These Jatakas, as we now have them, are enshrined in a commentary on the gathas, or moral verses, written in Ceylon by one of Buddhaghosa's school in the fifth century A.D. They invariably begin with a "Story of the Present, an incident in Buddha's life which calls up to him a "Story of the Past," a folk-tale in which he had played a part during one of his former incarnations. Thus the fable of the Lion and the Crane, which opens the present collection, is introduced by a "Story of the Present" in the following words:—
"A service have we done thee" [the opening words of the gatha or moral verse]. "This the Master told while living at Jetavana concerning Devadatta's treachery. Not only now, O Bhickkus, but in a former existence was Devadatta ungrateful. And having said this he told a tale." Then follows the tale as given above (pp. 1, 2), and the commentary concludes: "The Master, having given the lesson, summed up the Jataka thus: 'At that time, the Lion was Devadatta, and the Crane was I myself.'" Similarly, with each story of the past the Buddha identifies himself, or is mentioned as identical with, the virtuous hero of the folk-tale. These Jatakas are 550 in number, and have been reckoned to include some 2000 tales. Some of these had been translated by Mr. Rhys-Davids (Buddhist Birth Stories, I., Trübner's Oriental Library, 1880), Prof. Fausböll (Five Jatakas, Copenhagen), and Dr. R. Morris (Folk-Lore Journal, vols. ii.-v.). A few exist sculptured on the earliest Buddhist Stupas. Thus several of the circular figure designs on the reliefs from Amaravati, now on the grand staircase of the British Museum, represent Jatakas, or previous births of the Buddha.
Some of the Jatakas bear a remarkable resemblance to some of the most familiar Fables of Æsop. So close is the resemblance, indeed, that it is impossible not to surmise an historical relation between the two. What this relation is I have discussed at considerable length in the "History of the Æsopic Fable," which forms the introductory volume to my edition of Caxton's Esope (London, D. Nutt, "Bibliothèque de Carabas," 1889). In this place I can only roughly summarise my results. I conjecture that a collection of fables existed in India before Buddha and independently of the Jatakas, and connected with the name of Kasyapa, who was afterwards made by the Buddhists into the latest of the twenty-seven pre-incarnations of the Buddha. This collection of the Fables of Kasyapa was brought to Europe with a deputation from the Cingalese King Chandra Muka Siwa (obiit 52 A.D. ) to the Emperor Claudius about 50 A.D., and was done into Greek as the Λόγοι Λυβικοί of "Kybises." These were utilised by Babrius (from whom the Greek Æsop is derived) and Avian,