Fable and Parable: Short allegories

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Fables (apologues) and parables are short allegories.

Fable and parable: Short allegories

From English Composition and Rhetoric, by Alexander Bain, Aids to English Composition, by Richard Green Parker, and Elements of Rhetoric, by Henry Coppée:

I. Fable

A. Fables are written for the moral.

1. A fable, or apologue, differs from a tale, in that it is written expressly for the sake of the moral.
2. If there is no moral, there is no fable.

B. The characters in fable speak and act as monitors to mankind.

1. They are often personified inanimate objects or personified lower animals.
2. Fable attributes the actions and words of rational beings to what is inanimate and irrational.
3. The characters are purely fictitious—brutes and plants are made to think, and speak, and act like men.
4. When human beings are used as characters in fables they symbolize all of their class or kind.

C. A fable must be short.

1. If a moral truth is to shine through a fable, the whole of it must be quickly made apparent.
2. It is with a view to brevity that the fabulist makes use of animals of known character.
3. The reader recognizes the characteristics the instant the animal is mentioned, and the author thereby avoids the necessity of longer description. For example, the characters of a fable might be foxes used to symbolize crafty men.


II. Parable

A. A parable illustrates some truth.

Though fictitious, they are drawn from realistic events and characters, and are therefore supported by probability and easily applied to life situations.

B. Reformers and teachers of all times have made much use of them.

1. By means of parables, abstract truths can be presented in graphic form so that they can be easily understood.
2. Many common Western parables come from Christian scripture: The Prodigal Son,” “The Sower,” “The Ten Virgins.”

III. Aristotle on fable and parable as rhetorical devices:

A. Often useful

Though true examples from history are of greater effect in deliberation and more appropriate to persuasive oratory, Aristotle in his Rhetoric tells us that fables and parables are often useful.

B. Easily invented 

The occasion wherein fables are more in point, and employed with the greatest success, is in popular addresses, and in debates, upon great questions. They have this advantage over example, that it is difficult to find in history circumstances perfectly relevant to what we would wish to prove, whereas a fable is easily invented; and in order to this, nothing more is necessary than to draw a parable, which any man may do... 

IV. Famous fabulists

A. Aesop

Ancient Greek fabulist.

B. La Fontaine

Seventeenth Century French poet known for his Fables.

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