I will soon post an article about La Fontaine’s Preface to his first collection (Recueil) of Fables. He uses The Fox and the Goat as an example, hence the picture above. The Goat should be in the well, not the Fox. The Fox and the Goat were on friendly terms, and both entered the well to quench their thirst. The Fox climbed out of the well using the Goat’s shoulders and horns. He then preached and left without helping the Goat, his companion, escape.
The War in Ukraine
But that Fox is Vladimir Putin who invaded Ukraine for reasons that cannot justify the deaths of Ukrainians and their flight out of their country to escape. Putin’s army is also destroying public and private quarters. It could be that we are seeing the natural face of Vladimir Putin, but something may have gone very wrong. I doubt very much that he will win this war. He is also silencing Russian citizens who oppose the war. He has too few, if any, supporters. We cannot afford a Third World War,
It has been a long illness, but I have started to feel better. The pain is less severe, so I will attempt to return to normal activities.
I do not regret being vaccinated against Covid, but I could not have imagined how painful and disabling Pericarditis could be. I am now medicated, but I have not been prescribed a pain killer, except briefly, in Magog. Moreover, this illness is in its 5th month, so I suspect Pericarditis will recur.
I have been in Magog for a week but will return to Sherbrooke on 17th March 2022. Sherbrooke is home, and work must be done to my bathroom. I was asked to remove the old whirlpool bathtub because it could leak. Replacing the whirlpool tub was extremely expensive. Moreover, I must fight the Domino effect. The faucets are different; a hand shower is included. The tub surround was wood, which will not do unless the wood is treated. I considered buying an oval shower rod. But my idea was not popular. I should also replace the large vanity, the shower, and everything else, to match the tub. I must resist.
We are about to read the Preface to Jean de La Fontaine’s first collection of fables. The first collection (Recueil) consisted of six books published in 1668. The second collection, five books, was published ten years later, in 1678. In 1793, La Fontaine published his third collection, one book. He was born in 1621 and died in 1695, shortly after his third collection was published.
The apparently incoherent Preface validates Milo Winter’s illustration. Unfortunately, I have not found a picture of The Fox and the Goat by Félix Lorioux.
Milo Winter illustrated the Æsop for Children. In both Æsop’s fable and La Fontaine’s The Fox and the Goat (III.5), the Fox climbs out of the well using the shoulders and horns of the Goat. Therefore, the Goat should be inside the well.
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.
“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.
The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveller coming down the road, and the Sun said, “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveller to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.”
So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveller. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveller wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair.
Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveller, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on.
Kindness effects more than severity.[i]
Gentleness does more than Violence
This seems a very innocent fable to which La Fontaine has given a lovely moral: “Plus fait douceur que violence.” (“Gentleness does more than violence.”)
“The North Wind and the Sun” is not so innocent a fable and it constitutes good advice to parents, to individuals who interact with other individuals, i.e. all of us, and to nations. It is the diplomatic approach. According to Wikipedia, South Korea’s Sunshine Policy was rooted in this Æsopic fable. I rather like Walter Crane‘s “True strength is not bluster.” (See The North Wind and the Sun, Wikipedia)
But in Wikipedia, one can also read a story according to which Sophocles (497/6 BC – winter 406/5 BC) asked a boy to have sexual intercourse with him. The boy did as he was told. He laid on his cloak but, after the act, he fled with Sophocles’ cloak which Sophocles had used to cover himself and the boy.[ii]Euripides (c. 480 – 406 BC), who had also engaged in sexual intercourse with the same boy, made a joke out of this event. The joke reached Sophocles who ridiculed Euripides in an epigram mentioning Euripides’ indiscretions with a woman other than his wife and alluding to the North Wind (Borée FR), and the Sun (Phébus FR).
It was the Sun, and not a boy, whose heat stripped me naked;
As for you, Euripides, when you were kissing someone else’s wife
The North Wind screwed you. You are unwise, you who sow
In another’s field, to accuse Eros of being a snatch-thief.[iii]
The above story is probably apocryphal. But given that Sophocles and Euripides, two dramatists, lived in the 5th century BCE, we know that “The North Wind and the Sun” is an old fable. Æsop lived in c. 620–564 BCE. This fable is probably of Eurasian provenance.
As for the illustrations, they provide us with a good example of anthropomorphism. The elements, the wind and the sun, are humans in disguise. They speak.
Ferdinand Hodler (14 March 1853 – 19 May 1918) was born in Berne, Switzerland. He was soon the only surviving member of his family. All died of tuberculosis. This experience coloured his life. For instance, Hodler painted several portraits of his mistress and former model Valentine Godé-Darel during the years she was dying of cancer. The video I am inserting in this post documents her “disintegration.” Interestingly, Hodler also painted some 20 portraits of himself. These may be a chronicle of the gradual metamorphosis that characterizes human life.
After Ferdinand Hodler’s father died, his mother married a decorative artist. This may explain Hodler’s career as illustrator. He apprenticed at Thun and then moved to Geneva. He is associated with many movements: from realism to expressionism, including symbolism and Art Nouveau (see “Adoration III” at the bottom of this post). We have seen the work of Alphonse Mucha (24 July 1860 – Prague, 14 July 1939) who was a Czech Art Nouveau artist.
In order to improve his skills, Hodler travelled so he could study the work of other artists. He was particularly interested in the art of Hans Holbein.
Hodler painted several landscapes and portraits. Favourite subjects were women and people going about their daily activities, genre painting. However he was also an illustrator.
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.
This motif goes back to the Panchatantra and does not always feature the same cast, i.e. a Cat and a Fox. In Æsop, the Cat’s only trick is usually entitled The Fox and the Cat, but in La Fontaine the title is The Cat and the Fox, Le Chat et le Renard. We therefore have a reverse image, which is appropriate since the Cat, not the Fox, manages to get out of harm’s way.
A Fox was boasting to a Cat of its clever devices for escaping its enemies. “I have a whole bag of tricks,” he said, “which contains a hundred ways of escaping my enemies.” “I have only one,” said the Cat; “but I can generally manage with that.” Just at that moment they heard the cry of a pack of hounds coming towards them, and the Cat immediately scampered up a tree and hid herself in the boughs. “This is my plan,” said the Cat. “What are you going to do?” The Fox thought first of one way, then of another, and while he was debating the hounds came nearer and nearer, and at last the Fox in his confusion was caught up by the hounds and soon killed by the huntsmen. Miss Puss, who had been looking on, said: “Better one safe way than a hundred on which you cannot reckon.” (translated by G. F. Townsend)
Once a Cat and a Fox were traveling together. As they went along, picking up provisions on the way—a stray mouse here, a fat chicken there—they began an argument to while away the time between bites. And, as usually happens when comrades argue, the talk began to get personal.
“You think you are extremely clever, don’t you?” said the Fox. “Do you pretend to know more than I? Why, I know a whole sackful of tricks!”
“Well,” retorted the Cat, “I admit I know one trick only, but that one, let me tell you, is worth a thousand of yours!”
Just then, close by, they heard a hunter’s horn and the yelping of a pack of hounds. In an instant the Cat was up a tree, hiding among the leaves.
“This is my trick,” he called to the Fox. “Now let me see what yours are worth.”
But the Fox had so many plans for escape he could not decide which one to try first. He dodged here and there with the hounds at his heels. He doubled on his tracks, he ran at top speed, he entered a dozen burrows,—but all in vain. The hounds caught him, and soon put an end to the boaster and all his tricks.
Common sense is always worth more than cunning. (Gutenberg’s The Cat and the Fox)
La Fontaine’s The Cat and the Fox or Le Chat et le Renard
Townsend’s and Gutenberg’s Æsop’s fables are slightly different from one another. G. F. Townsend’s Æsopic cat is a female. As for Gutenberg and La Fontaine’s cat, it is a male and, although the fox is trapped by the dogs, in Gutenberg’s The Cat and the Fox and in La Fontaine’s Le Chat et le Renard, the fox is not killed by huntsmen. There are no hunters in and La Fontaine’s “The Cat and the Fox.” In La Fontaine, the dogs strangle their prey.
In Wikipedia’s entry on The Cat and the Fox, I read that there is a proverb attributed to ancient Greek poet Archilochus according to which “the fox knows many little things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing,” which presupposes that our cat may have been a hedgehog. I also read that the Panchatantra(Book 5) illustrates the dangers of being too clever. Two clever fish, Satabuddhi (hundred-wit) and Sahasrabuddhi (thousand-wit), are told by a frog, named Ekabuddhi (single-wit), not to worry if the fishermen who have visited and plan to return do come back. He, Ekabuddhi (single-wit), will protect them. But Ekabuddhi escapes as quickly as he can, and when the fishermen return, the clever fish are caught. (See The Fish That Were Too Clever.)
Kalila wa Dimna has a related story. Three fish, wise, clever and stupid, hear fishermen. The wise fish flees. The clever fish “plays dead” (AT 56) and the stupid fish is caught by the fishermen. Writing in the thirteenth century, Persian writer Rūmī used this story in Book IV of his Masnavi.In Rūmī’s opinion, one who does not have “perfect wisdom” had better play dead.
Three Fish, Kalila wa Dimna
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Wikipedia’s entry goes on to list the various animals who, in Eastern and Western Europe, have the “cat’s only trick” that makes them defeat a boastful fox or other animal. According to the author of the Wikipedia entry, La Fontaine finishes his fable with a practical moral. “Too many expedients may spoil the business.” (« Le trop d’expédients peut gâter une affaire. »)
It is true that having too many options may slow a person down; making a decision is difficult.
However, it would seem that we do not have a level playing field. The Cat has claws, and claws are what an animal needs to climb a tree. As for the Fox, however clever he may be, he does not have claws. There is not much the Fox can do except enter a foxhole. We can compare three fish, but a cat is a cat and a fox is a fox. We are dealing with different animals and different abilities.
So The Cat and the Fox is probably, first and foremost, about limitations. Both the Cat and the Fox have limitations, but it so happens that, in this particular fable, claws are needed. Therefore circumstances favor the Cat rather than the Fox.
Moreover, the Fox makes a terrible mistake. He boasts about his cunning tricks. Fables are comic texts where the deceiver is deceived. Had the Fox not boasted, he and the cat may not have been attacked by a pack of dogs.
This fable is very old and everybody knows it. But fables have a way of never going out of fashion. Moreover, I am using La Fontaine’s rewriting of this fable, which updates it considerably. It is now a seventeenth-century masterpiece.
La Fontaine’s immediate predecessor was Honoré de Racan, seigneur de Bueil, (February 1589 – 21 January 1670), a disciple of François de Malherbe (1555 – October 16, 1628), a critic, a poet, and a translator who all but dictated the rules of classical poetics. La Fontaine’s rendition of this fable was dedicated to his dearest friend, Monsieur de Maucroix (1619 – 1708).
On their way to market, the father and his son meet a man who makes fun of them and calls them: ânes, which is this case means “asses.” So the donkey is set on its four legs and the son rides on it. The donkey protests “en son patois” (in his dialect).
They then come across three merchants who give themselves the right to tell the son that his father should be riding on the back of the donkey, the father being older. So the father starts riding on the back of the donkey while the son walks.
A little later, they meet three girls who tell the father that he looks like a bishop (un évêque) and is acting like a calf (un veau: an idiot).
Tandis que ce nigaud [idiot], comme un évêque assis,
Fait le veau sur son âne, et pense être bien sage.
The miller, his son and the donkey, by Ferdinand Hodler (14 March 1853 – 19 May 1918)
A third group
The father’s first reaction is to tell the girls to go their own way, but he starts second-guessing his answer and sits his son on the donkey. No sooner is the son comfortably seated, that a third group exclaim that both the son and the father are crazy (fous). Can’t they see that they are killing the poor donkey?
So they let the donkey lead the parade and, once again, find a critic who calls the donkey, the son and his father “trois ânes,” or three asses, at which point the father says that whether he is blamed (blâmer) or praised (louer), he will do as he pleases: à ma “tête.”
Usually, this fable is given the following moral: one cannot please everyone. But I suspect there is a moral underneath this first moral. The moral beneath the first moral would be that they are encountering judgmental individuals. The people they encounter do not even ask for an explanation before they start throwing stones.
Can’t please everyone
Walter Crane‘s (1845 – 1915) composite illustration of all the events in the tale for the limerick retelling of the fables, Baby’s Own Aesop, an 1887 children’s edition of Æsop’s Fables or fables credited to Æsop (620 – 560 BCE). Doubt lingers as to whether or not there ever lived a Æsop. There is, however a Æsopic corpus. In this image, our fable is entitled “The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey.”
As I have mentioned in other blogs, usually La Fontaine lets animals talk, which is obliqueness,’ or dire-sans-dire, at its best. Given that this fable is the first of tome 1, book III, it is part of La Fontaine’s “poetics.” The first fable of each book includes comments on the writing of fables. This time, animals are not the ones who talk; the fable uses human beings, which makes it a lybistic fable, a fable featuring humans. However, before the ancient story is told, La Fontaine quotes Malherbe who says: “What, please everyone!” Contenter tout le monde!). Furthermore, Malherbe, not La Fontaine, is the one who tells the story. Malherbe was an authority.
Persons who have read earlier blogs know that there are ways of telling without telling or dire-sans-dire (to say without saying). “Le Meunier, son fils, et l’âne” is an example of dire-sans-dire. It is a discours oblique or, to quoteJürgen Grimm, a discours enveloppé, or wrapped up.
Moreover, those who have read my blog on “The Oak Tree and the Reed,” also know that there may be more than one moral to a fable. There may be an implicit moral underneath an ‘explicit’ moral. Good readers can grasp the moral underlying the moral, and my readers are good readers.
[i]François Chauveau (10 May 1613, Paris – 3 February 1676, Paris). Chauveau was the first artist to illustrate La Fontaine’s Fables. La Fontaine called on him to illustrate his first book of Fables, published in 1668.