Friday, January 13, 2017

Samaniego and Phaedrus, fabulists

The wolf and the lamb, illustration by Gustav Doré

[Image source: .

Today's miniature post.  So, along with my TEFL study I thought it would make sense to sharpen up my own knowledge of foreign languages, so I picked up Félix María de Samaniego´s fables and began to have a read. (Samaniego was a sceptical author, influenced by the French Encyclopaedists, whose popular fables were written in the late 18th century.)

Samaniego's fables are in verse and Spanish Wikipedia entry compares his approach to "Fedro", who it turned out, was the 2nd-Century Roman fabulist Phaedrus, an author I'd never come across before.

Phaedrus' fables were translated into English by Christopher Smart (the sometimes mad poet famous for his amazing Song to David and Jubilate Agno).  Here's one of them (like many, it's based on an Aesop fable) that struck me as well worth pondering in our hyper-accusatory times.

Fable I. the wolf and the lamb.

By thirst incited; to the brook
The Wolf and Lamb themselves betook.
The Wolf high up the current drank,
The Lamb far lower down the bank.
Then, bent his rav’nous maw to cram,
The Wolf took umbrage at the Lamb.
“How dare you trouble all the flood,
And mingle my good drink with mud?”
“Sir,” says the Lambkin, sore afraid,
“How should I act, as you upbraid?

The thing you mention cannot be,
The stream descends from you to me.”
Abash’d by facts, says he, “I know
’Tis now exact six months ago
You strove my honest fame to blot”—
“Six months ago, sir, I was not.”
“Then ’twas th’ old ram thy sire,” he cried,
And so he tore him, till he died.
To those this fable I address
Who are determined to oppress,
And trump up any false pretence,
But they will injure innocence.

 Read more Phaedrus/Smart fables here:

[Image source: . Illustration by Glenda Maye Abad.]

Samaniego's fable "El cordero y el lobo" (Book 2, Number 18) tells a different story.

Uno de los corderos mamantones,
Que para los glotones
Se crían, sin salir jamás al prado,
Estando en la cabaña muy cerrado,
Vio por una rendija de la puerta
Que el caballero Lobo estaba alerta,
En silencio esperando astutamente
Una calva ocasión de echarle el diente.
Mas él, que bien seguro se miraba,
Así lo provocaba:
«Sepa usted, señor Lobo, que estoy preso,
Porque sabe el pastor que soy travieso;
Mas si él no fuese bobo,
No habría ya en el mundo ningún Lobo.
Pues yo corriendo libre por los cerros,
Sin pastores ni perros,
Con sólo mi pujanza y valentía
Contigo y con tu raza acabaría.»
«Adiós, exclamó el Lobo, mi esperanza
De regalar a mi vacía panza.
Cuando este miserable me provoca
Es señal de que se halla de mi boca
Tan libre como el cielo de ladrones.»
Así son los cobardes fanfarrones,
Que se hacen en los puestos ventajosos
Más valentones cuanto más medrosos.

A little mollycoddled lamb, who had been fattened up in a secure shed (for the benefit of some future gourmet), and had never once been out in the field, happened to notice through a crack in the door that Sir Wolf was just outside, keeping intent watch, cunningly and silently waiting for his chance to grab a toothsome snack.

But the lamb, observing that he was perfectly safe, assailed him as follows:

"Know, Sir Wolf, that I am imprisoned here, because the shepherd knows what a terrible creature I am. But if this shepherd weren't such a fool, there wouldn't be a single wolf left upon the earth. Yes, if I were allowed to run free among the hills, away from the shepherds and their dogs, my strength and my courage would soon put an end both to you and to your whole race."

"Well," thought the wolf, "bang go my hopes of a treat for my empty belly! If the wretch taunts me so, clearly he's no more scared of my jaws than robbers are scared of Heaven."

Thus cowardly braggers, as soon as they find themselves in a place where they can't be touched, the more feeble they really are, the more valiant they appear.

Known in our own days as the internet troll effect!

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At 8:16 pm, Blogger Robin said...

No mention of Robert Henryson, Michael? tut-TUT!!!

You might want to consider the relation between the Aesopete and the Reynard tradition of fables -- Phaedrus is very much part of the former. Henryson draws on both.


At 12:48 am, Blogger Michael Peverett said...

Yes I must pick up Henryson again, I'd forgotten about his fables. I've never thought much about fables before, they're such fascinating things.

At 5:13 pm, Blogger Glenda Maye Abad said...

Thank you for giving credit when you used my illustration. I appreciate it very much. Also, I wasn't aware of the Spanish (Is it Spanish?) version of the story. Thank you for posting this. I learned something new. Keep it up! :)


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