The Aesopic Fable

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The Aesopic Tradition Innon-English-Speakingcultures

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Joseph R. Berrigan (essay date 1978)

SOURCE: "The Latin Aesop of Ermolao Barbaro," in Manuscripta, Vol. XXII, No. 3, November 1978, pp. 141-48.

[In the following essay, Berrigan looks at the Italian Renaissance tradition of teaching languages as well as morals via translations of Aesop's works.]

The Latin translators of Aesop in the first half of the Quattrocento comprise a small group of Italians, whose contributions to the field of fable literature have been the subject of study for the past century by both classical and Renaissance scholars. A particularly significant cluster of articles has been authored by Professor Chauncey E. Finch.1 Before taking up Ermolao Barbaro and his apologues, I would like to provide the context of the Renaissance fable and the several men who busied themselves with Aesop in the early Quattrocento.

Our starting point has to be that the fable played a significant role in early Byzantine education as well as in the initial stages of a child's instruction in the medieval West.2 Anyone familiar with the character, the inherent charm of apologues would acknowledge the wisdom of coating the painful first steps of acquiring Greek with the sugary delights of the Fox and the Grapes, let us say. How much more sensible this approach is than the familiar introduction of a student to Greek through Xenophon or Latin through Caesar! The schoolmasters of the early Quattrocento were intimately acquainted with the nature, goals, and methods of Byzantine education. Adapting them to the exigencies of the Italian classroom was especially the work of Guarino da Verona, who had followed Chrysoloras to Constantinople and lived in his home for several years.3 We have the firmest of evidence that Guarino employed Aesop in his introductory Greek lessons. Of this evidence more in a little while.4 Aesop must have had a very powerful impact upon Guarino, for he named his second son, apparently born in September of 1422, Aesop or Esopo.5 Filosa is surely right in pointing to the schools of Guarino and Vittorino as the centers of Aesopic diffusion.6 For of the six early translators or composers of apologues four are associated with these two schools: Barbaro and Valla with Guarino, Ognibene and Correr with Vittorino. The other two are apparently independent: Leonardo Dati of Florence and Rinuccio Aretino. I suppose of them all the most important is thelast, for his translation of Aesop was printed in 1474 in Milan by Buono Accursio along with the Greek text of the fables that formed the basis of the vulgate Aesop until the early nineteenth century.7 Rinuccio apparently translated these fables in 1488.8 Unlike all the other fables we are dealing with, Dati's are written in verse. They remained unpublished until 1912 when they were presented on the basis of a single, quite faulty German manuscript.9 They are dedicated to Gregorio Correr; this helps us date Dati's translation to the very late 1420's or early 1430's.10 Correr was working on his own fables in 1429 and was in Rome, where he could have encountered Dati, and writing his satires in 1433." What I find particularly intriguing about this connection is Dati's subsequent composition of the fourth tragedy of the Renaissance, the Hiensal, and its possible inspiration by Correr's earlier tragedy, the Progne.12 The ring then is closed. Dati translated and versified forty fables. They turn out to correspond to the first forty-four fables of Vat. Pal. gr. 195 with the interchange of two fables and the omission of four.13

As Professor Finch pointed...

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out in his article on the fables of Gregorio Correr, the two sets of apologues translated in the school of Vittorino are related to each other.14 Ognibene da Lonigo composed his set first and dedicated them to Gian Francesco Gonzaga, the lord of Mantua.15 Shortly thereafter Ognibene's fellow student, Gregorio Correr, fresh from his labors over the Progne, composed his set of fifty-nine fables.16 He claims, in his own preface, that he has composed a full sixty, but there are only fifty-nine. Subsequently, he would revise both the preface, by shortening it and excising all reference to Ognibene and his fables, and his apologues, by reducing them to fifty-three.17

Like the fables of Correr those of Barbaro still remain unpublished. As far as I have been able to discover, they exist in only a single manuscript, British Museum, Additional MS 33782.18 This manuscript came to London in the very late nineteenth century from Verona. From every indication it is a holograph and therefore similar to the Marciana MS of Correr.19 Unlike Correr's fables those of Barbaro are translated directly from the Greek and therefore resemble the other collections of apologues. Before turning to the contents of the manuscript, I would like to say a few words on Ermolao Barbaro himself.20 He is another of those young Venetians who left their city to study under Guarino or Vittorino. There is some disagreement over when he was born: Sabbadini suggests that he was born in 1407 or 1408.21 The most recent research indicates a somewhat later date, 1410.22 If we take that as the correct year, then he would have been a year older than Vittorino and only twelve when he translated his fables, for we are sure from the colophon of the manuscript that he finished this work in 1422.23 His family, too, was quite distinguished. His uncle Francesco had studied under Guarino, too, had gone to Florence, and then written one of the important tracts of the early Quattrocento, the De re uxoria24 Like Correr, Ermolao Barbaro would enter the clergy; he became a very active prelate in the service of a series of Renaissance popes. Interestingly enough, when he was not on diplomatic missions or in Rome, he lived in his episcopal city, Verona, the same city that Correr called home for most of his later life. Barbaro, too, was opposed to a world dominated by classicism and wrote a book against some of the classic poets.25

The British Museum MS consists of a preface and thirty-three fables. That number should ring bells in the minds of Renaissance Aesop scholars, since it is the same number of fables that Valla would turn into Latin in 1438. The fables are dedicated to the famed scholar-monk, Ambrogio Traversari, whom Barbaro had met on a trip to Florence. Consequently, the preface has already been published in the Epistolario of Traversari, edited by Mehus in 1759.26 In it Barbaro explains that Traversari had encouraged him to pursue the study of Greek and so he was dedicating these first fruits of his youthful efforts as a monument and pledge of their mutual love to Traversari. He alludes to the several other scholars who had inspired him by their example as much as their words to embark upon the pursuit of Greek. He mentions Carlo Marsuppini but particularly emphasizes the role of Niccolo Niccoli, who had played the role of a Varro to him in his generous nurturing of youthful talent. Once he had been convinced that he should study Greek, Barbaro did not have to look around for some new teacher; he had only to return to the man who had been educating him in Latin for several years, Guarino da Verona, his father, as he says, and his teacher. "Now in the same way I hoped to acquire the knowledge of Greek letters, zealously to make this knowledge part of myself, then to fix it as the basis of a good and happy life."27

Barbaro then explains that he had recently translated some of Aesop's fables with Guarino and dedicated them to Traversari, not because Traversari would need a Latin translation to help him decipher the Greek but because, by sending them to Traversari, he was sure to win praise for himself. "Just as fruit placed in precious bowls or golden vessels acquire the finest embellishment from these receptacles, so if these fables are deposited and lodged with you, the most excellent of vessels, aglow with a great variety of jewels, they will be adorned, by your judgment and witness, with the choicest honor and glory."28 Barbaro then appends a brief encomium of Aesop and his fables, the use that Plato and Plutarch had made of them, and their sturdy contributions to the moral character of their readers. After the thirty-three fables Barbaro concludes the work with the colophon I have already alluded to: "Here end the fables of Aesop translated by me, the young Ermolao Barbaro, a patrician of Venice, on October 1, 1422, under the supervision of Guarino da Verona, my father and teacher."29 From preface, fables, and colophon we can surely make the conclusion that Guarino employed Aesop in the very early stages of teaching a boy Greek.

Barbaro had only recently decided to pursue that language, these fables were the first fruits of that study, they were written as exercises under the direction of Guarino. The place of Aesop in Renaissance Greek and subsequently Latin education was clearly established by Guarino and would have a long and happy life. In passing, I would like to mention an incident from the mid-nineteenth century, when young Milton Humphreys, subsequently to become one of America's greatest classicists, left his Appalachian home and went to Charleston, Va., as it was then before the Civil War. There he was introduced to Aesop in Latin and was so delighted that he rolled off the bed laughing.30

As I have intimated, even before reading the British Museum MS my suspicions had been aroused by the number of fables translated in 1422 by Barbaro: thirty-three. I wondered if it were only a coincidence that Valla too had translated thirty-three. I am a devoted believer in serendipity but not when it comes to Renaissance Latin translations of Aesop. My suspicions this time turned out to be entirely justified, for the fables translated by Barbaro are precisely the same as the fables translated some sixteen years later by Valla. They are the same in number, in order, and in subject matter. A note on the fly-leaf of the British Museum manuscript does indeed note the relationship of the two translations and provide the equivalent references for the Hudson edition of Aesop. The note, written in a nineteenth-century hand, makes a crucial mistake, however, for it says that Valla had translated these same fables antea. Surely it was postea, around 1438.31

Because of their identity with the Valla fables, these efforts by Barbaro should be familiar to Aesopic scholars. There is a generous bibliography on Valla and Aesop, with the names of Achelis and Finch being the most prominent.32 Its conclusions on the Greek manuscripts of Aesop, those which are closest to Valla's translation, would also apply to Barbaro's, given the identity of the fables presented.

An obvious conclusion from what I take the facts to be is that Valla got the Greek text he translated from Guarino or else accidentally came across a text that was the same as the one employed by Guarino in his teaching. I find the latter supposition untenable, particularly when we remember that Valla says that he obtained his copy of Aesop from a shipwreck.33 Surely, from what we know, the borrowing of a codex from Guarino makes more sense than the unlikely, really unbelievable linkage of a shipwreck and the identity of manuscripts being translated. Even serendipity has its credible limits. There is nothing inherently absurd in suggesting that Valla obtained a text of Aesop from Guarino. They were very good friends. Guarino thought very highly of Valla. He wrote to the younger man upon receiving his diatribe on Bartolus, "Laurenti, laurea, et Valla, vallari corona omandus es."34 We know of this cordial relationship and can point to at least one occasion, in 1433, when Valla visited Guarino in Ferrara for two days.35 To summarize, we know from Barbaro and his fables that Guarino had a Greek Aesop with 33 fables; we know that Valla subsequently translated a Greek Aesop with the same 33 fables; we know that Valla and Guarino were friends and the former could very well have received the Aesop from the latter.

I do not wish to leave the impression that Valla published Barbaro's version or even used it. As you might expect, there is a great difference between the Latinity of the two translations. Barbaro was after all still a young school-boy when he did his translation, Valla was in his early thirties when he did his and he was already a master-stylist. Barbaro's fables have remained unpublished and to a great extent unread until now; Valla's enjoyed enthusiastic success throughout Renaissance Europe. There is apparently only one manuscript of Barbaro's Aesop; there are scores of copies of Valla's, both handwritten and printed.

The very uniqueness of Barbaro's translation is an argument for its being a holograph. The whole character of the manuscript supports that view. The handwriting is that of a child, perhaps a precocious child and one writing in the new humanistic style, but still a child. There are a number of misspellings, especially in the doubling or nondoubling of consonants, that bespeak its north Italian origin. There are several instances of mistranslation of particular Greek words but these are, after all, quite few in number. The remarkable thing is how close Barbaro remains to the Greek text, how clearly the Greek shines through.

Some thirty-six years later, Guarino's younger son, Battista, dedicated his own translation of Xenophon's Agesilaus to this same Ermolao Barbaro, by then bishop of Verona. In his preface he addresses Ermolao and asks, "What shall I say of your learning? Everyone knows that from your earliest years you were educated admirably, first under my father's direction and then under your uncle Francesco, in both Latin and Greek letters. From among all men I have chosen you to dedicate the first-fruits of my studies of the Greek language."36 From Aesop to Xenophon, from dedicator to dedicatee, from honoring the father to being honored by the son—such is the circle of Renaissance education that appropriately begins with a fable like that of the fox and the goat.


1 See his "The Alphabetical Notes in Rinuccio's Translation of Aesop," Mediaevalia et Humanistica, II (1957), 90-93; "The Greek Source of Lorenzo Valla's Translation of Aesop's Fables," Classical Philology, 55 (1960), 118-120; "The Fables of Aesop in Urb. Gr. 135," TAPA, 103 (1972), 127-132; "The Renaissance Adaptation of Aesop's Fables by Gregorius Corrarius," Classical Bulletin 49 (1973), 44-48.

2 Norman H. Baynes, The Byzantine Empire (London: Oxford University Press, 1925), p. 153; Carlo Filosa, La Favola (Milano: Vallardi, 1952), p. 75.

3 W. H. Woodward, Vittorino da Feltre and Other Humanist Educators (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1897), p. 17.

4 See below, note 29.

5 Remigio Sabbadini, ed., Epistolario di Guarino Veronese, III (Venice: R. Deputazione di storia patria, 1919), p. 148.

6 Filosa, pp. 75-76.

7 Ben E. Perry, Babrius and Phaedrus (Cambridge: Harvard University Press; and London: Heinemann, 1965), p. xvii.

8 T. O. Achelis, "Die Hundert asopischen Fabeln des Rinucci da Castiglione," Philologus, 83 (1928), 60.

9Rheinisches Museum, 67 (1912), 285-299.

10 T. O. Achelis, "Zu den asopischen Fabeln des Dati und Corraro," Rheinisches Museum, 70 (1915), 387; Otto Tacke, "Eine bisher unbekannte Aesopubersetzung aus dem 15. Jahrhundert," Rheinisches Museum, 67 (1912), 280.

11 J. R. Berrigan, "Gregorii Gorrarii Veneti Liber Satyrarum," Humanistica Lovaniensia, 22(1973), 10.

12 J. R. Berrigan, "Latin Tragedy of the Quattrocento," Humanistica Lovaniensia, 22 (1973), 1-9.

13 Paul Marc, rev. of "Eine bisher unbekannte Aesopubersetzung aus dem 15. Jahrhundert," by Otto Tacke, Byzantinische Zeitschrift, 21 (1912), 566.

14 Finch, "Corrarius," 45.

15 In his presidential address to the Classical Association of the Middle West and South in 1963 Professor Finch stated that it would not be difficult to establish the classification of the manuscript upon which Ognibene da Lonigo's version rests. Thanks to a grant from the Mellon Foundation and the kind assistance of the Knights of Columbus Vatican Film Library at Saint Louis University, I have been able to do so relatively simply. Vat. Ottobon. lat. 1223 contains the fables by Ognibene from f. 73r through f. 87r; his preface to Gian Francesco Gonzaga, the lord of Mantua, occupies f. 72, to f. 73r. Ognibene provides forty fables, and my examination of their sequence shows that they follow the order of Hausrath's Class Illa manuscripts. Even more specifically, they occur in the pattern of Vat. Barb. gr. 105. I hereby append the sequence in which these forty fables appear in the Barb. gr. MS: 1-1, 2-3, 3-4, 4-5, 5-6, 6-7, 7-8, 8-9, 9-10, 10-12, 11-13, 12-19, 13-21, 14-24, 15-26, 16-27, 17-29, 18-30, 19-31, 20-32, 21-33, 22-35, 23-36, 24-38, 25-41, 26-42, 27-43, 28-45, 29-47, 30-53, 31-57, 32-65, 33-71, 34-73, 35-78, 36-79, 37-87, 38-98, 39-99, 40-113. Both the Ottob. lat. and the Barb. gr. MSS were placed at my disposal in microfilm copies and are available in the Knights of Columbus Film Library at Saint Louis University.

16 Ottob. lat. 1223, ff. 92r-93v.

17 J. R. Berrigan, "The 'Libellus Fabellarum' of Gregorio Correr," Manuscripta, 19(1975), 131-138.

18 Sabbadini, p. 142.

19 Berrigan, "Liber Satyrarum," 12.

20 Other than Sabbadini, p. 142, there is the recent brief biography of Barbaro by E. Bigi in Dizionario biografico degli italiani, 6(Rome: Enciclopedia italiana, 1964), pp. 95-96.

21 Sabbadini, p. 142.

22 Bigi, p. 95.

23 See below, note 29.

24 Most conveniently accessible in Eugenio Garin, ed., Prosatori latini del Quattrocento (Milano: Ricciardi, 1952), pp. 103-137.

25 Bigi, p. 96.

26 Sabbadini, p. 142.

27 B.M., MS Add 33782, f. 4r.

28Ibid., f. 5r.

29Ibid., f. 39v.

30 Typescript autobiography, Alderman Library, University of Virginia, p. 124.

31 T. O. Achelis, "Die Aesopubersetzung des Lorenzo Valla," Munchener Museum, 2(1913), 242.

32 Finch, "Valla," 118-120; Achelis, "Die Aesopübersetzung," 239-278; Achelis, "Aesopus Graecus per Laurentium Vallensem traductus Erffurdiae 1500," Munchener Museum, 2(1913), 222-229; Achelis, "Die lateinischen Aesophandschriften der Vaticana und Laurentiana," Münchener Museum, 3(1914), 217-225.

33 Achelis, "Dati und Corraro," 387.

34 Sabbadini, p. 299.

35Ibid., p. 300.

36Ibid., p. 504.

Roseann Runte (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: "Reconstruction and Deconstruction: La Fontaine, Aesop and the Eighteenth-Century French Fabulist," in Papers on French Seventeenth Century Literature, No. 11, Summer 1979, pp. 29-46.

[In the following essay, Runte compares the Aesopic fable with the work of French writer Jean de la Fontaine, identifying this distinction: while Aesopic fables treat the reader as a student to be instructed, La Fontaine's fables in verse treat the reader as a coparticipant in interpreting the fable's meaning.]

"Une ample comedie a cent actes divers," La Fontaine thus characterized his collection of fables.1 Critics have not been remiss in exploring the dramatic qualities of these "scenes parfaites pour les caracteres et le dialogue."2 Dialogue has been explored primarily on the level of the plot line and in terms of the characters created by the fabulist: "Le Fabuliste fait de ses animaux ce qu'un Dramatique habile fait de ses Acteurs."3 However, a second level of exchange exists in the fables. This is the dialogue which the author maintains with his reader. The presence of an authorial persona has been noted since the eighteenth century. La Harpe, for example, stated that La Fontaine, "a tellement imprime son caractere a ses ecrits, et ce caractere est si aimable, qu'il s'est fait des amis de tous ses lecteurs."4 Marmontel suggested that the fabulist had designed a role for himself: that of a simple and credulous man to create an illusion by which to seduce the reader. La Fontaine was not a conteur, declared Marmontel, but "un temoin present a l'action et qui veut vous y rendre present vous-meme."5 Chamfort went a step further and exclaimed, "Que dirai-je de cet art charmant de s'entretenir avec son lecteur … ?"6 It is this art which we shall attempt to define.

La Fontaine has created three authorial personae: the translator, the commentator, and the author. As translator he denies authorship of the fables and sets the stage for the second persona who is thus free to comment on and react to both fable and moral discourse. As non-author, he may disagree with either the allegorical pretense or the moral conclusion. This persona often makes personal application of the moral and it is thus that "La Fontaine nous fait rire, mais a ses depens, et c'est sur lui-meme qu'il fait tomber le ridicule."7 The author as persona admits timidly to the creation of some fables such as "La Mort et le bûcheron." He is self-conscious of his art and extends his discussion of choice of character, form and style beyond the prologues and epilogues. A self-commentary extends through the entire collection. For example, he is concerned about length, "Je pourrais tout gater par de plus longs recits," (289) and correction of language, "J'ai regret que ce mot soit tropvieux aujourd'hui," (101). Finally, the author's presence in the text is indicated through the choice of stylistic devices including rhetorical figures and parenthetical expressions which imply an overall system of values and establish a personality. In the first two manifestations of the authorial persona, the first person singular is the referential axis of discourse. The last instance is impersonal but nonetheless indicative of an opinion either through an overt statement: "[Un lion] Manda des medecins; / II en est de tous arts" (184) or through the juxtaposition of opposites, the shortening of a line, the use of unexpected expressions, exaggeration and contrast, etc.

The translator's presence is evidenced through numerous statements of this nature: "Voici comme a peu pres Esope le raconte" (133), "Pilpay conte qu'ainsi la chose s'est passee" (306). The translator assumes a guise of humility before his illustrious predecessors as well as his reader.

The commentator is present on both an impersonal and on a personal level, maintaining in each instance a rapport with the reader. He introduces his plot with expressions such as, "J'ai lu" (88) and "le conte m'en a plu toujours infiniment" (232). He reflects on character, situation and moral: "je le crois" (232, 377), "j'entends" (259), "je ne vois point" (228). The personal contact paints a human portrait of the fabulist which corresponds to some extent to the legendary interpretation of the artist who was seen as a fablier, a bonhomme. "On adore en lui cette bonhommie, devenue dans la posterite un de ses attributs distinctifs, mot vulgaire anobli en faveur de deux hommes rares, Henri IV et La Fontaine."8 Just as the translator denies authorship, the commentator denies omniscience. He constantly underlines his human frailty and the limits of his prescience: "Je ne sais s'il avait raison" (86), "Concluons que la Providence / Sait ce qu'il nous faut mieux que nous" (135). He is naive and appears to believe that which the reader is too sophisticated to admit: "Quand pour expliquer comment un cerf ignorait une maxime de Salomon, il nous avertit que ce cerf n'etait pas accoutume de lire … nous rions, mais de la nouvete du poete, et c'est a ce piege si délicat que se prend notre vanite."9 This character is forgetful (not always able to recall his source); insouciant: "ce ne sont pas la mes affaires" (100); misogynous as in "Le Mal Marie"; indolent: "Une souris tomba … / Je ne l'eusse pas ramassee" (223); nostalgic: "ai-je passé le temps d'aimer?" (219); impractical and prone to reverie: "Solitude où je trouve une douceur secrète" (268); slightly anti-social lacking paternal instincts: "O père de famille / (Et je ne t'ai jamais envié cet honneur)" (267). In short, he admits imperfection and reveals his personal flaws to establish intimacy with the reader. By the same token he authenticates his persona on whose reality depends the illusion of veracity, which in turn lends interest to the tale and credibility to the moral.

The three personae address themselves to two readers. One is the critic against whom the second reader is asked to join forces with La Fontaine. The presence of the critic demonstrates the merits of the second reader with whom we are asked to identify and with whom La Fontaine dialogues. We are invited to be the friend of the author (213) and to scorn the critic: "Maudit censeur, te tairas-tu?" (52). We want La Fontaine to conclude his conte and are obviously separate from "les délicats" who are "malheureux! / Rien ne saurait les satisfaire" (52). An example of the exchange between the reader-commentator and the second reader is in the fable, "Le Lion et le Moucheron": "Quelle chose par Ia nous peut etre enseignée? [Author asks reader] J'en vois deux.… [Author confides and perhaps replies to reader]" (59).

La Fontaine's extended system of dialogue between authorial personae and readers is unique. "Aesop's" fables present a narration in the third person punctuated by occasional recourse to limited dialogue between animal characters.10 If morals are presented, as in Nevelet, they are voiced by an impersonal, omniscient narrator. La Motte aptly summed up the effect: "En un mot je vois dans Esope un Philosophe qui s'abaisse pour être à la portée des plus simples."11 The case is clear and may be easily illustrated by comparing the conclusion of the fable, "Le Corbeau et le renard," with La Fontaine's familiar verse. Esope in Nevelet reads: "Alors le corbeau dupe gémit de sa stupidité. Ceci montre combien l'intelligence a de valeur. Toujours, même sur le courage, prévaut la sagesse."12 There is no complicity between author and reader. The author is present through omniscience, absent through intratextual signs. The author condescends to elucidate the reader. In La Fontaine's fables, the contrary is the rule. The reader condescends to join the poet in evaluating the allegorical relation and the moral as implied or stated. The Aesopian fable is straightforward while La Fontaine's is devious. The seventeenth-century poet plays with illusion and warns us: "Les fables ne sont pas ce qu'elles semblent être" (132). With La Fontaine the artistic veil of allegory extends beyond the simple récit to envelop its framework and moral.

The case of the eighteenth-century fable is necessarily more complex and difficult to analyze because of the extensive number of authors. Cognizant of the risks of generalities it may be advanced that these fabulists returned to the Aesopian norm of impersonal and omniscient narrator. The reader does not conspire with the narrator. The reader is the subject of the tale and the object of the moral. The author is ever aware of his weighty task of correcting the faults of the reader.13 Unlike the Aesopian narrator who addresses a general public guilty of a myriad of imperfections, the eighteenth-century fabulist often singles out one social group: belles, libertins or an individual (often thinly masked by a plural): rois, ambassadeurs, etc. Rather than personalize the fable, this device reduces the scope of the moral application and the fable becomes exclusive instead of inclusive. When Aubert names his readers "Incrédules mortels, ceci s'adresse á vous. / Race ingrate, parlez: sera-ce quand la foudre / Aura réduit ce globe en poudre, / Que d'un être vengeur vous craindrez le courroux?" the effect is alienation.14 The reader instinctively denies any relationship with these "incrédules mortels" and rejects personal application of the moral. Similarly, Benninger's vehement outcry, "O que ne pouvez-vous en accrocher autant, / Maudits flatteurs, que l'imbécile honore, / Mais que le sage abhorre," inspires neither identification nor participation.15 The psychological effect contradicts the author's intention and the charm of the tale is lost in the thunder of the sermon.16 Chamfort, in comparing La Fontaine to Moliére, said that the former makes us aware of ourselves and our shortcomings, while the latter illustrates the vices of others. The impact of the first is necessarily greater than that of the second which the reader/spectator refuses to acknowledge.17 The parallel may be aptly extended to the case under consideration. La Fontaine's fifteen-line fable, "Le Corbeau et le renard" may be compared to Le Noble's seventy-two-line fable of the same title. Eighteen lines are separate from the allegorical tale and are moralistic: "Oh la dangereuse fumée, / Que celle d'un Encens flatteur, / Malheur, malheur à ceux dont l'âme est si affamée / D'un mets si doux, si seducteur.…"18 The subtitle of Richer's inversion of the same fable, "Leçon allegorique a ceux qui se croyent plus fins que les autres" is in itself indicative of the tone of omniscience. The narrative is imbued with serious moral purpose.19 It is furthermore an invitation to telescope rather than to magnify the moral thrust. The eighteenth-century fabulist's method is deductive and both the premises of the argument and the conclusion of the syllogism are clearly indicated to the reader whose only action is to accept or reject the lesson. La Fontaine presents the evidence or observations and invites the reader to actively participate in induction.

These distinctions are at first view incompatible with history. La Fontaine's enormous popularity and the hommage paid to his genius during the eighteenth century have been established.20 He was openly regarded by his successors in the genre as a model. This fact is the key to the seeming paradox. The eighteenth-century fabulists analyzed La Fontaine's works to discover the elements of his success. It is ironic that this very research should have been responsible for their failure. On the most obvious level, they became self-conscious authors following an established set of rules. Grozelier said: "…[La Motte and D'Ardenne] ont etabli des regles … ainsi j'ai dfi me conformer a ces regles, au lieu d'en proposer de nouvelles."21 In complying with an abstract formula, the author's individual characteristics tended to be obscured, and the fable became less personal. Among the precepts for perfection were polished language and style. La Fontaine was considered inelegant and negligent.22 The attempt to regularize and correct also contributed to the sterility of the form. Creation was preceded and dominated by critical theory. The stilted result again removed the fable from the realm of author-reader correspondence. It is a question of temporal and stylistic distance. The creative process continues as the reader participates with La Fontaine. In the eighteenth-century fable, a finished production is presented. The creative process begins and ends with the author.

Nivernais echoed the sentiment of most eighteenth-century fabulists when he prefaced his fables: "Ce ne sont pas contes pour rire / Que j'offre ici; / Je veux instruire … "23 La Fontaine's successors maintained that the master had neglected his moral purpose. La Motte even hypothesized that he had written the fable and then sought a moral to justify its existence. In reversing the situation, the eighteenth-century poet became didactic. He concentrated on idea rather than format and conscious of his moral mission, emphasized the moral to the detriment of the allegorical tale.24 Fearing that the reader would fall victim to the artifice and neglect to read beneath the surface features of the text, the narrator constantly raised the level of comprehension to a conscious level. In La Fontaine it was subconscious and followed the act of reading. That is, where La Fontaine is implicit, the eighteenth-century fabulist is explicit. For example, in addition to his moral he often explains the allegory: "Le Malheur de ce rejetton / Opprime par ce Chene antique, / Est celui de Boston sous la loi Tyrannique / De l'orgueilleuse Albion: / Et la France est le Bucheron / Qui, par sa valeur heroique, / Le tire de l'oppression."25

In their quest for success, the eighteenth-century fabulists considered the question of authorship. With D'Ardenne, most admitted that previously invented situations or truths (morals) might be employed if counterbalanced by originality in other aspects of the narration. La Motte proposed the creation of new characters: "Les acteurs les moins usites et les plus bizarres deviennent naturels et meritent meme la preference sur d'autres."26 This resulted in a reduction of simplicity and an increase in the distance between the reader and the text. Metaphysical and symbolic beings: "La Lune et la jarretiere," "Le Crime et le chatiment," the bizarre: "La Vessie," "Le Gras de la jambe et le teton," "La Jonquille et le grate-cul," "Le Pot de chambre et la trophee," "L'Oeil et le pantoufle," the obscure: "La Metamorphose d'un professeur de philosophie en cigale," "Les Femelles des oiseaux en ambassade devant Jupiter," remove the fable from the terrain of the familiar. Abstractions such as pregnant ignorance giving birth to Miss Opinion who is named Truth by Pride and indolence, lack the warmth and spontaneity of Jean Lapin.27 The reader is further separated from the text by the tone inspired by these characters. Moreover, since the authors insisted on originality (novelty), they necessarily rejected the role of translator and removed their own personal presence from the text.

While the eighteenth-century fabulists recognized in La Fontaine a quality they termed variously, le genie, le plaisant, le sublime du naturel, le riant, leje ne sais quoi, they had difficulty in defining it.28 Rules were nonetheless established for reproducing the effect. However, its role was limited to that of stylistic ornamentation and the conscious presence of figures such as the use of familiar nomenclature (Maitre Corbeau, Jean Lapin) is not consonant with the overall tenor of the fable. Mile Opinion and Dame Pleine Lune, as well as carefully chosen plays on words, are anachronistic. The effect is neither continuous nor extensive. Theydo not appear casual. They are formal literary devices, obvious to the reader as they stand out from the text. Instead of revealing a confidant, a reader with a human character present in the tale, they unveil an author who is unsuccessfully attempting to create an illusion.

The overriding desires of the eighteenth-century fabulists are to be moral, to justify their productions through their claim to originality and uniqueness, and to regularize the genre while capturing the charms of naivete. The author as persona was replaced by the author as moral artist. The authorial personae in La Fontaine dialogue; the moral artist or omniscient narrator sermonizes. The first posit their imperfection and surprise the reader who discovers unsuspected merit. The second claims expertise and invites criticism. La Fontaine reduced his commentator to a level beneath that of the reader. The eighteenth-century fabulist attempted to raise the reader to his own level of literary and moral perfection. La Fontaine conspires with his reader and inspires confidence. His successors conspired against the reader and alienated him.

The structure and tone of La Fontaine's fables meet the conditions described by many critics as characteristic of irony. Socrates was a midwife to his disciples' intelligence. He would dissimulate urbanely and ask his followers for plain answers suited to his own professed ignorance.29 La Fontaine's authorial personae claim to be something less than they are in reality. They play the role of an eiron.30 They operate a brachylogy, renouncing exhaustiveness and placing confidence in the reader to interpret and understand, to complete the textual implications. It is an elliptical rather than an encyclopaedic manner.31 The reader is not exposed to attack but admitted to an alliance upon which the whole force of the rhetoric depends."32 "… We have come to apply the term irony to the fusion in a spectator's mind of superior knowledge and detached sympathy."33 The preceding discussion of the exchange between authorial personae and reader in La Fontaine illustrates the manner in which his form suits the description of Socratic Irony.

Irony requires an unconscious art.34 It may be found in simplicity. "Irony by its very nature instructs by pleasing. To ignore the pleasure, and its civilized implications, is inevitably to simplify and falsify the total effect."35 It has been demonstrated that the eighteenth-century fabulist was conscious of his art and tended to make pleasure secondary to instruction. In so doing, he ignored some of the implications of irony.

Verbal and situational irony create tension. Alternatives of perspective, the clash between appearance and reality, the trembling equipoise between jest and earnest create a sense of irony.36 Irony is false modesty, false naivete, and false negligence, according to Jankelevitch (or artistry in Thompson).37 The eighteenth-century fabulist failed to recognize the illusion which was deliberately created by La Fontaine. When he spokeseriously of insignificant matters it was ironic. The fabulists of the next century did not interpret correctly the ironist's mask. They saw it as a true face. They mistook the appearance for reality. The result is the difference between La Fontaine and his successors. The first has "I'apparence du serieux," the second, "le serieux de l'apparence."38 That is, La Fontaine's pleasantries seem serious, while during the enlightenment, what was serious was made to seem amusing. La Fontaine, the ironist, stood halfway between the illusion of his allegory and the truth of his moral, fluctuating between hypocrisy and good faith. The eighteenth-century fabulist never deviated from his moral intention. He refused to allow either himself or his reader to be confidently unaware that appearance is only appearance.39 Both are eternally witness to reality. Text and context are unified.

In dramatic irony there are three roles: the victim, the audience and the author,40 In La Fontaine the author and reader collaborate to unmask the victim, while in the fables of the later period, the victim is the audience. One role has been omitted and the effect is not ironic. It is closer to satire.41

Irony, in general terms, is the clash between connotative and denotative signs. The superficial text makes a statement which is counter to the implied meaning. To interpret such a text the reader must engage in a process of reconstruction. He must peer into the text and unmask the eiron. He executes a pas de deux, tearing down the surface features and reconstructing meaning. The author invites the reader to form a new conclusion. La Fontaine, through his authorial personae, commences the process within the text itself. He dramatically engages with the reader in discovering the implications of the allegory.42 The eighteenth-century fabulist, in placing the reader in a role of passive detachment, has deconstructed the possibilities for surface tension and a search for hidden meaning.

La Fontaine's fables are vertical in structure while those of the eighteenth century are horizontal. La Fontaine's dialogue gives the fables a double layer. They are, like irony, a two-storied phenomenon.43 The reader is encouraged to sound the depths and move to a new level. The eighteenth-century fable's surface is flat; the significance is apparent. The thesis is explained in the lecture, the moral in the sermon. There are no further levels of application for the reader to explore.

La Fermiere, an eighteenth-century fabulist, saw the mask in the fable: "Ce genre antique, invente par un sage, / Offre toujours un voile officieux / Que l'amourpropre emploie a son usage. / La Fable plait quand la Satire outrage, / Et par-la meme elle instruit beaucoup mieux."44 However, he did not completely understand its function. He interpreted it as a shield for the reader who would otherwise be wounded by the author's satiric barbs. It was more than this. It was a delicate cornerstone of the ironic structure of the fable. La Fontaine offered the veil not only as protection, butalso as enticement to the reader to enter into the process of reconstruction. The eighteenth-century fabulist denied the veil, or rather misapplied it and purposefully filled it with holes. He feared it would effectively hide his moral and did not trust the reader to infer the meaning. For example, La Fermiere himself concludes a fable: "Expliquons l'allegorie; / Dans ce combat le Lecteur / Verra la Philosophie aux prises avec l'Erreur."45

In effect, the eighteenth-century fabulist assumed the role of philosopher fighting error. Like Aesop, he used the fable as an illustration for his moral. Fable and moral were one. Connotative and denotative meaning were congruous. La Fontaine' socratically asked his reader to become a philosopher and discover both his own and the author's errors. The invitation is indicated by the tension between overt and covert significance and is delivered in the dialogue between authorial personae and reader which frames the allegorical narration. The double-tiered literary structure parallels the intellectual construction the reader will build by the juxtaposition of antipodal meanings. The reader of Aesop and the eighteenth-century fabulist is a witness, while La Fontaine's reader is co-author, continuing the creative function in reconstructing in his own terms the significance of the fable: "La veritable auteur du recit n'est pas seulement celui qui le raconte, mais aussi, et parfois bien davantage, celui qui l'6coute.""46


1 Jean de La Fontaine, Oeuvres completes (Paris: Gallimard, 1954), p. 115. Further references to this work appear in the text. When appropriate, spelling has been modernized. See also Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, Oeuvres completes (Paris: Leopold Collin, 1809), II, 5-6: "La Fable est une comedie legere, et toute comedie n'est qu'un long apologue: leur difference est, que dans notre comedie les hommes sont souvent des betes, et qui pis est, des betes mechantes."

2 Jean-Francois de La Harpe, "Eloge de La Fontaine," Recueil de 1'Academie des Belles-Lettres, Sciences et Arts (Marseilles, 1774), p. 16.

3 La Harpe, p. 17.

4 La Harpe, Lycée ou cours de littéature (Paris: H. Agasse, 1798), VI, 325.

5 Jean-Francois Marmontel, "Fable," Encyclopedie ou dictionnaire raisonne des sciences, des arts et des metiers (Stuttgart: Friedrich Frommann, 1966), VI [1756], 346.

6 Sebastien-Roch-Nicolas Chamfort, "Eloge de La Fontaine," Les Trois Fabulistes: Esope, Phedre et La Fontaine (Paris, 1976), III, 186.

7 Marmontel, p. 348.

8 La Harpe, Lycee, p. 325.

9 Marmontel, p. 348.

10 "Aesopian fables" here refers to fables collected and transmitted in such works as Mythologia Aesopica Isaaci Nicolai Neveleti (Frankfort, 1610).

11 Antoine Houdar de La Motte, Fables nouvelles (Paris: Gregoire Dupuis, 1719), p. xiv.

12 La Fontaine, Fables, ed. R. Radouant (Paris: Hachette, 1929), p. 16.

13 See Roseann Runte, "The Paradox of the Fable in Eighteenth-Century France," Neophilologus (to appear) and "A Study of Thematic Artifice: The Eighteenth-Century French Fable," paper delivered at the 1976 conference of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, University of Virginia.

14 Abbe Jean-Louis Aubert, "Les Mites," in Lottin [Herissant], Le Fablier francais ou elite des meilleures fables depuis La Fontaine (Paris: Lottin le jeune, 1771), pp. 70-71.

15 Benninger, "Le Corbeau et le renard," Choix des plus belles fables qui ont paru en Allemagne imitées en vers français (Kehl, 1782).

16 Saint-Marc Girardin, La Fontaine et les fabulistes (Paris: Michel Levy freres, 1867), II, 466, 243 ff.

17 Chamfort, p. 176.

18 Eustache Le Noble, Contes et fables (Lyon: Claude Rey, 1697), II, 85-86.

19 Henri Richer, "Le Corbeau et le renard," in Gaigne, Encyclopedie poetique ou recueil complet de chefd 'oeuvres de poesie sur tous les sujets possibles (Paris: Gaigne et Moutard, 1778), IV, 330-32.

20 See for example G. Saillard, Essal sur la fable en France au dix-huitieme siecle (Toulouse: Privat, 1912), pp. 12-57.

21 Pere Nicolas Grozelier, Fables nouvelles (Paris: De Saint et Saillant, 1790), p. v.

22 See Runte, "Paradox."

23 Louis-Jules Barbon Mancini-Mazarini duc de Nivernais, Fables (Paris: Nivernais, 1796), I, 3.

24 Saillard, p. 156: "Ils ont sacrifie la forme au fond."

25 Demarie, "Le Chene, I'arbrisseau, et le bûcheron," Journal de littérature, des sciences et des arts, 5 (Paris: Au bureau du journal, 1781), 5.

26 La Motte, p. xxviii.

27 Marmontel, p. 347.

28 Pierre Clarac, La Fontaine: 1'homme et l'oeuvre (Paris: Boivin, 1947), p. 154.

29 S.C. Muecke, The Compass of Irony, (London: Methuen, 1969), p. 57 and G.C. Sedgewick, Of Irony Especially in Drama (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1948), p. 13.

30 J.A.K. Thompson, Irony, An Historical Introduction (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1926), pp. 10-18.

31 Vladimir Jankelevitch, L'Ironie (Paris: Felix Alcan, 1936), p. 89.

32 A.E. Dyson, The Crazy Fabric. Essays in Irony (London: Macmillan and Co., 1965), p. 152.

33 Sedgewick, p. 33.

34 Thompson, p. 109.

35 Dyson, p. 13.

36 Sedgewick, p. 26, Thompson, p. 166, Cleanth Brooks, The Well-Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry (New York: Harcourt Brace and World, 1947), p. 195.

37 Jankelevitch, p. 90 and Thompson, p. 131.

38 Jankelevitch, p. 111. See also Marmontel, p. 346: "c'est le serieux avec lequel il mele les plus grandes choses avec les plus petites.…"

39 See for example Normal Knox, "On the Classification of Ironies," Modern Philology, 70 (1972), p. 53.

40 Jankelevitch, p. 111; Muecke, Irony (Norfolk, Great Britain: Methuen, 1970), p. 35.

41 Dyson, p. 1.

42 Cleanth Brooks, "Irony and 'Ironic' Poetry," College English 9 (1948), 237; Muecke, Compass, 21, 29; Wayne C. Booth, A Rhetoric of Irony (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975), passim, especially Ch. 11; Dyson, p. 5.

43 Muecke, Compass, p. 19.

44 [La Fermiere], Fables et contes (Paris: Lacombe, 1775), title page.

45 [La Fermiere], p. 175.

46 Gerard Genette, Figures III (Paris: Seuil, 1972), p. 267.

John E. Keller and L. Clark Keating (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: "Introduction," in Aesop's Fables with a Life of Aesop, translated and edited by John E. Keller and L. Clark Keating, pp. 1-6. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1993.

[In the following essay, Keller and Keating trace the history of Aesopic fables in Spain until the fifteenth-century publication of the Spanish Ysopet.]

Aesop's Fables, with a Life of Aesop—in Spanish La vida del Ysopet con sus fabulas hystoriadas—along with versions with similar titles in many western languages, represents the apogee of that body of stories we know as Aesop's Fables. This may seem an unusual statement to make, since the Ysopet, as we shall term it in this introduction, was not translated into Castilian until the late fifteenth century and not printed in its entirety in Spain until 1489. An incomplete version was printed in Saragossa in 1482 with woodcuts colored by hand. According to Victoria Burrus, who pointed out to me the existence of this incomplete incunable, the 1489 edition we have used as the basis of our translation is a corrected and augmented version of the 1482 text. While the 1482 edition should be the basis of a critical edition, since it is incomplete it cannot be the text from which a translation should be made. The edition of 1488, printed in Toulouse and edited by Victoria Burrus and Harriet Goldberg, would not have influenced the many Spanish versions listed by Cotarelo y Mori in his introduction to the facsimile edition of Ysopete hystoriado of 1489. The edition of 1482 would quite probably have been the one used by the printed in Toulouse. Be that as it may, since the text of 1482 is incomplete, and since the text of Toulouse of 1488 contains woodcuts not asexcellent as those in the printing of 1489 in Saragossa, we are confident that our choice of edition is best for the present translation, which is the first into the English language.

To begin with, we do not know if indeed in the sixth century B.C. there actually lived an author named Aesop any more than we can be certain that about three thousand years ago a man named Homer flourished. But we believe in an Aesop because ancient writers of consequence—Herodotus, Plato, and Aristotle, to name but three—mention him as a fabulist and because various ancient writers—Babrius, Phaedrus, Avianus, and others—gathered and set down fables they attributed to him. No manuscripts of Aesop have survived from that early period and, what is worse, nothing like a complete collection of those fables has survived the ages. We do not know, therefore, how many fables go back to the original collections. But fables attributed to Aesop were gathered and set down in writing across the centuries, some collections copious and some limited as to number, in both Greek and Latin. Wherever Greek colonists went in ancient times, they surely took some of the fables with them, and in Spain this would have scattered Aesop along the eastern seaboard. Roman conquerors and settlers surely brought Aesop with them to Rome's favorite colony.

Closer to us, because Aesop began to appear in the vernacular literatures of the West, is the impact of Aesop in the Middle Ages. In Spain, Odo of Cheriton's Fabulae, containing a great deal of Aesopic material, was probably translated from the Latin in the thirteenth century, when Odo flourished, even though the only extant manuscript of it in Spanish translation, El libro de los gatos, is of fifteenth-century vintage. The collection of eastern fables and stories Kalila wa Dimna, translated from the Arabic in 1251 at the behest of Prince Alfonso (to be crowned in 1252 as Alfonso X) and entitled Calila e Digna, contained some Aesopic fables, attesting to the fact that Aesop had penetrated the literatures of the Islamic world. In the fourteenth century Juan Ruiz, Archpriest of Hita, inserted more than twenty-five Aesopic fables into his Libro de buen amor, and his contemporary Don Juan Manuel adapted several in his Conde Lucanor. In the first quarter of the fifteenth century the Archdeacon Clemente Sanchez used a considerable number in his Libro de los exenplos por a.b.c., the most copious book of brief narratives in the medieval Spanish language. Aesop, then, was well known in Spain long before the printing of the Ysopet.

We must trace the ancestry of Spain's great corpus of Aesopic fables as they appeared in the West to the Middle Ages' most comprehensive anthology collected and written down in one volume in medieval Greek by Maximus Planudius, ambassador to Venice from Constantinople in 1327. From what sources this ecclesiastic garnered the many fables he set down is not known, nor do we know the authorship of the fictitious thirteenth-century Life of Aesop which Planudius included as an important preface to his anthologyof fables. It is certain that he did not stop with fables considered as belonging to an Aesopic tradition, for he included a good many brief narratives definitely not fables at all. These stemmed from eastern tales, many of which originated in the Panchatantra, written in Sanskrit, and passed through Pahlevi into Arabic and thence into Planudius's native Greek. It is even possible that a few included by him were taken from folklore.

Had Planudius's anthology remained in Greek, the fate of Aesopic fables in the West would have been far less happy than it is. Though we owe much to Planudius, since he saved many fables from virtual oblivion, we owe almost as much to his translator into Latin, one Rinuccio Thesalo or d'Arezzo, who toward the middle of the fifteenth century brought into Western Europe the first nearly complete anthology of Aesopic material. Some debt is owed, too, to Cardinal Antonio Cerda of Mallorca, to whom d'Arezzo dedicated his book, for it is likely that this important ecclesiastic did much to publicize Aesop and to aid in the dissemination of d'Arezzo's translation. It may be more than coincidence that Saragossa in the Kingdom of Aragon became a center of Aesopic fables in Spanish so that eventually the Ysopet was published there. Lending support to this statement is the fact that d'Arezzo's Latin work was translated into Castilian probably in the 1460s at the behest of Enrique, viceroy of Catalufia under his cousin Ferdinand of Aragon, who married Isabella of Castile. Enrique, to whom the manuscript of the Ysopet had been submitted for approval in the 1460s, could not see it printed, since printing did not reach Spain until 1480.

It should be noted that d'Arezzo's translation from the Greek was also translated into other European tongues, but the way in which this affected the course of Aesopic fables in Spain will be treated below. Suffice to say that one important center of translation was Germany.

The work of d'Arezzo in Latin had great success in most of Europe, at least among the erudite, but much less among vernacular speakers whose Latin was weak or nonexistent. Almost as soon as the printing press was invented in Germany vernacular versions of Aesop began to appear. Doctor Heinrich Steinhöwel's translation from d'Arezzo was published by Johannes Zeiner in Ulm and Augsburg at some time between 1474, when printing reached Ulm, and 1483, when it came to Augsburg. The Steinhöwel translation followed the order of fables in d'Arezzo, as might have been expected, and included the lengthy "Life of Aesop," which should be regarded as an important contribution to the rise and development of the European novel. This fictitious biography runs to just over twenty-five pages. It contains a frontispiece illustrating Aesop himself and twenty-eight woodcuts, each depicting an event in his life.

The corpus of fables is divided into eight separate sections variously called "books" or "parts." In the Editio Princeps' table of contents each fable or other form of brief narrative is listed by title. Books I, II, III, and IV contain twenty fables each andare composed of many fables we recognize as belonging to the Aesopic tradition. Book V contains seventeen fables and bears the title Fabulas extravagantes, possibly because these stories belong to less familiar collections, such as the Roman de Renart, the French fabliaux, and folkloric sources. We have labeled this book The Fanciful Fables of Aesop, since this is one meaning of extravagantes. Book VI also contains seventeen fables and bears the title Las fabulas de Remicio, that is, fables of Rinuccio d'Arezzo, a significant fabulist.

Book VII, Las fabulas de Aviano, comes from fables written by one Avianus, who flourished sometime between the second and fifth centuries. It contains twenty-seven stories. Book VIII, Las fabulas collectas de Alfonso e de Poggio y de otros en la forma e orden seguiente, contains twenty-two. The Alfonso of the title is Petrus Alfonsus, the Aragonese Jew whose twelfth-century Disciplina Clericalis was perhaps the most oft quoted of collections. Poggio is Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459), whose humorous and often scatological Facetiae were among the most popular of fable anthologies. We have not been able to identify "los otros" as to source.

In 1489, just six years after the printing in Augsburg, a German printer named Jan Hurus, transplanted to Saragossa, published the Editio Princeps of La vida del Ysopet con sus fabulas hystoriadas. Hurus must have known the German version. He had brought the science of printing to Aragon, and he embellished his printing of Ysopet with the same woodcuts, or virtually identical copies, printed in the editions of Zeiner in Ulm and Augsburg. One can state, therefore, that the relationship between the German translation of d'Arezzo and the Spanish is remarkably close. The only noticeable difference between the two, insofar as content is concerned, lies in the section entitled "Collectas," in which there are four fables not found in the German text. In a Spanish version of 1496 four more were added. The similarity of the woodcuts and ignorance of the origin of the Spanish translation have led some to believe that the Spanish Ysopet was a translation of the German—an obvious error, since both the German and the Castilian were translated from the Latin of d'Arezzo.

Such, in the very briefest terms, is the history of the definitive collections of Aesopic fables in Spain.

The famous woodcuts deserve more attention, for they served not only to enliven the fables and other brief narratives but to fix them in the memories of readers. Narrative art in book illustration had, in medieval times, developed to a remarkable extent. It is not strange, then, that this art continued in the Renaissance in a form not well known in earlier times, that is, in woodcuts, which could be printed as easily as letters. It was primarily in Germany and the Netherlands that this art reached its height. These were the times of Durer and the "little masters," Aldorfer, Behams, and Pencz, who first began to forsake religious topics in woodcuts to produce, with a touch of the decorative quality learned from Italian masters, the humor and studied debauchery of everyday life.

And so it was that the Editio Princeps of the Ysopet, printed in 1489 and made available to thousands, began the centuries-long influence of the greatest fables of the ancient world. From this first volume all the later Spanish editions came, and from this tradition all Spanish writers who mentioned Aesop or used his fables in their works drew their references. It can be stated without fear of contradiction that the romantic life of Aesop and the collection of fables made available to Spaniards in 1489 was the most widely read body of literature across at least two centuries in Spain. Nor should we wonder at this. After all, the same fables from their inception in distant Antiquity until the present, have attracted and held human attention. It is fortunate that the Royal Spanish Academy in 1929 published a complete facsimile of the single extant copy of the Editio Princeps, thereby preserving it for posterity. With the scholarly introduction by Emilio Cotareli y Mori, it contributes vastly to our understanding of a great work of the past.

Today Aesop is read for the pleasure his fables afford rather than for the utilitarian value of their lessons, although these lessons are present, as they were in the fifteenth century and, for that matter, in all the previous centuries. These lessons are universal and are at home in any age and any culture, for they are based upon life itself and the practical wisdom one needs to survive. One can, of course, dispense with the lesson and simply enjoy the stories per se, as children do. And yet it may be impossible to divorce dulce (story) from utile (lesson), because the moralization found in each fable is actually a component of narrative technique perhaps as much as are plot, conflict, characterization, and the other elements of narrative. People expected the moralization, even if they did not always realize they were imbibing it. Moreover, the fables led to the creation of proverbs, which are always a delight and a convenience—even a necessity in daily parlance. In Spain, where proverbs are still a way of life, the Ysopet must have generated more of such witty or sententious sayings than anywhere else. In our own daily parlance we seldom pass a day without uttering an "Aesopic proverb," even in abbreviated form, as in "like a dog in the manager," "sour grapes," "cat's paw," and many more.

In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance the Roman Catholic Church allowed Aesopic fables to creep into its sermons and homilies, despite the fact that Aesopic "morality" in its utter utilitarianism was a far cry from the tenets of Christianity. Not even the weak excuse that examples of duplicity and selfishness could be used to teach the avoidance of such qualities actually justified the telling of such fables in the pulpit. The influenceof Aesop was everywhere. People heard the fables recited and read them in books, they were depicted in sculpture, in tapestries, in carvings of wood and ivory and stone, they were seen on the capitals of columns and in frescoes and other paintings, and most of all they were familiar in book illustrations.

And today where does one find Aesop? His fables appear in story books for children; some can be found in school books; reciters of folktales include Aesopic fables; in some parts of the world professional tellers or readers offer such fables in their repertories; anthologies like ours in translation contain them; and fables concerned with adultery and cuckoldry, which are not found in true Aesopic fables but are often found accompanying them, have appeared in as popular a magazine as Playboy in its "Ribald Classics." Stories in this last category have reached perhaps the largest possible audience, upwards of more than two million subscribers, not counting the many others who read each copy. Aesop's fables are not dead.

The language of La vida del Ysopet con sus fabulas hystoriadas is good fifteenth-century Castilian colored somewhat by Aragonese, since it is quite likely that the translator was a native of Aragon. But since translations are often shaped to some degree by the original tongue, specialists may see something not quite typical. They should consider, even so, that a work accepted by a humanist of such consequence as the Viceroy of Catalufia could not have been regarded by him as faulty or dialectal. To the reader of the modern English version none of this is significant, of course. In short, the Spanish from which the present translation was made must have been well received in the Peninsula, to judge by the number of subsequent editions.

The present translation of the Ysopet follows to a rather remarkable degree the philosophy of the translator from the Latin, and one may read that interesting concept of the translator's art in the first few lines of the Ysopet. The approach to translation taken by the author five hundred years ago and the present-day translators are surprisingly parallel. Modern scholars can improve upon the original, however, and can achieve better success in rendering the imagery, speech, concepts, and thought of the Spanish text. Our parlance is of the most modern American vintage. We have broken up the inordinately lengthy sentences of the original into more manageable form, have created paragraphs, have punctuated where the original did not, and have avoided many of the archaisms and strictures that Hurus's book contained. We believe we have succeeded in offering to modern readers one of the most complete anthologies of Aesopic fables, together with a number of those non-Aesopic tales that by the fifteenth century tended to be included with the true fables. Readers of our translation of La vida del Ysopet con susfabulas hystoriadas are in essence reading what d'Arezzo gave his readers in Latin and therefore what Maximus Planudius offered his readers in Greek.


The British Aesopic Fable


Political Uses Of Theaesopic Fable