Daily Archives: May 13, 2012

Aesop’s Mothers

For Mother’s Day, I was planning to do a post called “Grimm Mothers” (a title I love) about fairy-tale mothers, but I quickly realized that most of the mothers in the Grimm tales are evil stepmothers, and being one myself (not evil, just a stepmother), I decided to shift my focus from fairy tales to fables.  Aesop’s Fables, especially the larger editions, actually includes quite a few interesting mothers, most of which you don’t come across very often:  lobster and crab mothers, mole mothers, lark and moon mothers, in addition to mothers dealing with wolves and thieves.  So we have real maternal diversity today.  There are so many editions of Aesop to choose from; this title has never been out of print since the dawn of printing and there are manuscript versions before that.

Aesop telling his tales to an audience of men and beasts; the frontispiece to John Ogilby, The Fables of Aesop paraphrased in verse (London, Thomas Warren for Andrew Crook, 1651).

For images, I really like a mid-nineteenth-century edition illustrated by C.H. Bennett, The Fables of Aesop and Others, Translated into Human Nature (W. Kent & Co., 1857).  Bennett injected “humanity” into the fables by putting Aesop’s animals in contemporary clothes, situations, and environments, complete with “family pictures” on the walls.  You can find later colored versions of these plates, but those below are from the first edition.

Lobsters, apes and moles….a half-century later, “golden-age” illustrator Arthur Rackham offered up images of even more unusual mothers, a crab and a moon, for a “new translation” of Aesop’s Fables (1912) which is still in print today:  an absolute classic.

The fable of the moon:  The Moon once begged her Mother to make her a gown. “How can I?” replied she; “there’s no fitting your figure. At one time you’re a New Moon, and at another you’re a Full Moon; and between whiles you’re neither one nor the other.”

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