At whatever time he wrote his version of Aesop, by some strange accident it seems to have entirely disappeared, and to have been lost sight of.
Phaedrus, the great imitator of Aesop, plainly indicates this double purpose to be the true office of the writer of fables.
The continual observance of this twofold aim creates the charm, and accounts for the universal favor, of the fables of Aesop. "The fable," says Professor K.
"'Tis the simple manner," says Dodsley, 2 "in which the morals of Aesop are interwoven with his fables that distinguishes him, and gives him the preference over all other mythologists.
The great bulk of them are not the immediate work of Aesop. Many are obtained from ancient authors prior to the time in which he lived.
The fables were in the first instance only narrated by Aesop, and for a long time were handed down by the uncertain channel of oral tradition.
Seven centuries elapsed before the next notice is found of the Fables of Aesop. During this long period these fables seem to have suffered an eclipse, to have disappeared and to have been forgotten; and it is at the commencement of the fourteenth century, when the Byzantine emperors were the great patrons of learning, and amidst the splendors of an Asiatic court, that we next find honors paid to the name and memory of Aesop.
He is charged on the one hand with having had before him a copy of Babrias (to whom we shall have occasion to refer at greater length in the end of this Preface), and to have had the bad taste "to transpose," or to turn his poetical version into prose: and he is asserted, on the other hand, never to have seen the Fables of Aesop at all, but to have himself invented and made the fables which he palmed off under the name of the famous Greek fabulist.
The eventual re-introduction, however, of these Fables of Aesop to their high place in the general literature of Christendom, is to be looked for in the West rather than in the East.
The greatest advance, however, towards a re-introduction of the Fables of Aesop to a place in the literature of the world, was made in the early part of the seventeenth century.
Martin Luther translated twenty of these fables, and was urged by Melancthon to complete the whole; while Gottfried Arnold, the celebrated Lutheran theologian, and librarian to Frederick I, king of Prussia, mentions that the great Reformer valued the Fables of Aesop next after the Holy Scriptures.
This volume of Nevelet forms a complete "Corpus Fabularum Aesopicarum;" and to his labors Aesop owes his restoration to universal favor as one of the wise moralists and great teachers of mankind.