Aesop's Fables... in Latin!

17th-century Latin Prose Fables at GoogleBooks

Entirely by chance (searching for citations for the proverb "bove leporem venari"), I stumbled across an amazing book at GoogleBooks the likes of which I have never seen before anywhere... although those of you who have been following Evan Millner's exploration of Comenius and Latin didactic projects of the 17th century will not be surprised by this kind of book.

Mithologica sacro-profana, seu florilegium fabularum in classes, et locos morales digestum: locis, sententiis, historiis, tum profanis, cum sacris, ex puris fontibus scripturae, illustratum, by P. Irenaeus
(1666) - 722 pages at GoogleBooks, with PDF for viewing online or for download.

There are 300 fables, arranged in three "centuries" as separated books. The GoogleBooks version is a bit confusing because there are three books bound in one volume, with three separate tables of contents. I've compiled all the tables of contents quickly here and typed them, so it is searchable: Index Titulorum.

The fables are retold in prose - in VERY NICE PROSE (I'm willing to venture that this is, overall, the best-written Latin prose version of the fables that I have found) - taken from both ancient Greek and Latin collections along with some Renaissance authors such as Abstemius.

The fables are put into thematic groups (85 such groups), based on the moral of the fables. This in and of itself is quite interesting; I don't know of any other set of Latin fables arranged so carefully by theme.

Each thematic group is accompanied by two detailed essays on the moral of the story. One essay is "profane," which is to say that it draws on classical philosophy and history and poetry in order to explore the moral of the fables. The other essay is "sacred," and explores the moral in terms of Bible verses and stories.

So, if you are interested in learning about the later Latin tradition, and the way it was used to convey both the Greco-Roman as well as the Biblical learning well into the early modern period, this book is a quite extraordinary opportunity to do so. I'll be digitizing some materials from this as soon as I get some time. For now, I've pasted in an example of the fable of the Frog and the Mouse as a typical example of what the fables are like. The scan at GoogleBooks is very good, but the orthography and punctuation will be a bit odd at first; I've standardized that according to modern conventions in the fable below.

I've been working on fables for 20+ years now and have never seen or heard or heard tell of this book before. I've written to Father Greg Carlson at Creighton University (the biggest Aesop book collector in the country, and a Jesuit himself) to see if he has heard of this wonderful book before now! In any case, I thought I would post a note about it here. It's a really marvelous book and provides a great example of the smart and creative compendia of knowledge that were part of the 17th-century Latin didactic movement.

Titulus 3. De Deo. Fabula de Mure et Rana.
Mus, contracta amicitia cum Rama, eam invitavit ad cenam, in aedibus hominis praedivitis, ubi, cum non solum ciborum copia sed et delectus suppeteret, dixit Ranae, "Epulare, bibe, comede, amica mea." Post aliquot dies Rana, ut vicem gratitudinis redderet, Murem invitavit apud se; morabatur autem in arboris trunco, media in palude. Quo cum Mus non nisi natando accedere posset, "Sine (inquit Rana) ut filo pedem tuum meo alligem." Quo facto, saltant ambo in aquam. Rana amicitiae et hospitalitatis oblita in profundum prosiluit, pereunte in aquis Mure. Qui moriens dixisse fertur: "O perfida et ingrata bestia! Quando tu meae causa mortis es, scito me non inultum fore, sed a potentiori brevi vindicatum iri." Quod cito probavit eventus: nam praetervolans Aquila, Murem conspicatus super aquas fluitantem, ungue prehendit, simulque Ranam filo adhaerentem asportavit, et utrumque devoravit, Diis sanguinem innoxium noxio vindicantibus.

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