Bookforum: The Book Review for Art, Fiction & Culture Summer 1998
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Temple, Robert K. G
Marina Warner's review of Aesop: The Complete Fables, translated by Olivia and Robert Temple, occupies 17-18. Warner puts the Aesop of the old Penguin by Handford firmly on juvenile territory and finds the Temples taking the fables out of the nursery and putting them back into history. Warner spends a great deal of time on the life of Aesop, commenting aptly The fabulist's arsenal mines the inherently ludic properties of language itself, as do much more recent exponents of the genre like Lewis Carroll and Salman Rushdie. (Do Carroll and Rushdie write fables?) Again, Aesop is the earliest figure in classical Western culture to use stories and language as defensive weapons in the struggle for survival. I never knew that the bucket at Aesop's feet in Velázquez's famous portrait is a nightsoil bucket with a toilet rag--to allude to the famous event in which Aesop scoffs at his master for worrying that when he defecates, his brains leave him with his stools. (Is that really how the life constructs this incident?) When we arrive halfway through the review at more specific discussion of the Temples' version, we learn that it attempts to bring out this ribald, adults-only, shameless side of Aesop's Fables…. For the Temples, the fables are patently cynical…. Warner argues well--with or against the Temples?--that the story of the ant and the cricket lines us up with the cricket, against common sense, against natural selection, against the law of the jungle…. Warner criticizes the Temples' diction, their adoption of Chambry's arrangement, and their loss of gaiety and liveliness. Even the Temples themselves declared Aesop essentially a joke collection for adults. This is a thought-provoking review, not always careful with its details but probing well into the product the Temples have produced.