The Feminist Encyclopedia of German Literature

By Friederike Eigler; Susanne Kord | Go to book overview

F

Fable. The fable's (Latin fabula=story) primary meaning refers to the theme, content, or plan of action--to the story of a short piece of epic or dramatic fiction. This story may be passed down by tradition, invented, or be an account of personal experience. The secondary and more specific meaning refers to the Aesopian fable, a short didactic story in verse or prose. It presents a commonly known truth, a practical wisdom, or a moral precept in the guise of a tale in which human characteristics are transferred to animals or inanimate objects. The result is a pointed tale satirical or didactic in nature.

In antiquity, the fable was considered evidence of oratory ( Aristotle) or as a tool for moral education ( Phaedrus). Martin Luther and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing followed the earlier model, using the form for their ideological ends. In his Abhandlung vom Wesen der Fabel ( 1759), Lessing rejected the elaborate lyrical (Baroque) fable in favor of the precise, serious fable already found in the Aristotelian Rhetorik.

Two aspects of the fable have often attracted scholarly attention: the fable's potential for critique, which has led some to read it as a form of concealed writing, and the use of animal characters in the fable, which is sometimes viewed as a protective measure by authors who could not otherwise safely criticize authority. However, the fable has been used less frequently for subversive social commentary than to maintain the status quo by revealing behaviors that diverged from the accepted norms. Whereas traditional fables point to human aspects in animals, contemporary fables highlight animal aspects in humans. One effect of this shift surfaces in the intensified satirical element of contemporary fables.

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The Feminist Encyclopedia of German Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • A 1
  • B 37
  • C 61
  • D 83
  • E 105
  • F 139
  • G 195
  • H 229
  • I 253
  • J 263
  • K 271
  • L 275
  • M 293
  • N 345
  • O 375
  • P 383
  • Q 429
  • R 431
  • S 465
  • T 515
  • U 531
  • V 537
  • W 553
  • Y 579
  • Z 581
  • Appendix of Names 587
  • Index 637
  • Contributors 673
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