Aesop's Fables: The Cruelty of the Gods

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G├®bler, Carlo
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Here is a serious new entry in the library of translations of Aesop's fables. The 190 fables offered here are rewritten, based on Chambry's 1927 edition and the Penguin translation by Olivia and Robert Temple in 1998. Not all who work with fables these days would applaud those decisions. Some would have thought rather of Perry and Gibbs, respectively. Let me offer a word about the book's divisions, its overall viewpoint, the individual texts, and the illustrations. The ten divisions make sense and help the book to take shape as more than an endless round of stories. Because they characterize the book well, I recount them here: "1. Caprice, Arrogance and the Exercise of Arbitrary Power"; "2. Irreconcilability, Conflict and Vengeance"; "3. Self-Deception, Stupidity and Idiocy"; "4. Ambition, Overweening and Overreach"; "5. Selfishness, Self-Interest and Self-Love"; "6. Gloating and Heartlessness"; "7. Jealousy, Covetousness and Greed"; "8. Cunning, Guile and Insight"; "9. Bitter Words, Rebukes, Barbs and Savageries"; and "10. Last Griefs or a Series of Epilogues." Those titles indicate well, I think, the tone of the book's approach to the fables. "Broadly speaking, Aesop has two subjects ÔÇô the exercise of power and the experience of the powerless who endure life and all that it inflicts on them. In his fables, the gods and goddesses who exercise power tend to be capricious, willful, thoughtless and unforgiving, while the powerless, the mortals (many of whom are animals) who endure life and all that it inflicts on them tend to be blind, deluded, foolish, and careless. The discrepancy between the powerful and the powerless is a source of humour but it is also the basis of Aesop's critique. The human world, as Aesop has it, is a place of rough, justice, deep hurt, epic cruelty and unstinting monstrousness" (7-8). This view, it seems to me, works for a good number of fables, and its "critique" comes clear here in the way individual stories are shaped. I see two things in the overall picture a little differently. I find the gods rather unimportant in Aesop's view. Greeks since Homer knew that they are capricious and immoral. I think Aesop's eye is on the ironies of life, not on its divine background or causality. The book's subtitle here may be distracting. And I think there is more fun here than G├®bler's viewpoint might allow. Is it not part of the Aesopic experience to be teased into laughing at ourselves? The individual versions, as I say, are well rewritten, expanded to express strong viewpoints, sharpened contrasts and bitter ironies. The illustrations have the same bite. Two good examples might be "The Champion Hen and the Widow" (247) and "The Dolphin and the Monkey" (267). The detail of the frogs' king in action is a great choice for the dust jacket! At the book's end, there are lists of correlations with Chambry and the book's 42 illustrations.
Head of Zeus, Ltd.
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