Aesopic Conversations: Popular Tradition, Cultural Dialogue, and the Invention of Greek Prose

Tim Whitmarsh writes:

Apollonius of Tyana was a miracle-working holy man, philosopher and, we’re told, confidant of emperors, whose ministry covered the later part of the first century AD. Later generations would see him as the ‘pagan Jesus’, an icon of traditional polytheism whose cult rivalled that of the upstart Christ. According to his biographer, Philostratus, among the many topics this learned and charismatic figure expounded was the value of fables. Which kind of fable, Apollonius is said to have asked his companions, is the more philosophical: the kind found in the poets, or Aesop’s? His respondent, one Menippus, replied: the poetic kind, of course. There is no value in Aesop, just ‘frogs and donkeys and rubbish for old women and children to chew on’. But with a rhetorical flourish, Apollonius proceeded to argue that Aesop was in fact the greater philosopher: ‘He takes small subjects and teaches great lessons.’

(LRB 16 June 2011)