This image is delightful. The animals resemble speaking animals. One is seeking the attention of a shepherd in the same way a domestic cat or dog tries to attract the attention of its humans. It is not an anthropomorphic animal or a human in disguise. As for the angels, they look like human beings, but they have wings. They are zoomorphic. Zoomorphic beings combine the features of a human being with the features of an animal. In fact, they may combine the features of many animals. Zoomorphic creatures may be anthropomorphic, or humans in disguise, but I have yet to find a proper classification for Angels, except zoomorphism. They may be zootheistic, but they are not gods.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
Christmas is a commemoration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, or Jesus Christ. Jesus never founded a religion, but the Christian religion was founded in his name at the first council of Nicaea, by the Roman EmperorConstantine I in AD 325/CE 325. The Christian Church is the second Abrahamic religion. The first is Judaism and the third, Islam. The three Abrahamic religions overlap. The story begins with the fall of Man. Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the Forbidden Tree (the Tree of Knowledge) in Paradise. They were led out of Paradise. Christ is the Redeemer in the Christian Church. He was transubstantiated, or made into flesh, and died on the Cross redeeming Mankind. Islam chose Arab leader Muhammad (c. 570 – 8 June 632 CE) as its prophet, but Islam reveres Jesus. Jesus was a Galilean Jew. (See Jesus, Wikipedia.)
The Winter Solstice
Christmas is also the feast celebrating the winter solstice, the day of the longest night. In this regard, Paganism entered Christianity very discreetly. In Ancient Rome, the longest night was celebrated by upending reality. During Saturnalia, the master was a slave. The world was upside down.
Ancient Greece had a god of festivity, named Comus or Komus. The Winter Solstice, the longest night, authorised drunken and disorderly festivities. In earlier times, an old King was killed and a young King, crowned. Comedy is associated with the Comus. The young couple overcomes the heavy father opposing their marriage, which is the basic plot of all comedies. In order to rehabilitate society, a pharmākos (scapegoat) was ousted. (See 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Comus). I wrote my PhD thesis on the pharmākos in Molière’s theatre. In Tartuffe, Tartuffe, a character, is a pharmākos, he is “neither innocent nor guilty” (See Northrop Frye‘s Anatomy of Criticism). His relationship with Orgon, the father, is nearly symbiotic, but as the curtain falls on a comedy, it should include a family in its entirety.
Attached to Christmas is a wealth of information. The above is brief. More information can be found on a page entitled Feasts and Liturgy. My illness has turned into episodes of intense pain. My heart feels as though it will fail me (psasms and convulsions). Doctors suspect a musculoskeletal illness that could be related to Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I will undergo a test on 6 January.
 I am in Magog, where my friend John is looking after me. My copy of Anatomy of Criticism is in Sherbrooke. I cannot indicate the page containing this quotation. If I recover from my current illness and obtain some financial support, I will update and publish my thesis. I may write a summary in English.
The cover of la Comtesse de Ségur‘s Les Deux Nigauds(The Two Silly Kids) is shown above, illustrated by Félix Loriaux. It has been on my bookshelves for about 70 years. It is a book intended for children written by La Comtesse de Ségur (1 August 1799 – 8 February 1874). La Comtesse de Ségur was Russian by birth. Sophie Rostophchine’s father, Count Fyodor Rostopchin, Saint Petersburg, reportedly set Saint Petersburg ablaze when Napoléon invaded Russia, in 1812. Rostopchin was accused of arson. La Comtesse and her family left Russia in 1814. They were aristocrats and, given her marriage to le Comte de Ségur, Sophie Rostopchine became a French countess. My copy shows Innocent, brother to Simplicie, wearing green pants and an olive jacket. The colours on photographs may not correspond to the original image. Lorioux is known for his use of colour. La Comtesse de Ségur‘s most famous book was Les Malheurs de Sophie (Sophie’s Misadventures), published in 1858.
Studies & Employment
Félix Lorioux (1872–1964) was born in Angers. He studied at l’École des beaux-arts de Paris, not knowing what he would design. First, it would be cars, publicity for cars, but he would work as an illustrator. He was employed by Hachette, a French publishing house, and became a notorious illustrator. Lorioux befriended Walt Disney, who hired Lorioux to illustrate Mickey and The Silly Symphony. Lorioux and Walt Disney parted ways in 1934. (See Félix Lorioux, Wikipedia). It may be that Félix Lorioux did not wish to move to the United States. By 1934, La Bande dessinée, often known as the Comics, quickly developed in France and Belgium, and thousands of Japanese prints flooded Europe. A man of his time. Félix Lorioux was therefore influenced by le Japonisme, Japanese woodblock prints, and Art nouveau. Moreover, illustrations were required when the fashion industry blossomed. They adorned La Gazette du Bon Ton and, later, fashion magazines. Artists also made posters, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is our best example. As for interior designers, they also became more numerous. Consummate artist Bernard Boutet de Monvel, of the Boutet de Monvel dynasty, was often employed by affluent citizens of Manhattan. Bernard Boutet de Monvel died in the Azores in the plane crash that also took the life of violinist Ginette Neveu and boxer Marcel Cerdan, Édith Piaf‘s lover. Finally, Félix Florioux was first employed by Citroën, a car company. Félix Lorioux lived in a world where design and publicity were combined and where design mattered. Cars are designed. So are aeroplanes. Moreover, the Arts and Crafts Movement swept the globe, bringing art to humbler homes.
Félix Lorioux illustrated a large number of books. However, we will start by focusing on his illustrations of the Fables of Jean de La Fontaine (8 July 1621 – 13 April 1695). His first fable is La Cigale et la Fourmi(The Cicada and the Ant).
La Cigale, ayant chanté Tout l’été, Se trouva fort dépourvue Quand la bise fut venue. Pas un seul petit morceau De mouche ou de vermisseau. Elle alla crier famine Chez la Fourmi sa voisine, La priant de lui prêter Quelque grain pour subsister Jusqu’à la saison nouvelle. Je vous paierai, lui dit-elle, Avant l’août, foi d’animal, Intérêt et principal. La Fourmi n’est pas prêteuse; C’est là son moindre défaut. Que faisiez-vous au temps chaud ? Dit-elle à cette emprunteuse. Nuit et jour à tout venant Je chantais, ne vous déplaise. Vous chantiez ? j’en suis fort aise : Et bien! dansez maintenant.
The gay cicada, full of song All the sunny season long, Was unprovided and brought low, When the north wind began to blow; Had not a scrap of worm or fly, Hunger and want began to cry; Never was creature more perplexed. She called upon her neighbour ant, And humbly prayed her just to grant Some grain till August next; “I’ll pay,” she said, “what ye invest, Both principal and interest, Honour of insects –and that’s tender.” The ant, however, is no lender; That is her least defective side; “But, hark ye, pray, Miss Borrower,” she cried, “What were ye doing in fine weather?” “Singing . . . nay, ! look not thus askance, To every comer day and night together.” “Singing! I’m glad of that; why now then dance.”
It is a little early to comment, but I must close this post. Loriaux’s illustrations of the fables of Jean de La Fontaine are anthropomorphic. Animals inhabiting fables are humans in disguise and, by and large, they are likeable, especially if the readers are children. Children who cannot read will be told about and shown an improvident animal and may say the animal is short-sighted or “silly.” However, they are unlikely to identify with the cicada or grasshopper. She should have prepared for the cold days of winter. Yet, children may prefer the improvident animal to a brighter companion. They do not like to be scolded when they make foolish mistakes and may not like the moral of our fable. It is located after the exemplum. This makes it an epimythium. The moral is a promythium if it precedes the myth or exemplum. The moral may also be the fable itself. In La Fontaine, ignoring the consequences of a certain action is a prominent lesson.
Le Buffon des enfants
Buffon, however, was not an illustrator. Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (7 September 1707 – 16 April 1788) was a French naturalist, mathematician, cosmologist, and encyclopédiste. (See George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, Wikipedia.) His animals are depicted faithfully. However, in illustrations of animals intended for children, animals be may be turned into humans. They may wear clothes, carry a watch or an umbrella, and seem disguised. Children are often attracted to camouflaged but recognizable animals. They may also expect the lion to be king and the fox to play his archetypal work as a trickster. Moreover, illustrators may give animals whose beak is long a longer beak and animals whose eyes are large, more prominent eyes, as do cartoonists. Illustrating le Comte de Buffon would not yield detailed portraits of animals who have made a mistake. It would be Le Buffon des enfants(Buffon for Children).
This conversation will be continued.
One can no longer copy texts contained in the Château-Thierry site. So, I have been very careful and I thank my colleagues.
Batany, Jean, Scène et Coulisses du « Roman de Renart », Paris : Sedes (1989). Ziolkowski, Jan, Talking Animals: Medieval Latin Beast Poetry 750-1150. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press (1993). Zipes, Jack (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales, Oxford: Oxford University Press (2000).
Amants, heureux amants, voulez-vous voyager ?
Que ce soit aux rives prochaines ;
Soyez-vous l’un à l’autre un monde toujours beau,
Toujours divers, toujours nouveau ;
Tenez-vous lieu de tout, comptez pour rien le reste [.]
These works feature a story teller (Pilpay or Bidpai). They are frame stories. The characters are animals and the stories are told by a story teller, not the author. Such a structure serves two purposes. First, it engages the reader by leading him or her to a storyteller: Pilpay. It is as though the author stepped aside spelling a cast. Second, Pilpay’s characters are animals, whose eloquence is based on silence. Animals do not speak. They may say nearly everything. This literary device is often called obliqueness.
Interestingly, Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, 1721, Les Lettres persanes, feature Usbek and Rica, Persian noblemen visiting France. Their comments are the comments of strangers. As such, they may be dismissed, freeing the author to be critical of the land he inhabits, but in a discreet manner and with impunity.
Whatever the origin of Les Deux Pigeons, the lines I have quoted have no source other than the poet’s soul. La Fontaine gives his two pigeons/doves fine advice: be everything unto one another. There’s always a person who makes all the difference and whom we must always cherish.
It has been said that the Chanson de Roland is now forgotten. The Internet tells another story. It is still the subject matter of masterpieces of European literature. As we saw in my last post, Roland is Ludovico Ariosto‘s masterpiece Orlando Furioso. The Chanson de Roland may at times have been put aside, but Orlando Furioso has endured and inspired several authors down to this very day. Wikipedia’s entry on Orlando Furioso is a who’s who chronicling the arabisation of North Africa and the decline of Eastern Christianity rooted in the Fall of Constantinople to the Seljuq Turks on 29 May 1453.
El Cantar de Mio Cid is a celebration of the Reconquista. The Moors were in the Iberian Peninsula from 711 until 1492. In literature, el Cid is also Pierre Corneille’s Le Cid (1936). The play was produced shortly after Richelieu founded the Académie-Française. Le Cid, a very successful play, created the first querelle. It violated the rule of the three unities: time (24 hours), action (minimum) and place (single). Rodrigue, Le Cid, succeeds in pushing back thousands of Moors.
The Crusades are the backdrop to Le Roman de Renart. Crusaders aimed to recover the Holy Land from Islamic Rule. (See Crusades, Wikipedia.) Renart talks himself out of a death sentence by claiming he must go to the Near East and expiate before he is put to death.
According to The New Yorker‘s Robin Wright, Christians are leaving the Near East. The Coptic Church was founded in 42 CE (Christian era).
Given their length and a dramatis personæ consisting of animals, the 12th-century Roman de Renart and its immediate predecessor, Nivardus of Ghent’s Ysengrimus (1148-1149), bring to mind Vishnu Sharma‘s Sanskrit Panchatantra and its best-known Arabic analog, Ibn al-Muqaffa‘s Kalīlah wa Dimnah, but the Ysengrimus and the Roman de Renart are mock-epics, which was new. The Panchatantra and Kalīlah wa Dimnah contained fables told by a story-teller, the sage Bidpai (Bidpaï, Pilpay). Their purpose was to prepare the prince for his future role as king. The fables of Bidpai constitute inset tales, Innerfabeln, inserted in a frame story, lerécit-cadre or an Ausserfabel. In other words, we have an author and a story-teller.
It should also be noted that students in their triviumused fables drawn from the Ysopet-Avionnet, a collection of Æsop’s Fables. In the 4th century, fabulist Avianus compiled a collection of fables that included not only fables set into written form by Roman author Phaedrus, but also fables removed from an oral tradition by Greek fabulist Babrius. Avianus set Babrius’ Greek Æsopic fables into Latin elegiac poems. The Ysopet-Avionnet, Avionnet from Avianus, endured until the first quarter of the 20th century. (See Ysopet, Wikipedia.) The Ysopet-Avionnet is an Internet Archive publication. Another 4th _century prose collection, entitled the Romulus, was also used widely.
To sum up, the Reynard cycle (there are many Reynards), mock-epics featuring animals, did not ever eclipse fables written to instruct and to delight, many of which were short trickster tales belonging to the Æsopic corpus and included in the Ysengrimus and the Roman de Renart. However, a new tradition emerged.
The Second Tradition
We are now leaving didactic fables. Henceforth, trickster tales will dominate in which beasts will be beasts, including anthropomorphic animals. The Ysengrimus and the Roman de Renart are not edifying literature. The Middle Ages favoured the grotesque, from gargoyles (water spouts) to misericords (mercy seats in cathedrals and various monasteries). Moreover, we have entered the world of the fabliau. Fabliaux are mostly obscene and, at times, scatological. Paul the Deacon’s Ægrum Fama Fuit, the sick-lion tale, and the Ecbasis captivitherefore inaugurate the medieval mock-epics tradition, epitomized in the Ysengrimus and the Roman de Renart, or the Reynard cycle, which includes Geoffrey Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest’s Tale.
However, our beast epics are characterized by the use of sophisticated versification and by their length. For instance, using sophisticated versification to tell the story of a rather senseless calf who leaves the pack and is captured by a wolf is dissonant and ironic. The longer the beast fable, the greater its dissonance and irony. Paulus Diaconus’ 8th -centuryÆgrum Fama Fuit contains 24 Latin distichs, which is relatively short, but the Ecbasis captivi runs 1,230 lines written in hexameters with, frequently, Leonine internal rhyme, Nivard de Gand’s Ysengrimusis a tour de force: 6,574 lines in elegiac couplets. As for the Roman de Renart, it is not entirely versified, but the poem contains 2,410 lines in eight syllables (octosyllabic) verses in rhymed couplets.
Clearly, superior versification and the length of these beast fables do not match the subject matter: the vendetta between Reynard the fox and the wolf Ysengrin, born Reinardus and Ysengrimus in the Latin Ysengrimus. This discrepancy serves to mock chansons de geste, chivalry and courtly love. Beast epics are the underside of real epics and the courtly literature. They are parodies.
In Medieval Literature, these romances originate in the Carolingian and Arthurian (King Arthur) cycles. Arthurian romances are part of the matter of Britain. Cycles are a group of literary works on the same subject, the Reynard narratives are a cycle, but under its entry on Mock-epic Britannica lists three “cycles:” the “matter of Rome the great,” the “matter of France,” and the “matter of Britain.”
Medievalromance is classified into three major cycles: the “matter of Rome the great,” the “matter of France,” and the “matter of Britain” (“matter” here is a literal translation of the French matière, referring to subject matter, theme, topic, etc.). The matter of Rome, a misnomer, refers to all tales derived from Latin classics. The matter of France includes the stories of Charlemagne and his Twelve Noble Peers [Paladins]. The matter of Britain refers to stories of King Arthur and his knights, the Tristan stories, and independent tales having an English background, such as Guy of Warwick. (Mock-epic.)
I should think that El Cantar de Mio Cid a chanson [cantar] de geste, is also a cycle and the celebration of heroic deeds (gestes). Epics such as the Chanson de Roland, feature noble knights in shining armour who belong to courtly literature. These valiant knights will submit to demeaning tasks to earn the love of an idealized woman, a précieuseavant la lettre. Medieval chansons de geste intersect chivalric and courtly literature, the Roman de la Rose, which constitutes courtly love’s literary pinnacle. The rape of Hersent cannot be associated with courtly love.
In anthropomorphic literature, humanness isn’t so much a question of appearance as it is a matter of speech, or the ability to speak. Nivardus of Ghent named his characters, highlighting their humanness. We are reminded of T. S. Elliott’s (26 September 1888 – 4 January 1965) Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats and, in particular, of the Naming of Cats.
Jill Mann, who translated the Ysengrimus into English, compares the flayed wolf who survives the removal of his coat to the cats of cartoons. These cats are flattened by a steam-roller, but fluff up again, as though they were impervious to injury and pain:
The recrudescent power of the wolf’s skin is reminiscent of the world of the cartoon where the cat who is squashed flat by a steam-roller, say, is restored to three dimensions in the next frame.
The cats of cartoons live every one of their nine lives as do the Lion-King’s mutilated barons. Neither the flayed wolf nor Bruin the bear, who “loses the skin off his nose,” seem to have sustained permanent and possibly fatal injuries.
We are in an other world where an animal’s fur seems a mere coat and where animals speak, a faculty perhaps denied humans. Lanfrey (Lanfroi), the forester, does not speak. His arrival forces Bruin to sacrifice his nose so his life is spared.
In Ramsay Wood’s translation and adaptation of Kalila and Dimna (Bidpai’s fables), a shaman tells a worried prince who will not believe his gazelle spoke to him and has fallen ill over this matter, that the gazelle did talk to him:
“[Y]our gazelle spoke to you! Don’t you realize that all animals can speak? But they never do so in the company of pitiful humans!”
Moreover, Wikipedia describes the Ysengrimus as a Latin fabliau. Although Hersent (Hersant FR), Ysengrin’s wife, has made love with Renart consensually (Branche II, c. 1110, p. 265), Renart takes advantage of her when she is caught in a hole, her rear end protruding. Yet, Jean Dufournet writes that the Roman de Renart was a “divertissement de clercs” (clerics) andThomas Best (p. 34) comments that “Pierre de Saint-Cloud wrote [branches II -Va] for recitation to lay nobility, addressed at the very beginning of his poem as seigneurs [lords].”Renart’s short verses, eight syllables, could be read easily by an audience consisting of the nobility of its times.
In Reynard the Fox, both animalness and humanness can be a thin veneer. In fact, were Reynard flayed, would his eloquence lose any of its verve? Underneath Reynard’s red coat, lives one of literature’s most eloquent characters. Renard’s barat, or deceitful language, convinces Tiécelin the crow to open his mouth and sing, causing Tiécelin to drop his precious cheese. But most importantly, Renart’s eloquence is such that he can talk himself out of death sentence at least twice: at the end of his “jugement” (branche I) and after Maupertuis, his fortress, is besieged.
Jurisprudence: “you shouldn’t take more than you find”
In this regard, let us note that in Nivardus of Ghent’s Ysengrimus, as the wolf is about to be flayed by the bear, Reynard “suddenly rushes forward with the plea that he [the bear] should ‘take no more than he finds:’ “I make one small request – let there be room for it – grant it – and I’ll show myself deserving: that you shouldn’t take more than you find! He himself never took more than he found. It’s right to take away what one has, but wrong to take away more than that!’ (III 931-4).” (Mann, p. 10.) I see the scales of Lady Justice.
There is no flaying episode in the Roman de Renart, but as he is about to be hanged, Renart uses his engin, his resourcefulness, and finds a ruse exceptionnelle. It occurs to him to argue that before being hanged, he must go on a pilgrimage and atone not to die a sinner. It is as though eternal damnation was too cruel and unusual a punishment for one who has merely eaten a few animals, tricked the greedy wolf, a Monk, and raped Hersent?
It works. Renart, who arrived tardily at the sick Lion-King’s bedside, because he was on a pilgrimage is sent on a pilgrimage, but Renart being Renart, he doesn’t leave for Syria. He simply returns to his fortress, Maupertuis. Molière’sDom Juan will be called a “pilgrim.” As for Renart’s topsy-turvy defence, it is consistent with Tartuffe‘s casuistry. Moreover, Tartuffe takes no more than he has been given by Orgon.
Renart does not always win. In the Æsopic “Le Chat et le Renart”/ “The Cat and the Fox” [IX. 14] the fox cannot climb a tree. That is the cat’s only trick. But he can transform the grapes he craves, but cannot reach, into sour grapes (“Le Renard et les Raisins”/The Fox and the Grapes [lll. 11). That’s engin. There is, however, a gradual transformation of Reynard. In the “vendetta” opposing a greedy wolf and a smart fox, one starts wondering which of the two is the greater scoundrel: Ysengrin or Reynard?
Renart has become evil itself which is how he is depicted in Jacquemart Gielée’s Renart le Nouvel (1289) and the anonymous Renard le Contrefait (1319 – 1322), French avatars. In later iconography, the animals look almost human. The zoomorphic aspect of the beast featured in the image below is disturbing. These figures are neither animals nor human beings.
I will close here having been kept away from my computer by a multitude of events and fatigue. I still have the story to clarify but the Roman de Renart is both parcellaire and unitaire. It is fragmented,piecemeal, yet coherent. The Bibliothèque nationale de France (the BnF) has divided Renart into nine episodes, which is the presentation I have chosen. The BnF uses Jean Dufournet’s authoritative translation (into modern French of the medieval Roman de Renart. (See Dufournet and Méline.)
 In his Introduction to Reynard the Fox, Henry Morley tells that the author of the Ecbasis captivi belonged to the monastery of St. Evre, at Toul. Strict reforms among the brethren, in the year 936, cause his Ecbasis -his going out. He was brought back, and as sign of is regeneration wrote the poem, in which he figured himself “per tropologiam” as a calf, who, having gone out from safety, became captive to the wolf. (Introduction, A History of Reynard the Fox [London: George Routledge and Sons, 1889]), p. 1. The full title of the Ecbasis cuisdam captivi per tropologiam is “The escape of a certain captive, interpreted figuratively.”
Harriet Spiegel, translator and editor, Marie de France: Fables (Toronto: the University of Toronto Press, 2000 , Introduction.
 Thomas W. Best, Reynard the Fox (Boston: J. K. Hall & Company, 1983), p. 34.
Jill Mann, “The Satiric Fiction of the Ysengrimus,” in Kenneth Varty (ed.), Reynard the Fox: Social Engagement and Cultural Metamorphoses in the Beast Epic from the Middle Ages to the Present (New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2000), p. 11.
 Ramsay Wood (reteller) and Doris Lessing (introduction), Tales of Kalila and Dimna, Classic Fables from India (Rochester Vermont: Inner Traditions, 1980), p. 252.
Jean Dufournet et Andrée Méline, traduction et introduction, Le Roman de Renart (Paris: GF-Flammarion, 1985), p. 7.
 Jean Subrenat, “Rape and Adultery: Reflected Facets of Feudal Justice in the Roman de Renart,” in Kenneth Varty, ed. Reynard the Fox:Social Engagement in the Beast Epic from the Middle Ages to the Present (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2000), pp. 17-35.
 Jean Batany, Scène et coulisses du «Roman de Renart» (Paris: Sedes, 1989), Chapitre II.
In 1450, legendary Briton William Caxton (c. 1422 – c. 1491), a merchant, a diplomat, a writer, a translator and Britain’s first printer, moved to Bruges, Belgium. At that time in history, the Franco-Flemish lands were very rich and, as I have stated several times, they were the cultural hub of Europe. As a merchant, Caxton had joined the Company of Merchant Adventurers of London of which he would become the governor.
Although Le Roman de Renart is a masterpiece of French literature, it has Flemish, German and other roots. Renart was born as Reinardus in Nivardus of Ghent’s Ysengrimus, a Latin fabliau and mock epic, and his adventures were told in several languages. Its earliest “branches” were published in c. 1171.
German Translations of the Roman de Renart
Renart was first translated by Alsatian Heinrich der Glïchezäre as “Reinhart Fuchs ” (1180) almost as soon as its first branches were published in France. Glïchezäre’s Reinhart Fuchs is the first Beast epic in the German language and “branches” of Reynard’s adventures would be retold in the German-speaking lands until Wolfgang von Goethe as Reinecke FuchsDE during the French Revolution. Goethe’s Reynard is rooted in Johann Christoph Gottsched‘s Reineke der Fuchs.
Caxton’s The History of Reynard the Fox (click) is an internet publication. It was digitized by Canadian University of Victoria professor David Badke in 2003. It is a treasure as is professor Badke’s Medieval Bestiary, which includes Reynard. David Badke used an edition published by George Routledge and Sons, in 1889. Henry Morley wrote the introduction to Caxton’s 1889 Reynard the Fox. It is a concise but very informative introduction.
As for Caxton’s Reynard the Fox, it is an incunable, or a book printed between Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press and movable type, in c. 1439, and the year 1501. Incunables have also been called “fifteeners.” From time to time, patrons asked printers to leave blank areas so the book could be somewhat illuminated or rubricated, as shown below:
The above is not the article I wanted to post as Preface to Reynard the Fox: Motifs. That post was too long which required my dividing it into several more or less independent short posts. It may be published in its entirety, but I doubt it. It would be repetitive.
Finnish folklorist Antti Aarne (5 December 1867 Pori – 2 February 1925 Helsinki) was the first scholar to classify folktales. In the 19th century, an interest in folklore had developed. The search for folktales was in fact initiated by the Brothers Grimm who travelled throughout German-language states and collected its folklore. Germany had yet to be unified and folktales were seen as an expression of nationality and an element that could lead to nationhood. Nationalism is an ideology that dominated 19th-century Europe and it is associated with the development of folkloristics.
Prussian leader Otto von Bismarck “engineered a series of wars that unified the German states,” but he excluded Austria (see Otto von Bismarck, Wikipedia). In the early years of the 19th century, Madame de Staël had written De l’Allemagne, in which she described the people of German-language states. Germaine de Staël’s effort and enthusiasm were considerable encouragement to the Brothers Grimm.
Persuading Ysengrimus, the wolf, to fish with his tale hanging down a hole in the ice is one of Reinardus’ worse tricks. The ice hardens and Ysengrimus’ tale is caught. He loses it when he must escape the villains and dogs who are approaching. In the Ysengrimus, the wolf fishes with his tail, down a hole in the ice. Eventually, his tail gets caught in the ice and he loses it trying to escape from villains and dogs.
When Ysengrin is away being turned into a monk, Renart rapes Hersent, the wolf Isengrin’s wife, when she is caught in a hole or aperture. Noble, the king, sends ambassadors to Maupertuis, Renart’s domain, but the fox plays tricks. For instance, Renart asks Brun / Bruin the bear to put his nose in a slit in a log claiming that Brun will find honey inside. Renart then removes the wedges holding the slit open. Villagers are converging so, in order to escape, Bruin loses the skin off his nose, which he would rather do than lose his life. He returns to court. Wedges can be called coins. When one is stuck, one is coincé. The English idiom “it’s no skin off my nose,” might find its source in this episode.
Reynard the Fox played a role in the development of European jurisprudence. Reynard the Fox is also associated with Machiavelli‘s Prince. If the end, which may be survival, justifies the means, one lies, rapes and murders. Renart feigns devotion. He is an ancestor to Molière’s Tartuffe, the ultimate casuiste, and has also been identified with Molière’s Dom Juan. The manner in which he talks himself out of a death sentence is pure hypocrisy, but it is also the plea of a brilliant lawyer. Before, he is hanged, the fox must atone. He resembles the fox in the Sick Lion tale who has also been on a pilgrimage, which explains his tardy arrival at the Lion’s court, Noble’s court.
This post is the second of two posts on Reynard the Fox. Given its subject matter, motifs, it can be published independently of the first post. Should you need further information, please use Joan Acocella’s article on Reynard the Fox. One cannot do better. The link to her article is immediately above this note.
Let me take you back to the darkest, yet not so dark, early middle ages, or, to be precise, the three or four centuries preceding the first millennium. This period of history is often referred to as the monastic age. Monks copied books by hand in various scriptoria, indentations in the walls of monasteries, or an actual room, a scriptorium, ensuring the survival of the many masterpieces of antiquity and the dissemination of more recent works.
Interestingly, as monks kept alive the literature of antiquity, including Hesiod (8th century BCE) and Horace (8 December 65 BCE – 27 November 8 BCE), beast fables became a source of entertainment for copyists who not only copied these poems and reworked them, but who also created beast fables of their own. Anthropomorphism (talking animals) was an effective way of speaking anonymously, a satirist’s delight. Among beast fables, two tellings of the Sick-Lion tale would lead to Nivardus of Ghent’s 12th-century Ysengrimus and to the Roman de Renart, written in Roman, the vernacular, by Pierre de Saint-Cloudand other authors.
St. Benedict delivering his rule to the monks of his order, Monastery of St. Gilles, Nïmes, France, 1129 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Paul the Deacon(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Paul the Deacon’s Ægrum fama fuit
The Sick-Lion tale, entitled The Lion, the Wolf, and the Fox in Vernon Jones’s translation would be an inspiration to two authors. The first is Paul the Deacon, or Paulus Diaconus (720s – 13 April 799 CE), a Benedictine monk, a scribe, the renowned historian of the Lombards, and the author of the Ægrum fama fuit,Once upon a time, a fable identified by its first words.
Professor Jan M. Ziolkowski translated the first words of Paulus Diaconus’ Ægrum fama fuit as follows:
“Once upon a time there was a report that the lion had lain ill and that he had already reached almost his final days.”
Yet the title of Paul the Deacon’s Ægrum fama fuit is also “Leo æger, vulpis et ursus” (The sick lion, the fox, and the bear), which could be the title 1st-century Roman fabulist Phædrus gave his Sick-Lion tale when he put into written form his collection of Æsopic fables. George Fyler Townsend translated his beast fable as “The Lion, the Fox and the Wolf,” which would be consistent with his view that the “Fox should be always cunning, the Hare timid, the Lion bold, the Wolf cruel, the Bull strong, the Horse proud, and the Ass patient.” (Preface [EBook #21]). It was Townsend’s opinion that beasts should be stock characters. George Fyler Townsend’s translation of Æsopic fables is the Gutenberg project publication [EBook #21].
Also culminating in the Ysengrimus and the Roman de Renart is the anonymous 11th-century Ecbasis captivi, a beast tale containing an inner tale. The outer fable is about the escape of a certain captive, a calf, and the inner fable is the Sick-Lion tale. The two narratives are linked because the calf escapes when the flayed wolf/bear shows himself, catching everyone’s attention. So, how did the Wolf / Bear lose his coat?
The Sick-Lion tale
Here is our tale. A sick lion, believing one could cure old age, called various doctors asking for a remedy. The Lion and the Wolf arrived promptly, but the Fox, suspecting that the Wolf / Bear was doing him in (lui faisait son affaire), went to Court concealed and quiet, “clos et cloi.” He heard the Wolf / Bear planning his demise. The Wolf / Bear told the Lion that the Fox wasn’t at Court: treason! At the Lion’s bedtime, the king demanded that the Fox / Bear be smoked out of his home (sa demeure) and brought to court.
When the Fox arrived at Court, he told the king that he feared someone was lying about him and scorning him. He explained that he had been on a pilgrimage: “mais j’étais en pèlerinage[,]” (but I was on a pilgrimage), and claimed he was dutifully praying for the Lion, as he had vowed. He also said that he had sought experts and told them to what extent the ailing Lion was suffering. The Lion lacked warmth, said the experts. That was the Lion’s problem! In order to cure the lion, one had to wrap him up in the skin of a Wolf/ Bear whose description fit the Wolf Ysengrin / Isengrin. Given the lion’s age, wrapping him up did help him. The Lion recovered and “courtiers sing songs comparing the Lion’s suffering to the passion of Jesus Christ, and the fox supplants the wolf as regent.” (See Ecbasis captivi, Wikipedia.) The flayed Wolf’s coat, or the Bear’s coat, would be the Lion’s dressing gown (sa robe de chambre).
My favourite version of the Sick-Lion tale is Paul the Deacon’s. The Fox arrives at the Lion’s Court carrying a bag filled with the many shoes he has worn out, searching for a cure.
“Beware you courtiers, lest you gain,
By slander’s arts, less power than pain;
For in the world where we are living,
A pardon no one thinks of giving.”
Reynard’s Triumph. Scene from the famous medieval fable “Reynard the Fox” (10th canto). Hand-colored steel engraving after a drawing by Heinrich Leutemann (German painter, 1824 – 1905) from the book “Reineke Fuchs (Reynard the Fox)” by Julius Eduard Hartmann (after the medieval poem). Published by Albert Henry Payne, Leipzig and Dresden, 1st edition, c. 1855
In Beast fables, irony is our primary figure of speech. Talking animals do not talk despite their eloquence. Their inability to talk, except “en son langage” (La Fontaine), allows them to say what they haven’t said. In fact, the anthropomorphic Ecbasis captivi is all the more eloquent since the Beast poem is also a fable within a fable, as are Vishnu Sharma’s Sanskrit Panchatantra and Kalīlah wa Dimnah, its Arabic reworking by Persian scholar Ibn al-Muqaffa’.
In short, these Beast fables are all the more ironic because the animal world is a world upside down. The Fox is a regent the Wolf / Bear wants to vilify. La Fontaine’s epimythium refers to courtiers. These are courtiers who should inhabit the basse-cour, the barnyard, called lower court, where farmers keep hens and chickens. Anthropomorphism has clever twists.
Another reversal is the farcical “trompeur trompé,” the deceiver deceived. The Wolf attempts to elevate himself to the fox’ rank, that of regent, but circumstances, the Fox, damn him, Let us note, moreover, that the Ecbasis captiviis written inhexameters with Leonine internal rhyme. (See Ecbasis captivi, Wikipedia.) The author of the Ecbasis writes well,but the tale is about animals. That discrepancy is another source of irony, comic irony.
Therefore, although the Sick-Lion tale prefigures the Ysengrimus and the Roman de Renart, the weight of tradition is such that the medieval bestiary does not deprive the Lion, the Wolf and the Fox of their function, at least not altogether. The citizens of the medieval bestiary do not talk. They are allegorical. The Lion is king and the Fox, wily. Yet, the Roman the Renart, a masterpiece of medieval literature, has been described as a fabliau, which is, to a large extent, grotesque literature. Fabliaux are not literature for children and most misericords are repulsive. The progeny of the Sick-Lion tale, the Roman de Renart in particular, could be seen as the underside of the Roman de la Rose, “courtly” literature.
There is more to discuss, such as fox doctors and the Christian spirit of the Ecbasis captivi, but I will comment no further.
Animals in literature are, for the most part, humans in disguise, or anthropomorphic. As Jan M. Ziolkowski writes, “beasts override genre.”Fables and fairy tales are genres, but beast literature is not.
Fables and Beast Epics
However, although beasts override genre, speaking animals are associated first with fables, such as Æsop’s Fables and Jean de La Fontaine’s, and, second, with beast epics, such as Reynard the Fox, or Le Roman de Renart, which narrows a much broader area of knowledge. Anthropomorphic animals are humans in disguise. In the Roman de Renart,all animalshave a name. In fact, Renart was so popular that foxes ceased to be called goupils in French. They became renards. Reynard the Fox is entitled Le Roman de Renart, where renard is spelled with a “t.”Renart is a trickster whose nemesis is the wolf named Ysengrin.
Le Roman de Renart, a French beast epic, is rooted in the Ysengrimus, a lengthy Latin mock-epic: 6,574 lines of elegiac couplets, written in 1148-1149 and attributed to Nivardus of Ghent. In the Isengrimus, Renart is Reinardus and will become the most famous and beloved animal in European beast literature. Renard is the fox of the “Fox and Crow” and other “fox” fables. In fact, the Roman de Renart, the first “branches” of which were written in the late twelfth century by Pierre de Saint-Cloud, is an outer fable containing inner fables (Ausserfabel and Innerfabeln), including Æsopic fables.Æsopic fables preceded the Roman de Renart by a more than a thousand years.
“dire sans dire”
The main characteristic of anthropomorphic animals is their ability to speak a human language. Animals are very useful to writers because, when all said and done, animals have not said a thing. Jean de La Fontaine’s (1621-1695) fables have been described as a “dire-sans-dire” (to say without saying). They are “enveloped” tales, writes German scholar Jürgen Grimm. Therefore, anthropomorphism is an oblique literary discourse, a fiction within a fiction.
Russian satirist Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin (27 January 1826 – 10 May 1889) first used the word Aesopian to describe a language unclear to outsiders, thereby allowing authors to say what they please with relative impunity. In 1945, George Orwell wrote an allegorical novella entitled Animal Farm. His animals are humans in disguise, hence their saying what they will not have said. Their own tongue is a language, but it is not a human language. Babe, the protagonist, a piglet, of a 1995 Australian film directed by Chris Noonan and produced by George Miller, is an anthropomorphic animal. The film is an adaptation of Dick King-Smith‘s 1983 novel: The Sheep-Pig.
La Fontaine did make each of his animals speak, but he also emphasized the power of fiction, in which he may have further distanced his speaking animals. In the Preface to his first collection of fables, books one to six, La Fontaine notes that Jesus of Nazareth spoke in parables. Parables are stories and, as such, they empower speech. To illustrate the power of stories, La Fontaine’s wrote a fable entitled Le Pouvoir des fables (VIII.4). It contains an inner fable about a speaker the people of Athens would not listen to until he turned to fiction, a story about Cerēs,the Roman goddess of agriculture. The moral of the “Power of Fables” is that we are all Athenians. La Fontaine writes that if Donkeyskin, a fairy tale, was told to him, it would give him enormous pleasure. The world is old, writes the fabulist, yet it is like a child we must amuse.
Moreover, a story is pleasurable and is not easily forgotten.
Nous sommes tous d’Athène en ce point, et moi-même, Au moment où je fais cette moralité, Si Peau d’âne m’était conté, J’y prendrais un plaisir extrême. Le monde est vieux, dit-on, je le crois; cependant Il faut l’amuser encor comme un enfant. Le Pouvoir des fables (VIII.4)
We’re all from Athens in this point of view, And I myself, while moralizing too
If I the tale of the Ass-skin should hear, I’d listen to it with a well-pleased ear.
The world is old, they say; I own it-still
We must sometimes indulge its childish will. The Power of Fables (VIII.4)
It should be noted, however, that La Fontaine believed in a “boundless universe,” where tout parle, everything speaks, which is anthropomorphism.
Car tout parle dans l’Univers; Il n’est rien qui n’ait son langage. (XI.Épilogue)
For in this boundless universe
Ther’s none that talketh, simpleton or sage
More eloquent at home than in my verse.
Everything does speak. For instance, Milo Winter‘s illustrations for “The North Wind [Boreas] and the Sun” (“Phoebus and Boreas”) constitutes an example of elements, the wind and the sun, who speak as though they were humans. In short, anthropomorphism resembles a form of personification, which it is in“Phoebus and Boreas .”
giving animal features to anything (e. g. furniture)
Zoomorphism is a more complex concept than anthropomorphism and may be the reverse of anthropomorphism. Mythologies and myths are home to zoomorphic animals that combine the features of a human and an animal or the features of many animals. The centaur of Greek mythology is part human and part beast. Centaurs have the lower body of a horse, but the upper body of a human.
The Minotaur is the offspring of Pasiphaë, the wife of Cretan king Minos and the Cretan bull. He is part human and part bull and so evil a creature that he is kept in a labyrinth built by Daedalus. He is slain by Theseus who finds his way through the labyrinth using Ariadne‘s thread. These two hybrid creatures, the centaur and the Minotaur may hold a mirror to mankind’s duality. Humans possess a mortal body and an immortal soul.
However, mythology also features composite animals. Cerberus, the vigilant dog guarding the gates to the Underworld is a three-headed dog. J. K. Rowling used Cerberus in her Harry Potter series. Her fifth book in the Harry Potter series is entitled Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Mythological animals have long inhabited the human psyche and are therefore somewhat familiar to readers. To my knowledge, no one escapes Cerberus’ attention, except Psyche. (See Cupid and Psyche, Wikipedia.) Pegasus, the winged horse, is also a well-known mythological being.
Mythologies are origin myths or aetiological. The Bible itself, the Scriptures or “the Word,” could be described as an aetiological text. It features fanciful angels who are human-like but have wings. In Greek mythology, for instance, animals have a lineage or a pedigree, as is the case with the above-mentioned Minotaur. In the growingly popular area of children’s literature, aetiological tales are called “Pourquoi” tales. The most famous example of a “Pourquoi” tale is Rudyard Kipling‘s (30 December 1865 – 18 January 1936) Just so stories.
Zoomorphic beasts may also be symbols. As mentioned above, those who mix the features of a human being may reflect the fall of mankind. Besides, an anthropomorphic serpent talked to Eve.
Mythologies and Myths
J. K. Rowling used not only Cerberus but the Phoenix, a symbol of rebirth. Symbolic beasts are mostly mythical rather than mythological, but readers and scholars tend to blur that line. The distinguishing criterion would be lineage. By and large, mythological beasts, such as the above-mentioned Minotaur and centaurs have a pedigree.
Mostly mythical animals are the phoenix, the unicorn, the dragon, the griffin and the irresistible Sirens, mermaids mostly. Mermaids have the upper body of a woman and the lower body of a fish. These legendary beings may make an appearance in mythologies, but they are somewhat ubiquitous and often transcultural. The phoenix has often been described as a mythological animal and he has a story as does the Unicorn, but he does not possess the Minotaur’s lineage.
The dragon is our most ubiquitous imaginary animal and may be good or bad depending on his environment. In the West he is bad, but not so in the East. Unicorns and Sirens are also transcultural. These mythical animals are zoomorphic, but, in Medieval Bestiary, they are symbols.
The dragon‘s characteristics change from culture to culture. He is feared in the West, but not in China.
The griffin, shown at the top of this post, a lion mostly, with the head of an eagle, is a guardian. In antiquity, he was a symbol of divine power and a guardian of the divine.
The unicorn has one horn and plays various roles from culture to culture. In Western culture, he is emblematic of chaste love and faithful marriage.
Given that he rises from his own ashes, the phoenix is a symbol of rebirth and very popular.
The word zoomorphic is also used to describe pieces of furniture and architectural elements. For instance, the legs of wing chairs often imitate the feet of an animal. Besides wing chairs have wings. Among architectural element, the animal-like Gargoyle is a favourite. He is a waterspout with an open mouth. Bas-reliefs (shallow carvings on a flat surface, such as a wall) may also contain animal-like architectural elements. They embellish buildings. All animal-like creatures inhabiting the medieval bestiary are allegorical or symbolic.
Both the terms anthropomorphism and zoomorphism include morphism. Morphism suggests a metamorphosis, or a transformation in a being’s appearance, which may be a wish human beings share, just as they share the wish to fly. Roman writer Ovid (20 March 43 BCE – CE 17/18) is the author of the extremely influential Metamorphosesand Berber Latin writer Apuleius (c. 124 – c. 170 CE) wrote The Golden Ass, which contains the lovely tale ofCupid and Psyche. Lucius, the protagonist of The Golden Ass, is mistakenly transformed into an ass when attempting to be transformed into a bird.
In the Preface to his translation of Æsop’s Fables, John Fyler Townsend writes that animals are types, much like the stock characters of the commedia dell’arte.
The introduction of the animals or fictitious characters should be marked with care and attention to their natural attributes, and to the qualities attributed to them by universal popular consent. The Fox should be always cunning, the Hare timid, the Lion bold, the Wolf cruel, the Bull strong, the Horse proud, and the Ass patient. [EBook #21]
Zoomorphic animals are not types. However, there is a commonality between animals and humans, Darwinism is a subject we will not discuss. Mythical and mythological animals may be up to no good, but they are not mutating. Moreover, I consider totemism, animal ancestry, the preserve of anthropologists.
Beast literature is a huge topic. We cannot escape any of the categories mentioned in this post. Yet, anthropomorphism is its chief characteristics because of the prominence of fables and the Roman de Renart, Reynard the Fox. One could define the usefulness of anthropomorphic animals by using Gertrude Stein‘s a rose is a rose is a rose.
Well, at the end of the day, a fox is a fox is a fox, therein the wizardry of a large part of beast literature. However, we remember the story. Dear La Fontaine.
[I] Jan M. Ziolkowski, Talking Animals: Medieval Latin Beast Poetry, 750 – 1150(The University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), p. 1. [II]Jean Batany, Scène et coulisses du « Roman de Renart » (Paris: Cedes, 1989), p. 57.
The fables listed below are not necessarily an analysis of a fable by Jean de La Fontaine (1621 – 1695). A few have been used to reflect current events.
I usually list or quote the Æsopic equivalent of a fable by La Fontaine. If so, I use the Perry Index classification, a number, of the corresponding Æsopic fable. There are many versions of Æsopic fables as they have been rewritten by several authors. Marie de France (12th century [Anglo-Norman]), Walter of England (12th century [Anglo-Norman]) and Jean de La Fontaine (17th century [French]) wrote Æsopic fables, but Jean de La Fontaine made Æsop’s fables La Fontaine’s fables.
If one is looking for versions of a fable, one’s best guide is Laura Gibbs’ Bestiaria Latina (mythfoklore.net/aesopica). I have written posts on several fables and examined elements such as how mythological animals differ from mythical animals and have named the genres in which animals are featured. See Anthropomorphism and Zoomorphism.)
The Bear and the Gardener, “L’Ours et l’amateur des jardins”
The Cat’s Only Trick, “Le Chat et le Renard” (IX.14) (The Cat and the Fox) (10 May 2013)
The Cat Metamorphosed into a Maid, by Jean de La Fontaine, “La Chatte métamorphosée en femme” (II.18) (20 July 2013)
“Le Chêne et le Roseau” (The Oak and the Reed): the Moral (I.22) (28 September 2013)
The Cock and the Pearl, La Fontaine cont’d (I.20), “Le Coq et la Perle” (I.20) (10 October 2013)
La Fontaine’s “The Fox and the Grapes,” “Le Renard et les Raisins” (III.11) (23 September 2013)
The Fox & Crane, or Stork, “Le Renard et la Cigogne” (I.18) (30 May 2013)
The Fox & Crane, or Stork (I.18) (30 September 2014)
The Frogs Who Desired a King, a Fable for our Times, “Les Grenouilles qui demandent un roi,”(III, 4) (12 November 2016)
The Frogs Who Desired a King (III.4) (18 August 2011)
The Hen with the Golden Eggs, “La Poule aux œufs d’or” (V.8) (1 June 2013)
“…the humble pay the cost” (II.4), “Les Deux Taureaux et une Grenouille,” The Two Bulls and the Frog (II.4) (29 September 2015)
The Man and the Snake, “L’Homme et la Couleuvre” (X.1) (9 November 2011)
The Miller, his Son, and the Donkey, quite a Tale, “Le Meunier, son fils et l’âne” (III.1) (16 May 2013)
A Motif: Getting Stuck in a Hole, “La Belette entrée dans un grenier,” (III.17) (16 April 2013)
Another Motif: The Tail-Fisher, “Le Renard ayant la queue coupée” (V.5) (20 April 2013)
The Mouse Metamorphosed into a Maid, by Jean de La Fontaine, “La Souris métamorphosée en fille” (II.18) (30 July 2013)
The North Wind and the Sun, “Phébus et Borée” (VI.3) (16 April 2013)
The Oak Tree and the Reed ,“Le Chêne et le Roseau,” (I.22) (28 September 2013)
“Le Chêne et le Roseau” (The Oak and the Reed): the Moral (I.22) (28 September 2013)
The North Wind and the Sun, “Phébus et Borée” (VI.3) (16 April 2013)
Fables and Parables: the Ineffable (The Two Doves, “Les Deux Pigeons”) (12 June 2018)
The Two Doves, “Les Deux Pigeons” (IX.2) (24 May 2018)
“…the humble pay the cost” (II.4), “Les Deux Taureaux et une Grenouille,” The Two Bulls and the Frog (II.4) (29 September 2015)
The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, “Le Rat de ville et le Rat des champs” (I.9) (18 August 2013)
The Two Rats, the Fox and Egg: The Soul of Animals, “Les Deux Rats, le Renard, et l’Œuf” (IX. last fable) (15 May 2013)
You can’t please everyone: Æsop retold, “Le Meunier, son fils, et l’âne” (X.1) (21 March 2012)
Fables and Parables: the Ineffable (The Two Doves, “Les Deux Pigeons”) (12 June 2018)
Fables: varia (12 March 2017)
Anthropomorphism and Zoomorphism (6 March 2017)
To Inform or Delight (29 March 2013)
Texts and Classification
La Fontaine’s Fables Compiled & Walter Crane (25 September 2013)
Musée Jean de La Fontaine, Site officiel (complete fables FR/EN)
Perry Index (classification of Æsop’s Fables)
La Fontaine & Æsop: Internet Resources
Aarne-Thompson-Uther (classification of folk tales)
I’m working on doves and roses as symbols.
Love to everyone ♥
© Micheline Walker
15 June 2018