As one of the tasks preparing for my new book, Aesop’s Fables in Latin: Ancient Wit and Wisdom from the Animal Kingdom (coming soon from Bolchazy-Carducci!), I'm reviewing the different Perry numbers that will be included in that book. For each of the fables, I'm posting here a Latin version of the fable along with an illustration that can be compared/contrasted with the version in Barlow's book.
Today's fable is Perry #50, the story of how Aphrodite turned a weasel into a woman, but found out that she still chased mice, at which point she turned her back! It's a hilarious little story! At the Aesopus wiki, you can see a complete list of the versions of this fable that I have collected. One of the most interesting features of this story is the fact that while the ancient Greek version features a weasel, later European versions change the weasel into a cat - understandably, since Europeans keep cats in their houses, not weasels, to control the mice.
The story of the weasel turned into a woman is not a fable attested in the Latin tradition in the classical or medieval periods (although it does show up in Renaissance and later Latin), but there is a fable in the medieval Romulus tradition which is quite similar in theme, so I've decided to include it here for comparison! It is the story of a fox who was turned into a human being, and it is classified as Perry 107. It undoubtedly comes from Phaedrus (although it is not extant), and Joseph Jacobs reconstructs the verse as follows:
Naturam turpem nulla fortuna obtegit.
Humanam in speciem cum vertisset Iupiter
vulpem legitimis ut sedit in toris
scarabeum vidit prorepentem ex angulo
notamque ad praedam celeri prosiluit gradu.
Superi risere, magnus erubuit pater,
vulpemque repudiatam thalamis exuplit,
his prosecutus: vive quo digna es modo,
quia digna nostris meritis non potes esse.
Here it is written out in segmented style to make it easier to follow, while respecting the Latin word order:
nulla fortuna obtegit.
Humanam in speciem
cum vertisset Iupiter vulpem
legitimis ut sedit in toris
prorepentem ex angulo
notamque ad praedam
celeri prosiluit gradu.
magnus erubuit pater,
vive quo digna es modo,
quia digna nostris meritis
non potes esse.
Compare this to the delightful story of the weasel and Aphrodite, as told here by Sir Roger L'Estrange: "A young Fellow that was passionately in Love with a Cat made it his humble Suit to Venus to turn Puss into a Woman. The Transformation was wrought in the twinkling of an Eye, and out she comes, a very bucksome Lass. The doating Sot took her home to his Bed; and bad fair for a Litter of Kittens by her that Night: But as the loving Couple lay snugging together, a Toy took Venus in the Head, to try if the Cat had chang’d her Manners with her Shape; and so for Experiment, turn’d a Mouse loose into the Chamber. The Cat, upon this Temptation, started out of the Bed, and without any regard to the Marriage-Joys, made a leap at the Mouse, which Venus took for so high an Affront, that she turn’d the Madam into a Puss again."
For an illustration, here is an image from Walter Crane's Aesop which pairs this fable with the fable of belling the cat:
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