When Peisistratus was in power at Athens between 561 and 527 BC after a coup, the aristocrats complained about his strict laws, regulations and taxes. Not that he was a bad ruler; he instituted the Panathenaic Festival and tried to produce a standard edition of Homer – with a more prominent place for Athens than in the original, as scholars think that some passages concerning Athens are interpolations.
Aesop wrote a fable about the discomfort of the aristocrats, warning them that you know what you have, but you don’t know what you will get. Phaedrus (15 BC – 50 AD), of whom I have posted a blog before, translated this fable into Latin. But there is something curious: Aesop lived between 620–564 BC., so he must have written this fable either as a visionary or have sent it from Hades! As scholars don’t believe these options, the solution is of course that it is either not a fable by Aesop or he wrote it for another situation and it was later seen as fitting for the reign of Peisistratus.
As fables have a general moral, I wonder what the moral for today is, especially regarding the upheaval in the Middle-East. Thinking about that, maybe a drama is more applicable than a fable…
Pheadrus book 1, fable 2. Metrum iambic senarius X _ X _ X | _ X | _ X _ X _
Ranae regem petierunt.
Athenae cum florerent aequis legibus,
procax libertas civitatem miscuit
frenumque solvit pristinum licentia.
Hic conspiratis factionum partibus
arcem tyrannus occupat Pisistratus. 5
Cum tristem servitutem flerent Attici,
(non quia crudelis ille, sed quoniam gravis
omnino insuetis), onus et coepissent queri,
Aesopus talem tum fabellam rettulit.
Ranae vagantes liberis paludibus 10
clamore magno regem petiere a Iove,
qui dissolutos mores vi compesceret.
Pater deorum risit atque illis dedit
parvum tigillum, missum quod subito vadi
motu sonoque terruit pavidum genus. 15
Hoc mersum limo cum iaceret diutius,
forte una tacite profert e stagno caput
et explorato rege cunctas evocat.
Illae timore posito certatim adnatant
lignumque supera turba petulans insilit. 20
Quod cum inquinassent omni contumelia,
alium rogantes regem misere ad Iovem,
inutilis quoniam esset qui fuerat datus.
Tum misit illis hydrum, qui dente aspero
corripere coepit singulas. Frustra necem 25
fugitant inertes, vocem praecludit metus.
Furtim igitur dant Mercurio mandata ad Iovem,
afflictis ut succurrat. Tunc contra deus:
Quia noluistis vestrum ferre, inquit, bonum,
Malum perferte. — Vos quoque, o cives, ait, 30
hoc sustinete, maius ne veniat malum.
peto petii (petivi) petitum; to ask
Athenae: Greek place names are sometimes in the plural. Actually, they are no plurals at all, but locatives `at Athens’, the locative had the same ending as the plural, but as the locative was hardly in use, it was not recognized in place names anymore.
procax -acis: bold
misceo: to stir up
frenum: bridle, restraint
licentia (abl!): license
hic: as the metre shows with long i, so `here’ and not with Pisistratus.
conspiratis factionum partibus while the (various) parties of partisans were conspiring
Arcem: the Acropolis
fleo: to lament
Attici: the Athenians
gravis: grave (i.e. servitus gravis est pro insuetis)
insuetus: unaccustomed. Adjectives and participles can be used as nouns in Latin, so: for people who are unaccustomed)
onus, oneris (n): burden
coepio coepi coeptum: to begin
queror questus sum: to bewail, lament
refero rettuli (retuli) relatum: to tell
vago (1): to wander
palus, paludis (f): swamp
clamor, -oris (m): shout
petiere = petierunt
dissolvo solvi solutum: dissolve
vis (f): force. The noun is defective and only a few cases are attested. vi is abl.
compesco, pescui: to restrain
rideo risi risum: to laugh
tigillum: a small bar of wood, little beam
mitto misi missum: to send
missum quod = quod missum
vadum: shallow water (vadi with pavidum genus)
motus, -us (m): movement
sonus: sound, noise
terreo terrui territum: to frighten
Hoc mersum limo cum iaceret diutius = Cum hoc etc.
Hoc with genus
mergo mersi mersum: to submerge
iaceo iacui iacitum: to lie
diutius: for a long time
forte: by chanche
tacite (adv.) silently
profero: to bring out
explorato rege abl. abs.
cunctus: all together
timore posito: fear having been laid down
certatim: in rivalry
adnato (1): to swim up/to
petulans: petulant, wanting
supera turba: the crowd being above
insilio insilui: to jump up/upon
cum quod lignumque inquinassent omni contumelia: when they had befouled that (quod lignum) with all kind of insult.
rogo (1): to ask
misere (poetic form of 3 pl pf) = miserunt. The syntax is a bit strained: they sent to Jove asking for another king. misere has no object, but `a request’ must be understood.
hydrus: water-serpent (in some later versions it is a stork)
corripio –ripui –reptum: to seize
singulus: one by one
frustra (adv.) in vain
nex necis: violent death
iners, -tis: sluggish
praecludo –clusi –clusum: to shut off
metus –us (m): fear
furtim (adv.): secretly
Mercurius is the envoy between men (or frogs) and the gods
afflictis: again a participle used as a noun.
succuro –curri –cursum (+ dat.): to run to help
contra: in his turn
ait: from aio `to say’ a defective verb with no perfect, but of course within the context a perfect in English.
quia…ferre….perferte (2 sg. imp.): because you don’t want to bear…, endure
sustineo -tinuī –tentus: to sustain
maius ne = ne maius (maius: greater)
This is a link to a poetic translation, for obvious reasons not quite fitting the original as it is in rhyme: