Was Aesop African?

Image of the Week: This 1755 British statue of the famed Greek is one of many that depict him as African.

Aesop, the ancient Greek fabulist, is seen here in an animated pose, apparently in the act of telling one of his famous stories. He is dressed in a fanciful outfit typical of the Rococo period, which may also reflect the exotic and colorful livery worn by black servants in aristocratic European households. The figure's purpose is essentially decorative, and it served as a centerpiece for formal dining tables. References to Aesop go back to the sixth century B.C., but little is known of his origins and identity. From an early date, however, he was characterized as an outsider, ugly in appearance, as well as a slave.

Black Africans were certainly known to the ancient Greeks. In the case of Aesop this is exemplified by the story often attributed to him of "washing the Ethiopian white."

Only in the medieval period, however, in a biography by the Byzantine scholar Planudes was Aesop actually described as black. There his name is falsely conflated with Aethiops, an early term for African people meaning "burned face." The association stuck, however, but several more centuries were to pass before Aesop was actually represented as a black person. This process began when Planudes' work was translated into English and published by Francis Barlow as Aesop's Fables With His Life, first published in 1687, with a later edition of 1703.

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SOURCE: The Root
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