- beast epics
- speaking animals
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 animals have 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––6,574 lines of elegiac couplets––Latin mock epic 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”
- George Orwell
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 (2.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, were 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.
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.
For in this boundless universe
Ther’s none that talketh, simpleton or sage
More eloquent at home than in my verse.
Everything does speaks. 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 .”
Zoomorphism: les Hybrides
- composite animals or hybrid creatures
- mythological and mythical animals
- aetiological texts
- 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.
- theriantropic beasts
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 Metamorphoses and Berber Latin writer Apuleius (c. 124 – c. 170 CE) wrote The Golden Ass, which contains the lovely tale of Cupid and Psyche. Lucius, the protagonist of The Golden Ass, is mistakenly transformed into an ass when attempting to be transformed into a bird.
Beast literature features therianthropic animals, who are the victims of a curse. Beast in Beauty and the Beast is a therianthropic being. Enchantment is central to fairy tales. But shapeshifting animals bring to mind the werewolf (le loup-garou), a lycanthrope, rather than fairy tales.
Animals as Types
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 an 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 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.
- Greek Myths and Graffiti Murals, collaboration with Resa McConagy (La Audacia de Aquiles)
- Greek Myths and Graffiti Murals, collaboration with Resa McConagy (La Audacia de Aquiles)
[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.
© Micheline Walker
6 March 2017
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
This post provides information on my “pages,” but Syria is on my mind. I do not have enough information to write a post about the latest events in Syria. These are unfolding events. I must wait.
There are pages at the top of my site. They are lists of posts on a specific subject. I will be adding new posts to those lists, but my pages are now usable.
For example, one page is a list of posts on La Fontaine’s fables. If one of La Fontaine’s fables is also an Aesopic fable, the Aesopic fable is told and numbered according to the Perry Index. Several fabulists have written Aesopic fables and several artists have illustrated these fables. If you require information concerning other fabulists and the text of their fables, I would suggest you use Laura Gibbs’ site. Professor Gibbs also lists illustrators. (See Sources and Resources, below.)
I have written posts on the Medieval Bestiary and posts on Beast Literature (theory, genres, etc.). These are not listed, but they will be.
France has a website devoted to Jean de La Fontaine. It is bilingual site (French and English). If you click on the French flag, you will access all of La Fontaine’s fables in French. Conversely, by clicking on the British flag, you will access an English rendition of the fables. The sidebar is a menu leading not only to a translation of the fables, but also to related topics.
I did not realize readers could comment on “pages.” Pages are like posts. One can like a page and one can comment. My sincere apologies to persons who left unrecognized comments.
The Middle East
- migrants drowning
There are no boots on the ground, but it seems Russian President Vladimir Putin has ‘entered’ Syria. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid a visit to President Putin about ten days ago asking for reassurance. However, given that relations between Russia and the United States have been strained for some time, President Putin could be goading the United States.
For instance, Russian President Vladimir Putin has asked the United States to leave Syria immediately. This is too high-handed a request. Moreover, it appears Russia is not targeting Isil. Here is a link to the Telegraph, UK.
More Syrian migrants have drowned: 17. They were the “humble.” http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/syrian-refugees-turkey-1.3245691
Sources and Resources
- http://www.mythfolklore.net/aesopica/ (Professor Gibbs)
Cat and Mice by Paul Bransom
(Photo credit: Bedford Fine Art Gallery http://www.bedfordfineartgallery.com/4069.html)
John Edwin Noble (Photo credit: Bridgeman Images)
This post is a continuation of recent posts featuring bells. It also belongs to a series on Fables and other works featuring animals.
Sources and Classification
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 tradition as 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
- Maximus Planudes
- 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 La Vie 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 three are 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.
Had Jean 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.
An Oral and a Learned Tradition
- Phaedrus 1st century CE (Latin)
- Babrius 2nd century CE (Greek)
- Flavius Avianus 5th century CE (Latin)
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 Internet Archive 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 firent concile 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.)
An English Tradition
- William Caxton (translator, printer, diplomat) (1484)
- Sir Roger L‘Estrange‘s Fables of Aesop and Other Eminent Mythologists (1692) (Abstemius’ Hecatomythium, 1495)
- 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, with those 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
- Romulus>a Romulus
- 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.
Belling the Cat
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.”
Warm greetings to all of you. ♥
Sources and Resources
Nora Fry YouTube
The Aesop for Children, Project Gutenberg [EBook #19994] EN
Laura Gibbs, Latina Bestiaria EN
The Fables of Pilpay, Internet Archive EN
Les Fables de Pilpay, philosophe indien; ou la Conduite des rois (Google Books) FR
The Fables of Phaedrus, Project Gutenberg [EBook #25512] EN
Robinson Ellis, The Fables of Phaedrus, Internet Archive EN
Ysopet-Avionnet, Internet Archive, p. 191 Latin FR
Aesop’s Fables by William Caxton, Internet Archive EN
Fables de Loqman le Sage, J. Derembourg, 1850 Internet Archive FR
 Stated in Les Fables de Pilpay, philosophe indien; ou la Conduite des rois. (See Internet Archive FR.)
 La Fontaine’s main source was Swiss fabulist Neveleti’s who used Avianus. Névelet or the anonymous Neveleti, did not write a “Belling the Cat.”
 Frederic Taber Cooper (ed.) and Paul Bransom (illust.), An Argosy of Fables, a Representative Selection from the Fable Literature of every Age and Land (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company Publishers, 1921).
Aaron Copland plays “The Cat & the Mouse”
© Micheline Walker
29 July 2015
President Obama was in Saudi Arabia, so many wondered if the President of the United States would attempt to save Raif Badawi.
King Salman’s Best Interest
It may be in King Salman’s best interest to release Raif Badawi. There are a large number of Saudi liberals who could be radicalized if Raif Badawi’s sentence is not revoked. Rigidity on the part of the King could therefore lead to civil unrest.
But do absolute monarchs think in this manner and would Saudis revolt? We are dealing with human beings belonging to a different culture. Human nature is a universal, but cultures differ.
Louis XIV and Molière
I am of course remembering Louis XIV of France. Never was absolutism so absolute as in the days of the Sun King. I wrote my PhD thesis on 17th-century playwright Molière and discussed his somber plays. The Misanthrope (4 June 1666) and Dom Juan (15 February 1665) are chief examples. But so is Tartuffe (12 May 1664).
In the Misanthrope, Alceste criticizes the court and says he would like to live in a desert. Molière saves the situation by giving Alceste a friend, Philinte, who is more tolerant of the faults of others. However, he agrees with Alceste:
Philinte to Alceste
Non, je tombe d’accord de tout ce qu’il vous plaît :
Tout marche par cabale et par pur intérêt ;
Ce n’est que la ruse aujourd’hui qui l’emporte,
Et les hommes devraient être faits d’autre sorte.
Tous ces défauts humains nous donnent dans la vie
Des moyens d’exercer notre philosophie…
(Le Misanthrope, V.i)
“No, I agree with you in all that you say. Everything goes by intrigue, and by pure influence. It is only trickery which carries the day in our time, and men ought to act differently. But is their want of equity a reason for wishing to withdraw from their society? All human failings give us, in life, the means of exercising our philosophy. It is the best employment for virtue; and if probity reigned everywhere, if all hearts were candid, just, and tractable, most of our virtues would be useless to us, inasmuch as their functions are to bear, without annoyance, the injustice of others in our good cause; and just in the same way as a heart full of virtue.” (See The Misanthrope online)
One cannot survive absolutism if one doesn’t learn to bend a little. In fact, one cannot survive without bending a little. Interestingly, Alceste is in love with Célimène who is the embodiment of what he loathes, which suggests a certain ambivalence on his part.
In Dom Juan (15 February 1665), no one can stop Dom Juan from being a conqueror. His conquests are the women he seduces. It has been suggested that Dom Juan is a Casanova. However, he is driven not by his sexual appetite, but by his need to conquer. He is cataloguing his “conquests.” No one can change him. His wife and his father appeal to him, to no avail. At one point, Dom Juan decides to hide behind the mask of feigned devotion, the perfect mask. However, heaven itself kills him: thunder, kills him.
In Tartuffe (12 May 1664), Tartuffe himself feigns devotion. Orgon, the pater familias who has adopted him, enjoys the fact that so pious an individual can turn every sin into a virtuous deed. (See Casuistry, RELATED ARTICLES). So he gives Tartuffe a box, a cassette, that contains evidence that Orgon was not always a loyal subject of the monarchs.
The play is particularly revealing. The characters manage to show Orgon, the heavy father, that Tartuffe wants to seduce his wife. They convince Orgon to hide under a table behind a table-cloth, so he can see for himself that his “saint” is flesh and blood, but it’s too late. Tartuffe has the incriminating cassette and owns Orgon’s possessions. The king, who sees all, sends an exempt to Orgon house. Orgon believes he is being arrested, but such is not the case. The king knows that Tartuffe has committed crimes. The exempt has come to arrest Tartuffe, not Orgon.
A “deus ex machina”
Therefore, a deus ex machina saves Orgon and his family. The powerlessness of Orgon’s family indicates that one can lose all.
Such is life under a despotic monarch. The King sees… A deus ex machina intervenes when a situation is desperate. A deus ex machina is a machine. When all else fails, God intervenes. Only the King can rescue Orgon and his family.
Tartuffe, or The Impostor, or The Hypocrite, premièred on 12 May 1664, as part of a celebration probably inaugurating Versailles: Les Plaisirs de l’Île enchantée (FR). One can assume that the feast, which lasted from 7 to 13 May 1664, was an attempt to outshine Fouquet’s inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, an event that took place on 17 August 1661. Les Plaisirs de l’Île enchantée was a lavish feast, but it could not match the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte.
Louis XIV and La Fontaine
After the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, Jean de La Fontaine wrote his “Élégies aux nymphes de Vaux” (FR) a poem in which he praised Fouquet and expressed hope that Louis XIV would be compassionate towards a patron of the arts. Fouquet owned Vaux-le-Vicomte, a castle more beautiful than the King’s Louvre, formerly the main residence of the Kings of France.
Given Fouquet’s imprisonment, Jean de La Fontaine chose prudence. He made animals and vegetation speak and he used old fables, Æsop‘s, who lived in Greece but was born a “Levantin.” Æsop’s fables date back to the Indian Panchatantra, retold in Arabic by Persian scholar Abdullah Ibn al-Muqaffa (750 CE) and given the title Kalīlah wa Dimnah. La Fontaine’s eloquence is a mute eloquence, une éloquence muette. His characters are mostly animals and vegetation. This is the manner in which he could tell the truth. Absolute monarchs will not admit to seeing themselves in a lion. As I have written elsewhere, the lion is king, but the King is not a lion.
Therefore criticism of the King was worded in a dire-sans-dire, (to say without saying). Writers had to write in an “oblique” fashion, as did La Fontaine, Molière, and scholars of the French Enlightenment. The word “oblique” had been used by Michel de Montaigne (28 February 1533 – 13 September 1592).
« Mes fantaisies se suivent, mais parfois c’est de loin, et se regardent, mais d’une vue oblique » Montaigne, Essais, III, 9. [eBook #3600]
(There is consistency to my fantasies, but at times from afar, and they look at one another, but in an oblique fashion. [my translation])
Note the use of the word fantaisies. That is an example of obliqueness in that Montaigne demotes himself. Montaigne’s obliqueness characterizes the writings of La Fontaine, Molière, Pascal (Lettres provinciales [1656 – 1657]), and the works of major figures of the French Enlightenment, not the least of whom was Voltaire (né François-Marie Arouet). Voltaire had found himself “embastillé” (thrown into the Bastille prison), for his attempts to promote tolerance.
In short, the King’s confessors, Bossuet in particular, were the only persons who could influence Louis. They preached that there was a God, the real God, above the King. So the divine rights of kings were not divine, as kings were mortals. They reminded the king that he would die: memento mori and that all was vanity: vanitas vanitatum. This argument did inspire restraint on the part of Louis XIV, but does King Salman have a confessor, a Bossuet (27 September 1627 – 12 April 1704), whose eloquence is unmatched?
Let us return to President Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia. Could President Obama speak about Raif Badawi?
I doubt it. King Abdullah had just died and the President went to meet the new king, King Salman. He had business to discuss with King Salman whose country is a member of the coalition fighting IS.
Had President Obama intervened, he may have been perceived as meddling. One cannot walk into someone else’s house, rearrange the furniture and settle in.
However, President Obama has now met King Salman. He travelled to his country. He was well received and the two leaders talked. The above photograph may be our best reassurance. Both leaders seem relaxed and in a jovial mood. So there may be a better future.
Let us hope Mr Badawi soon joins his family in Canada. The international community is pleading for his release. Nobel Prize laureates and scholars have asked for clemency. Kind-hearted people are ready to be flogged a hundred times each so Mr Badawi is spared further flagellation. Amnesty International is collecting names and funds.
Finally, we, in Canada, are waiting for Mr Badawi, but we cannot release him. That is for the Saudis to decide.
It has to end
Jihadi John is still beheading innocent people. There are constant beheadings, and Syrians have to leave their country.
In fact, President Obama is now being threatened, which was to be expected.
It’s time to end gratuitous beheadings and unimaginable violence.
“Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas.” (Eccl 1:2)
Yes, life is brief. So “gather ye roses while ye may.”
- Musings on the Origins of Christmas (22 December 2014)
- Vaux-le-Vicomte: Fouquet’s Rise and Fall (20 August 2013)
- Casuistry, or how to sin without sinning (5 March 2012)
Sources and Resources
- Les Plaisirs de l’Île enchantée (FR)
- Michel de Montaigne, Essais, Gutenberg [eBook #3600] (EN)
 Molière wrote: “Toutes les peintures ridicules qu’on expose sur les théâtres doivent être regardées sans chagrin de tout le monde. Ce sont miroirs publics, où il ne faut jamais témoigner qu’on se voie ; et c’est se taxer hautement d’un défaut, que se scandaliser qu’on le reprenne.” (La Critique de L’École des femmes, sc. VI.)
(Depictions that ridicule people on stage should not cause grief to anyone. These are public mirrors and people should never show that they see a reflection of themselves; they would be owning up to a fault in the utmost, if it should offend them to see it ridiculed. [my translation and rewording])
 See Les Fables de Pilpay ou la Conduite des Roys, 1698. (an eText)
Aesop's Fables, an Hitopadesha - the Conduct of Kings, David Badke, Eastern tradition, Emblems, Ibn al-Muqaffa, John Lydgate, Kalīla and Dimna, La Fontaine, The Dog and Its Reflection, The Panchatantra, Western tradition
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.
“[T]he Greeks followed the Orientals; I say ‘follow,’ because the Greek themselves confess that they acquired this sort of knowledge [cette sorte d’érudition] from Æsop, who was from the Levant (Levantin). (See Les Fables de Pilpay philosophe indien, ou la conduite des roys, the Avertissement, p. 10 approximately). It is an online Google book. Pilpay is the story-teller in Vishnu Sharma‘s Sanskrit Panchatantra.
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.)
When Jean de La Fontaine (8 July 1621 – 13 April 1695) chose to rewrite an Æsopic fable, he often used a translation into Latin by Névelet, Mythologia Æsopica Isaaci Nicolai Neveleti, Francfort, 1610. (See lafontaine.net.)
Sources: East and WestWest: 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.).
However, Æsop also told fables belonging to a parallel Oriental tradition. “The Dog that dropped the Substance for the Shadow” was retold in Arabic by Persian Muslim scholar Ibn al-Muqaffa’. His translation is entitled Kalīlah wa Dimna and dates back to 750 CE. Ibn al-Muqaffa’ used Borzōē‘s or Borzūya‘s Pahlavi‘s translation of the Sanskrit Panchatantra, 3rd century BCE, by Vishnu Sharma. (See Panchatantra – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.) The Panchatantra is an online publication. (See Internet Archives.)
The Oral vs the Learned Tradition: literacy
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 BidpaïLe 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 Panchatantra or 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’.” (The Panchatantra, Translator’s Introduction, p. 5).
The Panchatantra inspired a separate Hitopadesha, fables used to prepare a prince for his royal duties. As its title indicates, directions on the conduct of kings are included in the online Les Fables de Pilpay philosophe indien, ou la conduite des roys.
La Fontaine’s fable reads as follows: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 its Reflection” 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’s moral 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.
- La Fontaine’s Fables Compiled & Walter Crane, 2nd Edition (2 September 2014)
- “Le Chêne et le Roseau” (The Oak Tree and the Reed): the Moral (28 March 2013)
Sources and Resources
- Digital Books Index
- The Medieval Bestiary (David Badke)
- D. L. Ashliman: Folklore and Mythology Electronic Text
- Wikipedia: La Fontaine’s Fables (list and links)
- The Baldwin Project: The Dog and Its Image
- the Panchatantra is an online publication for children. EN
- the Panchatantra is an Internet Archives publication. EN
- Les Fables de Pilpay philosophe indien, ou la conduite des roys (Google book) FR
- Wikipedia – the free encyclopedia: The Dog and Its Reflection
- Wikipedia – the free encyclopedia: John Lydgate (c. 1370 – c. 1451)
- Wikipedia – the free encyclopedia: Geoffrey Whitney (c. 1548 – c. 1601)
- Emblems: see Emblem Book
- Geoffrey Whitney’s Book of Emblemes.
- Fables in Rhyme for Little Folks, From the French of La Fontaine by W. T. Larned, Illustrated by John Rae Project Gutenberg [EBook #24108]
- Robert Deryck Williams, “Virgil.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 09 Sep. 2014. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/629832/Virgil>.
Swan, Rush and Iris, by Walter Crane (1845-1915)
Bodycolour and Watercolour, England, 1875
© V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
SourcesProject Gutenberg Internet Archives Bestiaria Latina Wikipedia – the free encyclopedia or Wikipedia the Encyclopædia Britannica (online)
I spent a lifetime in the classroom and wish to praise initiatives such as the Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archives. I didn’t have those precious tools. Æsop’s fables are available online, including lovely illustrations one can also use for to illustrate La Fontaine’s retelling of an Æsopic fable. As for Bestiaria Latina or mythfolklore.net, it is a rich and accurate source of information and also leads to texts. Needless to say, Wikipedia – the free encyclopedia is an excellent and exhaustive source of information as is the monumental Encyclopædia Britannica.
I had prepared a long and informative article that contained a list of illustrators. There was a Golden Age of Illustration (1880 – 1920) and a Golden Age of Children’s Literature (see also Artcyclopedia and Pinterest). However, my post disappeared, with the exception of the earliest draft which, fortunately, contained a list of the e-texts I use most frequently. Posting that information will suffice.
In fact, I also lost a second post, in its entirety. It was about the Middle East. I still feel that no single nation should fight terrorism. It is a global threat. The terrorist who killed James Foley and Steven Sotloff is a Londoner.
There have been too many lives lost or destroyed since 9/11 and a former administration accrued a huge debt. Such ideologies as Manifest Destiny and Exceptionalism are flawed and they have led to unjustifiable meddling. Terrorists are not a nation; they’re a scourge. Therefore, the wars waged in the 2000s were catastrophic.
I wonder if releasing the prisoners detained at Guantanamo would help put an end to this nightmare? The journalists held in captivity must be rescued or more will die. I feel so sorry for the families, friends and colleagues of these victims.
Having written the above, I trust President Obama and so do most world leaders. He has earned their respect and their admiration. I should add that Americans elected him to the presidency of their country, the United States of America.
This is a very short post, but I do wish all of you an excellent week.
The Project Gutenberg Collection
- [EBook #11339] Æsop’s Fables, translated by V. S. Vernon Jones, intro. G. K. Chesterton, ill. Arthur Rackham, 1912
- [EBook #19994] The Æsop for Children, illustrated by Milo Winter, 1919
- [EBook #21] Æsop’s Fables by Aesop, translated by George Fyler Townsend (no date; no illustrations)
- Arthur Rackham (19 September 1867 – 6 September 1939) [EBook #11339] Æsop
- John Rae (Pinterest) La Fontaine [EBook #24108]
- John Rae Neill (12 November 1877 – 19 September 1943)*
- Milo Winter (7 August 1888 – 15 August 1956) [EBook #19994] Æsop for Children
- Percy J. Billinghurst, ill. La Fontaine [EBook #25357]
* Could John Rae (ill.) be John Rae Neill (ill.) (12 November 1877 – 19 September 1943)?
La Fontaine, Jean de (1621 – 1695)
- [EBook #24108] Fables in Rhyme for Little Folks, by Jean de La Fontaine, translated by John William Trowbridge Larned, ill. John Rae or John Rae Neill (1918) (Wikipedia)
[EBook #25357] A Hundred Fables of La Fontaine. Percy J. Billinghurst, ill.
- Musée Jean de La Fontaine (FR & EN) all Fables (complete)
For La Fontaine, my favourite site is the Musée Jean de La Fontaine. It is La Fontaine’s official and bilingual (French-English) internet site.
La Fontaine wrote many Æsopic fables, so illustrations inspired by Æsop’s fables may also be used to illustrate La Fontaine’s retelling of fable by Æsop.
On the Market
- [EBook #11339] Æsop’s Fables, translated by V. S. Vernon Jones, intro. G. K. Chesterton, ill. Arthur Rackham, 1912
- [EBook #25357] A Hundred Fables of La Fontaine, Percy J. Billinghurst, ill.
The video features Walter Crane’s illustrations of fairy tales rather than fables, but the two genres are related.© Micheline Walker September 7, 2014 WordPress
The Æsop for Children
Classification:Perry Index: 104 Aarne-Thompson type 57 Related narratives: Aarne-Thompson Text(e): Le Corbeau et le Renard (1.I.2) The Raven and the Fox (1.I.2) or The Fox and the Crow Images are not to be removed from this post as proper credit may not be given. Photo credit: John Rae [EBook #24108]; Milo Winter [EBook #19994]; Arthur Rackham [EBook #11339]
A definition of Fables
“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.htmlPerched 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 Moral“The flatterer, my good sir, Aye lives on his listener[.]” (Sir Fox)
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 le chantage. 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 Le Poète 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 The Fables 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.
But I must go!
SourcesThe Fables of Pilpay (online) EN Les Fables de Pilpay ou la Conduite des roys (online) FR http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k5674720s http://mythfolklore.net/aesopica/oxford/104.htm Related narratives: Aarne-Thompson
- “The Cock and the Pearl:” La Fontaine cont’d
- The Fox and Crane, or Stork
- “Le Chêne et le Roseau” (The Oak and the Reed): the Moral
- La Fontaine’s Fables Compiled & Walter Crane
Le Corbeau et le RenardMaître 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.
Louis-Nicolas Clérambault (19 December 1676 – 26 October 1749). Clérambault wrote music based on La Fontaine’s fables. The pictures show le Mont-Saint-Michel, France. Magnificat (3 voices & basso continuo) © Micheline Walker 24 October 2013 WordPress The Raven and the Fox, illustrated by John Rae [EBook #24108] 1. A Hundred Fables of La Fontaine, Percy J. Billinghurst http://www.gutenberg.org/files/25357/25357-h/25357-h.htm http://www.gutenberg.org/files/25357/25357-h/25357-h.htm#Page_60 [EBook #25357] 2. The Fables of La Fontaine, Elizur Wright, J. W. M. Gibbs, 1882  http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext05/8ffab10h.htm (Fable 2) “The Raven and the Fox” [EBook #7241] (1882) 3. The Fables of La Fontaine, Walter Thornbury, transl. Gustave Doré, ill.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/50316/50316-h/50316-h.htm [EBook #50316] (1886) 4. Fables in Rhyme for Little Folks, From the French of La Fontaine W.T. (William Trowbridge) Larned (transl.), John Rae, ill. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/24108/24108-h/24108-h.htm [EBook #24108] (1918) Photo credit: Site officiel 1. V. S. Vernon Jones (transl.), G. K. Chesterton, Arthur Rackham (ill.) http://www.gutenberg.org/files/11339/11339-h/11339-h.htm#036 http://www.gutenberg.org/files/11339/11339-h/11339-h.htm “The Fox and the Crow” [EBook #11339] (1912) 2. Harrison Weir, John Tenniel and Ernest Griset, illustrators http://www.gutenberg.org/files/18732/18732-h/18732-h.htm “The Fox and the Crow” [EBook #18732] 3. The Æsop for Children, Milo Winter, illustrator http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milo_Winter http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19994/19994-h/19994-h.htm http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19994/19994-h/19994-h.htm#Page_101 “The Fox and the Crow” [EBook #19994] (1919)