Ethics in Aesop's Fables: The Augustana Collection

Ethics in Aesop's Fables: The Augustana Collection

Ethics in Aesop's Fables: The Augustana Collection

Ethics in Aesop's Fables: The Augustana Collection


Ethics in Aesop's Fables: the Augustana Collection offers an original and innovative analysis of the Greek fable in the framework of Greek ethical thinking. The book starts with a brief account of the history and genre of the Greek fable. It then focuses on the Augustana collection of prose fables and analyses its ethical content in the larger context of Greek thought. A detailed comparison of Greek ethical thinking with the language of the fables shows the persistence of certain types of ethical reasoning and of certain key ethical norms. The author argues that although the fable was not philosophy, it was indeed philosophical because it communicated normative messages about human behaviour, which reflected widespread views in Greek ethical thought. This book is of special interest to both students and scholars of Greek fable and of Greek philosophy.


III.1 The Norm of Reciprocity

Recent work on Greek ethics has emphasized the importance of the norm of reciprocity. Interpersonal and communal relationships can be interpreted as a network of mutual obligations that link individuals through reciprocal actions for benefit or harm. The norm of reciprocity is totally absent from scholarship on the Greek fable; it seems that scholars who occasionally discuss the ethics of the fable, such as Rodríguez Adrados and García Gual, ignore this interpretative category. However, reference to reciprocity offers a useful insight, both into the framework in which conflict takes place in the collection and into the moral standards that guide the protagonist’s actions and lead to the production of the collection’s ethical messages.

Reciprocity involves a voluntary exchange of goods and services between two or more parties. In essence, it poses the following demands to the ethical agent: to help those who helped him, to harm those who harmed him and not to injure those who helped him. Therefore, it has two main facets, a positive and a negative one. The first can also be termed ‘amicable’ reciprocity and it involves the repayment of gifts and favours, while the second can be termed ‘hostile’ and involves the repayment of injuries. However, the more widely used categorization is that of M. Sahlins, between ‘generalized’, ‘balanced’, and ‘negative’ forms of reciprocity; the first two belong to the amicable facet of the norm, the third one to its hostile. In the case of generalized reciprocity, the exchange is not simultaneous and the expectation of a future return is implied, although the procedure is supposedly disinterested (e.g. Hes. Op. 349–51). In balanced reciprocity there is a quid pro quo exchange; the giving party clearly expects a return of the benefit in a finite period of time. In both types of reciprocity, the failure to reciprocate disrupts the balance

The term ‘norm’ refers to “rules of conduct which specify appropriate behaviour in a given range of social contexts”, as in Giddens (1997), 583.

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