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1. PREFACE (continued)
The history of Babrias is so strange and interesting, that it might not unfitly be enumerated among the curiosities of literature. He is generally supposed to have been a Greek of Asia Minor, of one of the Ionic Colonies, but the exact period in which he lived and wrote is yet unsettled. He is placed, by one critic, l4 as far back as the institution of the Achaian League, B.C. 250; by another as late as the Emperor Severus, who died A.D. 235; while others make him a contemporary with Phaedrus in the time of Augustus. At whatever time he wrote his version of Aesop, by some strange accident it seems to have entirely disappeared, and to have been lost sight of. His name is mentioned by Avienus; by Suidas, a celebrated critic, at the close of the eleventh century, who gives in his lexicon several isolated verses of his version of the fables; and by John Tzetzes, a grammarian and poet of Constantinople, who lived during the latter half of the twelfth century. Nevelet, in the preface to the volume which we have described, points out that the Fables of Planudes could not be the work of Aesop, as they contain a reference in two places to "Holy monks," and give a verse from the Epistle of St. James as an "Epimith" to one of the fables, and suggests Babrias as their author. Francis Vavassor, 15 a learned French jesuit, entered at greater length on this subject, and produced further proofs from internal evidence, from the use of the word Piraeus in describing the harbour of Athens, a name which was not given till two hundred years after Aesop, and from the introduction of other modern words, that many of these fables must have been at least committed to writing posterior to the time of Aesop, and more boldly suggests Babrias as their author or collector. 16 These various references to Babrias induced Dr. Plichard Bentley, at the close of the seventeenth century, to examine more minutely the existing versions of Aesop's Fables, and he maintained that many of them could, with a slight change of words, be resolved into the Scazonic l7 iambics, in which Babrias is known to have written: and, with a greater freedom than the evidence then justified, he put forth, in behalf of Babrias, a claim to the exclusive authorship of these fables. Such a seemingly extravagant theory, thus roundly asserted, excited much opposition. Dr. Bentley l8 met with an able antagonist in a member of the University of Oxford, the Hon. Mr. Charles Boyle, 19 afterwards Earl of Orrery. Their letters and disputations on this subject, enlivened on both sides with much wit and learning, will ever bear a conspicuous place in the literary history of the seventeenth century. The arguments of Dr. Bentley were yet further defended a few years later by Mr. Thomas Tyrwhitt, a well-read scholar, who gave up high civil distinctions that he might devote himself the more unreservedly to literary pursuits. Mr. Tyrwhitt published, A.D. 1776, a Dissertation on Babrias, and a collection of his fables in choliambic meter found in a MS. in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Francesco de Furia, a learned Italian, contributed further testimony to the correctness of the supposition that Babrias had made a veritable collection of fables by printing from a MS. contained in the Vatican library several fables never before published. In the year 1844, however, new and unexpected light was thrown upon this subject. A veritable copy of Babrias was found in a manner as singular as were the MSS. of Quinctilian's Institutes, and of Cicero's Orations by Poggio in the monastery of St. Gall A.D. 1416. M. Menoides, at the suggestion of M. Villemain, Minister of Public Instruction to King Louis Philippe, had been entrusted with a commission to search for ancient MSS., and in carrying out his instructions he found a MS. at the convent of St. Laura, on Mount Athos, which proved to be a copy of the long suspected and wished-for choliambic version of Babrias. This MS. was found to be divided into two books, the one containing a hundred and twenty-five, and the other ninety-five fables. This discovery attracted very general attention, not only as confirming, in a singular manner, the conjectures so boldly made by a long chain of critics, but as bringing to light valuable literary treasures tending to establish the reputation, and to confirm the antiquity and authenticity of the great mass of Aesopian Fable. The Fables thus recovered were soon published. They found a most worthy editor in the late distinguished Sir George Cornewall Lewis, and a translator equally qualified for his task, in the Reverend James Davies, M.A., sometime a scholar of Lincoln College, Oxford, and himself a relation of their English editor. Thus, after an eclipse of many centuries, Babrias shines out as the earliest, and most reliable collector of veritable Aesopian Fables.
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