Fables are not children stories, but they express moral principles and folk wisdom through animal characters. It was once thought that this genre came from India to Greece, but now scholars are less certain. Fables are short and written in an easy language and no wonder that they were used as an introduction into Latin during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The same is true for Indian fables: thousands and thousands of students of Sanskrit must have been introduced to original Sanskrit through Charles Lanman’s `Sanskrit Reader’ which contains inter alia fables from the Hitopadesha in the easier selections. From a sociological point of view fables are ideal for studying moral concepts of a society. Take for instance this simple fable from Phaedrus fabulae: a dog wants to swim across a river carrying a piece of meat. Standing at the river he sees his own reflection in the water and opens his mouth to get hold of the other piece of meat too – and is left with nothing. May be greedy bankers should recite this fable twice daily.
Phaedrus, Fabulae, IV (or V in another counting): Canis per Fluvium Carnem Ferens
Amittit merito proprium qui alienum adpetit.
Canis, per fluvium carnem cum ferret, natans
lympharum in speculo vidit simulacrum suum,
aliamque praedam ab altero ferri putans
eripere voluit; verum decepta aviditas
et quem tenebat ore dimisit cibum,
nec quem petebat adeo potuit tangere.
amitto amisi amissum: to loose
proprium: one’s own thing
adpeto adpetivi adpetitum: to strive after (= peto)
cum ferret: when he wanted to carry (another reading for cum is dum, probably a mediaeval alteration as both conjunctives got blurred)
nato: to swim
speculum: reflection, mirror
eripio eripui ereptum: to snatch away
decepta aviditas: abstractum pro concreto `the eager one deceived himself’
cibum, quem: the food which
tango tetigi tactum: to touch