Aesop lived in Greece in the 7th century BC, during a period of remarkable cultural and intellectual advances that paved the way for the Greek "Golden Age".
He was friends with the first philosophers, a group called the Seven Sages, who began questioning the gods' supreme powers over the fate of humans. They spoke of common sense and personal responsibility, and introduced the novel idea that men themselves, not the gods, were responsible for their actions.
These early, ground-breaking philosophers influenced the tragic poets, who wrote plays tracing the paths of fallen heroes to find the cause of their undoing, which was generally caused by arrogance (hubris).
Arguably Aesop is the father, or at least the uncle, of satiric comedy, which appeared several hundred years later with Aristophanes (the same period as Socrates and last tragic poet, Euripides) to warn people of their complacent ways.
It's unclear where Aesop was born. Some say Asia Minor, some say he was Ethiopian. The philosopher Aristotle figured he was from Thrace, near the Black Sea. He was most certainly a slave in Samos, owned by a man called Xanthus who freed him because of his clever way with words.
He traveled widely and was active in Athens' politics where he advised statesmen. His stories and morals were warnings to a society he considered lax in its ways. He used animals to act out human faults because he did not want to offend, just make people aware of the possible consequences of their actions.
It's agreed that most of Aesop's stories are adaptations from local lore, chosen because they fit his morals. After his death many other fables were attributed to him. One which is most likely an original is The Frogs Who Wanted a King, to warn the people of Athens to be careful who they supported as their leader. After his death several scholars attempted to write down what they remembered, it seems even Socrates put some of the stories into verse while in prison. Aesop is mentioned by the poets Aristophanes and Sophocles, and by the historian Diogene Laertius.
What we know today as “Aesop’s Fables” was first assembled around 300 BC by the Greek statesman and philosopher Demetrius Phalereus. They were put to prose in Latin by Phaedrus, a freed slave, around 25 BC, which were translated into Greek by Babrius, a writer allegedly from Rome who may have lived around the 1st century. In the 13th century the fables were translated into Arabic and Hebrew (where Zerechiah ha-Nakadan added biblical quotations). In the 17th century they were translated in Chinese by Zhang Geng, and were the inspiration for Fables Choises by the French poet Jean de La Fontaine.
La Fontaine’s superb adaptations are hugely popular in France,
in particular The Fox and The Crow.
There is very little documentation on Aesop's life. The Aesop Romance (c. 2nd century) of unknown authorship describes Aesop as “potbellied, misshapen of head, snub-nosed, swarthy, dwarfish, bandy-legged, short-armed, squint-eyed, and liver-lipped."