Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fable 8: Aves et Quadrupedes

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 8 in the book: De Avibus et Quadrupedibus. For more information Fable about this fable, see the Discussion Forum for this fable at the Aesopus Ning.
Avibus cum Bestiis asperrima pugna erat, utrimque spes, utrimque ingens metus, utrimque periculum, cum Vespertilio, relictis sociis, ad hostem defecit. Ad postremum vincunt Aves, duce et auspice Aquila. Transfugam vero Vespertilionem damnant, ut nunquam iterum inter Aves numeretur, nec amplius in luce videatur. Et haec causa est cur Vespertilio nunquam, nisi nocte, volat.
Avibus cum Bestiis asperrima pugna erat,
= The dative here expresses an idea that we would term "having" in English: the birds were having a fight. Since a "fight" is not an object you can actually hold in your hand, Latin uses the dative to express this idea, as opposed to the metaphorical sense of "having" that we rely on in English. Notice also the use of the superlative to express the extreme quality of something, with an explicit comparison: an extremely fierce battle, a battle most fierce.

utrimque spes, utrimque ingens metus, utrimque periculum,
= The dative utrimque is also being used to express something like possession in English. The pronoun refers to each of two - in this case, both birds and beasts. Notice the etymology of the Latin word neuter = ne - uter, "neither of two" - i.e., neither masculine, nor feminine.

cum Vespertilio,
= Be careful: vespertilio is a nominative form - don't let the final "o" make you think this is an ablative form with a preposition. Instead, what you have here is the conjunction cum, with the subject of a verb - although we are going to have to wait quite a while for the verb to complete the clause.

relictis sociis,
= As you may have noticed, Latin has an oddly unbalance participle system: there is a perfect passive participle, but no perfect active participle - and there is a present active participle, but no present passive participle. This means that when Latin wants to create an ablative absolute clause using a perfect verb form, it has no choice but to use a passive form. In English, you might want to change that to an active form: "The bat, after he had abandoned his allies..."

ad hostem defecit.
= This gives us the verb we wanted to complete the cum clause. Note also that it is an indicative verb, simply reporting on the temporal sequence of events.

Ad postremum vincunt Aves,
= You might be in doubt about whether the word aves supplies the subject or the object of the verb. Since the verb vincunt requires an object, but does not necessarily require an object, you can safely assume that aves is the subject of the verb: "At last the birds are victorious." The preposition phrase is used metaphorically, in a temporal sense: "at (the) last (thing)."

duce et auspice Aquila.
= This ablative absolute does not contain an explicit participle; just as forms of the verb "to be" can be safely omitted from Latin sentences, the same is true of participial forms of the verb "to be" in ablative absolutes. It is quite amusing to think of the eagle being an auspex, which literally means "bird-watcher," in the sense of the soothsayer whose job it was to watch the birds to take the omens. Over time, the meaning of the word auspex become more and more generalized, referring to anyone who authorized an undertaking, and eventually to the leader of that undertaking, as is the case with the eagle here, who is the chief leader and authority among the bird forces.

Transfugam vero Vespertilionem damnant,
= The postpositive particle marks the beginning of a new sentence, and the emphatic word in first position, transfugam, is part of the predicate: "they condemn the bat (as) a traitor."

ut nunquam iterum inter Aves numeretur,
= The ut clauses explains the results of the bat's condemnation.

nec amplius in luce videatur.
= This clause explains more about the results for the bat. Notice that nec can stand for et non with an indicative verb, or here as et ne, with a subjunctive verb. There is also a nice parallel construction between the two aspects of the bat's punishment:
nunquam iterum - inter Aves - numeretur
nec amplius - in luce - videatur
adverb - prepositional phrase - passive verb

Et haec causa est
= This phrase announces something like what you would expect from a Kipling "just-so" story! The technical term for this kind of story is an "aetiological" tale, a story that explains the reason why something exists (the Greek word "aetion" means "cause" or "origin").

cur Vespertilio nunquam, nisi nocte, volat.
= You might expect the subjunctive if this were an indirect question. Instead, with the indicative verb volat, you can consider it a direct question: "This is the reason! (And the question is:) Why does the bat never fly except at night?" In terms of subjunctive usage, the regular use of the subjunctive for all indirect questions, including questions of fact, is something you do not find in early Latin. The use of the subjunctive for all indirect questions, including questions of fact (as here), evolved over time, no doubt due in part to the influence of other subordinate clauses which, for their own reasons, used the subjunctive.

Here is the illustration of the fable by Francis Barlow:

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