Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fable 1. Leaena et Vulpes

Finally, the order of fables has been settled for the Barlow book, along with the Latin text! (That's what I've been busy with the past few weeks, and why I have not posted.) Starting today, I'll be doing presenting the fables from the Barlow book with a kind of running commentary that is not entirely possible within the confines of the book. There's some commentary in the book, of course, but there's not room for this much commentary - thank goodness for the wide open space of the Internet!

So, to get started, here is what will be the first fable in the collection: Leaena et Vulpes. For more information about this fable, see the Discussion Forum for this fable at the Aesopus Ning.
Leaena, cum a Vulpe saepe exprobraretur quod, quolibet partu, unum dumtaxat catulum parturiret, respondit, “Unum sane, at pol Leonem!"
= There are not very many animal names in Latin which offer both masculine and feminine forms, but the lion is one, so you can have a male lion, leo, and a lioness, leaena, as here. Another one of the fables in Barlow's Aesop tells about the lupa, the female wolf (in this case, English does not have a distinctive form for the female wolf!).

cum a Vulpe saepe exprobraretur
= This is a cum clause with a subjunctive verb - so the fact that the lioness is being reproached by the fox for something is causal - "given that she was being reproached by the fox on frequent occasions" or "because she was often the object of the fox's reproaches." Both characters in the fable - the lioness and the fox - have now been introduced.

= The quod is going to introduce the substance of the fox's complaint against the lioness: (on account of the fact) that

quolibet partu,
= "with each and every childbirth" - The Latin compound with libet is one of my favorites: it conveys the sense of whatever you like, whatever you please, it doesn't matter which one you pick, because each and every one of them will prove my point! Rhetorically it's perfectly suited to conveying the sense of the fox's tone, even if the fox is not being quoted directly here. There's an English abbreviation with this term: QL, quantum libet, "as much as it pleases, as much as you want" Apparently the word "quidlibet" was also used in English - quidlibet is defined in the Oxford English dictionary as "A verbal nicety, a minor or quibbling point in an argument; an equivocation."

unum dumtaxat catulum parturiret,
= This picks up the clause introduced by quod here - explaining the reason why the fox reproached the lioness. The use of the subjunctive here is great; this is one of those subjunctives that puts you into the mind of the speaker - "because (according to the fox anyway) she only gives birth to one cub only." The word dumtaxat is, like quolibet, a compound word built with what was originally a parenthetical verb - quo + libet, and here dum + taxat. The word dumtaxat is less obvious, since the Latin verb is not a highly productive verb: taxare means to reckon the size or value of something. So the Latin dumtaxat conveys the idea of "when you add it up" or "so long as you're keeping track," etc.

= Notice that while the fox's words were reported in indirect speech only (although with little words like quolibet and dumtaxat conveying some of the pointedness of the fox's speech), it is the lioness alone who is given the privilege here of being quoted directly.

“Unum sane,
= The verb is implied but not stated here, and has to be supplied from the fox's claim: Unum (catulum) sane (parturio). The use of sane is very nice here also - anyone who's not deranged knows that a lioness does not give birth to a whole little of pups. That is so obvious as to not even bear commenting on... although the fox seems to think it worth bringing up again and again, insanely!

at pol Leonem!”
= The lioness swears like any good Roman: By Pollux! The implied contrast, of course, is that one is a lion, as opposed to all those little fox pups, who all of them together do not add up to equal a single lion. The fact that she is also very economical in her speech - few words, few offspring, but high quality ones - fits in perfectly with the theme of the fable itself!

Here is the illustration of the fable by Francis Barlow:

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