Les Grenouilles qui demandent un roi is the fourth fable in book three of La Fontaine’s first volume of Fables (1668) (IX.2). His second volume, containing five books, was published in 1678. The twelfth book was published in 1694, shortly before his death. The same fable is also one of Æsop’s Fables, classified as number 44 in the Perry Index(the classification of Æsop’s Fables).
Les Grenouilles qui demandent un roi tells the story of “silly and frightened” frogs who live in a democracy, but, tired of democracy, ask Jupiter for a monarch. Jupiter acquiesces. From the skies descends a peace-loving king who makes a huge noise as he lands. This king is often represented as a beam or log.
Frightened by the din, the frogs go into hiding, only to return slowly to look at the king. The peace-loving king is a beam, which is not very kingly. The frogs start jumping on the beam-king, which the king tolerates as Jupiter grumbles. The beam-king is a kindly monarch, but he does not move.
Dissatisfied, the people go back to Jupiter to ask for a king who moves. So Jupiter sends them a crane that starts eating them up. In Æsop’s telling of this fable, the crane is a stork.
In Phædrus‘ Latin translation of this fable by Æsop, a second king is sent to the frogs. It is a water snake. There is no second king in La Fontaine.
Our silly frogs complain, and Jupiter tells them, first, that they should have kept their government (a democracy), second, that they should have been pleased to be sent a gentleman-king, the beam-king, and, third, to settle for the king they have for fear of encountering a worse one, La Fontaine’s celui-ci (this one) pointing to the voracious crane.
In Æsop, as noted above, the crane is a stork.
KING LOG & KING STORK
The Frogs prayed to Jove for a king:
“Not a log, but a livelier thing.”
Jove sent them a Stork,
Who did royal work,
For he gobbled them up, did their king.
One of the morals of this fable is the eternal “Leave well enough alone,” but we are also reading a “beware-of-your-wishes-as-they-may-come-true” narrative. The moral of this fable is also a defense of the status quo, the state of affairs.
If all is well, a change is not necessary. If forewarned of possible dangers, a change may be dangerous. Knowing there are very real dangers, one does not jump into uncertainty. In a serious election, one cannot say “I’ll give him or her a chance.” Acting in such a manner reflects a somewhat flawed understanding of democracy. As I wrote above, La Fontaine calls the frogs who are not pleased with the good king log, a beam: “gent fort sotte et fort peureuse,” very silly and very frightened people.
We do not know the exact origin of this fable. Æsop retold fables told in the Near East, Middle East and India, including Buddhist tales. The most likely source is the Sanskrit Panchatantraby Vishnu Sharma, written in the 3rd century BCE. The storyteller is Pilpay or Bidpai. Bidpai’s stories were translated by Persian scholar Ibn al-Muqaffa as Kalīlah wa Dimnah. Moreover, Æsopic fables translated into Latin, by Phædrus, or Greek, by Babrius, were retold several times after Phædrus and Babrius. There are modern references to the Frogs Who Desired a King or King Log & King Stork. Under The Frogs Who desired a King, Wikipedia quotes New Zealand author James K. Baxter who wrote:
A democratic people have elected
King Log, King Stork, King Log, King Stork again.
Because I like a wide and silent pond
I voted Log. That party was defeated.
It would be difficult to understand some of the plays of William Shakespeare and other works of English or French literature without taking into account such significant events as the Conquest of England, by William, Duke of Normandy, at the Battle of Hastings (1066), and the Hundred Years’ War. In the 12th century, at least two authors, Marie de France and Walter of England wrote in Anglo-Norman, and French would be used at court, and perhaps elsewhere, until the conclusion of the Hundred Years’ War.
Let us go back to the literature that followed the Battle of Hastings, fought on 4 October 1066. On that day, William, Duke of Normandy, defeated England’s King Harold (Harold Godwinson), who was killed in battle. The throne of England had been promised to William, Duke of Normandy, hence the battle. Following the Battle of Hastings, many Normans settled in England, two of whom, discussed later in this post, are important writers who penned their work in Anglo-Norman, a transitional language.
William, Duke of Normandy, defeated Harold, King of England, and became William I, King of England. But England, as a territory, remained as it was. The Normans who settled in England would soon speak a form of English.
Yet Latin and French words had been introduced into English. The word ‘curfew’ is an anglicised form of couvre-feu and jeopardy, an anglicised form of jeu parti a term used in a game resembling chess. It probably meant ‘checkmate’ or ‘échec et mat,’ from the Arabic « al cheikh mat » (see D’où vient …).
The Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Marie de France
Walter of England
The best-known Anglo-Norman author is Marie de France, a 12th-century writer whose portrait, an illumination, is featured above. The second is Walter of England (Gualterus Anglicus). His French name would have been Gaut(h)ier d’Angleterre.
Marie de France, who lived in England but was born in France, is famous for her collection of lais: the lais of Guigemar, Chevrefoil (honeysuckle), Lanval, Yonec, Laustic, and other lais. Marie also wrote a book of Æsopic fables. Her fables were ‘Æsopic,’ but as we have seen in earlier posts, Æsop’s fables originate in the SanskritPanchatantra(3rd century BCE); its Arabic retelling, Kalīlah wa Dimnah, by Ibn al-Muqaffa (750 CE), and other sources.
The Lais of Marie de France
The Lais of Marie de France are rooted in the Breton lai, and their themes are love (early courtly love), and chivalry. Breton lais reflect the literature of Ireland and countries where Gaelic is or was spoken. The origin of the word lai has not been ascertained, but whatever the meaning of lai, Marie’s works are examples of courtly love and chivalric literature. Marie de France could well be France’s first major author.
Marie’s lais can be associated with the songs of the troubadours whose native land was Provence and whose subject matter, was chivalry and courtly love. Troubadours (langue d’oc) flourished until the Black Death (1346 – 1353), the plague. In northern France, they were called trouvères and spoke langued’oil.
Walter of England also lived in England in the 12th century, following the Battle of Hastings. He wrote Æsopic fables in Anglo-Norman. The history of fables is shrouded in mystery, so Walter has been considered the ‘anonymous Neveleti,’ the 17th-century fabulist whose collection of fables, the Mythologia Æsopica, in Latin, was used by French fabulist Jean de La Fontaine. However, the attribution to an anonymous ‘Neveleti’ has been ruled false. La Fontaine used Isaac Nicholas Nevelet’s Mythologia Æsopica.
Nevertheless, Walter of England would be the author of a collection of 62 fables in verse. The “62 fables is more accurately called the verseRomulus.” (See Walter of England [Gualterus Anglicus], Wikipedia). However, this seems to be anotherfalse attribution. There was no Romulus. The medieval Æsop originated in Walter of England’s fables and elsewhere. Could it be that ‘Romulus’ meant Latin, from Rome?
John Lydgate and Robert Henryson
When English fabulist John Lydgate produced his Isopes Fabules, the first fable collection written in English, his source was long believed to be the verse Romulus, which it isn’t. As mentioned above, there was no Romulus. Lydgate’s source would probably be Walter of England’s collection of Æsop’s fables. In other words, John Lydgate’s English-language fables adapted Walter of England’s verse fables. Walter’s “The Cock and the Jewel” was used by Robert Henryson in his 15th-century Morall Fabillis, written in Scots. (See Walter of England [Gualterus Anglicus], Wikipedia).
In short, after the Battle of Hastings, Normandy or France was briefly remembered by Marie de France and Walter of England. In the 12th century, ‘Æsopic’ fables were told in Anglo-Norman, a transitional language but one that has survived in literature.
Gone are knights in shining armour and short fables. From literature written in the Anglo-Norman period, we will glimpse the literary legacy of the Hundred Years’ War, Geoffrey Chaucer. An amused public is reading the lengthy anthropomorphicRoman de Renart, while Chaucer translates at least part of the 22,000-line Roman de la Rose, an allegoricalpoem epitomising courtly love.
Sources and Resources
Four of Marie’s lais are a Project Gutenberg [EBook #46234] EN publication
Marie’s Medieval Romances and some lais are a Project Gutenberg [EBook #11417]
Aesop (620 and 560 BCE) was a Greek story teller who told Fables. It could be that he also wrote the fables he told, but these appear to have been transmitted orally from generation to generation. They therefore belong to an oral traditionas is the case with fairy tales. It has been claimed Aesop was a “Levantin,” i.e. from the Middle East, that he was a freed slave, that he was forced to jump to his death or pushed down a cliff, but the truth is that we do not know whether or not there ever lived an Aesop.
Aesop however is not the first Greek story teller to write fables. A “Goose with the Golden Eggs,”entitled “Une femme et une poule,” is attributed to Luqman (c. 1100 BCE).
Biographies of Aesop
Jean de La Fontaine
Yet, not only do we have written collections of fables by Aesop, but biographies, hence the information given above. The main biography of Aesop is by Maximus Planudes (c. 1260 – c. 1305), a Greek monk and scholar who lived in Constantinople, the former Byzantium and current Istanbul (Turkey). Planudes was a compiler of the Greek Anthology, yet was also famed for his command of Latin and polished translations of Aesop’s Fables. Planudes published the first annotated collection of Aesop’s Fables.
La Fontaine also wrote a short biography of Aesop entitled LaVie d’Ésope, le Phrygien. It prefaces his first collection of fables, 6 books, published in 1668.
India and the Middle East
La Fontaine’s second collection shows the influence of fables originating in the Sanskrit Panchatantra by Vishnu Sharma and versions of Abdullah Ibn Al-Muqaffa’‘s Persian Kalīlah wa Dimnah, fables based on the Panchatantra. There are two more renditions of Kalīlah wa Dimnah, but all threeare linked to one another and to the Panchatantra because the story-teller within the book is Pilpay, Bidpai, or Bidpaï.
Ibn Al-Muqaffa’s Kalīlah wa Dimnah. Ibn Al-Muqaffa (died c. 756-759) was a Muslim Persian scholar;
Kalīleh o Demneh (12th century CE; author not specified) Persian;
Kashefi’s Anvār-e Soheylī, or “The Lights of Canopus” (15th century) Persian.
HadJean de La Fontaine (8 July 1621 – 13 April 1695) read Gilbert Gaulmin‘s 1644 Livre des lumières before publishing his first volume of fables, we could suggest a direct oriental influence. I am writing “direct” because India and the Middle East are the birthplace of a substantial number of fables and, in particular, fables featuring animals. Gilbert Gaulmin’s Livre des lumières is probably rooted in Kashefi‘s “The Lights of Canopus.” Lumières means “lights.”
However, La Fontaine had not read Gaulmin’s Livre des lumières when he wrote his first volume of fables (6 of 12 books). “Le Conseil tenu par les rats” (“The Mice in Council”) is included in La Fontaine’s first of three recueils (collections) of fables, published in 1668, 1678, and shortly before 1695, the year he died.
In the absence of a text,Aesop’s Fables have been considered an example of the oral tradition, fables transmitted orally from generation to generation. It seems Aesop’s Fables did not enter a “learned” tradition until Latin author Phaedrus, who lived in the 1st century CE, published a book of fables attributed to Aesop (Gutenberg [EB #25512]). So did Greek author Babrius (Gabrias), in the second century CE. Babrius may have been a Levantin (from the Middle East).
Collections of fables by Aesop are based on the learned tradition inaugurated by Phaedrus and Babrius. But neither Phaedrus nor Babrius wrote a “Mice in Council.”
A third early translator of Aesop is Flavius Avianus (400 CE/5th century), the author-translator of 42 Aesopic fables. However, “The Mice in Council” is not included in Avianus’ translations.
Avianus, (Avionnet, 5th century)
Walter of England (12th century)
After some reflection, I looked for a copy of the Ysopet-Avionnet on the internet and found “The Mice in Council.” The Ysopet-Avionnet is a collection of fables that was used as a school text from the Middle Ages until the early part of the 20th century. It is an InternetArchive publication, p. 191, printed near the end of the book (please click on Internet Archive).In the Ysopet-Avionnet, “The Mice in Council” is entitled “Des Souris qui firentconcile contre le chat”(“De muribus concilium facientibus contra catum”).
However, the Ysopet-Avionnet’s “The Mice in Council” or “Belling the Cat” seems to have come out of nowhere. Neither 5th-century Avianus nor 12th-century Anglo-Norman fabulist Walter of England, Gualterus Anglicus, wrote a “Mice in Council.” Yet, the fables published in the Ysopet-Avionnet are by Walter of England for the most part. Walter of England, who wrote in Anglo-Norman, is also known as the “anonymous Neveleti.” The Neveleti we know is Isaac Nicholas Névelet, the Swiss author of a 1610 Mythologia Aesopica, La Fontaine’s main source.
Consequently, although it was published in the Ysopet-Avionnet, 15th-century Italian fabulist Laurentius Abstemius’ is considered the first writer—i.e. the “learned” as opposed to the oral tradition—of “The Mice in Council.” His Hecatomythium was published in 1495, nearly three centuries after the publication of the Ysopet-Avionnet. (See French site shanaweb.net.)
Samuel Croxall (c.1690 – 1752), the author of The Fables of Aesop; with Instructive Applications. Aesop’s Fables 100 Cuts
Laurentius Abstemius‘ Hecatomythium (1495) is the source of Sir Roger L’Estrange‘s Fables of Aesop and Other Eminent Mythologists (1692). A collection of fables by Aesop had been printed and possibly translated by famed English translator and printer William Caxton, in 1484, too early to include Abstemius’ “Mice in Council.” Caxton printed The fables of Aesop, as first printed by William Caxton, in 1484, withthose of Avian, Alfonso and Poggio, now again edited and induced. A third English fabulist was Samuel Croxall (c. 1690 – 1752), the author of The Fables of Aesop; with Instructive Applications. Aesop’s Fables 100 Cuts. Croxall was an Anglican churchman. Moralizing would be his chief objective.
Ysopets and Romulus
the 12th century
Marie de France
The 12th century is a turning-point and a culmination. In fact, it has been called a Renaissance. Marie de France lived at the end of the 12th century and Walter of England published his fables a smidgen earlier but in the 12th century. In France, collections of fables by Aesop were by then called Ysopets or Isopets and became textbooks used in schools. An Ysopet could also be called a Romulus. As well, Reynard the Fox was born in 1148-1149 as Reinardus in the Ysengrimus, a beast epic not intended for children.
There may have been a fabulist named Romulus, who wrote Latin prose fables, but he is now considered a legendary figure. However a Romulus could be a collection of prose fables written in Latin and rooted in Phaedrus. (See Romulus, Wikipedia.) We have several and among these:
The Romulus Ordinarius (Romulus Vulgaris), 83 tales known in a 9th-century text;
The Romulus Roberti;
The Romulus of Vienna;
The Romulus of Nilant or (Romulus Nilantinus), 45 fables, published in 1709 by Johan Frederik Nilant (Jean-Frédéric Nilant).
The Novus Aesopus was put together at the end of the twelfth century by Alexander Neckam
French author Marie de France used a Romulus as a source for her collection of 102 fables written in Anglo-Norman. (My copy has 103 fables.) Marie de France is a major author who will be discussed in a later post.
The Mice once called a meeting to decide on a plan to free themselves of their enemy, the Cat. At least they wished to find some way of knowing when she was coming, so they might have time to run away. Indeed, something had to be done, for they lived in such constant fear of her claws that they hardly dared stir from their dens by night or day.
Many plans were discussed, but none of them was thought good enough. At last a very young Mouse got up and said:
“I have a plan that seems very simple, but I know it will be successful. All we have to do is to hang a bell about the Cat’s neck. When we hear the bell ringing we will know immediately that our enemy is coming.”
All the Mice were much surprised that they had not thought of such a plan before. But in the midst of the rejoicing over their good fortune, an old Mouse arose and said:
“I will say that the plan of the young Mouse is very good. But let me ask one question: Who will bell the Cat?”
It is one thing to say that something should be done, but quite a different matter to do it.
Prudence or foresight is the moral of nearly all Aesopic fables. One has to think. Prudence makes it unrealistic for a mouse to try to hang a bell down a cat’s neck. In La Fontaine’s fable, the solution to the rats’ main peril, being devoured by the cat, would cause a rat to be devoured, certain death and, therefore, the greater peril. No rat can bell a cat.
In An Argosy of Fables,the translator, Thomas James, has the mice applaud when it occurs to them that they need simply bell the cat. A mouse then gets up and asks the relevant question: Who will bell the cat?
In La Fontaine, we have what he calls a comedy: “[u]ne ample Comédie à cent [one hundred] actes divers.” (“Le bûcheron [the lumberjack] et Mercure” [1.V.1].) The cat is named after François Rabelais‘ Rodilardus (the Latin form of Rodilard [round and fat]). There is, moreover, a reference to the French court, which 1s to be expected from Jean de La Fontaine, whose patron had been Nicolas Fouquet. Courtiers waste time. They are mindless.
In English, the “who will Bell the Cat” is idiomatic. It has entered the English language and is now proverbial. Fables are the illustration of a proverb, but in our fable the illustration has returned to a proverb, which probably means that the illustration, or exemplum is very powerful.
The “Mice in Council” may be difficult to trace and is sometimes confused with “The Cat and the Mice.” However, it was included in the widely-read Ysopet-Avionnet, as well as Laurentius Abstemius’ Hecatomythium (1495). So it appears to date back to the 12th century and the 15th century, except that we do not know who wrote the 12th century “Mice in Council.”
“Belling the Cat” is Jean de La Fontaine’s Le Conseil tenu par les rats, Walter Crane left an image and it is incorporated in the Aesop for Children, exquisitely illustrated by Milo Winter [EBook #19994]. It is also featured in the An Argosy of Fables, 1921, a Wikisource publication where it is attributed to Abstemius. Laura Gibbs has classified it as Aesopic, which makes perfect sense since it is featured in the Aesop for Children, 1919. (See MythFolklore.net.)
It seems to me that Wikipedia’s view of the provenance of “Belling the Cat” is also very sensible.
“In the classificatory system established for the fables by B. E. Perry, it is numbered 613, which is reserved for Mediaeval attributions outside the Aesopic canon.”
Three elegant dogs stand ready. F 25r (folio 25 recto)
A bestiary is a compendium of beasts most of which have identical characteristics from bestiary to bestiary. In Europe, bestiaries are mostly a product of the Middle Ages, the 12th and 13th centuries in particular. Exceptionally beautiful are the Aberdeen Bestiary MS 24) and the Ashmole Bestiary (MS 1462 & MS 1511), both dating back to the late 12th and 13th century.
They are illuminated manuscripts and, in this regard, resemble books of hours. They therefore contain images complemented by superb calligraphy that could vary from bestiary to bestiary, some of which are ancestors to our “fonts.”
Not all animals described in bestiaries are real animals. The authors of natural histories often relied on information obtained from individuals who had travelled to the Orient or elsewhere. Thus was born the unicorn. The rhinoceros is a real animal that has one horn, but the unicorn, the monocerus in Greece, is a both an anthropomorphic and zoomorphic animal.
Zoomorphic animals combine the features of several beasts and may be part human and part beast. Such is the case with centaurs and the minotaur. The lower half of a centaur is a horse, the upper, a man. The minotaur’s body is human, but its head is that of a bull.
The Physiologus: the main Source
The best-known “natural history” is the Physiologus (“The Naturalist”), written in Greek in the 2nd century BCE. Authorship of the Physiologus has not been determined, but it was translated into Latin in about 700 CE, our era. It was the main source of information for persons who wrote and illuminated bestiaries.
The Physiologus described an animal, told an anecdote about that animal and then gave the animal moral attributes (See Physiologus, Wikipedia). In the Medieval Bestiary, the anecdote for dogs was “The Dog and Its Reflection.” Natural histories, however, made animals allegorical rather than humans in disguise. The Physiologus is allegorical and emblematic, but in structure, it resembles the fable.
In the case of dogs, the Medieval Bestiary (http://bestiary.ca/) describes the animal, tells an anecdote, the “Dog and Its Reflection,” and then informs readers that the dog is the most loyal of animals. The dog may be able to kill but, as the lore goes, it is man’s best friends and therefore emblematic of loyalty. We learn as well that the dog licks wounds.
According to Pliny the Elder (23 BC – 25 August 79 BCE), one of many authors of natural histories, “[t]he domestic animal that is most faithful to man is the dog.” The iconography, images, tells a similar story, but also shows us many greyhounds, as do 20th-century fashion illustrators.
So here are some pictures of faithful dogs who lived in the Middle Ages. The dog featured at the very bottom of this post is about to avenge his master’s murder, but is also a healer. The bestiary in which it is depicted is housed at the Royal Library in Copenhagen. It is an illumination (enluminures) executed on the front page, the folio, of a Bestiary. The front of the folio (the page) is called recto vs verso, the back.
Koninklijke Bibliotheek, KB, KA 16, Folio 48v
Koninklijke Bibliotheek, KB, KA 16, Folio 49r
A pair of dogs, possibly greyhounds? F 48v (verso: back)
Two dogs, possibly greyhounds or other hunting dogs. F 49r (recto: front)
Bibliothèque nationale de France, lat. 6838B, Folio 12v
British Library, Royal MS 12 F. xiii, Folio 30v
Morgan Library, MS M.81, Folio 28r
Bibliothèque nationale de France, lat. 6838B, Folio 12r
A dog refuses to leave the side of its dead master. F 12v
King Garamantes, captured by his enemies, is rescued by has pack of dogs. f 30v
At the top, a dog attacks the man who killed his master, thus pointing out the guilty. At the bottom, the faithful dog refuses to leave the body of its dead master. f 28R
King Garametes, captured by his enemies, is rescued by his dogs. f 12r
“Dogs are unable to live without men. There are several kinds of dogs: those that guard their master’s property; those that are useful for hunting wild animals or birds; and those that watch over sheep. A dog cures its own wounds by licking, and a young dog bound to a patient cures internal wounds. A dog will always return to its vomit. When a dog is swimming across a river while holding meat in its mouth, if it sees its own reflection it will drop the meat it is carrying while trying to get the meat it sees in the reflection.
Several stories are told about the actions of dogs. King Garamantes, captured by his enemies, was rescued by his dogs. When a man was murdered and there were no witnesses to say who did it, the man’s dog pointed out the slayer in the crowd. Jason‘s dog was said to have refused to eat and died of hunger after his master’s death. A Roman dog accompanied his master to prison, and when the man was executed and his body thrown into the Tiber River, the dog tried to hold up the corpse.
A dog that crosses a hyena‘s shadow will lose its voice.
“The Dog that dropped the Substance for the Shadow” is an Æsopic fables. It is #133 in the Perry Index where it is entitled “The Dog and Its Image,” or “The Dog and ItsReflection.” We can trace it back to Phædrus and Babrius who committed to paper fables Æsop had told. Phædrus wrote in Latin and Babrius, in Greek. Later fabulists, European or Western, drew their subject matter from these two sources.
There also existed an Eastern tradition of the same fables. According to the foreword, or avertissement, of a seventeenth-century French translation of Les Fables de Pilpay, Æsop, if there ever was an Æsop, seems to have lived in Greece, but was from the Levant.
les Grecs ont suivi les Orientaux; Je dis ‘suivi,’ puisque les Grecs confessent eux-mêmes qu’ils ont appris cette sorte d’érudition d’Esope, qui estoit Levantin.
According to one source, L’Astrée, a lenghty seventeenth-century pastoral novel, written by Honoré d’Urfé‘s (11 February 1568 – 1 June 1625), contains the following sentence: « Ce ne sont, dit Hylas, que les esprits peu sages qui courent après l’ombre du bien, et laissent le bien même. » (Hylas said that only silly minds run after the shadow of a possession leaving behind the possession itself).(See lafontainet.net.)
West: Phædrus & Babrius
East: The Panchatantra (India), Kalīlah wa Dimna (various)
Given that this post features La Fontaine’s fable, I used the Musée de La Fontaine‘s
translation. However, Æsop ‘s version of this fable is told in the Project Gutenberg’s [EB #11339] (V. S. Vernon Jones, trans., G. K. Chesterton, intro, and Arthur Rackham, ill.).
In all likelihood, Vernon Jones used Phædrus (Latin) or Babrius (Greek) as his source. He may also have used another re-teller’s translation of Phædrus and Babrius, the Western tradition.
It is therefore possible, perhaps probable, that Æsop, a story-teller whose fables were transmitted to Western Europe, used fables originating in an Eastern and “learned” tradition. The Eastern tradition may have been a “learned” tradition, i.e. written down fables, but the fables, animal fables, were told to people who may not have been able to read or write. Literacy is a key factor in the transmission of fables or tales. It would be my opinion that La Fontaine’s source, Névelet or Neveleti, used Phædrus or Phædrus
retold by other fabulists who may have borrowed elements from Babrius.
A “Learned” Eastern Tradition
In other words, Æsop’s fables were probably transmitted to Western fabulists by Phædus and Babrius, but there is an eastern tradition, a parallel. When La Fontaine wrote his second collection (recueil) of fables, published in 1678, he had read G. Gaulmin’s Livre des lumières ou la conduite des roys(1644) (The Book of Lights or the Conduct of Kings). This book contains Pilpay’s fables. (See Panchatantra, Wikipedia.)
“A New Persian version from the 12th century became known as Kalīleh o Demneh and this was the basis of Kashefi’s 15th century Anvār-e Soheylī (Persian: The Lights of Canopus). The book in different form is also known as The Fables of Bidpaï (or Pilpai, in various European languages) or The Morall Philosophie of Doni (English, 1570).” (See Panchatantra, Wikipedia)
Our fable is number 17 in La Fontaine’s sixth book of fables, published in 1668 (VI.17). It was written before La Fontaine read Le Livre des lumières, 1644, the fables of Bidpaï.
The Fables of Pilpay or Bidpaï
Le Livre des lumières = Fables de Pilpay
Hitopadesha: the conduct of kings
Æsop was from the Levant
Le Livre des lumières is a Google Book. By following the link Livre des lumières, one can see that the stories of Pilpay or Bidpaï, the story-teller in the Panchatantraor Pañcatantra (3rd BCE, perhaps earlier) are also used to teach a prince the conduct of kings. “The Panchatantra is a niti-shastra, or textbook of the niti. The word niti means roughly ‘the wise conduct of life’.” (ThePanchatantra, Translator’s Introduction, p. 5).
This world is full of shadow-chasers,
Most easily deceived.
Should I enumerate these racers,
I should not be believed.
I send them all to Aesop’s dog,
Which, crossing water on a log,
Espied the meat he bore, below;
To seize its image, let it go;
Plunged in; to reach the shore was glad,
With neither what he hoped, nor what he’d had.
Chacun se trompe ici-bas.
On voit courir après l’ombre
Tant de fous, qu’on n’en sait pas
La plupart du temps le nombre.
Au Chien dont parle Ésope il faut les renvoyer.
Ce Chien, voyant sa proie en l’eau représentée,
La quitta pour l’image, et pensa se noyer ;
La rivière devint tout d’un coup agitée.
À toute peine il regagna les bords,
Et n’eut ni l’ombre ni le corps.
A Dog was crossing a plank bridge over a stream with a piece of meat in his mouth, when he happened to see his own reflection in the water. He thought it was another dog with a piece of meat twice as big; so he let go his own, and flew at the other dog to get the larger piece. But, of course, all that happened was that he got neither; for one was only a shadow, and the other was carried away by the current. [EB #11339]
I have not found “The Dog and its Reflection,” in Les Fables de Pilpay, but Bidpaï wrote a similar story entitled “The Fox and a Piece of Meat.” However, “The Dog and itsReflection” is included in the Arabic Kalīlah wa Dimna.
In Britain, John Lydgate told this story in his Isopes Fabules. His moral was that “Who all coveteth, oft he loseth all.” The fable is also part of Geoffrey Whitney‘s (c. 1548 – c. 1601) Choice of Emblemes.[ii] Whitney’smoral is “to make use of moderate possessions,” Mediocribus utere partis. This story was told by several fabulists in many countries. (See The Dog and Its Reflection, Wikipedia.)
In La Fontaine’s “Le Chien qui lâche sa proie pour l’ombre,” the moral precedes the example (it usually follows the fable) and seems to differ from the moral provided by other fabulists. La Fontaine warns that one should not be deceived by appearances, a common moral in seventeenth-century France. However, La Fontaine ends his fable by writing that the dog reached the shore “[w]ith neither what he hoped, nor what he’d had.”
We tell the same stories, east and west, but terrorists in the Levant are killing innocent American journalists. I still hope for a diplomatic resolution to the current conflict. Further bloodshed is not necessary. President Obama is a man of peace, so I am confident that he will do what has to be done.
The oak tree is felled by a terrible wind, but the reed bends and survives.
However, that man who beheaded James Foley and Steven Sotloff in cold blood is a criminal.
A Boy was bathing in a river and got out of his depth, and was in great danger of being drowned. A man who was passing along a road heard his cries for help, and went to the riverside and began to scold him for being so careless as to get into deep water, but made no attempt to help him. “Oh, sir,” cried the Boy, “please help me first and scold me afterwards.”
Give assistance, not advice, in a crisis.
The Boy Bathing
A BOY bathing in a river was in danger of being drowned. He called out to a passing traveler for help, but instead of holding out a helping hand, the man stood by unconcernedly, and scolded the boy for his imprudence. ‘Oh, sir!’ cried the youth, ‘pray help me now and scold me afterwards.’
Counsel without help is useless.
The Boy Bathing, G. F. Townsend, translator, Harrison Weir, illustrator, 1867 (Photo credit: Gutenberg [EBook #21])
Æsop (c. 620 – 564 BCE)
Phædrus (c. 15 BC – c. 50 CE)
Babrius (c. 2nd century CE)
Fables[i] are a source of wisdom and La Fontaine‘s, little jewels. There are several sources of fables, but the above, A Boy Bathing is an Æsopic or Æsopian fable retold by translators of Phædrus (Latin) and Babrius (Greek). Babrius, however, was a Roman.
Æsop, assuming there was an Æsop, was a freed Greek slave who did not write fables. We do not have a manuscript of Æsop’s fables. The fables told by Æsop were therefore transmitted through an oral tradition. They were not written down until Phædrus and Babrius committed them to paper in Latin and in Greek, at which point they entered the learned tradition.[ii]
Doubt lingers as to whether or not there ever lived an Æsop. La Fontaine wrote a life of Æsop and so did other writers. In the case of La Fontaine, writing a biography of Æsop was a way of negating authorship of his own fables.
Under Louis XIV, a friend of Nicolas Fouquet could not chronicle the excesses of his century in a direct manner. To protect himself, La Fontaine borrowed the subject matter of fables and usually featured anthropomorphic animals, humans in disguise. Never would Louis XIV, Sun King, have suggested that he was the lion king of La Fontaine’s Fables.
There may not have been an Æsop, but there is a body of fables called Æsopic or Æsopian. An index of Æsopic fables was compiled by Ben Edwin Perry (1892 – 1968), a teacher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, from 1924 to 1960.
The Wikipedia entry on the Perry Index lists 584 fables, but Wikipedia provides a list of “extended,” fabulists (585, etc.), three of whom are Paulus Diaconus (Paul the Deacon; c. 720s – 13 April probably 799), Odo of Cheriton (c. 1185 – 1246/47), and Romulus FR.
Characteristics of Fables
they usually feature talking animals;
in ancient Greece, fables that featured animals were called Æsopic and those that featured humans, Sybaritic;
for Isidore of Seville, fables were Æsopic (animals [souls], or “cities, trees, mountains, rocks, and rivers” [no souls]) or Libystic, “Libystic fables are those in which there is a verbal interchange of men with animals or animals with men.”[iii]
fables are an example, but there is a genre called Exemplum;
the example is the story. Humans remember stories because they illustrate. We are reminded of illuminated manuscripts;
the animals used in fables are anthropomorphic. They are humans in disguise, as animals;
anthropomorphism both shows and hides human behaviour;
children may think that the animals are quite foolish and believe that the manner in which they behave is just fine;
many authors have written fables but are not known as fabulists;
beast literature overrides genres; &c
I have posted a complete list of the fables discussed on this blog, but there is so much more to say. Fables are very complex and may have several morals.
I must close, but not without saying that I am so sorry we lost Steven Sotloff. His poor family! Next, they will kill a British citizen.
“Fables are among the oldest forms of folk literature. The word “fable” comes from the Latin “fabula” (“little story”). Typically, a fable consists of a narrative and a short moral conclusion at the end. The main characters in most fables are animals. The purpose of these stories is to ridicule negative human qualities.” http://www.worldoftales.com/fables.html
Perched on a lofty oak,
Sir Raven held a lunch of cheese;
Sir Fox, who smelt it in the breeze,
Thus to the holder spoke:
“Ha! how do you do, Sir Raven?
Well, your coat, sir, is a brave one!
So black and glossy, on my word, sir,
With voice to match, you were a bird, sir,
Well fit to be the Phoenix of these days.”
Sir Raven, overset with praise,
Must show how musical his croak.
Down fell the luncheon from the oak;
Which snatching up, Sir Fox thus spoke:
“The flatterer, my good sir,
Aye lives on his listener;
Which lesson, if you please,
Is doubtless worth the cheese.”
A bit too late, Sir Raven swore
The rogue should never cheat him more.
“The flatterer, my good sir,
Aye lives on his listener[.]”
In this post, I will focus on the moral of this fable. The moral is explicit. Sir Fox is quoted in full. Flattery, on the part of the fox, fools the raven/crow into singing and, as he sings, he lets go of his piece of cheese. By the way, in European beast literature, animals usually eat cheese, honey and ham.
However, it so happens that the French translation for blackmail is lechantage. Sir Fox fait chanter le corbeau (makes the raven sing) and manages to convince a rather vain Sir Raven or Crow to sing or to “crow.” The cheese falls to the ground. Now that cheese was Sir Crow’s dinner. Sir Crow’s loss is therefore significant.
So what we have seen is how a fable can shape a language. Chances are that the word ‘chantage’ is not rooted in our fable (faire chanter), but there is a strong likelihood that it is. For instance, we now hear people say a “perfect storm,” without referring to the 2000 film based on Sebastian Junger‘s non-fictional account of events. In this case, events were fictionalized into a film and the title of the film is entering the English language and may remain a useful but uninformed English-language metaphor.
Moreover, in LePoète et le Roi; Jean de La Fontaine en son siècle (Paris: Fallois, 1997), a book about La Fontaine, Marc Fumaroli, the most prominent member of the Académie française, wrote “to know how far one can go too far” (“savoir jusqu’où on peut aller trop loin”), without using quotation marks and without naming his source: Jean Cocteau (5 July 1889 – 11 October 1963). The clever expression is therefore entering the French language and, a few years from now, people might not know who coined the expression.
For those of us who also speak English, the word “crow” is significant. When Sir Raven or Crow opens his mouth, he does not sing, he “crows,” which is not flattering. Could that be rooted in the “Fox and Crow?” To crow suggests a degree of boastfulness. Remember that “Æsopian” fables entered England, at least in part, when printer and translator William Caxton (ca. 1415~1422 – ca. March 1492) printed the Latin fables of Avianus and then translated them, naming his collection TheFables of Avian. Avian’s translation of Æsop’s fables into Latin was a favourite and was rooted in both the Latin and the Greek traditions: Phædrus (Latin) and Babrius (Greek). (See “The Cock and the Pearl:” La Fontaine cont’d [michelinewalker.com]).
We know that La Fontaine is writing about humans because he calls his protagonists “Sir” (Maître or Monsieur). Moreover, we may have uncovered the origin of the word chantage as well as an instance of unsuccessful chantage (blackmail), a deceiver-deceived narrative: trompeur trompé.
Maître Corbeau, sur un arbre perché,
Tenait en son bec un fromage.
Maître Renard, par l’odeur alléché,
Lui tint à peu près ce langage :
“Et ! bonjour, Monsieur du Corbeau.
Que vous êtes joli ! que vous me semblez beau !
Sans mentir, si votre ramage (the way he talks)
Se rapporte à votre plumage, (your feathers)
Vous êtes le Phénix des hôtes de ces bois. ”
À ces mots, le Corbeau ne se sent pas de joie ;
Et pour montrer sa belle voix, (voice)
Il ouvre un large bec, laisse tomber sa proie.
Le Renard s’en saisit, et dit :
“Mon bon Monsieur,
Apprenez que tout flatteur
Vit aux dépens de celui qui l’écoute
Cette leçon vaut bien un fromage, sans doute. ”
Le Corbeau honteux et confus
Jura, mais un peu tard, qu’on ne l’y prendrait plus.
There are folk tellings of this fable (the oral tradition), but when Jean de La Fontaine (8 July 1621 – 13 April 1695) wrote Le Rat de ville et le rat des champs (City Rat and Country Rat I. 9), The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse entered the learned tradition. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, La Fontaine’s Fables “rank among the greatest masterpieces of French literature.”[i]
However, the mostly Aesopic Town Mouse and Country Mouse entered literature long before La Fontaine was introduced to Æsop’s Fables. Horace (8 December 65 BCE – 27 November 8 BCE) could be credited with giving this folktale its literary status. It is one of his Satires (book 2, number 6, lines 77-115) and it resembles La Fontaine’s City Rat and Country Rat(1, 9). Interestingly, La Fontaine’s fable features two rats rather than mice. It would be my opinion that he chose to feature rats to embellish his fable. The word “rat” is shorter (one syllable or pied) than the word “sou-ris” (two syllables). Be that as it may, in both retellings of the narrative, the rustic mouse or rat decides to return to his humble but peaceful country life, when “a sudden banging of the doors” (Horace) forces our fellows to hide. Horace’s country mouse does not want to live in fear.
Then says the rustic: “It may do for you,
This life, but I don’t like it; so adieu:
Give me my hole, secure from all alarms,
I’ll prove that tares and vetches still have charms.”
Horace (scroll down to “One day…)
Sources and Dissemination
There have been many retellings of Aesop’s Fables, beginning with Roman fabulist Phædrus (c. 15 BCE – c. 50 CE).[ii] Aesop was also retold in Greek, by Babrius. As for The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse in particular, it appears we owe its dissemination throughout Europe to 12th-century Anglo-Norman writer Walter of England‘s translation of the fable into Latin.[iii]Fabulist Odo of Cheriton[iv] (c. 1185 – 1246/47, Kent) also contributed to the spread of the fable to various European countries.Spanish author Juan Ruiz inserted a Town Mouse and Country Mouse in his Libro de Buen Amor or Book of Good Love. Walter of England may also have inspired several manuscript collections of Æsop’s fables in Italian, including the Esopi fabulas by Accio Zucca. (See The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, Wikipedia)
La Fontaine’s Sources
La Fontaine, however, seems to have drawn his material from Swiss writer Névelet whose Mythologia Æsopica Isaaci Nicolai Neveletiwas published in Frankfurt in 1610. Névelet was La Fontaine’s usual source. Moreover, given his knowledge of Latin and resemblances between the two texts, we can assume La Fontaine was familiar with Horace’s The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse. In both fables, our two country fellows, a rat and a mouse, flee when they hear “fearful knocking” at the door (La Fontaine).
La Fontaine: Twelve Books of Fables in three Collections (recueils)
Le rat de ville et le rat des champs is the ninth fable of La Fontaine’s first book of fables (1.I.9) La Fontaine wrote twelve short books of fables which he published in three collections (recueils): 1668 (six books), 1678 (five books), 1694 (twelfth book). His first recueil, or collection, contains mainly Æsopic fables transmitted from generation to generation in an oral tradition until, as mentioned above, Latin author Phaedrus translated Æsop’s fables into Latin and author Babrius, into Greek. Phaedrus’ book of fables is a Project Gutenberg publication [EBook #25512].
D. L. Alishman gives us a list of retellings of the Æsopic Town Mouse and Country Mouse:
A city rat, one night,
Did, with a civil stoop,
A country rat invite
To end a turtle soup.
On a Turkey carpet
They found the table spread,
And sure I need not harp it
How well the fellows fed.
The entertainment was
A truly noble one;
But some unlucky cause
Disturbed it when begun.
It was a slight rat-tat,
That put their joys to rout;
Out ran the city rat;
His guest, too, scampered out.
Our rats but fairly quit,
The fearful knocking ceased.
“Return we,” cried the city,
To finish there our feast.
“No,” said the rustic rat;
“Tomorrow dine with me.
I’m not offended at
Your feast so grand and free,
“For I have no fare resembling;
But then I eat at leisure,
And would not swap, for pleasure
So mixed with fear and trembling.”
La Fontaine (I.ix) or (I.9)
Variants listed above by D. L. Alishman differ from one another. For instance, in some retellings of the Town Mouse and Country Mouse, a cat, rather than dogs or a noise at the door, scares the mice away. But the moral of the fable is almost the same in all its retellings, that moral being that it is best to eat more frugally if the cost of eating finer and more abundant meals is a source of endangerment. Neither the country mouse nor the country rat want to eat watching their back. I like the wording Odo of Cheriton has given the moral of his Town Mouse and Country Mouse:
“I’d rather gnaw a bean than be gnawed by emotional fear.”
La Fontaine’s City Rat and Country Rat could be considered as “philosophical,” or meditative, which the word “philosophical” meant in 17th-century France. For example, this fable could describe the fate of aristocrats under absolutism. After the Fronde (1648-1653), Court was no longer a “natural” environment for aristocrats who nevertheless spent a great deal of money to keep a house and carriage near Versailles. They hoped to be noticed and, consequently, be invited to attend the king’s lever (getting out of bed) and coucher(getting into bed). But Louis XIV feared aristocrats and would not give them power. Therefore, their best option was to return to their home away from Versailles and its intrigues, which they seldom did.
However, as told by La Fontaine, the fable does not reflect in any direct way the circumstances of French aristocrats after the Fronde(1648 and 1653).
But his chief and most comprehensive theme remains that of the traditional fable: the fundamental, everyday moral experience of mankind throughout the ages, exhibited in a profusion of typical characters, emotions, attitudes, and situations.[v]
Horace’s telling of The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse is more overtly “philosophical” than La Fontaine’s City Rat and Country Rat (1: 9).For instance, Horace, who coined the term carpe diem, has included a “gather ye roses while ye may” in his Town Mouse and Country Mouse:
Come down, go home with me: remember, all
Who live on earth are mortal, great or small:
Then take, good sir, your pleasure while you may;
With life so short, ’twere wrong to lose a day.
Horace, Satires, book 2, no. 6, pp. 84-86
However, La Fontaine’s one wish was to create little comedies.
But the predominant note is that of la gaieté, which, as he says in the preface to the first collection, he deliberately sought to introduce into his Fables. “Gaiety,” he explains, is not that which provokes laughter but is “a certain charm . . . that can be given to any kind of subject, even the most serious.”[vi]
La Fontaine was a loyal friend, but he was not a crusader. He knew from experience that “might is right.” He had been a protégé of disgraced Nicolas Fouquet, the Superintendent of Finances in France from 1653 until 1661. Consequently, although La Fontaine’s fables have depth, the language he uses is light-hearted.
To the grace, ease, and delicate perfection of the best of the Fables, even close textual commentary cannot hope to do full justice. They represent the quintessence of a century of experiments in prosody and poetic diction in France.[vii]
Interestingly, in Jean de La Fontaine’s La Chatte métamorphosée en femme(II. 18), a metamorphosis is used to show that metamorphoses are not possible, at least not altogether. In other words, in The Cat Metamorphosed into a Woman, La Fontaine uses a metamorphosis, his exemplum, to demonstrate that nature is mostly immutable. A cat is cat and remains a cat, despite appearances, and a woman is a woman and remains a woman, despite appearances.
In seventeenth-century France, particularly after the Fronde, the aristocrats and honnêtes hommes[iii] who gathered in the salons of refined women gave free rein to fantasy and would eventually create children’s literature, but nature reigned supreme, not to mention Cartesian reason and absolutism. Absolutism had taken their power away from the highest- ranked aristocrats. It was a time when one had to heed Horace’s advice: “Limit your desires” (Epistles, Book I, ii, lines 55–71), but the cast of our fable seems not to have known Horace.
La Fontaine’s fable, entitled La Chatte métamorphosée en femme (II. 18), is about a metamorphosis — a cat is “successfully” transformed into a woman — the purpose of which, i.e. the metamorphosis, is to tell that a metamorphosis is not possible, which is somewhat paradoxical. The metamorphosis that has occurred goes amiss. In other words, the exemplum shows that, if taken away, what nature has ordained, le naturel, will always return. As the French proverb goes: Chassez [chase away] le naturel, il revient au galop [it comes galloping back]. So our cat has been turned into a woman, but the woman’s instincts, the core, are those of a cat. Let us read the fables.
La Fontaine: The Cat Metamorphosed into a Woman
In The Cat Metamorphosed into a Woman(simply click on the title to read the fable) (La Chatte métamorphosée en femme II. 18), a man so loves his cat that he wants to transform her into a woman using every trick: from tears and prayers, to charms and magic. This man succeeds in transforming his cat into a woman, but the moment she hears mice, our newly fashioned woman is crawling on the floor chasing them, but without instilling fear in the mice. Our former cat looks like a woman, so the mice have no reason to fear her in the least. Appearances are deceptive.
La Fontaine, however, does not tell us the rest of the story, i.e. what happens to the cat-woman. He simply writes a moral according to which one cannot change: “Old habits die hard.” It is as Horace wrote:
Limit your desires (Horace, Epistles, Book I, ii, lines 55-71)
A jar will long retain the odor of what it was
Dipped in when new.
The Delights of Nature (Horace, Epistles,Book I. x, lines 1-25)Drive Nature off with a pitchfork, she’ll still press back,And secretly burst in triumph through your sad disdain.
Æsop: Venus and the Cat
La Fontaine’s narrative resembles its source, Æsop‘s fable entitled Venus and the Cat or The Cat and Venus. This time, however, the cat herself wishes to be metamorphosed into a woman because she is in love with a man. Roles have therefore been reversed: the man is a cat. Consequently, La Fontaine’s fable is a mirror image of its sources which would be, first, Névelet or Isaaci Nicolai Neveleti’s Mythologia Æsopica (Frankfurt, 1610), a retelling of Æsop, and, second, Æsop’s own Venus and the Cat.
In Venus and the Cat, our enamoured cat so wishes to become a woman that she asks Venus, the goddess of love, called Aphrodite in Roman mythology, to turn her into a woman. The goddess Venus obliges but, when night falls or “one day,” curiosity leads her to the bride’s chamber where she places a mouse in the middle of the room. The woman leaps out of bed and goes chasing after the mouse. Contrary to La Fontaine, Æsop provides a full narrative, leaving little to the imagination. A disappointed Venus turns the woman back into a cat, which seems a form of punishment. V. S. Vernon Jones’ translation of Venus and the Cat is as follows:
Gutenberg (EBook #11339) V. S. Vernon Jones,TranslatorG. K.Chesterton, IntroductionArthur Rackham, Illustrator
“A Cat fell in love with a handsome young man, and begged the goddess Venus to change her into a woman. Venus was very gracious about it, and changed her at once into a beautiful maiden, whom the young man fell in love with at first sight and shortly afterwards married. One day Venus thought she would like to see whether the Cat had changed her habits as well as her form; so she let a mouse run loose in the room where they were. Forgetting everything, the young woman had no sooner seen the mouse than up she jumped and was after it like a shot: at which the goddess was so disgusted that she changed her back again into a Cat.”
Æsop(c. 620–564 BCE)
La Fontaine’s Moral: Horace, Epistles Book I. x, 1-25
The editor of my copy of La Fontaine, Fables et Contes is quite right. The moral of La Fontaine’s fable is linked with Horace’s first book of Epistles or Letters. However, it is related to both Book I, ii, 55-71, and Book 1, x, 1-25. We may in fact have a translation for “Chassez le naturel, il revient au galop[,]” which would be: “Drive Nature off with a pitchfork, she’ll still press[.]” (HoraceEpistles, Book I, x, line 24). The two relevant morals are the above-mentioned Horatian:
A jar will long retain the odor of what it was
Dipped in when new.
Drive Nature off with a pitchfork, she’ll still press back,And secretly burst in triumph through your sad disdain.
Æsop’s Moral: “Nature will out”
In La Fontaine’s version of Æsop’s Venus and the Cat or The Cat and Venus, the moral is largely implicit, yet clear. However, some translations of Æsop’s version and the source of La Fontaine’s fable end with an explicit moral. As he concludes his 1887 Cat and Venus, author-translatorGeorge Fyler Townsendwrites that “Nature exceeds nurture.” Similarly,Joseph Jacobs‘ 1894 The Cat-Maiden ends on the proverbial:“Nature will out.”[iv]
Alishman does not include La Fontaine’s Cat Metamorphosed into a Woman in his list of fables classified as Aarne-Thompson-Uther Type 2031. Type 2031’s chief fable is The Mouse Who Was to Marry the Sun. La Fontaine’s cat is changed into a woman and the mouse, into a woman, but this motif is that of another fable by entitled The Mouse metamorphosed into a Girl (IV.7), published in La Fontaine’s 1678 collection of fables, his second volume of fables a volume that reflects the influence of Le Livre des lumières ou la conduite des roys(The Book of Enlightenment or the Conduct of Kings), a French translation of fables by Bidpai, originating in the Sanskrit Panchatantra(Pañcatantra)and Arabic Kalīlah wa Dimnah, written by Persian scholar Ibn al-Muquaffa’. This one fable is in fact taking us all the way to Japan.
The translation I used for Jean de La Fontaine‘s (8 July 1621 – 13 April 1695) ‟The Cat and the Fox,” is Gutenberg’s EBook #19994 entitled The Æsop for Children and illustrated by Milo Winter (7 August 1888 – 1956). I made a mistake. I scrolled down to page 88 and found a fable entitled ‟The Cat and the Fox.” Usually, Æsop’s cat and fox fable is entitled ‟The Fox and the Cat.” I have not found the name of the translator of Gutenberg’s The Æsop for Children, but the correct illustration is the following by Milo Winter. In order to read Gutenberg’s translation of Æsop, click on ‟The Cat and the Fox.”
I have corrected the blog I posted on 10 May 2013, but have posted the semicircular picture again, at the top of this post, giving credit to its illustrator: John Ray. However, there are three more illustrations by John Ray, the last of which is Reynard the Fox‘s tombstone.
Retelling and translating La Fontaine is a major endeavour. According to Wikipedia, with respect to mastery of the French language, Jean de La Fontaine has only been surpassed by Victor Hugo, but barely. There may be simplified and more modern retellings of La Fontaine’s fables, but I know of none. I would have to access a catalogue of current children’s literature rooted in La Fontaine. But I will not investigate the matter.
As for translating La Fontaine, it is also very difficult. A literal translation is almost impossible. One has to rewrite La Fontaine. Moreover, one is faced with instances of intertextualité. These are difficulties Robert Thomson encountered when he translated The Cat and the Fox.
The term may seem daunting, but intertextualité (FR) occurswhen a text refers to another text. For instance, La Fontaine calls both the cat and the fox ‟Tartufs” and ‟archipatelins.” The name ‟archipatelins” is a reference to the anonymous Farce de Maître Pierre Pathelin. Maître Pierre Pathelin is a lawyer. La Fontaine was not very kind to lawyers.
As for Tartuffe, shortened in La Fontaine so a syllable could be removed[i], it is the title of a play by Molière (baptised January 15, 1622 – February 17, 1673), first performed in 1664. After Tartuffe premiered, further performances were cancelled by Louis XIV, a supporter and friend of Molière. In all likelihood, Louis was following the advice of the Archbishop of Paris, Paul Philippe Hardouin de Beaumont de Péréfixe. It was written and performed in 1667, but the dévots, probably members of the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement, remained hostile. There was a third and final revision of Tartuffe, performed in 1669. The full title of the play is Tartuffe ou l’Imposteur:the Impostor.
The world has many impostors, but Tartuffe, the eponymous main character of the play, uses false devotion to defraud a tyrannical pater familias. This is the mask, the faux-dévot, Renart uses to escape a death sentence. In William Trowbridge Larned‘s translation, Gutenberg’s EBook #24108, the fox is called Reynard. It is also called Reynard in Robert Thomson’s translation. As for La Fontaine, his fox is ‟le renard” spelled with a ‘d’ rather than a ‘t,’ as in the Roman de Renart, but his cat and fox are like ‟nice little saints,” going on a ‟pilgrimage.” (‟Comme beaux petits saints, S’en allaient en pèlerinage”.) The translators give us an indication of the popularity of Reynard the Fox. But there is filiation between Renart, who pretends he is leaving for the Crusades, and our cat and fox, ‟nice little saints” off on a ‟pilgrimage.”
So our Gutenberg’s EBook #24108, is a translation and adaptation, by W. T. Larned, of a selection of fables written by La Fontaine and illustrated by John Ray. To read the text, click on The Cat and the Fox.
As for our EBook #19994,it seems an anonymous translation and adaptation of fables by Æsop. However the translator could be G. F. Townsend. There is or will be a Gutenberg publication of Æsop by Townsend, but it isn’t EBook #19994. My own Æsop is a translation and adaptation by G. F. Townsend.
Fortunately, the mistake I made did not affect my brief interpretation of the fable about the cat and the fox. However, it had to be corrected and my readers had to know the post was as accurate as it could be.
[i](C’é/ taient/ deux/ vrais/ Tar/ tufs,// deux/ ar/ chi/ pa/ te/ lins.) = 12 feet (pieds). We have an alexandrin with a césure // after 6 pieds. Alexandrine verses have twelve pieds.