Friday, April 30, 2010

Fables Of Aesop - Translated By S A Handford

This is one of those books I picked up at Select Bookshop.
And again, one of those books I should have read long long ago.

The fables are short tales using animals of the jungle - lion, fox, wolf, serpant, buffalo, hare etc. - with an implied message. The message is not necessarily a moral.

This is explained well in the introductory chapter.

"Since the fable is essentially a popular genre of literature, it naturally reflects the ideas of ordinary people about the conduct of life. It has little to do with the ideals of virtue and the pursuit of perfection inculcated by the great ethical philosophers of antiquity. The virtues recommended by the fabulists are chiefly the social virtues which make life comfortable and redound to the credit and interest of those who practice them - loyalty, gratitude, moderation, resignation, industry and so on. Sometimes the lessons they teach are not really moral lessons at all, but merely counsels of prudence and worldly wisdom based on observation of people’s behaviour and degenerating at times into frank immorality - how to get the better of an enemy (or even of a friend), how to keep a whole skin by subservience to the possession of power, how to profit by other men’s misfortunes and mistakes, and in general, how to turn everything to good account for oneself."

The fables are so much like our Panchatantra. I thought they must have been taken from the Panchatantra like so much else in this world has been taken from India.

However, the introductory chapter suggests that the fables were older than Indian fables by which I think the author means Panchatantra though I am not very sure.

"As far as we can see, the fable was invented by the Greeks. it may well be the Greeks of Asia Minor, the country of the lion which appears so often in these stories and the traditional birthplace of Aesop."

From another book of short stories that I am currently reading, I understand that it is very difficult to establish with certainty the origin of stories. This is because stories in one land are found to exist in another land in a slightly different form.
Also, means of transportation existed in old times. So you can’t say who travelled from where to where and carried what stories with them.

As is said in the introduction to the book, the original fables did not have an explicit moral at the end of the story. Morals were later appended to these stories. From my reading too, in some of the stories, the morals in the end don’t really convey or coincide with the actual purport implied by the story. The real message is missed and another moral closer to the actual moral is stated.

"From the fifth century onwards, the Aesopian fable and the tradition of Aesop the storyteller became very popular, especially at Athens, as is shown by many references to him or to fables attributed to him - in Aristophanes, Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, and other writers. We do not know whether Aesop’s own versions of any fables were written down by him or by any of his contemporaries."

Here are some fables from the book. Some of the below are just messages without the fables. Too much typing…

A very short fable, perhaps the shortest of them all, is my favourite.
A vixen sneered at a lioness because she never bore more than one cub. ‘Only one’, she replies, ‘but a lion’.

A lion fell in love with a farmer’s daughter and wooed her. The farmer could not bear to give his girl in marriage to a wild beast; yet he dared not refuse. So he evaded the difficulty by telling the importunate suitor that, while he quite approved of him as a husband for his daughter, he could not give her to him unless he would pull out his teeth and cut off his claws, because the girl was afraid of them. The lion was so much in love that he readily submitted to these sacrifices. But when he presented himself again, the farmer treated him with contempt and cudgelled him off the premises.

Do not be too ready to take advice which is offered you. If nature has given you special advantages over others, do not let yourself be deprived of them, or you will fall an easy preyto people who used tom stand in awe of you.
When one does a bad man a service, the only recompense one can hope for is that he will not add injury to ingratitude.

It is comforting to the wretched to see others in worse case than they are themselves.

Favours are frightening when they come from evildoers.

Those who stand up to a first assailant make others afraid of them.

A naturally gifted man, through lack of application, is often beaten by a plodder.- hare and tortoise story.

The servant spoke grateful words in the master’s hearing and ill when the master was away.

The most miserable of all are those who beget children in servitude.

Ass and horse with the master, ass requests horse to take some of the load, horse refuses. When ass dies due to overload, master puts all load on horse.
The strong should help the weak so the lives of both will be preserved.
This message is most appropriate in a capitalistic society. Where individual profits matter more than welfare of community.

The vainglorious ways of impostors only serve to expose their secret sins.

No one should be vainglorious in this life for it is insignificant people who live most safely.

I was surprised by this fable!
Once upon a time Hermes was driving all over the world a cart stuffed with falsehoods, wickedness and deceit, distributing a little of his load in each country. But when he came to the land of the Arabs, it is said that the cart suddenly broke in pieces and the inhabitants plundered its contents as if they were valuable merchandise, so that there was nothing left for Hermes to carry elsewhere. The Arabs are the greatest liars and deceivers on earth. Their tongues know not the truth.

Some people are so intent on dishonest gain that they fail to see when they are providing proof of their own guilt.

Even a naturally good man, if you slander his character, will often show himself towards you as black as you have painted him.

Uncontrolled rage often does serious harm to those who give way to it.

Zeus made a bull, Prometheus a man, and Athena a house; and they chose Momus to judge their handiwork. He was so jealous of it that he began to find fault with everything. Zeus, he said, had made a mistake in not putting the bull’s eyes in it’s horns, to enable it to see what it was butting. Prometheus’ man should have had his mind attached to the outside of his body; then his thoughts would have been visible, so that wickedness could not be hidden. As for Athena, she ought to have mounted her house on wheels so that one could move without any trouble if a rogue came to live next door. Zeus was angered by this display of malice and exiled Momus from Olympus.
Nothing is so good that some fault cannot be found with it.


Satish said...

This reminds me of another Fabel, the moral of that story is " Trust in GOD, but tie your camel to the tree". Truly practical.

Sowmya said...

Welcome back Satish :)
Where have you been?

notgogol said...

Whoa! People reading Aesop in 2010. He must be a proud man