Aesop was born circa 620 B.C. Where he was born is still in dispute. He was born a slave. He was owned first by Xanthus, then by Jadmon, both on the island of Samos. Jadmon eventually gave Aesop his freedom as a reward for his cleverness.

Aesop travelled to Sardis, where the Lydian king Croesus held court. Aesop rose to a high position within Croesus' court by virtue of his excellent conversations with local philosophers like Solon and Thales. (In those days, philosophy was a spectator sport.) Croesus was so impressed with Aesop's abilities that he made Aesop his emissary. Aesop was sent on missions to republics like Corinth and Athens, using his instructive fables and quick wit in the service of Croesus.

On one of these missions, Aesop was sent to Delphi with a shipment of gold to distribute it among the citizens. He was so revolted by the Delphians' greed, however, that he sent all the gold back to Croesus without giving any of it away. The enraged Delphians killed him by throwing him off a cliff.

A biography of Aesop entitled Life of Aesop was written by a monk named Maximum Planudes in the fourteenth century. Later scholarship has shown that most of this book is bogus. We have little information about Aesop today that we know to be correct.

Aesop's fame at creating fables has caused many fables written by others to be attributed to him. At this point, it is difficult to know which fables he actually wrote.