The Ancient Library
 

Scanned text contains errors.

AESOPU8.

Prolog. 33, &c.) Among his masters were two Samians, Xanthus and ladmon, from the latter of whom he received his freedom. Upon this he •visited Croesus (where we are told that he re­proved Solon for discourtesy to the king), and afterwards Peisistratus at Athens. Plutarch (de sera Num. Vind. p. 556) tells us, that he was sent to Delphi by Croesus, to distribute among the citizens four nrinae a piece. But in consequence of some dispute arising on the subject, he refused to give any money at all, upon which the enraged Delphians threw him from a precipice. Plagues were sent upon them from the gods for the offence, and they proclaimed their willingness to give a compensation for his death to any one who could claim it. At length ladmon, the grandson of his old master, received the compensation, since no nearer connexion could be found. (Herod, ii. 134.)

There seems no reason to doubt this story about the compensation, and we have now stated all the circumstances of Aesop's life which rest on any au­thority. But there are a vast variety of anecdotes and adventures in which he bears the principal part, in a life of him prefixed to a book of Fables purport­ing to be his, and collected by Maximus Planudes, a monk of the 14th century. This life repre­sents Aesop as a perfect monster of ugliness and deformity ; a notion for which there is no authority whatever. For he is mentioned in passages of classical authors, where an allusion to such per­sonal peculiarities would have been most natural, without the slightest trace of any such allusion. Pie appears for instance in Plutarch's Convivium, where though there are many jokes on his former condition as a slave, there are none on his ap­pearance, and we need not imagine that the an­cients would be restrained from such jokes by any feelings of delicac}7", since the nose of Socrates furnishes ample matter for raillery in the Sympo­sium of Plato. Besides, the Athenians caused Lysippus to erect a statue in his honour, which had it been sculptured in accordance with the above description, would have been the reverse of ornamental.

The notices however which we possess of Aesop are so scattered and of such doubtful authority, that there have not been wanting persons to deny his existence altogether. " In poetical philosophy," says Vico in his Scienza Nuovu, " Aesop will be found not to be any particular and actually exist­ing man, but the abstraction of a class of men, or a poetical character representative of the companions and attendants of the heroes, such as certainly existed in the time of the seven Sages of Greece." This however is an excess of scepticism into which it would be most unreasonable to plunge: whether Aesop left any written works at all, is a question which affords considerable room for doubt, and to which Bentley inclines to give a negative. Thus Aristophanes ( Vesp. 1259) represents Philocleon as learning his Fables in conversation and not out of a book, and Socrates who turned them into poetry versified those that "he knew, and could most readily remember." (Plat. Phaed. p. 61, b; Bent-ley, Dissertation on the Fables of Aesop, p. 13G.)

However this may be, it is certain that fables, bearing Aesop's name, were popular at Athens in its most intellectual age. We find them frequently noticed by Aristophanes. One of the pleasures of a dicast (Vesp. 566) was, that among the candi­dates for his protection and vote some endeavoured

AE80PUS. 47

to win his favour by repeating to him fables, and some Alcrcoirov ri je\otov. Two specimens of these 7eAoja or drolleries may be read in the Vespae^ 1401, &c., and in the Aves, 651, &c. The latter however is said by the Scholiast to be the composition of Archilochus, and it is probable that many anecdotes and jests were attributed to Aesop, as the most popular of all authors of the kind, which really were not his. This is favour­able to Bentley's theory, that his fables were not collected in a written form, which also derives additional probability from the fact that there is a variation in the manner in which ancient authors quote Aesop, even though they are manifestly referring to the same fable. Thus Aristotle (De, Part.'Anim. iii. 2) cites from him a complaint of Momus, " that the bull's horns were not placed about, his shoulders, where he might make the strongest push, but in the tenderest part, his head," whilst Lucian (Nigr. 32) makes the fault to be " that his horns were not placed straight before his eyes." A written collection would have prevented such a diversity.

Besides the drolleries above mentioned, there were probably fables of a graver description, since, as we have seen, Socrates condescended to turn them into verse, of which a specimen has been preserved by Diogenes Laertius. Again, Plato, though he excluded Homer's poems from his imaginary Republic, praises the writings of Aesop. By him they are called juufloi (Phaed. pp. 60, 61), though an able writer in the Philological Museum (i. p. 281) thinks that the more ancient name for such fictions was alvos, a word explained by Buttmann (Leccilogus, p. 60, Eng. transl.), " a speech full of meaning, or cunningly imagined" (liom. Od. xiv. 508), whence Ulysses is called Tro\vaivos in, reference to the particular sort of speeches which mark his character. In Hesiod (Op. et Dies, *200), it has passed into the sense of a moral fable. The alvoi or /J,vdoi of Aesop were certainly in prose :—they are called by Aristo­phanes Ao7oi, and their author (Herod, ii. 134) is A'i<rw7ros 6 \oy6-rroLos., \6yos being the peculiar word for Prose, as ^ttt; was for verse, and includ­ing both fable and history, though afterwards restricted to oratory, when that became a separate branch of composition.

Following the example of Socrates, Demetrius Phalereus (b. c. 320) turned Aesop's fables into poetry, and collected them into a book': and after him an author, whose name is unknown, pub­lished them in Elegiacs, of which some fragments are preserved by Suidas. But the only Greek versifier of Aesop, of whose writings any whole fables are preserved is Babrius, an author of no mean powers, and who may well take his place amongst Fabulists with Phaedrus and La Fon-taine. His version is in Choliainbics, i. e. Iame9 halting iambics (%c£Aos, fo/xgos), verses which fol­low in all respects the laws of the Iambic Tri­meter till the sixth foot, which is either a spondee or trochee, the fifth being properly an iambus. This version was made a little before the age of Augustus, and consisted of ten Books, of Avhich a few scattered fables only are preserved. Of the Latin writers of Aesopean fables, Phaedrus is the most celebrated.

The fables now extant in prose, bearing the name of Aesop, are unquestionably spurious. Of these there are three principal collections, the one con-

Pages
About | First

46

47

48
letter/word  
volume
page #  
Search this site
Google


ancientlibrary.com
WWW
All non-public domain material, including introductions, markup, and OCR © 2005 Tim Spalding.
Ancient Library was developed and hosted by Tim Spalding of Isidore-of-Seville.com.