Most readers have only encountered a handful of Aesop's fables, and then usually in a cleaned-up form, loaded with morals that would have been alien to their author. While the story of the tortoise and the hare does teach the value of hard work, and the story of the boy who cried wolf (or "The Joking Shepherd," as it was originally titled) teaches the value of honesty, the moral universe of Aesop wasn't as simple as it was made out to be by those who popularized his stories for children. This could partly be the reason Aesop's tales have not been collected in their unabridged entirety before this edition, which was translated and annotated by scholar and television producer Robert Temple. Working from the most reliable Ancient Greek source available, Temple collected all 358 fables attributed to Aesop, taking great pains to point out those that clearly come from non-Greek sources, like the ones featuring elephants and camels. Maybe it was his life as a slave in (probably) the sixth century B.C., or maybe he was simply representing harsh, skeptical aspects of Ancient Greek culture, but what emerges from the fables when read as a whole is a vision of the world as a cruel place in which Chance usually punishes those not done in by folly. It's a grim view of the world, but with its treacherous wolves, braggart asses, and deceitful foxes, it translates pretty well to our own. (For the most part at least. Some tales, like "The Child Who Ate The Sacrificial Viscera," don't really have that much contemporary relevance.) While it's tough to read at once—all those animals, deities, and talking trees begin to blend together after a while—Aesop's darkly humorous fables are worth revisiting as an adult. They were originally written for adults, after all, and this collection should help them reach that audience centuries later.

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