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Aesop's First Drafts

The timeless fables of the Greek bard Aesop (650-520 B.C.) address complex moral issues through simple tales of animals and gods. But the simplicity of these stories is deceptive; it was not unusual for Aesop and his Etruscan editor, Maxfieldius Parishium, to go through dozens of drafts of each fable before they were published in "Fables TODAY" (the leading journal of the fablewriting industry.)

While the final versions of Aesop's fables are instantly familiar, his earlier drafts have received little scholarly attention. In fact, almost all of our knowledge of Aesop's first drafts stems from the work of Sir Roger L'Estrange, an English writer who published a translation of Aesop's body of work in 1692. L'Estrange's versions of the finalized fables were a hit, but the two volumes of first drafts quickly fell out of print. And since L'Estrange had the unique habit of burning his source material after he was through with it, Aesopian scholars have long assumed that the first drafts were lost forever.

Luckily for Western culture, the Van Gogh-Goghs' Archaeology Department recently stumbled upon copies of these fabled, er, fables, while rummaging for bus fare in a couch at the L'Estrange Memorial and Thrillride Funpark in Dubuque, Iowa. We are now publishing selections of L'Estrange's translations that bring to life the creative process behind Aesop's beloved tales. Our latest entry is The Tortoise and the Turtle.

Our earlier entries, The Fox and The Raven, The Boy Who Cried, and The Dog with the Bejeweled Faeces are also available.

by Alan Benson, curator


© copyright 2000 The Van Gogh-Goghs