Walter Crane, ill. Gutenberg #25433
Æsop & La Fontaine
The sites listed below may be very useful. Posts about a particular fable may contain classification or cataloging information, but not necessarily. The Project Gutenberg has published very fine collections of Æsop’s Fables, including illustrations. La Fontaine is also online, most successfully. These collections are old, but they are the classics.
- Æsop, Wikipedia
- Perry Index: Æsop’s Fables
- Laura Gibbs: mythfolkore.net/aesopica (Æsop’s Fables, various authors and collections)
- Aarne-Thompson Classification Systems: tales and motifs AT
- Aarne-Tompson-Uther Classification of Folk Tales ATU
Jean de La Fontaine (1621 – 1695)Musée La Fontaine, site officiel FR & EN (The complete fables of La Fontaine) 1. A Hundred Fables of La Fontaine, Percy J. Billinghurst http://www.gutenberg.org/files/25357/25357-h/25357-h.htm [EBook #25357] 2. The Fables of La Fontaine, Elizur Wright, J. W. M. Gibbs, 1882 
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/7241/7241-h/7241-h.htm [EBook #7241] 3. The Fables of La Fontaine, Walter Thornbury (transl.) and Gustave Doré (illus.), 1886
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/50316/50316-h/50316-h.htm [EBook #50316] 4. Fables in Rhyme for Little Folks, From the French of La Fontaine, 1918 W. T. (William Trowbridge) Larned (trans.), John Rae, illustrator http://www.gutenberg.org/files/24108/24108-h/24108-h.htm [EBook #24108] © Micheline Walker 1 March 2017
Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 1586
La Fontaine (VIII.10)
Perry Index of Æsop’s Fables 525 (The Bald Man and the Fly)
Æsop’s The Bald Man and the Fly
D. L. Alishman‘s The Foolish Man (ATU 1586)
Laura Gibbs’ Bestiaria Latina (mythfolklore.net/aesopica)
Nītiśāstra Oxford Reference
This fable by Jean de la Fontaine, was published in 1678, ten years after the publication of his first collection (recueil) of fables, 1668. His third and final collection was published in 1694, shortly before his death in 1695. We therefore have three collections (trois recueils) of fables by La Fontaine.
La Fontaine’s first collection of fables (6 books) reflects Æsop. Æsop did not write fables; he told fables. His fables therefore belong to an oral tradition and did not enter literature until Roman and Greek writers: Phædrus (1st century CE) and Babrius (2nd century CE) wrote his fables in Latin and Greek respectively. Future collections of Æsopic fables are rooted in Phædrus’ Latin publication or Babrius’ Greek publication and were rewritten several times by various European fabulists of whom there have been a large number. La Fontaine differs from other fabulists because of the manner in which he used the story. For La Fontaine, the story is truly skeletal. As a French author, La Fontaine is second only to Victor Hugo.
La Fontaine’s second collection of fables differs of his first collection in that it reflects the influence of Le Livre des Lumières or “Le Livre des lumières ou la Conduite des rois, composé par le sage Pilpay, Indien (1644) : lettres persanes et fables françaises,” The Book of Lights or the Conduct of Kings, by Pilpay: Persian Letters and French Fables, by the wise Bidpai.
Nītiśāstra: the Conduct of Kings
The Hitopadesha is a collection of Sanskrit fables, dated 1373, but it finds its roots in Vishnu Sharma‘s Sanskrit Panchatantra (3rd century BCE) and its Arabic translation by Persian scholar Ibn al-Muqaffa’ (d. 756-759), entitled Kalīla wa Dimna. In both the Panchatantra and Kalīla wa Dimna, the sage Bidpai/Pilpay tells fables concerning the conduct, or the behaviour, of kings (la conduite des rois).
Bidpai is the story teller, not Vishnu Sharma, the author of the Panchatantra, nor Ibn al- Muqaffa’, the translator into Persian of the Panchatantra entitled Kalīla wa Dimna. Therefore, stories are told within a frame story. Moreover, the Panchatantra, Kalīla wa Dimna, and the Hitopadesha contain fables that are lessons for a future king (see nītiśāstra, Oxford Reference).
A 1663 Indian miniature of the story from Rumi’s “Mas̱navī” (Walters Art Museum)
The Bald Man and the Fly
A fly settled on the head of a bald man and bit him. In his eagerness to kill it, he hit himself a smart slap.
But the fly escaped, and said to him in derision, “You tried to kill me for just one little bit; what will you do to yourself now, for the heavy smack you have just given yourself?”
“Oh, for that blow I bear no grudge,” he replied, “for I never intended myself any harm: but as for you, you contemptible insect, who live by sucking human blood, I’d born a good deal more than that for the satisfaction of dashing the life out of you!”
Translated by V.S. Vernon Jones in Gutenberg [EBook #11339]
Variants: Rumi’s “Mas̱navī”
Wikipedia’s entry on La Fontaine’s “L’Ours et l’amateur des jardins” (See The Bear and the Gardener) mentions other variants. The most immediate would be Rumi‘s 13th-century poem Masnavi. Rumi was a Persian Sufi poet.
La Fontaine’s “L’Ours et l’amateur des jardins,” [FR text], The Bear and the Amateur of Gardens [EN text] juxtaposes a human being and an animal. Animal fables are the better-known fables. Fables feature animals and nature in general: the wind, trees, mountains, stone, etc., all of which are anthropomorphic. Anthropomorphism, humans in disguise, is a form of obliqueness and, in the case of fables, an indirect lesson. Fables flourish when speaking directly is dangerous. For instance, La Fontaine lived under Louis XIV. His lion is king, but Louis was not a lion.
Our story is about an older man and a bear called Bruin, as in Reynard the Fox. Both the older gentleman, a garden lover, and the bear are very lonely. They meet and start keeping one another company. The gardener tends to his garden and the bear goes hunting. All is well until the bear uses a large stone (un pavé) to kill a fly that lands on the nose of his friend, the gardener. He kills the gardener.
La Fontaine’s moral is:
Rien n’est si dangereux qu’un ignorant ami ;
Mieux vaudrait un sage ennemi.
A foolish friend may cause more woe
Than could, indeed, the wisest foe.
Several morals can be associated with the Bear and the Garden Lover. La Fontaine’s moral is that a foolish friend is worse than an enemy. One could add that it is necessary to consider the consequence of one’s actions (ill-considered actions), a common moral. The moral also reflects the “Stoic” moderation in everything. (See The Bear and the Gardener, Wikipedia.)
The chief moral, however, is that we can hurt ourselves, and our friends, when we mean no harm. Bruin the bear kills the gardener who was his very best friend. Such was not his intention.
Anthropomorphism: a Twist
However, the moral can also be that animals differ from human beings, which is ironic because it seems a negation of anthropomorphism, or animals as humans in disguise. The bear cannot tell that the gardener is a human being that is not in disguise. The bear, however, is anthropomorphic. In this fable, the moral could be that humans are humans and beasts are beasts and the two shan’t mix, which is an ironic twist on the concept of anthropomorphism. Fables featuring human beings interacting with animals are called Libystic.
Russian fabulist Ivan Krylov
Robert Dodsley‘s Select fables of Esop and other fabulists (1764), entitled “The Hermit and the Bear”
“The Seven Wise Men of Buneyr”
Androcles and the Lion
Mary Anne Davis’ Fables in Verse: by Aesop, La Fontaine, and others, first published about 1818
Jefferys Taylor’s Aesop in Rhyme (1820)
“The Seven Wise Men of Buneyr”
The Wise Men of Gotham
Foolish Hans (Austria)
Giovanni Francesco Straparola‘s tale of Fortunio in Facetious Nights (13.4), written about 1550
(See The Bear and the Gardener, Wikipedia.)
One finds a different savour to La Fontaine’s second collection (recueil) of Fables. He had not abandoned his Æsopic source, but he had read Gilbert Gaulmin’s Le Livre des Lumières ou La Conduite des roys, a translation of Pilpay /Bidpai, published in 1644, as well as Rumi‘s Mas̱navī, a poem. Æsop told his fables in Greek, but if there ever lived an Æsop, he is called a Levantin and therefore originated from the Levant. Much of our worldly-wisdom is derived from the East.
Love to everyone ♥
- Medieval Bestiaries: the Background (22 February 2013)
Sources and Resources
- L’Ours et l’amateur des jardins in French (La Fontaine)
- The Bear and the Amateur of Gardens in English (La Fontaine)
- The Project Gutenberg [EBook #11339] (Æsop’s Fables)
- Site Officiel (bilingual) (La Fontaine’s Fables)
- Elizabeth Kolbert, Such a Stoic, The New Yorker
 Gutenberg [EBook #11339]
 (Musée La Fontaine) Site Officiel
 Jan M. Ziolkowski, Talking Animals: Medieval Latin Beast Poetry, 750-1150 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), p. 18.
© Micheline Walker
28 February 2017
Le Roman de RenartThe animals at Noble’s court Noble the lion is king Renart is the Fox Ysengrin is the Wolf Brun (Bruin) is the Bear the rape of Dame Hersent, Ysengrin’s wife Fière is the Lion’s wife Aarne-Thomson classification system (ATU) type 2 Perry Index number 17 Perry Index number 24
The picture featured above shows the Lion king, Noble. In Branch I, of the Roman de Renart, Le Jugement de Renart, the various animals, barons, meet at Noble the Lion’s court that doubles up as a court of justice. Ysengrin tells about his wife Hersent who has been raped when she got stuck in a hole. (The Roman de Renart is not in chronological order.)
The Lion does not think he can charge Renart with rape as the charge might not “stick.” There is a “history” (“branche” II)between Dame Hersent and Renart, which is known. Nevertheless, when she gets caught in a wall and Renart takes advantage of Dame Hersent, it is rape. It is in Renart’s “nature” (character) to avail himself of every opportunity.
Although a charge of “rape” might not “stick,” the other animals gathered at the Lion’s court come forward to tell Noble that Renart has wronged them time and again. For instance, he has eaten many of their relatives. Hearing their complaints, the king, Noble the lion, decides he now has sufficient reasons to have Renart brought to court, the king’s court of law. Renart’s trial and the discussion that precedes his being brought to trial is masterful. Renart’s trial is a building block in the development of European jurisprudence and has been identified as such.
Le Jugement de Renart: Reynard’s JudgementBruin the bear is the first ambassador, the second is Tyber the cat, and the third, Grimbart the badger Maupertuis: Renart’s fortress Renart the trickster Bruin’s “nature” Bruin loses the “skin off [his] nose”
Bruin the bear is the first “ambassador” to travel, on horseback, to Maupertuis, Renart’s, fortress. As you may suspect, Renart is not about to follow Bruin to court. Our red fox is the trickster extraordinaire, so he tells Bruin to put his snout down into a slit in a log that is secured by wedges. According to Renart, that is where Lanfroi the forester keeps his honey.
As it is known “by universal popular consent,” bears love honey. Our modern Winnie-the-Pooh gets stuck in a house because he has eaten so much honey he cannot get out the way he came in. He is like Æsop’s swollen fox (“The Fox and the Weasel.” Perry Index 24). To get out, Winnie-the-Pooh must first lose weight. Similarly, Bruin cannot resist looking down the opening in the oak tree he is told contains honey. That is in his “nature.”
By now, Renart is at a distance to protect himself from Lanfroi, but Bruin puts his nose inside the opening in the tree at which point the wedges are removed and he gets caught, or “coincé” (coin = wedge and corner). He sees Lanfroi and “vilains,” villagers, rushing to attack him. Therefore, knowing that he will lose his life if he does not flee, Bruin sacrifices the skin “off [his] nose,” gets on his horse, and travels back to court. When he arrives at court, he is bleeding profusely and faints. “Renart t’a mort” (Renart killed you,” says the king (br. I, v. 724).
The Comic Text, or the Steamroller
Bruin seems to be suffering. However, according to Dr. Jill Mann, the translator (into English) of the Ysengrimus, written in 1149 -1150, the birthplace of both Reinardus (Renart) and Ysengrimus (Ysengrin the wolf), the various animals of the Ysengrimus do not suffer.
The Ysengrimus, a 6,574-line fabliau written in Latin elegiac verses, is the Roman de Renart‘s (1274 – 1275) predecessor. Dr. Mann compares the fox and other animals to cartoons where a cat is flattened by a steamroller, but fluffs up again (Jill Mann, p. 11).
“The recrudescent power of the wolf’s skin [bear’s skin] is reminiscent of the world of the cartoon, where the cat who is squashed flat by a steam-roller, is restored to three dimensions in the next frame.” (Mann, p. 11)
In other words, Reynard the Fox is a forgiving comic text, which allows for devilish pranks that do not harm animals and human beings. They may scream, for appearances, but they return to their normal selves.
The Roman de Renart is translated
Authorship of Ysengrimus has been challenged, but the Ysengrimus exists and it was rewritten in various European languages, the languages of the Netherlands and German, in particular. At any rate, it is of crucial importance that famed translator and printer William Caxton (c. 1415 – c. March 1492) wrote an English version of Reynard the Fox. (See William Caxton – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.) (This translation is available online: The History of Reynard the Fox.)
From “goupil” to “renarT” and “Renard”
Reynard the Fox had to be popular in England as otherwise the expression “it’s no skin off my nose” could not be traced back, albeit hypothetically, to the Reynard cycle. In France, the Roman de Renart was so popular that goupil, the French word for fox, was replaced by Renart, but La Fontaine uses the modern spelling: renard. Now, if the fox lost his name goupil to become Renart, the Roman de Renart may also have influenced the English language.
Given the popularity and wide dissemination of Reynard the Fox, crediting a linguistic element to Reynard the Fox makes sense. In fact, crediting a linguistic element to a popular fable often makes sense. These stories were in circulation. Persons who could not read were told about Reynard, just as they were told Jacobus de Voragine‘s Golden Legend.
The Roman de Renart as a satire
According to Wikipedia,
“Ysengrimus is usually held to be an allegory for the corrupt monks of the Roman Catholic Church. His [Ysengrimus’] greed is what typically causes him to be led astray. He is made to make statements such as “commit whatever sins you please; you will be absolved if you can pay.”
One could buy indulgences and do penance in purgatory:
“purgatory, the condition, process, or place of purification or temporary punishment in which, according to medieval Christian and Roman Catholic belief, the souls of those who die in a state of grace are made ready for heaven.”
Obviously, the Roman de Renart was not written for children, but there are children’s adaptations of its many tales. In such versions, Renart does not rape Dame Hersent and when the wolf loses his tail to escape “vilains” who will kill him, he feels no pain. The Roman de Renart includes the tail-fisher motif (ATU 2; Perry Index 17 and (“The Fox with the Swollen Belly”) (Perry Index number 24). (See RELATED ARTICLES)
ConclusionATU 2: The Tail-Fisher (Aarne-Thompson-Üther classification system) Perry Index 17 (“The Fox without a Tail”) Perry Index 24 (“The Fox with the Swollen Belly”)
In A. A. Milne‘s Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore loses a tail, which may remind one of the Tail-Fisher (ATU 2), but the tail is not severed or caught in the ice. The tail is lost but will be found. As for Bruin the bear’s nose, it will grow back.
Such is not the case with the Æsopic fox or La Fontaine “Renard ayant la queue coupée.” Besides, Bruin’s nose is caught just as Ysengrin’s tail is caught in the ice which forces him to lose it in order to survive.
There are differences between ATU 2 and our Æsopic fables as well as similarities. But what is fascinating is that Bruin’s sad encounter with Renart and Lanfroi the forester may have helped shape the English language: “It’s no skin off my nose.”
Let this be our conclusion.
Wishing all of you a good week.
- The Cat’s only Trick (10 May 2013)
- How Eeyore loses a Tail, Painlessly and Perhaps Beautifully (5 May 2013)
- More on the Tail-Fisher (1 May 2013)
- Another Motif: The Tail-Fisher (29 April 2013)
- A Motif: Getting Stuck in a Hole (16 April 2013)
- The Velveteen Rabbit & Animism (30 April 2012)
- Another Motif: Playing Dead (20 April 2012)
- The Topsy-Turvy World of Beast Literature (31 October 2011)
- Reynard the Fox: the Judgement (25 October 2011)
- Reynard the Fox: the Itinerant (23 October 2011)
Sources and Resources
- Le Roman de Renart (BnF) (full text in FR)
- Caxton’s A History of Reynard the Fox can be read online
- The Tail-Fisher is ATU type 2
- (“The Fox without a Tail”) Perry Index 17
- (“The Fox with the Swollen Belly”) Perry Index 24
 Jean Dufournet & Andrée Méline (traduction) et Jean Dufournet (introduction), Le Roman de Renart (Paris: GF Flammarion, 1985), pp 72-79.
 Jean Subrenat, “Rape and Adultery: Reflected Facets of Feudal Justice in the Roman de Renart,” 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, 2000), pp. 16-35.
 Jill Mann “The Satiric Vision of the Ysengrimus,” in Kenneth Varty, ed. op. cit, pp. 1-15.
 Ysengrimus, Wikipedia – the free encyclopedia.
 “purgatory”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 04 oct.. 2014
 “A. A. Milne”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 05 oct.. 2014 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/383024/AA-Milne>.
Classification of Canadian Literature in French
Until recently, Canadian Literature in French was divided into four periods. This has changed.
The Literary Homeland (1837-1865): Un Pèlerinage au pays d’Évangéline, 1855
A few years ago, the period of French-Canadian literature during which l’abbé Casgrain’s books were published was called la “Patrie littéraire” or the “Literary Homeland” and it took us from 1760 (the battle of the Plains of Abraham)[i] to 1895.
That period is still called the “Literary Homeland,” but it begins in 1837 and ends in 1865. It has been shortened by seventy-seven (77) years now labelled “Canadian Origins” (1760-1836).
The “Messianic Survival” (1866-1895)
Henri-Raymond Casgrain‘s Pèlerinage au pays d’Évangéline was published in 1855. It was therefore written eleven years before the start of the next period currentled called: “Messianic Survival” (1866-1895). However, Un Pèlerinage au pays d’Évangéline does underline the importance of the priest as leader in the organisation of a territory, in our case, Acadie under l’abbé Sigogne and other French émigrés priests sent by England to the seminary in Quebec city (Lower Canana).
Exile and the Establishment of Roots (1896-1938): Maria Chapdelaine, 1914
As for Maria Chapdelaine, it is now classified in a period of French-Canadian literature called “Exile and the Establishment of Roots (1896-1938).” Where Maria Chapdelaine (1916) is concerned this classification is accurate, but only to the extent that classifications can be correct. Formerly it was included in a period called: “Vaisseau d’or [the title of a poem] et Croix du chemin [road side crosses]” (1895-1938)
What may be good to remember about Maria Chapdelaine is
that Maria’s choice is the choice of a patriot, and
that her choice is also the choice the Church advocates.
Not that Maria is a nationalist. The poor girl would not know anything about nationalism or any “ism,” but she nevertheless makes the patriotic choice in deciding to marry a settler. Colonisation was a way of keeping French Canadians in their province, in their parish, and farming.
Priests feared that once a French Canadian settled in the United States, he and members of his family would cease to be good Catholics and would no longer speak French. In all likelihood, this is what motivated the colourful Curé Labelle (November 24, 1833 – January 4, 1891) to urge people to go north and to create land: faire de la terre, faire du pays.
* * *
New France: farming as a priority
I should note moreover that even in the earliest days of New France, France saw its colony as a colony of farmers. Samuel de Champlain had managed to convince Henri IV, le bon roi Henri, to move the colony from the Port-Royal in Acadie (in the current Nova Scotia) to what is now the province of Quebec. As well, Champlain explored the great lakes. Moreover, he engaged in fur trading, but Louis XIII, no doubt acting on the advice of Richelieu and Marie de Médicis, Henri IV’s widow, ordered Champlain to stop exploring and to govern instead. So Champlain was Governor of New France and New France was a nation of farmers.
In short, Maria Chapdelaine, 1916, is a “roman du terroir,” a regionalist novel, extolling the virtues of farming. There would be other such novels, the last of which was published in 1938: Ringuet’s Trente Arpents.
So far, we have therefore examined works belonging to two periods of Canadian Literature in French:
1. The Literary Homeland or Patrie Littéraire (1837-1865): Un pèlerinage au pays d’Évangéline (1855) and
2. Exile and the Establishment of Roots (1896-1938): Maria Chapdelaine, 1916. During this period French-speaking Canadians were either leaving Canada or settling in new areas, the North mainly. For instance some sons became voyageurs. The family farm can no longer be divided, so they must find other means of making a living. But farming remains the mission of French-speaking Canadians.
3. But, I have also touched on a third period: The Messianic Survival (1866-1895). Priests are organizing a new Acadie.
But, for the time being, our plate is full. We pause. I am including an Ave Maria because as Maria Chapdelaine senses her François is in danger, she recites a thousand Ave Marias.
This is not a new post, but it is a clearer one. I cannot presume you already knew about the mythic, yet very real Évangéline, or Maria Chapdelaine.
[i] The Battle of the Plains of Abraham, 1759, opposed the French, under the Marquis de Montcalm and the English, under General Wolfe. The English won and four years later, in 1763, Nouvelle-France became a British colony.© Micheline Walker 27 January 2012 WordPress