La Fontaine's Fables


Jean de la Fontaine (1621−95) was the author of 12 books containing a total of 243 fables in verse, published between 1668 and 1694. Inspired by fable writers of classical antiquity, and more specifically by Aesop’s Fables, Lafontaine created anthropomorphic animals. Each tale tells a vivid story, which always ends with a moral. Examples include “La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure” (Might makes right) in “The wolf and the lamb;” “On a souvent besoin d’un plus petit que soi” (A mouse may be of service to a lion) in “The lion and the mouse;” “Rien ne sert de courir; il faut partir à point” (Slow and steady wins the race) in “The tortoise and the hare;” and “Aide-toi, le Ciel t'aidera” (Heaven helps those who help themselves) in “The carter stuck in the mud.” La Fontaine described the educational influence of his fables in these words: “I use animals to instruct humans” using all tones of language, all situations, in order “to create / a large comedy of 100 acts / whose stage is the Universe.” The fables became an enormous and lasting success upon their publication, and remain one of the greatest classics of French literature. They also inspired a number of artists to illustrate the tales, among them Gustave Doré, Daumier, and Chagall. The illustrations from this 1875 edition follow the style of images d’Epinal (Epinal prints). These were prints of popular subjects produced in the brightly colored style favored by Jean-Charles Pellerin, who in 1796 named his publishing house for his birthplace, Épinal.

Last updated: September 18, 2015