That Spiritual Community Which is Formed by the Conduct of the Dromena
This Being a Sort of Journal of Ideas Set Down by the Archiereos.
March 26th, 2000, the Ritual Month of
Elaphebolion, Thiasos Olympikos 10
When I began the process of assembling a Required Reading List for the Priesthood of Thiasos Olympikos it seemed to me that it would be a relatively easy task, for our Cultural Ancestors based the religion which they built so variously in divers locations on a relatively small body of works and a relaltively huge body of unwritten assumptions. Homer and Hesiod presented themselves as the core of what we might call our 'scriptures:' I then tried to assess the importance of other 'source' materials to a basic understanding of what we are attempting to do.
At about the same time I found myself considering the problem faced by many Pagan sects of how to communicate the belief system we are holding to our descendents; and happily, I remembered my childhood and the stories to which I was treated at bedtime and other times, and a clear and remarkable confluence appeared:
Shuffling back through the dusty attic of my mind I remembered how clearly and simply Aesop had conveyed profound truths in a format easily understood by even me (then a little kid). My next task should be (I thought) relatively easy. All I would have to do was pick one or two editions as recommendations and make them available through Amazon.
I made my journey through Cyberspace to Amazon, and was shocked to discover no less than 210 editions of Aesop's Fables listed, at prices ranging from eighty cents to forty five dollars!
Paging through the listings, however, proved less than enlightening. No information of any real value was provided. True, there was the information that one could find the fables in a choice of two different interactive CD ROMs, around thirty dollars each. And there was a history of illustraations of the Fables over the last three hundred years at thirty five dollars. But many of the editions were out of print, and some were, well... One reader reviewer assured us that Tom Paxton was clearly the greatest writer of our times, perhaps ignoring Aesop's contribution entirely.
There were also many editions which clearly contained only a few of the fables: these were obviously platforms for the display of the talent of one illustrator or another. Mostly likely the publisher wanted to see if the illustrator could make it in the market place without the expense of paying a writer (which is something publishers really hate to do).
I figured it was time to head for an actual, physical, bookstore. The kind that carries new books. (Recommending an out of print edition is possibly a dead end, no matter how attractive it might be.)
Several bookstores later I came to a sober understanding. First, there was no readily available definitive edition of the Fables. Worse, definitive was much at issue. Worse yet, the most readily available translation of the Fables was one which altered the names of the Gods and Heros to their Latin/Roman forms and in addition added pre-digested morals.
One edition which I saw went so far as to give the Fables individual titles borrowed from Shakespear and the Bible, on the presumed assumption that everyone would know the Bible and Shakespear well enough to make sense of the often truly obscure references.
The next move probably should have been the first move: the Net. But a quick search with my favorite engine quickly turned up 38,619 sites concerned with Aesop's Fables! Or which, at least, made mention of them That's a lot of research!
And most of it, I am sure, is irrelevent (or maybe it's a hippopotomus). When I made a search for Greek Tragedy I discovered that each and every time a high school sports team loses a game it is referred to by the reporter as a Greek Tragedy.
A cursory glance led me to multiple retellings of the Fables, audio and video versions of 'selected' fables (Bill Cosby has one!) and even computer training courses making use of the name of the Fables, whether or not any of the Fables were in any way concerned. --And innumerable websites put up by grade school teachers anxious to prove how up to date (and underpaid) they are with the technology; and never again serviced after the initial thrill has passed and library paste has been rediscovered.
One very good site, however, provided some information about Aesop's place in history. He was (it is thought) a contemporary of the following people: just in case you need perspective: Sappho, Zoroaster, Lao Tze, Jeremiah, Buddha, and just barely, Pythagoras. He is well after Homer and Hesiod. That's all around 600 B.C.E. You may wish to remember this information for later in this column.
It seems that he was a slave, did well, got his freedom, and ended up at Delphi, where they threw him off a cliff to kill him.
And they succeeded!
A while later the Fables were written down in Greek, then translasted into Latin. The Greek originals were lost, but then re-translated back into Greek. So far, pretty clear.
But then, even with the resources of the Net, the waters turn murky. An unclear jumble emerges about translation into French and English in the Seventeenth Century. Whether these translations are from Greek or Latin or what is never made clear.
But one figure emerges from all this whose work becomes dominantly influential: The Reverend George Fyler Townsend (1814 - 1900) made a translation which seems to be the most often re-published. In it the Roman names of the Gods and Heroes are used, and there are morals stated at the ends of most of the Fables for easy digestion.
Rev. Townsend's version is readily available on the Net, free to read or download. Here is a link to my take on the best version currently available:
The site also has some interesting material on Aesop's life, including references to more recent scholarship, such as that of Mr. Perry: of whom we shall write more later.
In taking a quick glance at Rev. Townsend's version of the Fable of Androcles and the Lion I was struck suddenly with the mise en scene of this familiar story. I found myself asking: "Just why is an Hellenic slave telling a story about a slave being thrown to the lions, and then freed by the Emperor? In 600 BCE?" I mean, Roman history is not my area, but it was some time later, I know, that Rome conquered Hellas.
I have to ask: Just when did Rome start having Emperors? When did Rome start throwing criminals to the lions? How many poor lions died from this very unhealthy diet? --I digress.
I do wonder if perhaps Rev. Townsend may have made some little changes in the tale as he translated. Some details designed to make the world of Aesop more intelligible to his Nineteenth Century readers. If this were the case, then his readers, brought up on the latter Christian myths about slaves and Christianity (the evidence shows that early Christianity spread through the upper and middle classes: there was no real attempt to convert the slaves in the early days) would have found the tale very appealing; but what then was its original content?
And what of Adrocles? Doesn't his name translate as 'beloved of men?'
Well, this sort of question seemes to have bothered other people than me. Continuing the search, we find a new translation by Olivia, Clivia, and Robert Temple, and here... Well, I can do no better than to quote translater Robert Temple's comments on this edition:
"Our translation is based upon the edition of the text by the late Professor Emile Chambry, published in France. It was Professor Chambry who made the selection of what he believed to constitute 'the complete fables of Aesop', not ourselves.There is another text available that is, in my opinion, not Aesop at all, but a travesty of Aesop entitled BABRIUS AND PHAEDRUS. It contains the texts and translations of the works of Babrius and Phaedrus, two late and inferior authors who distorted the Aesopic material in a puerile and shoddy manner. Aesop's own fables, plus some other material such as late Christian fables clearly not by him, are merely summarised in an appendix (which also contains some scholarly errors). In my view, this implies that Aesop is not worth either printing in Greek or translating into English, but can be shoved into an appendix where brief summaries will suffice. It was primarily because of this outrageous Loeb volume that we decided to set matters right by doing justice to Aesop and publishing a translation of his complete fables in English, so that people could at last read him fully. There is also a 17th century translation of some of Aesop's fables by Sir Roger l'Estrange, which has far fewer fables in it than our edition. We are great admirers of the literary qualities of Sir Roger l'Estrange's translations. Sir Roger obviously never translated the notorious 'censored' fables which we restored, since in his day - and up till the present - 'rude' fables were considered socially unacceptable. (Indeed, there are still people around today who hold that view; we were attacked on the radio by Rush Limbaugh for translating fables such as 'The Camel Who Shat in the River'. When I was interviewed on an American radio station about this and mentioned the title, I was told 'We don't use that word, children might be listening.' My view is that if the statistics show, as they evidently do, that the average American 16 year old has witnessed 80,000 murders on television, but it is is believed he or she should not allowed to read the word 'shat' because it might damage his or her delicate sensitivities, then something is wrong somewhere and the whole society has gone insane!) The number of fables translated by the excellent Sir Roger does not come near the 358to be found in our book. "
(Perhaps an historical footnote is here in order: Mr. Lumbaugh's fifteen minutes of fame may have run out by the time you read this, and you may not know who he is/was. Rush Limbaugh is/was, a very fat man who made his fortune (a considerable one), according to his statements in an interview, 'giving people what they want.' In his case that seems to have contstituted sloppy logic on the behalf of the extreme right wing of American politics. 'Right wing rabble rouser' would seem to be a good description.)
Which, I guess, should not surprise me. People who place themselves firmly on the Right are the first to Stand Up for Freedom and Object to Government Interfernce In Our Lives: and the first also, to countenance the Imposition of Censureship. But again, I digress.
If you go searching for the Temple translation on Amazon, under 'Aesop's Fables.' you won't find it, by the by. A clever re-titleing keeps those ever sensitive children (who are not bothered by 80,000 murders) from encouinteriong the word 'shat.' But you can buy it at a reasonable price by clicking on this next link:
And it might be mentioned that the Temples use the correct, Hellenic names for the Gods!
The next part of the adventure comes in the form of a reader review from someone at Berkeley: someone who writes like a Scholar, and who has this to say about the translation by the Temples:
"This book does NOT contain the complete fables of Aesop. This translation claims to contain the complete fables of Aesop, but this is not correct: Ben E. Perry's edition of Aesopic fables for the Loeb Classical Library ISBN: 0674994809) contains approximately twice as many fables as the Temples' supposedly "complete" fables. Robert and Olivia Temple do not know very much about the sources of Aesopic fables, and they do a poor job of describing the history of this wonderful body of folklore. People who are really nterested in Aesop would do well to look for a copy of Lloyd Daly's Aesop without Morals (out of print) or they can read the brilliant collection of Aesop's fables in seventeenth-century English by Roger L'Estrange (published in Everyman's Library Children's Classics, ISBN: 0679417907). "
So, of course, I went to look up Mr. Perry's version, and discovered that the Loeb Classical Library does not offer any books by Ben E. Perry. A net search of Amazon for Mr. Perry did turn up four other books, including one concerned with sources for the Fables: and it looks quite interesting, though it is not clear whether or not it actually contains translations of the Fables themselves. I haven't read it, but here is a link to it:
I really do want to read it!
It also occurred to me that everybody had something good to say about Sir Roger l'Estrange, so I pursued Sir Roger until I was able to find two editions of his versions of the Fables. Again, we have not actually seen these books, but they are, at least, reasonably priced.
A weekend has passed and I have had time to spend hours in the bookstores of Berkeley.
It took about forty five minutes of searching to find the shocking new translation by the Temples, but find it I did (that was forty five minutes of searching via the computer with the aid of the information agent, mind you!); and I judged it worth spending my precious pennies upon. --Its existence has certainly been obfuscated!
I also got to look at the Everyman's Children's edition of the l'Estrange translation (which I couldn't buy because my pennies had run out), a wondrous and strange book at a good price in hardback.
The Temple translation is pretty much what it purports to be, at least in terms of a clear and accurate translation of its source materials. It reads well. There are notes appended after some of the Fables, explaining things that you might not know: like Who Zeus was, and why people (or animals) might go to Him for support. Its biggest flaw is that there is no table of contents type index. You simply have to read through the Fables one by one, even though they are numbered. I find this editorial decision hard to fathom; I doubt that the decision lay with the Temples.
The l'Estrange version is very much a story teller's version. It has a quality of verbal delivery that cries out for performance. It will help if you have Jacobite accent, or at least one that is Elizabethan: which, for those of you who don't know, sounds an awful lot like Robert Newtoin doing Long John Silver. Don't read this one to the children without practice ahead of time, as the language may require more of your mouth than you are used to doing with it.
Rather than simple morals at the end, l'Estrange gives rather lengthy moral dissertations on the meaning of each tale. They won't be much use in interpreting for the benefit of Pagan children, but they are interesting and wise reading. It should be born in mind that England was busy with Protestant Catholic versus Roman Catholic about the time that l'Estrange was writing his version of the Fables.
And you would think, after 2,400 years, that the controversy might have toned down just a little. But wait, it gets better, or worse, depending on your point of view.
One of the things I found on the net was a compillation of the Fables which was prefaced by a statement that the person proferring them did not really like the moral content of some of the fables (he thought they too frequently advised that one ought to leave well enough alone) and so he had left out the ones of which he dissaproved. --Which, of course, is exactly what Rev. Bowdler did in the Nineteenth Centuiry when he rewrote everything on which he could lay his hands. (And rest assured, he laid hands on with sufficient violence that we might today refer to his activities as Literary Molestation, rather than just Bowdlerizing.)
Another site presents us with a version in which the violence is toned down radically, and the theological observations are removed entirely. (The fox runs and grabs a burning brand to set fire to the tree, rather than the eagle stealing a piece of flesh with live fire still in it from the sacrific. The eagle then pleads for the life of her chick, and all ends happly, rather than the fox devouring the eagle's chicks as the eagle had devoured the children of the fox.)
And it goes on and on. Thirty Eight Thousand sites to be searched!
If anyone out there likes the model which the Fundamentalists use, of citing chapter and verse and translation, then here is your counter-scripture: Aesop!
Mind you, I have not yet seen Ben E. Perry's book, which promises to be, perhaps, the definitive version for which I began this search; but when I get some money, I will.
For the moment, the best I can do is to refer you to the four books that have emerged from this search as the mostly likey, and note that there are lots of books with illustrations of great beauty which your children may like even better. So, just to recap, these are a good place to start:
First, a place on the net where you can read or download for free:
Second, the two editions of the versions by Sir Roger l'Estrange:
Third, the shocking new tranlation by the Temples.
And Fourth, the Scholarly tome by Ben E. Perry which looks to be exhaustive and which may indeed contain the most fables of all.
--Who would have thought so much would have come of a few simple fables about animals.
--Finally completed on April 2, 2000, still in the ritual month of Elaphebolion, Thiasos Olympikos 10
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