Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fable 2: Canis et Bos

Here's the next fable with a kind of running commentary that is not entirely possible within the confines of the forthcoming book from Bolchazy-Carducci.

This will be Fable 2 in the book: De Cane et Bove, the story of the dog in the manger. For more information Fable about this fable, see the Discussion Forum for this fable at the Aesopus Ning.

I was really glad to be able to include this fable in the book, since "the dog in the manger" is still a well-known proverbial saying in English, but you will not find this fable attested in the classical Greek or Roman tradition. The earliest attestions of the fable are medieval; thanks to its inclusion in Steinhowel's Aesop, it became well-known throughout Europe. Here is the version from Barlow's Aesop:
In praesepi faeni pleno decumbebat Canis. Venit Bos ut comedat faenum, cum Canis, confestim sese erigens, tota voce elatravit. Cui Bos: “Dii te, cum ista tua invidia, perdant (inquit): nec enim faeno ipse vesceris, nec me vesci sines.”
In praesepi faeni pleno
= This elegant prepositional phrase sets the scene: not only is this a manger; it is a manger which is full of hay.

decumbebat Canis.
= The use of the imperfect verb also contributes to setting the scene. The dog was lying there. The use of the perfect would let us know that the dog had lain dog. What the imperfect tells us is that the action is ongoing: there he is, a dog, lying down in the manager.

Venit Bos
= The perfect verb signals an action: the entrance into the scene of the ox. As often, the fable is a confrontation between two characters, and so with the ox, both characters are now on the scene.

ut comedat faenum,
= The ut clause introduces the ox's purpose.

cum Canis ... (elatravit).
= Although we will not get the verb until the end of the sentence (as so often in Latin), it is worth noting that the word cum here introduces an indicative verb, signifying a simple statement of the time when something is happening, without any causal or other connection implied. You might even translate cum here as "as" rather than "when" in order to emphasize the almost instantaneous sequence of events.

confestim sese erigens,
= In English, we make a distinction between "raising" something (transitive) and something "rising" (intransitive). In Latin, the verb erigere is transitive (to raise something up, to erect something). If you are going to use the verb in the sense of "rising" (raising yourself up), the reflexive pronoun is required: sese.

tota voce elatravit.
= The ablative phrase serves an adverbial function: how did the dog bark? As loudly as he could!

Cui Bos:
= The combination of a dative and a nominative here lets you know that the ox (said something) to the dog; you'll get the verb of speaking parenthetically later. The referent of the relative pronoun is canis in the previous sentence: cui (cani) bos.

“Dii te
= As often in Latin, you get the nominative subject of the verb and the direct object, with no mention of the verb. Of course, you can guess what it is: "God (blank) you" would be very clear in English, too!

cum ista tua invidia,
= Here cum is a preposition taking the ablative case. The use of ista is typical. Linguistically, the word iste commonly refers to "that there (of yours)," often with a derogatory or dismissive connotation. You can even find iste defined as "the demonstrative pronoun of the second person." The usage here is clearly derogatory!

= This gives us the verb we were waiting for: perdant. The subjunctive expresses the ox's fervent wish. In the first subjunctive you saw, the ox came in hopes of eating the hay (comedat). Now his hopes have taken a different turn: he hopes the gods will destroy the dog.

= This is the other verb we were hoping for, but which we could easily have done without; it is the verb of speaking which goes with the earlier cui bos. For all practical purposes this verb is really like a bit of punctuation in verbal form, alerting us that the words being reported here are direct speech. Just as in the fable about the fox and the lioness, the ox is granted the privilege of being directly quoted in the story, while the poor dog can only howl!

nec enim faeno ipse vesceris,
= Note the postpositive particle enim in second position. It lets you know that something explanatory is going to be forthcoming. Just why should the gods destroy that dog? Here is the reason! The verb takes an ablative complement (“feed on”), and ipse modifies the implied subject of the verb: (tu) ipse vesceris.

nec me vesci sines.”
The nec is part of a parallel construction, equivalent to the English correlative construction "neither...nor..." (you can think of in Latin as the negation of the construction). The verb in the first part of the construction, vesceris, is ambiguous: it could be present or future. The verb in this clause, sines, is unambiguously future: "you will not let me eat." The form vesci is a passive infinitive, a complement to the verb sines.

Here is the illustration of the fable by Francis Barlow:

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