Towards the end of this volume, Gert-Jan van Dijk notes that, “It is typical for the genre’s flexibility that all of its ingredients have been changed… whereas the fable itself remains recognizable” (278). Van Dijk refers specifically to the long history of the fable of the fox and eagle (Aesopica 1; cf. Phaedrus 1.28), but his words well serve to define significant themes of this book: relationships, change, relevance, continuity, reception and re-use of the fables of Phaedrus from antiquity to the late nineteenth century.
Four papers address the textual tradition: Franco Cardini offers a clear overview of the issues facing scholars of “Fedro perduto” — the fragmentary text, likely abridgements and prose butcheries of the codices Pithoeanus and Vossianus, the ‘extra’ fables of Perotti’s Appendix, and the whole tricky business of relationships and contaminations with the ‘Romulus’ tradition.1 The valuable scholarship of the dedicatee, the late Ferruccio Bertini, is central to Cardini’s discussion. Giovanni Fiesoli explores medieval inventories of manuscripts of fables. What did the inventory-makers think they were looking at, and how did an ongoing process of selectivity (as seen, for example, in Adémar of Chabannes) shape our “Aesop”? This is a fascinating insight into the crushing domination of the Romulus-corpus. Paolo Gatti pushes for a more ‘unitary’ view of the Phaedrus textual tradition, suggesting a prearchetype and bipartite archetype: we are to view P(ithoeanus) and R(emensis) as a sort of reassembly job from a posited antigraph that represents a source distinct from the Adémar and Perotti traditions. Caterina Mordeglia’s important, original chapter offers a preliminary examination of Vat. Lat. 5190, once property of Aldus (M)anutius the Younger— a manuscript containing 23 fables of Phaedrus hitherto unknown to the textual tradition. Mordeglia carefully details variae lectiones, some of which are odd enough to favour reassessment of the tradition.
Issues of authorship and genre are explored in four papers: Lucia Rodler gallops through the theory of fable. Rodler has a particular interest in Gotthold Lessing’s theories on the differentiation of fable from fairy-tale and makes good use of this in examining the chronotopic evolution of the fable of the wolf and lamb from Phaedrus 1.1 to Perrault’s Red Riding Hood. Silvia Mattiacci explores Phaedrus’s “ambiguo ego“, notably a persona that actualizes a ‘low’ perspective from which he manipulates seriocomic hostilities between Greek/Roman literary traditions, major/minor genres, and high/low/central/peripheral classes and spaces. This represents a popular perspective in current scholarship on Phaedrus and fable, and reminds us how very little we can know of the fabulist. Renzo Tosi, in a stimulating exploration of popular language and fable, examines the complex two-way interaction between fable and proverb (fable as an organic expansion of the proverbial; proverbs in the gnomological tradition that likely derive from fables). Massimo Bonafin will not have us lump beast fable and animal epic (specifically the Roman de Renart) too closely together, despite common animal actors, shared stories and a shared oral flavour. Differences are important, and Bonafin uses Berechiah’s Mishle Shu’alim [Fox Fables] to highlight the complexities of source criticism in this area and era.
The reception of Phaedrus’s fables receives considerable attention: Mariarosaria Pugliarello outlines their reception in rhetorical education — a process which facilitated their survival at the cost of obscuring Phaedrus’s own identity within the generic catch-all of ‘Aesopic’. Klaus Grubmüller uses Phaedrus’s fable of the wolf and lamb (about those who fictis causis innocentes opprimunt) to demonstrate how fable retained cultural relevance in the Christian world through, for instance, its openness to allegorical interpretation as well as (in Grubmüller’s case study of Martin Luther) its continued ability to function as a vehicle for personalized criticism. Carla del Zotto teases out how versions the fable of the donkey and wolf are reworked to differing ends in the medieval German texts of the moralist Der wälscher Gast and the satirist Reinhart Fuchs. Gert-Jan van Dijk, demonstrating total mastery of the material, light-heartedly surveys the continuity of a fable (the fox and eagle) from Mesopotamia to modernity. Giuseppe Cremascoli explores the changed significances and modalità of animals in fables in the Christian era — for example, the fox as heretic. Again we see how accommodating the genre is to reuse, notably in contexts such as the sermon (not, of course, too great a jump from older rhetorical uses).
Four essays treat other aspects of the tradition. Davide Bertagnolli analyses strategies of easy Christianization (substitution, elimination, integration, intervention, allegorization) in the medieval Dutch Esopet collection (likely derived from Romulus). Epimythia, for instance, become stated in “termini inequivocabilmente cristiani” (255) and one suspects a missionary aim. Armando Bisanti sees the various sources of fables in the Medieval Latin tradition in terms of waterways — the larger Phaedrus streams of Romulus and Avianus, and the “rivoli e cuscelli” that include animal epic (Reynard), minor fabulists (Odo of Cheriton), and the Greek (Rinuccio) and eastern traditions. Bisanti navigates these eastern tributaries, noting the influence of the Pañchatantra / Kalila-wa-Dimna on the Latin fables of Baldo (Novus Aesopus), John of Capua and Raymond de Béziers. Alessandra di Ricco surveys who was publishing what fables, in what form, where and for whom in eighteenth century Italy. The market for pedagogical tools was enormous, with Florence and Naples notable centres for diffusion of texts, with distinct regional forms. Most interesting is di Ricco’s examination of the place of masonic lodges in the distribution networks. Paola Pallottino explores the iconographic evolution of five popular fables (wolf/lamb, raven/fox, wolf/crane, fox/stork, cicada/ant), from the medieval to modern eras, considering the language of representation, recognisability, significant moments in publishing history, and changes in printing techniques. This chapter is fulsomely illustrated (and the images clearly reproduced).
In an appendix, Flavio Oreglio offers an entertaining coda: personal insights into Phaedrus’s continuing relevance, notably in his own performance of the wolf and lamb fable ( Flavio Oreglio – Catartico Live – Il lupo e l’agnello).
An index locorum completes the volume; there is no general index (greatly missed in a work that covers such a time span and so many personnel). Production standards are excellent. Thematically, this volume hangs together well, despite its range and conference origins. The wolf of the title is the leitmotif of many chapters. The links back to Phaedrus through the manuscript tradition are a constant, as are affectionate references to the dedicatee’s work on the transmission of fable in the medieval world. A number of papers suggest valuable work in progress (one must single out the editor’s own chapter in particular). Phaedrus himself may yet remain “Fedro perduto”, but this volume is an excellent demonstration of his astonishingly versatile and vital Fortleben.
1. The ‘Perotti Appendix’ offers thirty-two additions to the texts known from Pithoeanus, transcribed from a lost source by the fifteenth century humanist Niccolò Perotti. ‘Romulus’ — the foundation of our medieval Aesop’s Fables — refers to eighty-four prose paraphrases of Phaedrus (thirty-two previously unattested). ‘Romulus’, however, would have us believe that he follows a Greek original. These traditions are all worthy of Cardini’s comment on Pithoeanus, that “le vicissitudini… che avrebbe potuto fare la fortuna di un qualche Dan Brown” (16).