A fable is a succinct story, in prose or verse, that features animals, mythical creatures, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature which are anthropomorphized (given human qualities), and that illustrates a moral lesson (a "moral"), which may at the end be expressed explicitly in a pithy maxim.
A fable differs from a parable in that the latter excludes animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as actors that assume speech and other powers of humankind.
Usage has not always been so clearly distinguished. In the King James Version of the New Testament, "μύθος" ("mythos") was rendered by the translators as "fable" in First and Second Timothy, in Titus and in First Peter.
The word "fable" comes from the Latin "fabula" (a "story"), itself derived from "fari" ("to speak") with the -ula suffix that signifies "little": hence, a "little story".
Though in its original sense "fable" denotes a brief, succinct story that is meant to impart a moral lesson, in a pejorative sense, a "fable" may be a deliberately invented or falsified account of an event or circumstance. Similarly, a non-authorial person who, wittingly or not, tells "tall tales," may be termed a "confabulator".
An author of fables is termed a "fabulist," and the word "fabulous," strictly speaking, "pertains to a fable or fables." In recent decades, however, "fabulous" has come frequently to be used in the quite different meaning of "excellent" or "outstanding".
The fable is one of the most enduring forms of folk literature, spread abroad, modern researchers agree, less by literary anthologies than by oral transmission. Fables can be found in the literature of almost every country.
Several parallel animal fables in Sumerian and Akkadian are among those that Erich Ebeling introduced to modern Western readers; there are comparable fables from Egypt's Middle Kingdom, and Hebrew fables such as the "king of trees" in Book of Judges 9:8-15 and "the thistle and the cedar tree" in II Kings 14:9.
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