularum proxime succedunt, narrare sermone puro et nihil se supra modum extollente, deinde eandem gracilitatem stilo exigere condiscant; versus primo solvere, mox mutatis verbis interpretari, tum paraphrasi audacius vertere, qua et breviare quaedam et exornare salvo modo poetae sensu permittitur.
Diogenes Laertius, Vita Philosophorum 2.5.45
“Then they sentenced[Socrates] to death, adding 80 additional votes to this tally. After he was imprisoned for just a few days, he drank the hemlock, but not without having a few exemplary conversations which Plato describes in the Phaedrus. He also composed a paian which begins: “Hail, Delian Apollo, and Artemis, famous children”. Dionysodôros says that this paian is not his. He also composed Aesopic tales in verse, though not completely well, one of which begins:
“Aesop once said to the men who live in Korinth,
Do not judge virtue according to a jury’s opinion”
And then he was taken from the world of men. Soon, the Athenians changed their minds and closed the wrestling floor and gymnasium. They banished the accusers but put Meletos to death. They honored Socrates with a bronze statue which they placed in the Pompeion. It was mad by Lysippos. As soon as Anytos visited Heracleia, the people expelled him. Not only did the Athenians suffer concerning Socrates, but according to Heracleides they fined Homer fifty drachmae because he was insane and they said Tyrtaeus was out of his mind and they even honored Astydamas and others more than Aeschylus with a bronze statue. Euripides rebukes them in his Palamedes when he says:
“You have butchered/ you have butchered
The all-wise nightingale of the muses
Who caused no harm”
This is one story. But Philochorus claims that Euripides died before Socrates.”
Καὶ οἳ θάνατον αὐτοῦ κατέγνωσαν, προσθέντες ἄλλας ψήφους ὀγδοήκοντα. καὶ δεθεὶς μετ’ οὐ πολλὰς ἡμέρας ἔπιε τὸ κώνειον, πολλὰ καλὰ κἀγαθὰ διαλεχθείς, ἃ Πλάτων ἐν τῷ Φαίδωνί φησιν. ἀλλὰ καὶ παιᾶνα κατά τινας ἐποίησεν, οὗ ἡ ἀρχή· Δήλι’ ῎Απολλον χαῖρε, καὶ ῎Αρτεμι, παῖδε κλεεινώ. Διονυσόδωρος δέ φησι μὴ εἶναι αὐτοῦ τὸν παιᾶνα (FHG ii. 84). ἐποίησε δὲ καὶ μῦθον Αἰσώπειον οὐ πάνυ ἐπιτετευγμένως, οὗ ἡ ἀρχή·
Αἴσωπός ποτ’ ἔλεξε Κορίνθιον ἄστυ νέμουσι
μὴ κρίνειν ἀρετὴν λαοδίκῳ σοφίῃ.
῾Ο μὲν οὖν ἐξ ἀνθρώπων ἦν· ᾿Αθηναῖοι δ’ εὐθὺς μετέγνωσαν, ὥστε κλεῖσαι καὶ παλαίστρας καὶ γυμνάσια. καὶ τοὺς μὲν ἐφυγάδευσαν, Μελήτου δὲ θάνατον κατέγνωσαν. Σωκράτην δὲ χαλκῇ εἰκόνι ἐτίμησαν, ἣν ἔθεσαν ἐν τῷ Πομπείῳ, Λυσίππου ταύτην ἐργασαμένου. ῎Ανυτόν τε ἐπιδημήσαντα αὐθημερὸν ἐξεκήρυξαν
῾Ηρακλεῶται. οὐ μόνον δ’ ἐπὶ Σωκράτους ᾿Αθηναῖοι πεπόνθασι τοῦτο, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐπὶ πλείστων ὅσων. καὶ γὰρ ῞Ομηρον καθά φησιν ῾Ηρακλείδης (Wehrli vii, fg. 169), πεντήκοντα δραχμαῖς ὡς μαινόμενον ἐζημίωσαν, καὶ Τυρταῖον παρακόπτειν ἔλεγον, καὶ ᾿Αστυδάμαντα πρότερον τῶν περὶ Αἰσχύλον ἐτίμησαν εἰκόνι χαλκῇ.
Εὐριπίδης δὲ καὶ ὀνειδίζει αὐτοῖς ἐν τῷ Παλαμήδει λέγων (588 N2),
ἐκάνετ’ ἐκάνετε τὰν
πάνσοφον, <ὦ Δαναοί,>
τὰν οὐδὲν ἀλγύνουσαν ἀηδόνα μουσᾶν.
καὶ τάδε μὲν ὧδε. Φιλόχορος (FGrH 328 F 221) δέ φησι προτελευτῆσαι τὸν Εὐριπίδην τοῦ Σωκράτους.
Diogenes is not completely fabricating material here. Plato’s Phaedo records that Socrates while imprisoned composed “poems, arranged versions of Aesop’s tales and a prooimon to Apollo” (ποιημάτων ὧν πεποίηκας ἐντείνας τοὺς τοῦ Αἰσώπου λόγους καὶ τὸ εἰς τὸν Ἀπόλλω προοίμιον, 60d). When asked why he was occupying his time in this way, Socrates responds (Phaedo 60e-61a):
“The same dream often came to me in my past life, appearing in different forms from time to time, but saying the same things: “Socrates, make music and work on it.” In earlier time, I believe that it was compelling me and encouraging me to do what I was doing—just as some cheer on runners, in the same way the dream was telling me to do what I was doing, to make music, since philosophy is the greatest music of all and I was working on that. But now that the trial is complete and the festival has delayed my death, it seemed right to me, if the frequent dream really meant for me to make what is normally called music, not to disobey it but to compose.”
πολλάκις μοι φοιτῶν τὸ αὐτὸ ἐνύπνιον ἐν τῷ παρελθόντι βίῳ, ἄλλοτ᾽ ἐν ἄλλῃ ὄψει φαινόμενον, τὰ αὐτὰ δὲ λέγον, ‘ὦ Σώκρατες,’ ἔφη, ‘μουσικὴν ποίει καὶ ἐργάζου.’ καὶ ἐγὼ ἔν γε τῷ πρόσθεν χρόνῳ ὅπερ ἔπραττον τοῦτο ὑπελάμβανον αὐτό μοι παρακελεύεσθαί τε καὶ ἐπικελεύειν, ὥσπερ οἱ τοῖς θέουσι διακελευόμενοι, καὶ ἐμοὶ οὕτω τὸ ἐνύπνιον ὅπερ ἔπραττον τοῦτο ἐπικελεύειν, μουσικὴν ποιεῖν, ὡς φιλοσοφίας μὲν οὔσης μεγίστης μουσικῆς, ἐμοῦ δὲ τοῦτο πράττοντος. νῦν δ᾽ ἐπειδὴ ἥ τε δίκη ἐγένετο καὶ ἡ τοῦ θεοῦ ἑορτὴ διεκώλυέ με ἀποθνῄσκειν, ἔδοξε χρῆναι, εἰ ἄρα πολλάκις μοι προστάττοι τὸ ἐνύπνιον ταύτην τὴν δημώδη μουσικὴν ποιεῖν, μὴ ἀπειθῆσαι αὐτῷ ἀλλὰ ποιεῖν
(I don’t know if this is the saddest story I have ever read or not. Curse you, Plato).