An ancient literary work called The Aesop Romance tells an episodic, probably highly fictional version of his life, including the traditional description of him as a strikingly ugly slave () who by his cleverness acquires freedom and becomes an adviser to kings and city-states.
Older spellings of his name have included Esop(e) and Isope.
potbellied, misshapen of head, snub-nosed, swarthy, dwarfish, bandy-legged, short-armed, squint-eyed, liver-lipped—a portentous monstrosity," The earliest text by a known author that refers to Aesop's appearance is Himerius in the 4th century, who says that Aesop "was laughed at and made fun of, not because of some of his tales but on account of his looks and the sound of his voice." The evidence from both of these sources is dubious, since Himerius lived some 800 years after Aesop and his image of Aesop may have come from The Aesop Romance, which is essentially fiction; but whether based on fact or not, at some point the idea of an ugly, even deformed Aesop took hold in popular imagination.
Avianus (of uncertain date, perhaps the 4th century) translated 42 of the fables into Latin elegiacs.
The 4th-century grammarian Dositheus Magister also made a collection of Aesop's Fables, now lost.
Like The Alexander Romance, The Aesop Romance became a folkbook, a work that belonged to no one, and the occasional writer felt free to modify as it might suit him." Multiple, sometimes contradictory, versions of this work exist.
The earliest known version was probably composed in the 1st century CE, but the story may have circulated in different versions for centuries before it was committed to writing, Scholars long dismissed any historical or biographical validity in The Aesop Romance; widespread study of the work began only toward the end of the 20th century.Scholars have begun to examine why and how this "physiognomic tradition" developed.