In this fable Phaedrus tells about the dangers of women. A middle-aged man is loved by an old woman, who conceals her age by make up and by a young girl. Both want the man to look like them and the old women starts plucking the black hairs and the young one the white. The result is obvious.
Somehow I find this story not convincing: would I be in such a situation, I would not bother at all about the old hag with make up. Further: why wasn’t the old woman jealous and didn’t scratch the eyes out of her far younger rival or poison her?
What I do like, is that in the title the middle aged man is referred to as a iuvenis. I will keep that in mind when younger friends make fun of my age: Ho, ho, ho! Ego quoque iuvenis sum!
Phaedrus Book 2, fable 2: Anus Diligens Iuvenem, Item Puella
(Metre: 6 feet iambic, spondees are allowed too.)
A feminis utcumque spoliari viros,
ament, amentur, nempe exemplis discimus.
Aetatis mediae quendam mulier non rudis
tenebat, annos celans elegantia,
animosque eiusdem pulchra iuvenis ceperat.
ambae, videri dum volunt illi pares,
capillos homini legere coepere invicem.
qui se putaret fingi cura mulierum,
calvus repente factus est; nam funditus
canos puella, nigros anus evellerat.
anus: old woman
utcumque: in whatever way
spolio: to plunder
ament, amentur: whether they etc.
teneo tenui: (here) to love
celo: to conceal
elegantia: make up
par, paris (+ dat.): equal to
homini: dativus incommodi!
legere: here in te original meaning `to collect, pluck’ (to read = to pick up letters. The German/Dutch `lesen/lezen’(`to read’) is a loan translation from Latin legere: the original meaning of this word was also `to pick up, choose’, but that meaning has completely vanished in the modern usage of these languages.)
invicem: in turn
fingi cura: to be made up by the care
funditus (adv.): completely
evello evelli evulsum: to tear out
Verse translation and adapation by Christopher Smart M.A. (London, 1887):
II. THE BALD-PATE DUPE.
Fondling or fondled—any how—
(Examples of all times allow)
That men by women must be fleeced.
A dame, whose years were well increased,
But skill’d t’ affect a youthful mien,
Was a staid husband’s empress queen;
Who yet sequester’d half his heart
For a young damsel, brisk and smart.
They, while each wanted to attach
Themselves to him, and seem his match,
Began to tamper with his hair.
He, pleased with their officious care,
Was on a sudden made a coot;
For the young strumpet, branch and root,
Stripp’d of the hoary hairs his crown,
E’en as th’ old cat grubb’d up the brown.