African History Before the Boats

(This page will feature a different individual each month of African descent, who lived before the Trans-Atlantic slave-trade began)

Aesop

Very few of us have never heard of Aesop’s Fables, and an even fewer of us really know that there was a real Aesop and he was an African. Great thinkers like Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Solon, Shakespear, Julius Caesar and Cicero were well aware of his wisdom and wit. Aesop was a native of Phrygia in Asia Minor. Described by Planudes The Great as a Negro slave with a flat nose, with lips thick and pendulous and a black skin from which he contracted his name Esop meaning the same as Ethiop.

Aesop’s first master was Xanthus who saw him in a market where he was up for sale along with two other slaves, one who was a musician and the other who was an orator. Xanthus asked the musician what he could do, the musician replied “anything”. Xanthus asked the orator what he could do, the orator replied “everything”. When Xanthus asked Aesop what he could do, he replied “nothing”. “Nothing?” replied Xanthus, to which Aesop replied “one of these men says he can do anything and the other says he can do everything that leaves me nothing.”

Struck by his answer Xanthus asked Aesop “if I purchse you will you promise to be good and honest?” Aesop replied “I’m going to do that whether you purchase me or not.” ok, said Xanthus “will you promise not to run away?”  “Did you ever hear of a bird in a cage telling his captor he intended on escaping?” demanded Aesop. Xanthus purchase him any way.

A few days late Xanthus went on a journey in whichhe took several slaves with him, Aesop chose to carry the heaviest load as all of the other slaves laughed at him. The heavy load that Aesop chose was the food and as time went on his load got lighter and lighter until nothing was left.

One day after a quarrel Xanthus’ wife left him, Aesop promised his master he would have her back in a few days. Aesop went from shop to shop purchasing flowers, wine, fish, cake, meat and the best of everything he could find. As he shopped he told everyone he was making the purchases for his master who was getting married. When word got to Xanthus’ wife she went running back home telling Xanthus she would never allow him to marry another as long as she was alive. In honor of his wife’s return Xanthus asked Aesop to prepare the best meal he could for his guest. Aesop labored all day to prepare a meal of nothing but tongues for all to eat. The master was very angry asking why he had prepared tongues, Aesop replied ” the tongue is the key that leads to all knowledge what could be more suitable for a party of philosophers?” Having found the wisdom in his words his master asked his friends to return the next night; and instructed Aesop to prepare the worst meal he could for his friends. The next night they were served tongues again. Xanthus wrought with anger asked Aesop the meaning of preparing tongues again, Aesop replied “was it not an evil tongue that caused a break in your family? was it not a soft tongue that repaired it? the tongue is at once the best and the worst entertainment.”

After helping his village avoid war the opposing king asked to meet with the one so clever of speech that he diffused a war, when Aesop was asked to go he told his village the following fable: “there was a war between the wolves and a sheep, the sheep were aligned with the dogs and had the advantage. The wolves thinking better of it decided to make peace of the dogs were sent to them, the sheep agreed. I’m sure you don’t need to hear the rest of the story.” His village begged him to stay.

During a rare moment in which he was caught off guard Aesop made a statement which caused the authorities of a city he was visiting to plot against his life. As his oppressors were dragging him out to be killed he told them this fable: “An old man who had spent his life in the country without ever seeing the down decided that before he died he would see the town. His friends were too bust to take him but they had some asses that knew the way and they decided to let the animals guide him there. On the way a storm rose and in the darkness the beasts lost their footing and they all fell into a deep pit. and with his last breathe the old man said “miserable wretch that I am to be destroyed among the lowest of all animals. Asses.” Without further hesitation Aesop was thrown off a cliff.

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