Despite being written more than two-and-a-half thousand years ago, Aesop's Fables are still passed on from parent to child, and are embedded in our collective consciousness. The morals we have learned from these tales continue to inform our judgements, but have the stories also informed how we regard their animal protagonists? If so, is there any truth behind the stereotypes? Are crows smart enough to reason? Are donkeys really stubborn and dumb? Are ants truly capable of looking ahead to the future, and planning their actions?
In Aesop's Animals, zoologist Jo Wimpenny turns a critical eye to the fables to discover whether there is any scientific truth to Aesop's portrayal of the animal kingdom. She brings the tales into the twenty-first century, introducing the latest findings on some of the most fascinating branches of ethological research – the study of why animals do the things they do. In each chapter she interrogates a classic fable and a different topic – future planning, tool use, self-recognition, cooperation and deception – concluding with a verdict on the veracity of each fable's portrayal from a scientific perspective.
By sifting fact from fiction in one of the most beloved texts of our culture, Aesop's Animals explores and challenges our preconceived notions about animals, the way they behave, and the roles we both play in our shared world.
Dr Jo Wimpenny is a zoologist and science writer. After researching crow intelligence at Oxford University, she co-authored Ten Thousand Birds, an award-winning book on the history of ornithology, and has since written for magazines such as BBC Wildlife. Her latest book, Aesop’s Animals, turns a zoologist’s critical eye to a selection of Aesop's fables, asking whether there is any scientific truth to some of humanity’s most famous animal characters. Jo lives in Oxford, UK, with her partner.