As poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright, John Dryden (1631–1700) dominated the literary scene of Restoration England. Being a converted Catholic and a supporter of King James II, Dryden ended connections with the court patronage upon the accession of William III (reigned 1689–1694). Eventually, Dryden took refuge in the translation of a selected number of ancient and medieval authors, as he described in a letter to a friend:
I pass my time sometimes with Ovid, and sometimes with our old English poet, Chaucer; translating such histories as best please my fancy; and intend besides them to add somewhat of my own: so that it is not impossible, but ere the summer be pass'd, I may come down to you with a volume in my hand, like a dog out of water, with a duck in his mouth.
Fables Ancient and Modern contains nineteen translations: seven from Chaucer, eight from Ovid’s Metamorphosis, three from Boccaccio, and the first book of the Iliad. In general, Dryden’s translations of the classics were addressed to a wide readership who was not necessarily versed in the original languages. The first edition of this collection appeared less than two months before Dryden’s death on 1 May 1700.