Saturday, August 14, 2010

Overview: Modern Fables

There are two important modern sources represented in this book: the verse fables of the French neo-Latin poet François-Joseph Desbillons (1711-1789), and the prose fables regularly included in the Latin schoolbooks of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Desbillons. François-Joseph Desbillons is one of the greatest Latin poets in the Aesopic tradition. Over the course of his lifetime, Desbillons published over five hundred fables in iambic Latin verse, and they are truly exquisite creations. In addition to retelling the ancient fables, Desbillons retold the fables of the French fabulists (not only La Fontaine, but also La Motte, Le Brun, Richer, and many more), as well as composing his own original fables. I’ve included 120 fables from Desbillons in this book. If you have any interest in Latin verse, be sure to take a look at Desbillons's original poems, which you can find online at GoogleBooks.

Latin Schoolbooks. Latin prose fables were a regular feature of Latin textbooks throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, often with the same versions of the same fables repeated from one textbook to another verbatim. The Bibliography lists twenty such Latin readers, all of which supplied fables that you will find in this book. Some schoolbooks included just a few fables, while others (such as Clarke's Select Fables of Aesop) contained hundreds of them.

In more recent times, Latin pedagogy has narrowed its focus to classical authors, leaving no room for the Latin prose fables, although they were a component of the Latin curriculum for many centuries. The poems of Phaedrus, a classical author, are still widely taught, but the Latin prose fables have largely been discarded. One of my hopes in preparing this book is to restore Aesop's fables to their accustomed place in the reading list for beginning and intermediate students of Latin.

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