BMCR 2004.09.32

“Y así dijo la zorra”. La Tradición Fabulística en los Pueblos del Mediterráneo. Mediterranea No. 10

, , "Y así dijo la zorra" : la tradición fabulística en los pueblos del Mediterráneo. Mediterranea ; 10. Madrid-Málaga: Ediciones Clásicas, 2002. 275 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm.. ISBN 8478824995

This volume is the fruit of a 2001 colloquium at the University of Málaga. There are chapters on fable in its Greek heartland from origins, through Hellenistic transactions, to Phaedrus in Rome, Christian reformulations, and Byzantine diffusions. The “Mediterranean” reach also includes classical Arab “fable”, the medieval Spanish Aesop, and Italian Renaissance emblem-books.

Aurelio Peréz Jiménez and Gonzalo Cruz Andreotti “Y así dijo la zorra” (1-9).

The editors offer an extremely basic summary of themes: What is fable? Why does fable lends itself to use across genres, societies and times? Why are animals such potent agents for explicating moral sententiae? What made fable such a Mediterranean phenomenon? How does fable change over time? Why should we still be interested in fable?

Francisco Rodríguez Adrados “La Fábula en Grecia y Oriente” (11-18).

RA. is the father of Spanish fable studies, and his influence hangs heavy over this volume. After stressing fable’s multicultural and multidisciplinary longevity, RA. looks at Greek fable origins and evidence for cross-pollination with the Indian East. The search for originals is (almost) profitless and, as RA. summarizes in a complicated discussion of Indo-enthusiasts, fraught with chronological and textual difficulties. RA. offers a diachronic model of development for Eastern and Greek fable. Certainly the origin of fable-type products in the Near East (and Egypt) is not problematic: a mass of material of proverb and sententia-type existed long before Greek models.

Stefano Jedrkiewicz “Animales y sophía. La fábula esópica como saber universal” (19-48).

How does Hesiod’s hawk/nightingale fable ( ainos) supplement the master of truth’s overall “message” about Dike and sophia ( Works & Days 202ff.)? Context is everything for fable, and J. elaborates pragmatic, diplomatic and logical effects in Hesiod’s use of animal “otherness” to point the human moral. For J., Archilochus better demonstrates fable’s polyvalence: Archilochus manipulates fable’s emerging “cultural collective” power for his satiric/polemic (and, for J., realistic) ends. J. then discusses fable’s rapid ascension in the fifth century as a multi-use device, “extraliteraria y literaria”, in the (élite) cultural collective, as evinced by sources on sympotic culture. J. turns to the “trademark” “Aesop”, tracing the complex of significances and transcultural “value” implicit in both “Aesop”-as- heuretes and various terms (mythos, logos, ainos) and forms used for fable-as-“sintagma semántico”, and the contexts in which they are used in Aristophanes, Herodotus, sources on Socrates, and in Aristotle’s enthusiasm-killing theorizing. This chapter is bursting with energy. The links between sections are not easy to follow, and any overt sophia -theme gets lost midway, but J.’s ideas about fable’s early vitality “de boca en boca” supplement his stimulating work on fable traditions.1

Pílar Gómez Cardó “Ética en la edad tardía: Esopo y el helenismo” (49-87).

For GC., post-classical fable is a different creature in a not-so-brave, socially and psychologically fractured world which does not espouse the performative opportunities of the classical era. How does the predominantly oral and anonymous fable hold its own in this codified world where the prized product possesses “un carácter eminentemente libresco”? Fable becomes “bookified”, and its association with “Aesop” strengthens. The Life of Aesop cements fable and “inventor”. There is more genre theorizing. Fable circulates in collections (e.g., that of Demetrius of Phalerum). Evidence can be awkward, but GC. offers an absorbing discussion of the parodic/satiric/moral/ethical/didactic/aetiologic fables associated with Cynic spoudogeloion – and chreia -traditions, the new generation of iambographers, and novelistic texts such as the Life.

GC. leaps from Callimachus to Philostratus. What is behind Philostratus’ language choices at Imagines I 3? GC. eventually explains that Philostratus’ (canonical?) image of “wise” Aesop-with-fox (“calificado de sabio”) is a significant inheritance (hence Phaedrus’ wise/father Aesop?) of a Hellenistic (Cynic) tradition, which foregrounds Aesop-as-creator and fable as an apparatus “tuned in” to contemporary circumstances, notably where parrhesia would be admirable but dangerous. Is GC. making this too hard? Perhaps not: on the one hand, élite users “sex up” fable/fabulist into something more sophisticated, less servile. On the other hand, fable may well involve “the suspension of the self-evidence of the categories “literature” and “philosophy” in order to use each to put the identity of the other into question.”2

The reading strategy receptive to Cynicism is stimulating but requires a more radical pressurizing of texts and contexts. This failure is apparent in GC.’s section on Aesop/fable in [for GC., the same] Philostratus’ Apollonius of Tyana. More interesting is the discussion of interconnections between Apollonius and the Life of Aesop. Readers attuned to contemporary engagements with hellenism/s will be disappointed by GC.’s summary treatment of Lucian and Dio of Prusa. These authors are well aware of the manipulability of the Aesopic trademark in the wrong hands. GC. foregrounds Cynic traces, seeking a serio-comic (Menippean) Aesop used as “guarantor” of Lucian’s animal motifs (e.g., the ass of Cyme: Fugitivi 13). In the next section, GC. zips through the wisdom-typology of the fabulizing Wise Man/Sage, contrasting Chilon (in Diogenes Laertius and Plutarch) and Aesop. Plutarch’s portrait of Aesop is exceptional, but GC. does not do justice to the world of wisdom merchandising.

Babrius’ mysterious agenda is next: would that we could read Babrius’ prologues against a specific background, but fable is rarely that obliging. The choice of choliambics is significant: it taps into the “tradición yámbica, de ataque, de burla, de crítica o de censura”. The “new Aesop” is not “un mero compilador” like those who versified prose collections. Babrius, “un hombre muy helenizado”, is ” escritor de fábulas en verso” [my emphasis]. Influenced by his Italian-Greek-Eastern background/s, he cultivates choliambic fable with the object of wrestling with Aesopic tradition and the Greek past. GC. then looks at fable in rhetorical schools and rhetoricians’ more theoretical interactions.

Editorial constraints force GC. to attempt coverage of all Greek fable instantiations “en la edad tardía” whilst minimizing an agenda of greater personal interest (to this reader too). The result is a retelling of basic fable history (indebted to Adrados) peppered, too infrequently, with moments of innovative engagement with extra-canonical worlds.

José Antonio Segurado e Campos “Ética y derecho. Ensayo sobre la fábula de Fedro” (89-118).

After summarizing Greek fable, SeC. follows fable to Rome, examining its role in the education of children and orators (using Quintilian), and treatments in Ennius, Lucilius, Horace, etc. Satire and fable co-exist comfortably for these Romans — an inheritance taken by Phaedrus to new levels. SeC. spares us technical problems in favour of analysis of distinctive characteristics of Phaedrus’ art: for example, Phaedrus’ own presence in the fables as “ego”-narrator (“Aesopus auctor quam materiam repperit, / hanc ego polivi versibus senariis”: I Prologue) and autobiographist (of sorts); Phaedrus’ invention of new fables and attunement to particularly “Roman” themes; his attempts to break from “Aesopus auctor” and the burden of Greek rivalry — to formulate his own literary identity; and, his production of the first “literary” fable collection. SeC. scrutinizes Phaedrus’ liking for “elementos jurídicos”. Some fables reveal “todos los momentos de un proceso real”, but SeC. is sensitive to intriguing divergences. Finally, SeC. returns to fable and satire: the use of senarian verse hints at an historicizing relationship, but SeC.’s model “revalorización” is right not to debase Phaedrus’ originality.

Juan José Ayán Calvo “La fábula en la primera literatura cristiana” (119-139).

Christian literature abounds with fable-type instances (e.g., parables). AC. investigates fable’s “serena y discreta utilización” by the Church Fathers, who were remarkably friendly toward this pagan genre. These familiar moralizing texts offered a platform from which to engage in dialogue with the dominant culture. Fable is vivid and accessible, yet “safe”, for ridiculing wrong behaviour (particularly among their brethren). AC. offers a pithy summary of the transactions of Tertullian, Clement, Gregory of Nazianzus, Prudentius, Jerome, and Augustine with fable tradition. A final section (dubiously “primera literatura”) examines the idiosyncratic classification of fable in Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae.

Gert-Jan van Dijk “La fábula bizantina. Panorama de su presencia en las colecciones y otros géneros literarios” (141-183).

The author defines all elements of “la fábula bizantina”. Aptly, three areas warrant elaboration: ancient fables/collections, whose survival we owe to the Byzantines; collection of fables invented and re-wrought in this era; and “loose” fables found in other genres. The first category includes the collections of Babrius and the Augustana, and fables preserved by Photius, Tzetzes, the Suda et al. The second group is Babrian in tradition — most significant (in verse) is the tetrastich collection of Ignatius Diaconus; prose collections include the famous “Vindobonensis” and “Accursiana”, and that of “Syntipas”. The third group is verse and prose fables found in historiography, novels, rhetoric, letters, lexicography, theological texts, works on grammar, paroemiography, scholia and commentaries. As vD. suggests, modern fable study could not exist without the diligent Byzantines. This is a useful summary with an excellent bibliography.

Celia del Moral “La fábula de animales en la literatura árabe clásica” (185-207).

Classical (fifth to thirteenth century) Arab “fable” lies between paroemiography and narrative. The proverb ( mathal) frequently delineates human faults through animal agents. The nearest equivalent of occidental fable is a blend: “una narración [ hikaya ] con un final moralizante”. M. reviews fable’s expansion during the eighth and ninth centuries. Arab tradition too has a legendary figure, Luqman, a long-lived and pious wise-man. Often, stories about Luqman are also associated with Aesop. The parallels from Jewish, Christian, Greek and Mesopotamian sources are absorbing. Classicists will know the Greek adaptation of Kalilah and Dimnah from the manuscript which also contains the earliest Life of Aesop.3 Through Indian texts such as the Pancatantra, the two jackals fables reach the Arab world where they mesh with the prose adab — “Teach Yourself” for the cultivated man — which, in turn, morphs into the familiar form of 1001 Nights. Arab wisdom literature is intriguingly familiar to the Greco-Romanist — this literature too often defies categorization. These worlds can seem close when viewed through fables, but did the Arab world perceive animals in the same way as the west? M. concludes with an analysis of perceptions of animals (domestic and “fabulous”) in pre-Islamic and classical Arab cultures.

Margherita Morreale “La fábula en la Edad Media. El Libro de Juan Ruiz como representante castellano del Isopete” (209-238).

Aesop stories were popular in Spain, where lively trade in the picaresque culminates in Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Juan Ruiz, Archpriest of Hita (c. 1283 – c. 1350) wrote the Libro de Buen Amor, a mixture of Aesop-inspired fables, Bible-inspired verse, mock epic, satire, love stories, popular narratives and more. M. would compare Isopete. La vida del Isopet con sus fábulas historiadas, a 1489 knock-off of Steinhöwel’s translation of Rinuccio’s Life of Aesop. M. analyses fables within the narratives (as opposed to the narratives themselves) in terms of vocabulary, syntax, metre, narrative positioning, and compares other texts doing the rounds. Given the popularity of fable, M.’s conclusions are suitably circumspect.4

Francisco Talavera Esteso “El motivo de la fábula en la emblemática y el comentario del Brocense a los Emblemata de Alciato” (239-275).

TE.’s analysis of fable-motifs in the “first” emblem-book, Andreas Alciatus’ 1531 Emblematum liber, is filtered through the 1573 commentary of Francisco Sánchez del las Brozas (“El Brocense”) on the 1549 Spanish translation. Emblem-books “reveal a nearly complete panoply of renaissance interests and experience”.5 An emblem composes a mottóquotation ( inscriptio) above a pictura with a subscriptio from a learned source (Alciato liked the Greek Anthology). An emblem is “pictures and words”, and influences may have been ancient epigram, commonplace books, hieroglyphs, medals, ancient wall paintings, heraldry, nature symbolism, the Bible, classical myth, and more. Fables clearly influenced emblem-books which strove, in part, for “la ejemplificación moral”, and commentators such as El Brocense had a field day unraveling fabulistic sources. His sincere but dull annotations establish his own, as well as Alciato’s mastery of ancient texts, which TE. records in turn — lamenting that lack of space curtailed hermeneusis. There are black-and-white images of fabulistic emblems. Unfortunately, a number of these are so pixelated as to be unreadable. The near-frontispiece (figure 1, p. 2) suffers similarly — a pity given the cover’s gorgeous reproduction of Aesopica 224.

The book lacks indices or “fable-table”. Bibliography is sometimes in footnotes and sometimes at chapters’ ends. Inaccurate page numbers mar the Contents (correct ones are given above). A cruel reviewer might think it daring of the editors to begin their Introduction (p.1) with the fable of the fox who picks up the actor’s mask and comments on the handsome “head” which contains no brains ( Aesopica 27; cf. Phaedrus I 7). There is much of general interest in this volume (fable is indeed “una literatura que no admite fronteras”: Adrados, p.17), but I am left with the impression that Spanish-language fable studies are not moving forward. Understandably, editorial constraints may be partly to blame for the uneasy struggle between fulfilling the generalist requirements of the volume’s title and fully elucidating individual interests.


1. Sapere e paradosso nell’antichità: Esopo e la favola. Roma: Edizioni dell’Ateneo, 1989. Il convitato sullo sgabello. Plutarco, Esopo ed i Sette Savi. Filologia e Critica 80. Pisa and Rome: Istituti Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali, 1997.

2. Keenan, T. “Fables of responsibility” 121-141 in Gelley, A. (ed.) (1995) Unruly examples: on the rhetoric of exemplarity, Stanford, p. 129.

3. Husselman, E. (1938) A Fragment of Kalilah and Dimnah from MS. 397 in the Pierpont Morgan Library. London: Christophers.

4. See pp. 58-72 of Papademetriou, J.-Th. (1997) Aesop as an Archetypal Hero. Athens: Hellenic Society for Humanistic Studies. Papademetriou compares La Vida de Lazarillo de Tormes (1554) and the Life and highlights the absence of ‘love’ motifs in the Life.

5. Daly, P.M. (1979) Literature in the Light of the Emblem: structural parallels between the emblem and literature in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, University of Toronto Press, p. 4. My summary is indebted to pp. 3-36.