Innovation and Artistry in Phaedrus’ Morals

In: Mnemosyne

In his creative and original deployment of the ‘morals’ attached to his fables, Phaedrus boldly asserts his independence from the prosaic fable tradition and embeds his work within the framework of a broadly fictionalized poetic career. While pro- and epimythia in Phaedrus have attracted scholarly attention as aides in calculating his chronology or deciphering his perspective on life in Rome, Phaedrian ‘morals’ do more than express a particular historical or socio-political outlook. Indeed, in his morals Phaedrus repeatedly challenges the idea that fables carry any universal or even coherent meaning, and in so doing he transforms the traditional framing devices into sites for the development of his complex poetic persona.

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  • 3

    Adrados 1999, 1, 120f. has argued that our meager evidence may support Phaedrus’ claims regarding his gradual movement away from his Greek source(s). For discussion of Phaedrus’ accounting of his debt to Aesop, see Bernardi Perini 1992. On Phaedrus’ independence and authority as it emerges over the course of the collection, see especially Gärtner 2000 and 2007; Henderson 2001; Champlin 2005; Libby 2010; and Polt 2014. More traditional studies of Phaedrus’ sources include Zander 1897; Thiele 1906-1911; Zander 1921; Hausrath 1936; Nøjgaard 1964, 2, 404ff.; Pisi 1977; cf. Henderson 1999. See also the overviews in Adrados 1999, 1, 126-128 and Holzberg 2002, 39-50. Phaedrus’ place in the history of the fable must of necessity be speculative, because no extant collection of fables clearly predates him (cf. Henderson, 1999, 315, n. 20).

  • 5

    Cf. Adrados 1999, 1, 458.

  • 8

    See Perry 1962, 336-337; Nøjgaard 1964-1967, 1, 122-128; Jedrkiewicz 1989, 290-294; van Dijk 1993, 173-174; 1997, 82-88; and Zafiropoulos 2001, 3f.

  • 9

    Theon, Progymnasmata 3.

  • 16

    Cf. Zafiropoulos 2001, 7f. Numerous problems surround questions of the dating, authorship, and sources of the Augustana, as well as its influence on later Greek and Latin fable collections. Scholarship on the Augustana has been almost exclusively devoted to textual history, with the notable exceptions of Nøjgaard 1964-1967, who analyzes the style and contents of the fables from an avowedly literary perspective, and Zafiropoulos 2001, who focuses on the ethical outlook of the Augustana. The essential studies are Hausrath 1894, 1901; Marc 1910; Perry 1936, 1952; Adrados 1999. Scholars generally agree that the collection took its essential shape in the first or second century ad (cf. Adrados 1999, 1, 64-65; Chambry 1927; Nøjgaard 1964-1967, 1, 36; and Perry 1936, 1965), but there is significant disagreement regarding all of the intermediary stages between that period and, on the one hand, the very first collection of Aesopic fables, written in the third century bc by Demetrius of Phalerum, and, on the other hand, the eventual writing of our best mss. a millennium later. The text as we have it is not necessarily related to anything Phaedrus would have used as a source; however, as the earliest surviving prose collection of Aesopica, it is a suitable point of comparison in general terms.

  • 18

    See van Dijk 1997, 35, for a summary review of the scholarship.

  • 19

    As Daly 1961, 26, puts it in his introduction: “Since this translation is not intended for the edification of the young, I have segregated the familiar morals and relegated them to an appendix, where they may be consulted by the studious or the curious.”

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