Aesop

Tile painted with an image inspired by Aesop's Fables, Minton, Hollins & Co., about 1875. Museum no. C.186E-1976

Tile painted with an image inspired by Aesop's Fables, Minton, Hollins & Co., about 1875. Museum no. C.186E-1976

Aesop's Fables have been a perpetual resource for moralists and story-tellers and popular subjects for illustration aimed at both children and adults. They were among the first illustrated printed books to be produced; the earliest known example was produced in Bamberg, Germany, in 1461.

Aesop is really a compiler of the fables, which may originally have been passed down through oral tradition. Some have been found written on Egyptian papyri dating to between 800 and 1000 years before Aesop's time.

Aesop is said to have lived about 620–560 BC and to have been a slave on the Greek Island of Samos, later freed by his master Iadmon. He was then at the court of King Croesus in Athens. A number of places have been suggested as Aesop's place of birth, including Thrace (around southern Bulgaria, northern Greece and Turkey), Phyrgia (Turkey), Samos, Greece and Ethiopia. Maximus Planudes, Aesop's biographer, described him as black, and the name Aesop comes from the Greek word 'Aethiop' for Ethiopia.

The National Art Library has a large collection of illustrated Aesop's Fables dating from the 15th century to the present day.