Saturday, May 3, 2014

Aesop's Fables

I had trouble determining which edition to use, as there does not seem to be a standard one, and the process ended up playing a few tricks on me. At first I thought that if there was a Loeb edition I would just get that, because I think of them as both staid and respectable enough for my purposes. However there is no Loeb "Aesop". Had I read the summary of the book in my IWE--which of course is the basis for this list--more carefully, I would have seen that it is very clear that:

"two criteria should be applied to the fables: Each must have sentient animals as characters and must lead to a 'moral' as a conclusion; and each must have been included in the collection made by Phaedrus, first-century Latin poet."



There was a Loeb edition of Phaedrus (he shares his volume with Babrius), but I did not take note of any of this until just now, when I have already settled for and finished the 1998 Penguin edition, edited by Robert and Olivia Temple. In addition to being a scholar of Sanskrit, Greek, the history of Chinese science and the scientific works of Aristotle, he is, or was, also a television drama producer. Olivia is a figurative painter as well as a translator, with works in private collections in Europe, America, Hong Kong and New Zealand. This collection had the virtues of being fairly large (358 fables), and having entertainingly self-confident footnotes, though evidently it was not comprehensive either, as some of the most famous and important fables ('Androcles and the Lion', 'The Fox and the Grapes') I do not remember reading in it. So I come away not fully satisfied with my Aesop's Fables experience.

I enjoyed the reading for the most part, as I seem to be in a phase currently where I can take pleasure again in being back among the ancients. Not that I ever hate them, but there have been times when I have felt their special qualities less vividly and enthusiastically than at others. But at the moment their energies and stories seem to have an elevating effect on my mood. 

With all of the serious arguments being put forward in favor of abandoning carnivorism, I must say I have never read any book that made me feel, in the moment at least, as much disquiet about eating animals. This is because half of the fables, all of which, except one, are extremely short (less than half a page), end with one animal, or group of animals, being eaten, always after they have spoken, acted, lamented fate, etc, with humanlike emotion and intellection. I had to remind myself that real chickens, frogs, sheep and mice do not have such sensitive and philosophical minds, and that traditionally the people who have spent the most time with have also had the acutest sense of what they are really good for.. Also, after being awakened in the middle of the night last week to the sound of heavy crunching of potato chips, and finding no person in the kitchen and the bag I had foolishly left on the counter apparently moving and emitting sound under its own power, I was reminded of the lack of anguish I used to feel when my late cat would ceremoniously dump the corpse of one of these noisome rodents from between his jaws at my feet, or even in coming across a trap that held a freshly extinguished victim in its clutches. 



I think the presentation of Aesop's Fables that would most please me would be a selection of the one hundred or hundred and fifty so most important or interesting ones--there are a lot that can be left out without any real diminishment of the whole, I think--with extensive footnotes/background/explanation. Perhaps there is already such a book, though it does not easily make its existence known, I find.

The Challenge.

The challenge this time favored titles that were decidedly not obscure:

1. Dan Brown--The Da Vinci Code..........................................5,159
2. Elizabeth Gilbert--Eat, Pray, Love.......................................3,296
3. Joe Haldeman--The Forever War.........................................1,118
4. Laura Numeroff--If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.....................330
5. Don & Audrey Wood--The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe 
Strawberry & the Big Hungry Bear.............................................311
6. Kristen Heitzmann--The Breath of Dawn.................................171
7. Lisa Bevere--Lioness Arising...................................................141
8. Walter Van Tilberg Clark--The Ox-Bow Incident......................71
9. Sharon Lee & Steve Miller--Mouse and Dragon.......................34
10. Lindsey Davis--Two For the Lions...........................................29
11. Chris Moriarty--Spin Control...................................................22
12. R. Asprin & L. Evans--For King & Country.............................13
13. Harry Leon Wilson--The Lions of the Lord................................6
14. Rae Bryant--The Indefinite State of Imaginary Mortals............1
      Richard Jessup--Wolf Cop..........................................................1

There were only two books this time taking the goose egg: Duffield Osborne's The Lion's Brood and David Patterson's Mouse Guard Winter 1152.

I contemplated reading The Da Vinci Code, as I must contemplate reading everything that wins the Challenge. It goes without saying that all of the smart people, who know anything about reading anyway, do not consider it as a real book and hold it in heartfelt disdain, both for its style and for the apparent circumstance that it is packed end to end with inaccurate or faultily understood information--I am not sure its author has received credit for grasping correctly even one single idea that would be of interest to a genuinely intelligent mind. I was looking for a way out. All of the floor copies at my library were checked out. There were some additional ones in storage, but I couldn't bring myself to send anybody down into the basement to fetch this particular book for me. Not that I have a reputation to uphold, nor would I be concerned to uphold it with any of the library staff in my town if I did; but the thought that the request might cause the slightest twinge of bemusement or superiority in any of these people was too much for me to overcome. So it seemed I had escaped the book. However, that night when I went to the grocery store, there was a fat library copy sitting right on top of the pile in the abandoned book box. I decided to take it with me and think about what to do with it later. I am still keeping it hidden, from everyone, even, perhaps especially my wife, who would tease me. Though this teasing would be in a playful and not a cruel way at all, still, my reading is the last thing I have to cling to to pretend to myself (and, in my imagination, other people), that there is any seriousness in my life at all. So while I know this posturing on the one hand and surreptitousness on the other are equally ridiculous, I'm not quite willing to be seen reading the Da Vinci Code by anybody.

So I have read some of the book. The writing style, which has been often parodied, is actually at times quite hilarious. Maybe it is intentional? The author does not strike me as an entirely stupid man. Perhaps he is stupid by the standards of the most exacting professors--most people will be judged as such by them--but he may have read enough and been exposed to enough reasonably intelligent people to have picked up on the humorous effect that his somewhat goofy style could have. The tic of this author that is most frequently parodied, where the narrative is interspersed with what we are supposed to understand as a distinct, always very brief, and usually inane, thought of a character (even if it is in the midst of a more general description about what the person was thinking), printed in italics, is odd, and it occurs constantly, every few lines or so. I don't know that I have encountered anything quite like it before. In any event, it produces sentences like these, at which I find I cannot help laughing out loud, not because I am so superior, but because the effect is ridiculous:

"Fache's zeal for technology had hurt him both professionally and personally. Fache was rumored to have invested his entire savings in the technology craze a few years back and lost his shirt. And Fache is a man who wears only the finest shirts."

"For ten years now, Silas had faithfully denied himself all sexual indulgence, even self-administered....Considering the poverty from which he had come and the sexual horrors he had encountered in prison, celibacy was a welcome change."

With regard to all the factual and historical errors that are supposed to run rampant through the book, none have really stood out to me so far, which was causing me some worry. I did a minimal online search to get some idea of what I was missing. Most of the issues people had seemed to have to do either with the life of Jesus, which has not really come up yet, or about the history and mission of Opus Dei, to which, outside of this and Graham Greene's Monsignor Quixote, where it is presented as a similarly sinister organization, I have not had much exposure. All of the business to do with symbols and anagrams and 1.618 and so on I find interesting. I have never been good at detecting this in art and literature, which is apparently essential to really understanding it. Given the reaction to the book by the entire community of real intellectuals, I have to assume that the author Mr Brown either has no idea what he is talking and is misrepresenting the symbological knowledge on display, or that what is introduced in this book is so simple and basic that anybody with the slightest claim to being educated can be presumed to have understood it in childhood upon a second or third consideration.



There was a small record album competition that I thought would be closer than it was:

1. Amy Winehouse--Lioness: Hidden Treasures............................252
2. Cannibal Ox--The Cold Vein.......................................................111
3. David Hasselhoff David Hasselhoff..............................................10

I would have thought Hasselhoff would have generated more votes. Knowing that Hasselhoff is supposedly a legend in Germany I looked at the scoring on the German Amazon site, thinking the result would be tighter, but Winehouse triumphed by a similar margin there, 110-4.

I don't know much about Amy Winehouse other than that she had a lot of drug problems, died young, and seems to have been universally regarded as that rarirty of rarities in contemporary popular music, a great singer and a genuine Bohemian-artistic person, possessed of such a soul as ordinary people are unable to relate to. She broadly had credibility and respect among both the serious creative community and the serious critical community alike. Even her odd looks are a kind of uncomfortable challenge to the bourgeois, for the typical bourgeois probably would not find her especially attractive, and the advanced nature of her sexuality would overwhelm anything he would have to offer in return; yet he knows that in the big leagues of sex, this is a hot time waiting to happen, if you have what it takes to make it happen, which he doesn't. But, anyway, we'll leave on a song from the winning album.

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