44 – Who was Aesop?

Aesop wrote over 700 fables . . . or did he? This ancient Greek writer’s work is at the foundation of literature, but who was he? Did he even exist? There are many different versions of his biography, because Aesop is one of those figures who comes from the blurry edges of the past where history vanishes into legend. All versions credit him with being an intelligent storyteller who traveled widely, dispensing moral wisdom with his pithy, entertaining stories. Although he met an untimely end, his work has become timeless, influencing global literature for over 2600 years.

Activity: Semihistorical Figures

History is the study of what happened in the past. Historiography is the study of how history is written down. Not all works of history are equally valuable. Some have false or missing information, and some are written by people who are trying to push a certain point of view. And then there are some people who get written into history who probably shouldn’t be in the story at all, because there isn’t any firm evidence about their lives or deeds.

Students can research one of the following semihistorical figures. These people often feature in old histories or in legends and works of fiction, but there is no hard evidence proving that they actually lived:

      • Ragnar Lothbrok
      • Mulan
      • Pythagoras
      • King Arthur
      • The Queen of Sheba
      • Robin Hood
      • Homer
      • John Henry
      • Lycurgus
      • Sun Tzu

This printable worksheet can help students answer questions about a semihistorical figure:

      • When was this person was supposed to have lived?
      • What is the person famous for?
      • What sources mention this person?
      • Does anything about the person’s life story seem unlikely to be true?
      • Do you think this person really existed? Why or why not?