Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A fable from La Fontaine

The other day I was looking at some translations of La Fontaine's Fables by Marianne Moore. I wasn't much impressed with her versions, but then even the originals can be draggy. (The Acknowledgements are either loopy or way over my head and either way worth a glance if you come across the book.)

One fable that caught my interest was "The Cat and The Two Swallows". (Clunkyish translation here - taken perhaps from the Gutenberg online text.) The fable describes a cat and a swallow raised together. The sparrow plays rough with its beak but the cat ("Maître Chat") never retaliates. Then one day a stranger-sparrow flys in and attacks the first. The cat springs to its companion's defense and eats the stranger, acquires a taste for sparrow, and then gobbles down the other. La Fontaine says he can't come up with a moral, but that the dedicatee, the boy Duke of Burgundy, will be able to.

The story is supposed to have been based on a fable ("The Dog and The Cat") by one Antoine Furetière. I know little or nothing about the politics of the time, but the fable strikes me as being political. The heraldic emblem of Burgundy was the "musion" or "catamount" (presumably something lynx-like), so I'd guess the cat represents the duchy. Then the first swallow might be a smaller, troublesome vassal fief, and the second swallow a neighboring fief, and La Fontaine might be counselling annexing the first because the second will need annexing anyway. Or the first swallow could be Burgundy and the cat France; then the second swallow might be a rival duchy that's going to get Burgundy annexed along with it. Perhaps the fable would lose its, well, bite if I knew the background, but I'm curious.

I'll put up a link to an elegant Richard Wilbur translation of La Fontaine if I manage to find one.


Blogger Azael said...

Hey. Well, Raptor has let it all hang out with me wrt my rudeness, disrespect and general uncivil behavior. If you can email without breaking your anonymous nature, I'd appreciate your unvarnished critique of my behavior on his blog and that comment thread in particular. If this is simply too silly of a request, no worries.

In any event, my email is

Thanks in advance.

4/1/06 19:48  

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