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fable, brief allegorical narrative, in verse or prose, illustrating a moral thesis or satirizing human beings. The characters of a fable are usually animals who talk and act like people while retaining their animal traits. The oldest known fables are those in the Panchatantra, a collection of fables in Sanskrit, and those attributed to the Greek Aesop, perhaps the most famous of all fabulists. Other important writers of fables include Jean de La Fontaine, whose fables are noted for their sophistication and wit, the Russian poet Ivan Krylov, and the German dramatist and critic Gotthold Lessing, who also wrote a critical essay on the fable. In England the tradition of the fable was continued in the 17th and 18th cent. by John Dryden and John Gay. The use of the fable in the 20th cent. can be seen in James Thurber's Fables for Our Time (1940) and in George Orwell's political allegory, Animal Farm (1945). The American poet Marianne Moore wrote poems quite similar to fables in their use of animals and animal traits to comment on human experience; she also published an excellent translation of The Fables of La Fontaine (1954).


See H. J. Blackham, The Fable as Literature (1985) and bibliography comp. by P. Carnes (1985).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a literary genre; a short tale, usually in verse and allegorical form, that satirically depicts human actions and relationships. The fable is similar to the parable and apologue. In addition to people, the characters in fables are animals, plants, and things. At the beginning or end of a fable there is usually an aphoristic, didactic conclusion (the moral).

The fable is one of the oldest literary genres. In ancient Greece, Aesop (sixth to fifth centuries B.C.) was famous for his fables in prose. In Rome, Phaedrus (first century A.D.) wrote fables. In India the collection of fables Panchatantra dates to the third century. The most outstanding fabulist of modern times was the French poet J. de La Fontaine (17th century).

In Russia the fable developed between the mid-18th and the beginning of the 19th century. It is associated with the names of A. P. Sumarokov (parables), I. I. Khemnitser, A. E. Izmailov, and I. I. Dmitriev, although the first experiments with verse fables had already been made in the 17th century by Simeon Polotskii and in the first half of the 18th century by A. D. Kantemir and V. K. Trediakovskii. In Russian poetry fables were written in free verse that captured the intonation of unconstrained, playful tales. I. A. Krylov’s fables, with their realistic vitality, sober humor, and superb language, marked the flowering of this genre in Russia. In the Ukraine, fables were written by G. Skovoroda, P. P. Gulak-Artemovskii, and L. I. Glebov. During the Soviet period, the fables of Dem’ian Bednyi, S. Mikhajl-kov, F. Krivin, and others became popular.


Potebnia, A. A. Iz lektsii po teorii slovesnosti: Basnia, poslovitsa, pogovorka, 3rd ed. Kharkov, 1930.
Vygotskii, L. Psikhologiia iskusstva. Moscow, 1965. Pages 117–55.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. a short moral story, esp one with animals as characters
2. a story or legend about supernatural or mythical characters or events
3. legends or myths collectively
4. Archaic the plot of a play or of an epic or dramatic poem
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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