Talking animals are well known in storytelling, a tradition we can trace back to the very beginnings of literature in ancient Mesopotamia. Animal tales in the style of Aesop are still read all over the world and are regularly featured in educational programs. This genre can be considered an eminent part of world literature, with an almost continuous history of more than 3000 years. Following one of the oldest animal tales we know of—“The Eagle and the Serpent”—the paper discusses several variants of the “same” story, exploring how different meanings are generated at different times and within different cultural frameworks. After a comparative analysis of the basic structure of the story, an evaluation of its variants, and an examination of the textual strategies it employs, the paper concludes with a short outline of a project for the computational analysis of large text corpora featuring animal tales. The example stories discussed in the paper serve as case study for the development of methods for computational comparative literature. The ultimate goal is the ability to conduct cross-cultural reading on a wide range of texts across a number of cultural contexts and languages, leading to a better understanding of the varying functions of talking animals within the long tradition of animal tales.

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