Buddha in a temple painting in Laos. Image by Mr. Huevo
I was reading Aesop’s fables to the kid. I was quite surprised to read,
near the beginning of our era a Buddhist collection that had come west by Alexandria was combined with that of Demetrius and later turned into Greek verse by Valerius Babrius. A Greek prose version of Babrius was accepted for centuries as the original Aesop. The habit of summing up the lesson of the fable in a ‘moral’ at the end seems to have come in with the Oriental contribution. (Harvard Classics, book 17, my house).
I found this exact reference in Black World/Negro Digest 1971. That lists a bunch of other Aesop possibilities as well.
Being folk stories, they were presumably from a wide range of folk, who somehow seemed a bit more worldly than us. It is true that Aesop’s fables are a lot like the Jataka Stories (stories of Buddha’s rebirths which I’ve known since I was a child). Much of that canon, however, is probably built apon a older Hindu tradition.
Apparently there are stories in common with the Hindu Panchatantra as well (via our modern folk non-fiction, Wikipedia). In Jewish Talmudic versions of the stories, the Indian connection is more clear.
Of course, our history is older and more connected than we imagine. The Buddha’s stories likely flowed out of a Hindu tradition which flowed into the Greek, which flowed all over the world. For us to go back and claim ownership by any particular nation state or religion would confuse the generations of folk from whom these tales emerged. As my tattered Harvard Classics 17 says, “these simple stories have become the common property of all peoples.” But they came from here first.