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.
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.
These fables, again, were among the books brought into an extended circulation by the agency of the printing press.
The knowledge of these fables rapidly spread from Italy into Germany, and their popularity was increased by the favor and sanction given to them by the great fathers of the Reformation, who frequently used them as vehicles for satire and protest against the tricks and abuses of the Romish ecclesiastics.
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.
1610, a learned Swiss, Isaac Nicholas Nevelet, sent forth the third printed edition of these fables, in a work entitled "Mythologia Aesopica." This was a noble effort to do honor to the great fabulist, and was the most perfect collection of Aesopian fables ever yet published.
This collection of Nevelet's is the great culminating point in the history of the revival of the fame and reputation of Aesopian Fables. It is remarkable, also, as containing in its preface the germ of an idea, which has been since proved to have been correct by a strange chain of circumstances.
His name is mentioned by Avienus; by Suidas, a celebrated critic, at the close of the eleventh century, who gives in his lexicon several isolated verses of his version of the fables; and by John Tzetzes, a grammarian and poet of Constantinople, who lived during the latter half of the twelfth century.
1776, a Dissertation on Babrias, and a collection of his fables in choliambic meter found in a MS.