The Rose and the Amaranth

The Rose and the Amaranth is one of Aesop's Fables, numbered 369 in the Perry Index.[1] It stands in contrast to those plant fables like The Oak and the Reed and The Trees and the Bramble in which the protagonists arrogantly debate with each other. In this, however, the lowly amaranth praises the rose for its beauty and reputation and is answered, equally humbly, that a rose's life is brief while the amaranth (the name of which means literally 'the undying flower') is everlasting.

In Classical times there were only Greek versions of the story and it spread into Western Europe comparatively late. One of the first to give a version in English was Brook Boothby in a poem that concludes

Love is the rose-bud of an hour;
Friendship the everlasting flower.[2]

The fable's moral is that beauty does not last, and that enviable conditions carry their penalty. This message is what underlies the question and answer format of Paul Otteson's lyric "The Rose and the Amaranth" on his February Fables CD (2011), although there the lesson is drawn from the human situation.[3]

Hanging Amaranth
The humble amaranth hangs down its head


  1. ^ Aesopica site
  2. ^ Fables & Satires II, Edinburgh 1809, p.95
  3. ^ The lyrics and a recording are available on Paul Otteson's website
Aesop's Fables

Aesop's Fables, or the Aesopica, is a collection of fables credited to Aesop, a slave and storyteller believed to have lived in ancient Greece between 620 and 564 BCE. Of diverse origins, the stories associated with his name have descended to modern times through a number of sources and continue to be reinterpreted in different verbal registers and in popular as well as artistic media.

The fables originally belonged to the oral tradition and were not collected for some three centuries after Aesop's death. By that time a variety of other stories, jokes and proverbs were being ascribed to him, although some of that material was from sources earlier than him or came from beyond the Greek cultural sphere. The process of inclusion has continued until the present, with some of the fables unrecorded before the later Middle Ages and others arriving from outside Europe. The process is continuous and new stories are still being added to the Aesop corpus, even when they are demonstrably more recent work and sometimes from known authors.

Manuscripts in Latin and Greek were important avenues of transmission, although poetical treatments in European vernaculars eventually formed another. On the arrival of printing, collections of Aesop's fables were among the earliest books in a variety of languages. Through the means of later collections, and translations or adaptations of them, Aesop's reputation as a fabulist was transmitted throughout the world.

Initially the fables were addressed to adults and covered religious, social and political themes. They were also put to use as ethical guides and from the Renaissance onwards were particularly used for the education of children. Their ethical dimension was reinforced in the adult world through depiction in sculpture, painting and other illustrative means, as well as adaptation to drama and song. In addition, there have been reinterpretations of the meaning of fables and changes in emphasis over time.

Perry Index

The Perry Index is a widely used index of "Aesop's Fables" or "Aesopica", the fables credited to Aesop, the storyteller who lived in ancient Greece between 620 and 560 BC. Modern scholarship takes the view that Aesop probably did not compose all of the fables attributed to him; indeed, a few are known to have first been used before Aesop lived, while the first record we have of many others is from well over a millennium after his time. Traditionally, Aesop's fables were arranged alphabetically, which is not helpful to the reader. B. E. Perry listed them by language (Greek then Latin), chronologically, by source, and then alphabetically; the Spanish scholar Francisco Rodríguez Adrados created a similar system. This system also does not help the casual reader, but is the best for scholarly purposes.Ben Edwin Perry (1892–1968) was a professor of classics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 1924 to 1960. He was author of Studies in the Text History of the Life and Fables of Aesop and many other books. His Aesopica ("A Series of Texts Relating to Aesop or Ascribed to Him or Closely Connected with the Literal Tradition that Bears His Name") has become the definitive edition of all fables reputed to be by Aesop, with fables arranged by earliest known source. His index of fables has been used as a reference system by later authors.

Plant symbolism

Various folk cultures and traditions assign symbolic meanings to plants. Although these are no longer commonly understood by populations that are increasingly divorced from their old rural traditions, some survive. In addition, these meanings are alluded to in older pictures, songs and writings. New symbols have also arisen: one of the most known in the United Kingdom is the red poppy as a symbol of remembrance of the fallen in war.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf

The Boy Who Cried Wolf is one of Aesop's Fables, numbered 210 in the Perry Index. From it is derived the English idiom "to cry wolf", defined as "to give a false alarm" in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and glossed by the Oxford English Dictionary as meaning to make false claims, with the result that subsequent true claims are disbelieved.



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