AskDefine | Define fable

Dictionary Definition



1 a deliberately false or improbable account [syn: fabrication, fiction]
2 a short moral story (often with animal characters) [syn: parable, allegory, apologue]
3 a story about mythical or supernatural beings or events [syn: legend]

User Contributed Dictionary



French, from fabula, from fari. See Ban, and compare fabulous, fame.



  1. A feigned story or tale, intended to instruct or amuse; a fictitious narration intended to enforce some useful truth or precept; an apologue.
  2. The plot, story, or connected series of events, forming the subject of an epic or dramatic poem.
    • John Dryden
      The moral is the first business of the poet; this being formed, he contrives such a design or fable as may be most suitable to the moral.
  3. Any story told to excite wonder; common talk; the theme of talk.
  4. Fiction; untruth; falsehood.
    • Joseph Addison,
      It would look like a fable to report that this gentleman gives away a great fortune by secret methods.


story or tale intended to instruct, to amuse, to enforce some useful truth or precept


  1. To compose fables; hence, to write or speak fiction ; to write or utter what is not true.
    • He Fables not. - Shakespeare, 1 Henry VI, IV-ii.
    • Vain now the tales which fabling poets tell. - Matthew Prior
    • He fables, yet speaks truth. - Matthew Arnold.
  2. To feign; to invent; to devise, and speak of, as true or real; to tell of falsely.


compose fables
  • Danish: fable
  • Finnish: sepittää (satuja)
  • German: fabulieren
  • Hungarian: mesél
tell of falsely


Extensive Definition

A fable is a brief, succinct story, in prose or verse, that features animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature which are anthropomorphized (given human qualities), and that illustrates a moral lesson (a "moral"), which may at the end be expressed explicitly in a pithy maxim.
A fable differs from a parable in that the latter excludes animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as actors that assume speech and other powers of humankind.
The descriptive definition of "fable" given above has not always been closely adhered to. In the King James Version of the New Testament, "μύθος" ("mythos") was rendered by the translators as "fable" in First and Second Timothy, in Titus and in First Peter.


The word "fable" comes from the Latin "fabula" (a "story"), itself derived from "fari" ("to speak").
In a pejorative sense, a "fable" may be a deliberately invented or falsified account of an event or circumstance. Similarly, a non-authorial person who, wittingly or not, tells "tall tales," may be termed a "confabulator." In its original sense, however, "fable" denotes a brief, succinct story that is meant to impart a moral lesson.
An author of fables is termed a "fabulist," and the word "fabulous," strictly speaking, "pertains to a fable or fables." In recent decades, however, "fabulous" has come frequently to be used in the quite different meaning of "excellent" or "outstanding".


Fables can be described as a didactic mode of literature. That is, whether a fable has been handed down from generation to generation as oral literature, or constructed by a literary tale-teller, its purpose is to impart a lesson or value, or to give sage advice. Fables also provide opportunities to laugh at human folly, when they supply examples of behaviors to be avoided rather than emulated.
Fables frequently have as their central characters animals that are given anthropomorphic characteristics such as the ability to reason and speak. In antiquity, Aesop presented a wide range of animals as protagonists, including The Tortoise and the Hare which famously engage in a race against each other; and, in another classic fable, a fox which rejects grapes that are out of reach, as probably being sour ("sour grapes"). Medieval French fabliaux might feature Reynard the Fox, a trickster figure, and offer a subtext mildly subversive of the feudal social order. Similarly, the 18th-century Polish fabulist Ignacy Krasicki employs animals as the title actors in his striking verse fable, "The Lamb and the Wolves." Krasicki uses plants the same way in "The Violet and the Grass."
Personification may also be extended to things inanimate, as in Krasicki's "Bread and Sword." His "The Stream and the River," again, offers an example of personified forces of nature.
Divinities may also appear in fables as active agents. Aesop's Fables feature most of the Greek pantheon, including Zeus and Hermes.


The fable is one of the most enduring forms of folk literature, spread abroad, modern researchers agree, less by literary anthologies than by oral transmission. Fables can be found in the literature of almost every country. The varying corpus denoted Aesopica or Aesop's Fables includes most of the best-known western fables, which are attributed to the legendary Aesop, supposed to have been a Greek slave around 550 B.C..
When Babrius set down fables from the Aesopica in verse for a Hellenistic Prince "Alexander," he expressly stated at the head of Book II that this type of "myth" that Aesop had introduced to the "sons of the Hellenes" had been an invention of "Syrians" from the time of "Ninos" (personifying Nineveh to Greeks) and Belos ("ruler").
Several parallel animal fables in Sumerian and Akkadian are among those that E. Ebeling introduced to modern Western readers; there are comparable fables from Egypt's Middle Kingdom, and Hebrew fables such as the "king of trees" in Book of Judges 9 and "the thistle and the cedar tree" in II Kings 14:9. Many other familiar ones include “The Crow and the Pitcher,” “The Hare and the Tortoise,” and “The Lion and the Mouse.”
Hundreds of fables were composed in ancient India during the first millennium BC, often as stories within frame stories. These included Vishnu Sarma's Panchatantra, the Hitopadesha, Vikram and The Vampire, and Syntipas' Seven Wise Masters, which were collections of fables that were later influential throughout the Old World. Earlier Indian epics such as Vyasa's Mahabharata and Valmiki's Ramayana also contained fables within the main story, often as side stories or back-story. Some scholars have argued that these fables were influenced by similar Greek and Near Eastern ones.
Epicharmus of Kos and Phormis are reported as having been among the first to invent comic fables.
Fables had a further long tradition through the Middle Ages, and became part of European literature. During the 17th century, the French fabulist Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695) saw the soul of the fable in the moral — a rule of behavior. Starting with the Aesopian pattern, La Fontaine set out to satirize the court, the church, the rising bourgeoisie, indeed the entire human scene of his time. La Fontaine's model was subsequently emulated by Poland's Ignacy Krasicki (1735-1801) and Russia's Ivan Krylov (1769-1844).
In modern times, the fable has been trivialized in children's books. Yet it has also been fully adapted to modern adult literature. For instance, James Thurber used the ancient style in his books, Fables for Our Time and The Beast in Me and Other Animals. George Orwell's Animal Farm satirizes Stalinist Communism in particular, and totalitarianism in general, in the guise of animal fable. Felix Salten's Bambi is a Bildungsroman — a story of a protagonist's coming-of-age — cast in the form of a fable.

Classic fabulists

Modern fabulists



External links

fable in Aymara: Yatichawini jawari
fable in Bosnian: Basna
fable in Breton: Fablenn
fable in Bulgarian: Басня
fable in Catalan: Faula
fable in Chuvash: Юптару
fable in Czech: Bajka
fable in Danish: Fabel
fable in German: Fabel
fable in Estonian: Valm
fable in Modern Greek (1453-): Παραμύθι
fable in Spanish: Fábula
fable in Esperanto: Fablo
fable in Persian: حکایت
fable in French: Fable
fable in Korean: 우화
fable in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Fabula
fable in Italian: Favola
fable in Hebrew: משל
fable in Lithuanian: Pasakėčia
fable in Hungarian: Fabula
fable in Dutch: Fabel
fable in Japanese: 寓話
fable in Norwegian: Fabel
fable in Norwegian Nynorsk: Fabel
fable in Narom: Fabl'ye
fable in Low German: Fabel
fable in Polish: Bajka
fable in Portuguese: Fábula
fable in Romanian: Fabulă
fable in Russian: Басня
fable in Sicilian: Fàula
fable in Simple English: Fable
fable in Slovak: Bájka
fable in Serbian: Басна
fable in Serbo-Croatian: Basna
fable in Finnish: Faabeli
fable in Swedish: Fabel
fable in Thai: นิทาน
fable in Vietnamese: Ngụ ngôn
fable in Turkish: Öykünce
fable in Ukrainian: Байка
fable in Walloon: Fåve di djåzantès biesses
fable in Yiddish: משל
fable in Chinese: 寓言

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Marchen, Western, Western story, Westerner, action, adventure story, allegory, anagnorisis, angle, apologue, architectonics, architecture, argument, atmosphere, background, bedtime story, canard, catastrophe, characterization, color, complication, concoction, continuity, contrivance, denouement, design, detective story, development, device, episode, extravaganza, fabliau, fabrication, fairy tale, falling action, fantasy, fiction, figment, folk story, folktale, forgery, gest, ghost story, gimmick, horse opera, incident, invention, legend, line, local color, love story, mood, motif, movement, mystery, mystery story, myth, mythology, mythos, nursery tale, parable, peripeteia, plan, plot, recognition, rising action, romance, scheme, science fiction, secondary plot, shocker, slant, space fiction, space opera, story, structure, subject, subplot, suspense story, switch, thematic development, theme, thriller, tone, topic, twist, whodunit, work of fiction
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