aesop - English 630 - Professor Mueller

Commuting with the City Mouse:
Aesop’s Fables and Academic Commentary
Alex Mueller
English Department
The City Mouse and the Country Mouse
It is better to live in self-sufficient poverty
than to be tormented by the worries of wealth.
Aesop in the Medieval
Codex Vindobonensis Palatinus 303
Promythium for “De lupo et agno” [The wolf and the lamb] (fol. 13r):
. . . Sursum bibebat lupus
Sursum bibebat lupus longeque inferius agnus.
[The wolf was drinking upstream the wolf was drinking upstream and
the lamb a long way downstream.]
[omits the following “moral”]
Haec in illos dicta est fabula qui hominibus calumniantur"
[this fable is written about those who falsely accuse others]
Heinrich Steinhöwel’s Aesop
• First printed as a bilingual edition
(German/Latin) by Johann Zainer at
Ulm in 1476/1477.
•Translated into several languages,
including French, Dutch, and Spanish.
•Base text for William Caxton’s English
Aesop in 1481.
•Expanded to 300 fables by
schoolmaster Sebastian Brant for 1501
Printed in Reutlingen by Michael
Greyff (23 July, 1489).
This copy (99975) is currently
held in the Huntington Library, San
Marino, CA.
Note: The commentary for each
fable begins in the margin and then
concludes below the fable text.
Printed in Cologne by
Heinrich Quentell
(23 Mar., 1489)
This copy (99974) is
currently held in the
Huntington Library, San
Marino, CA.
Note: In contrast to the
previous example, this
edition only contains
commentary below each
Commentary on the
elegiac Romulus
Stiftsbibliothek, Codex
1093, folio 349v
(mid-15th century)
Note: The commentary to
the verse prologue
begins in the
margins [bottom
right], . .
. . . completely fills the next folio, and continues onto the following leaf, surrounding
the second half of the verse prologue [below middle right] (fol. 350v-351r).
The Crow and the Water Jar
A thirsty crow noticed a huge jar and saw
that at the very bottom there was a little bit
of water. For a long time the crow tried to
spill the water out so that it would run over
the ground and allow her to satisfy her
tremendous thirst. After exerting herself
for some time in vain, the crow grew
frustrated and applied all her cunning with
unexpected ingenuity: as she tossed little
stones into the jar, the water rose of its
own accord until she was able to take a
This fable shows us that thoughtfulness is superior to brute strength,
since this is the way that the crow was able to carry her task to its
Medieval Commentary on “The Crow and the Water Jar”
Copenhagen, Gl. Kgl. Saml., 1905 4o (14th century)
Ingentem. Hic docet quod ingenium preualet uiribus, et hoc per coturnicem que dum
sitiret in quodam campo urnam semiplenam aqua inuenit, quam uiribus inclinare
non potuit. Sed eam ingenio lapillis inpleuit et istam aquam extraxit. Fructus talis
est: Melior est sapiens forti uiro (fol. 139r).
[Ingentem. Here he teaches that cleverness is better than strength; and he teaches
that through a quail, which, when it was thirsty, found an urn half-full of water in
a field, and it could not tip the urn. But using its cleverness, it filled it with stones
and drew out the water. The moral is this: The wise man is better than the strong.]
The Fourfold Model of Medieval Exegesis
Venice, Biblioteca Marciana MS 4018 (14th century)
Lictera gesta refert, quod credas aligoria
Moralis quod agas, quod speres anagogia.
[The literal presents the acts, the allegorical that
which you ought to believe, the moral what you
ought to do, the anagogical what you ought to
More Medieval Commentary on
“The Crow and the Water Jar”
Wrocław, Bibl. univ., ms. cod. Q.126 (15th century)
in hoc appologo docemur quod multa sunt que citius fiunt per artem quam per
vires(fol. 130r).
[in this fable we learn that there are many things which can be done more quickly by
skill than by strength.]
Even More Medieval Commentary on
“The Crow and the Water Jar”
Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, Preußischer Kulturbestiz, cod. Q 536 (15th century)
Hic monet nos ut studiosius acquiramus scientiam quam vires, quia magis proficit
(fol. 9r).
[Here he urges us that we be more eager to acquire knowledge than power, because it
is more useful]
Proverbial Elaboration upon Medieval Commentary on
“The Crow and the Water Jar”
Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, cgm 3974 (15th century)
Vnde: Homo sepe vincit illa per sapientiam que per vires non faceret. Eciam monet
nos ut studiosius sapientia et ingenio insistamus magis quam viribus (fol. 228v).
[Whence the saying: A man often conquers with knowledge those things that he
could not do by force. This also urges us to rely more on wisdom and cleverness
than on strength.]
Homiletic Elaboration upon Medieval Commentary on
“The Crow and the Water Jar”
Budapest, Magyar nemzeti múzeum, ms. lat. med. aev. 123 (15th century)
In hoc appollogo auctor docet nos quod queramus prudenciam, dicens “Tu debes
scire quod prudencia est maior viribus et prevalet eam, quia per sapienciam
vincet homo qui viribus vincere non posset.” Ideo subiungit dicens quod
sapiencia complet opus cuiuslibet hominis inceptum. Vnde Salomon
Prouerbiorum: “Potencior est sapiencia”(fol. 15r).
[In this fable the author teaches us that we should seek knowledge, saying, "You
should know that knowledge is greater than strength and more valuable,
because with wisdom a man can conquer what he cannot conquer with strength."
He continues saying that wisdom accomplishes the task begun by anyone. Thus
Solomon in the Proverbs: "Wisdom is stronger.”]
Commentary Revising Fable:
“The Crow and the Water Jar”
Prague, Universitní Knihovna, ms. 546 (15th century)
Ingentem sitiens. Hic actor ostendit quod prudencia est melior et maior viribus. Ergo
studiosius admonet ut sciamus et prudenciam acquiramus, quod probat dicens:
Quedam sitiens cornix volans per campum venit ad vnum fontem, quem circa
vidit pendere vnam vrnam in qua modicum aque fuit, quam haurire non valebat.
Post hec cupiens effundere vrnam planis campis, quia cornix nusquam potuit
inclinare, tandem invenit sua arte calliditatem, et congregans lapillos in vrnam
misit. Quibus immissis aqua sursum ascendit et sic habuit facilem viam potandi
(fol. 22r).
[Ingentem sitiens. Here the author demonstrates that wisdom is better and greater
than strength. Thus he urges us quite eagerly that we know that we should seek
wisdom, which he shows by saying: A thirsty crow, flying across a field, came to
a well, above which it saw a bucket hanging in which there was little water,
which it could not pour out. Then, hoping to spill the vessel onto the ground,
because the crow could not tip it, it nevertheless thought up a strategy in its
cleverness; and gathering pebbles it dropped them into the bucket. When they had
been put in, the water rose up, and thus the crow had an easy way to drink.]
“The Crow and the Water Jar” as a Metaphor for the
Collaborative Construction of Knowledge
Erfurt, Stadtbücherei, Amplon.Q.21 (15th century)
Licet sicud cornix non potuit effundere vrnam, sic nullus scholaris studens potest
quamlibet scientiam acquirere; set potest acquirere aliquam partem scientie si
proiciat lapidem, id est si adhibit laborem et dilegenciam (fol. 35r).
[Just as the crow could not spill the urn, so no student can attain any knowledge he
desires; but he can acquire a certain portion of knowledge if he throws in a stone,
that is to say if he applies effort and diligence.]
“The Crow and the Water Jar”:
Writing as Accumulating
"Novus Avianus"
Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, clm 14703 and Vienna, Österreichische
Nationalbibliothek, cpv 303
Versus cev scribit, taliter arte bibit (10).
[In the same way as the author writes verses, so the crow drinks by skill.]
“The Crow and the Water Jar”:
Rhetorical Amplificatio or Elaboration
Geoffrey of Vinsauf
Documentum de modo et arte dictandi et versificandi
[Instruction in the Art and Method of Speaking and Versifying]
sic ex modica maxima crescit aqua.
[And so, from a little water, much water arises.]
Uncertain Amplificatio in English:
Robert Henryson’s Morall Fabillis
This cok . . .
may till ane fule be peir. (141-2)
[This cock . . . may be compared
to a fool.]
this cok weill may we call
Nyse proude men. (590-1)
[this cock well may we call
foolish, proud men.]
This volf I likkin to sensualitie. (1118)
[This wolf I liken to sensuality.]
This selie scheip may present the figure
Of pure commounis. (1258-9)
[This innocent sheep may
represent the figure of the poor
The City Mouse and the Country Mouse:
Henryson’s Commentary
Blissed be sempill lyfe withoutin dreid;
Blissed be sober feist in quietie.
Quha hes aneuch, of na mair hes he neid,
Thoct it be littill into quantatie.
Grit aboundance and blind prosperitie
Oftytmes makis ane euill conclusioun.
The sweitest lyfe, thairfoir, in this cuntrie,
Is sickernes, with small possessioun.
Thy awin fyre, freind, thocht it be bot ane gleid,
It warmis weill, and is worth gold to the;
And Solomon sayis, gif that thow will reid,
"Vnder the heuin I can not better se
Than ay be blyith and leif in honestie.”
Quhairfoir I may conclude be this ressoun:
Of eirthly ioy it beiris maist degre,
Blyithnes in hart, with small possessioun.
[Blessed be a simple life without fear; blessed be a temperate feast
in peace. Whoever has enough, though it is little in quantity, has
Of wantoun man that vsis for to feid
no need of more. Great abundance and blind prosperity often
Thy wambe, and makis it a god to be;
produce a bad conclusion. Therefore, in this country the sweetest
Luke to thy self, I warne the weill on deid. life is security with modest possessions. O greedy man,
accustomed to feed your stomach and make it a god, look to
The cat cummis and to the mous hes ee;
yourself, I warn you in all earnest. That cat comes, and has an eye
on the mouse. What is the use of your feasting and splendor, with
Quhat is avale thy feist and royaltie,
a fearful heart and tribulation? Therefore, the best thing on earth, I
With dreidfull hart and tribulatioun?
say for my part, is a merry heart with modest possessions. Your
Thairfoir, best thing in eird, I say for me, own fire, friend, though it is only a coal, warms well, and is worth
gold to you. And Solomon says, if you care to read him, "Under
Is merry hart with small possessioun.
the heaven I can see nothing better than to be always happy and
live virtuously." Wherefore, I may conclude with this saying:
"The highest degree of earthly joy comes from blitheness of heart,
with modest possessions."]
Fable Commentary as “Writerly
Because the goal of literary work (of literature as
work) is to make the reader no longer a consumer,
but a producer of the text. Our literature is
characterized by the pitiless divorce which the
literary institution maintains between the
producer of the text and its user, between its
owner and its consumer, between its author and
its reader.
Roland Barthes, S/Z, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill
and Wang, 1974), 4.
Fable Commentary as Hypertext
By “hypertext,” I mean non-sequential writing –
text that branches and allows choices to the
reader, best read at an interactive screen. As
popularly conceived, this is a series of text chunks
connected by links which offer the reader different
Theodor H. Nelson, Literary Machines (Swarthmore,
Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1981), 0/2.
The Wisdom of the City Mouse?
My dear fellow,
you could never
find such
delicious food
as this anywhere
else in the world

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