An Exhibition at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Curated by Willis Goth Regier, Director of the University of Illinois Press

On display 20 January - 6 April 2012
Join us March 14th, 2012 at 3:00 p.m. for a talk and tour of the exhibition by Willis Regier.

Nora Fry - Frogs who Desired a King

Nora Fry. "The Frogs Desiring a King," 1929.

As an author, Aesop is elusive at best, but as a concept, the Aesopian fable can be quite clearly defined. A life lesson in miniature in which everyday creatures—both human and animal—serve as moral agents, gently or crassly exemplifying virtue and vice.

The stories are so ingrained in most readers' minds that moral attributes have accrued to certain creatures: everyone knows that the fox is sly and cunning, the grasshopper is a flibbertigibbet, and the turtle's perseverance will win the day. The language of Aesopian fables has also become a part of the Western tradition through such maxims as "fine feathers do not make a fine bird," "slow and steady wins the race," and even "united we stand, divided we fall."

No one wants to be accused of "crying wolf" or "sour grapes," both idioms from Aesopian fables. From Phaedrus to La Fontaine and beyond, guest curator Willis Regier explores the genre of the fable through some of the finest editions and renditions of the fabled Greek moralist. We are "proud as peacocks" about the results of his hard work.

The excellent holdings in Aesopica at The Rare Book & Manuscript Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are part of a large and diverse pedagogical collection that includes thousands of incunables and renaissance school books, a remarkable collection of Victorian children's books, and the first ABC book entirely in English. But is Aesop only for schoolchildren? Why have such luminaries as Marie de France, John Lydgate, William Caxton, and Martin Luther devoted their efforts to editing or translating Aesop? Perhaps the fact that similar fables and proverbs have been found among the ancient Sumerians and also exist in varying forms in Indian and Midrashic literature points to the universal quality of the tales. We seem to have a propensity for seeing the world in moralistic terms, or to put it more positively, we humans have an innate desire to learn from nature—and to understand human nature—by looking at the world around us.

Valerie Hotchkiss,
Director of The Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Andrew S. G. Turyn Endowed Professor

Exhibition Credits:
Catalog: Dennis Sears, Chloe Ottenhoff
Exhibition Design and Website: Chloe Ottenhoff

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