aesop's fables

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  • PrefaceTHE TALE, the Parable, and the Fable are all common and popularmodesofconveyinginstruction.Eachisdistinguishedbyitsownspecialcharacteristics.TheTaleconsistssimplyinthenarrationofastoryeitherfounded on facts, or created solely by the imagination, and notnecessarilyassociatedwiththeteachingofanymorallesson.TheParableis the designed use of language purposely intended to convey a hiddenand secretmeaning other than that contained in thewords themselves;and which may or may not bear a special reference to the hearer, orreader. The Fable partly agrees with, and partly differs from both ofthese.Itwillcontain,liketheTale,ashortbutrealnarrative;itwillseek,liketheParable,toconveyahiddenmeaning,andthatnotsomuchbytheuseoflanguage,asbytheskilfulintroductionoffictitiouscharacters;andyetunliketoeitherTaleorParable,itwilleverkeepinview,asitshighprerogative, and inseparable attribute, the great purpose of instruction,andwillnecessarilyseektoinculcatesomemoralmaxim,socialduty,orpolitical truth. The true Fable, if it rise to its high requirements, everaimsatonegreatendandpurposerepresentationofhumanmotive,andthe improvement of human conduct, and yet it so conceals its designunder the disguise of fictitious characters, by clothingwith speech theanimals of the field, the birds of the air, the trees of thewood, or thebeasts of the forest, that the reader shall receive advice withoutperceiving the presence of the adviser. Thus the superiority of thecounsellor,whichoftenrenderscounselunpalatable,iskeptoutofview,andthelessoncomeswiththegreateracceptancewhenthereaderisled,unconsciously to himself, to have his sympathies enlisted in behalf ofwhat is pure, honorable, and praiseworthy, and to have his indignationexcited against what is low, ignoble, and unworthy. The true fabulist,therefore,dischargesamostimportantfunction.Heisneitheranarrator,noranallegorist.Heisagreatteacher,acorrectorofmorals,acensorofvice, and a commender of virtue. In this consists the superiority of theFableovertheTaleor theParable.Thefabulist is tocreatea laugh,but

  • yet, under a merry guise, to convey instruction. Phaedrus, the greatimitator ofAesop, plainly indicates this double purpose to be the trueofficeofthewriteroffables.

    Duplex libelli dos est: quod risum movet, Et quod prudenti vitamconsiliomonet.

    The continual observance of this twofold aim creates the charm, andaccountsfortheuniversalfavor,ofthefablesofAesop.Thefable,saysProfessorK.O.Mueller,originatedinGreeceinanintentionaltravestieofhumanaffairs.Theainos,as itsnamedenotes, isanadmonition,orratherareproofveiled,eitherfromfearofanexcessoffrankness,orfroma love of fun and jest, beneath the fiction of an occurrence happeningamongbeasts;andwhereverwehaveanyancientandauthenticaccountoftheAesopianfables,wefindittobethesame.[1]The construction of a fable involves a minute attention to (1) the

    narration itself; (2) the deduction of the moral; and (3) a carefulmaintenanceoftheindividualcharacteristicsofthefictitiouspersonagesintroduced into it. The narration should relate to one simple action,consistent with itself, and neither be overladen with a multiplicity ofdetails,nordistractedbyavarietyofcircumstances.Themoralorlessonshouldbesoplain,andsointimatelyinterwovenwith,andsonecessarilydependent on, the narration, that every reader should be compelled togive to it the same undeniable interpretation. The introduction of theanimals or fictitious characters should be marked with anunexceptionablecareandattention to theirnaturalattributes,and to thequalitiesattributedtothembyuniversalpopularconsent.TheFoxshouldbealwayscunning,theHaretimid,theLionbold,theWolfcruel,theBullstrong, theHorse proud, and theAss patient.Many of these fables arecharacterized by the strictest observance of these rules. They areoccupiedwithoneshortnarrative,fromwhichthemoralnaturallyflows,andwithwhichitisintimatelyassociated.Tisthesimplemanner,saysDodsley, [2] in which the morals of Aesop are interwoven with hisfablesthatdistinguisheshim,andgiveshimthepreferenceoverallother

  • mythologists.HisMountaindeliveredofaMouse,produces themoralofhis fable in ridiculeofpompouspretenders; andhisCrow,whenshedrops her cheese, lets fall, as it were by accident, the strongestadmonitionagainst thepowerofflattery.Thereisnoneedofaseparatesentencetoexplainit;nopossibilityofimpressingitdeeper,bythatloadwe too often see of accumulated reflections.[3] An equal amount ofpraiseisduefortheconsistencywithwhichthecharactersoftheanimals,fictitiously introduced, are marked.While they are made to depict themotivesandpassionsofmen,theyretain,inaneminentdegree,theirownspecial features of craft or counsel, of cowardice or courage, ofgenerosityorrapacity.Thesetermsofpraise,itmustbeconfessed,cannotbebestowedonall

    thefablesinthiscollection.Manyofthemlackthatunityofdesign,thatcloseconnectionofthemoralwiththenarrative,thatwisechoiceintheintroductionoftheanimals,whichconstitutethecharmandexcellencyoftrue Aesopian fable. This inferiority of some to others is sufficientlyaccountedforinthehistoryoftheoriginanddescentofthesefables.Thegreat bulk of them are not the immediate work of Aesop. Many areobtainedfromancientauthorspriortothetimeinwhichhelived.Thus,thefableoftheHawkandtheNightingaleisrelatedbyHesiod;[4]theEagle wounded by an Arrow, winged with its own Feathers, byAeschylus; [5] the Fox avenging his wrongs on the Eagle, byArchilochus. [6]Many of them again are of later origin, and are to betraced to themonksof themiddle ages: andyet this collection, thoughthus made up of fables both earlier and later than the era of Aesop,rightfully bears his name, because he composed so large a number (allframed in the same mould, and conformed to the same fashion, andstamped with the same lineaments, image, and superscription) as tosecure to himself the right to be considered the father ofGreek fables,and the founderof thisclassofwriting,whichhasever sincebornehisname,andhassecuredforhim,throughallsucceedingages,thepositionofthefirstofmoralists.[7]ThefableswereinthefirstinstanceonlynarratedbyAesop,andfora

    long timewerehandeddownby theuncertainchanneloforal tradition.

  • SocratesismentionedbyPlato[8]ashavingemployedhistimewhileinprison,awaitingthereturnofthesacredshipfromDelphoswhichwastobethesignalofhisdeath,inturningsomeofthesefablesintoverse,buthe thus versified only such as he remembered. Demetrius Phalereus, aphilosopher at Athens about 300 B.C., is said to have made the firstcollection of these fables. Phaedrus, a slave by birth or by subsequentmisfortunes, and admitted by Augustus to the honors of a freedman,imitatedmanyofthesefablesinLatiniambicsaboutthecommencementof the Christian era. Aphthonius, a rhetorician of Antioch, A.D. 315,wroteatreatiseon,andconvertedintoLatinprose,someofthesefables.Thistranslationisthemoreworthyofnotice,asitillustratesacustomofcommon use, both in these and in later times. The rhetoricians andphilosopherswereaccustomedtogivetheFablesofAesopasanexercisetotheirscholars,notonlyinvitingthemtodiscussthemoralofthetale,butalsotopracticeandtoperfectthemselvestherebyinstyleandrulesofgrammar, by making for themselves new and various versions of thefables.Ausonius,[9]thefriendoftheEmperorValentinian,andthelatestpoetofeminenceintheWesternEmpire,hashandeddownsomeofthesefables in verse, which Julianus Titianus, a contemporary writer of nogreat name, translated into prose. Avienus, also a contemporary ofAusonius,put someof these fables intoLatinelegiacs,whicharegivenbyNevelet (in abookwe shall refer tohereafter), and areoccasionallyincorporatedwiththeeditionsofPhaedrus.SevencenturieselapsedbeforethenextnoticeisfoundoftheFablesof

    Aesop. During this long period these fables seem to have suffered aneclipse, tohavedisappearedand tohavebeenforgotten;and it isat thecommencementof thefourteenthcentury,whentheByzantineemperorswerethegreatpatronsoflearning,andamidstthesplendorsofanAsiaticcourt, thatwenextfindhonorspaidtothenameandmemoryofAesop.MaximusPlanudes,alearnedmonkofConstantinople,madeacollectionofaboutahundredandfiftyofthesefables.Littleisknownofhishistory.Planudes, however,was nomere recluse, shut up in hismonastery.Hetook an active part in public affairs. In 1327 A.D. he was sent on adiplomaticmissiontoVenicebytheEmperorAndronicustheElder.This

  • brought him into immediate contactwith theWestern Patriarch,whoseinterestshehenceforthadvocatedwithsomuchzealas tobringonhimsuspicionandpersecutionfromtherulersoftheEasternChurch.Planudeshasbeenexposedtoatwo-foldaccusation.Heischargedontheonehandwith havinghadbefore hima copyofBabrias (towhomwe shall haveoccasiontoreferatgreaterlengthintheendofthisPreface),andtohavehadthebadtastetotranspose,ortoturnhispoeticalversionintoprose:and he is asserted, on the other hand, never to have seen the Fables ofAesopatall,buttohavehimselfinventedandmadethefableswhichhepalmedoffunder thenameof the famousGreek fabulist.The truth liesbetween these two extremes. Planudes may have invented some fewfables,orhaveinsertedsomethatwerecurrentinhisday;butthereisanabundance of unanswerable internal evidence to prove that he had anacquaintancewiththeveritablefablesofAesop,althoughtheversionshehad access to were probably corrupt, as contained in the varioustranslations and disquisitional exercises of the rhetoricians andphilosophers.Hiscollectionisinterestingandimportant,notonlyastheparentsourceorfoundationoftheearlierprintedversionsofAesop,butas the direct channel of attracting to these fables the attention of thelearned.The eventual re-introduction, however, of these Fables of Aesop to

    theirhighplaceinthegeneralliteratureofChristendom,istobelookedfor in the West rather than in the East. The calamities graduallythickeningroundtheEasternEmpire,andthefallofConstantinople,1453A.D., combined with other events to promote the rapid restoration oflearning in Italy; and with that recovery of learning the revival of aninterestintheFablesofAesopiscloselyidentified