Sunday, 21 August 2016

Phaedrus 2.13: copyright problems.

Suppose I write a novel, but being a completely unknown author, I use the name J.K. Rowling in the hope that people will readily buy my book. Or that I sell Harry Potter under my name, which by the way is far less laborious than writing a pseudo Rowling. Of course that is nowadays unthinkable, but it happened occasionally in former days. Phaedrus (first century AD) was an author of fables. As he was successful, other writers used his name for their own inferior products or claimed his fables as their own. There was little he could do, as Roman law hardly provided in such cases and even when a judge decided in favour of the original author, there was no way of enforcing the verdict. The only thing he could do was to express his anger and indignation in a fable: bees had built a hive, but drones claimed it as theirs. A wasp was appointed as judge and the bees won the case. The drones however refused to accept it. Would there have been a Roman so daring to publish this fable under his own name?

Phaedrus, book 3, 13 : Apes et Fuci, Vespa Iudice

Apes in alta fecerant quercu favos:
hos fuci inertes esse dicebant suos.
Lis ad forum deducta est, vespa iudice.
Quae genus utrumque nosset cum pulcherrime,
legem duabus hanc proposuit partibus:
non inconveniens corpus et par est color,
in dubium plane res ut merito venerit.
Sed ne religio peccet imprudens mea,
alvos accipite et ceris opus infundite,
ut ex sapore mellis et forma favi,
de quis nunc agitur, auctor horum appareat.
Fuci recusant: apibus condicio placet.
Tunc illa talem protulit sententiam:
apertum est quis non possit et quis fecerit.
Quapropter apibus fructum restituo suum.
Hanc praeterissem fabulam silentio,
si pactam fuci non recusassent fidem.

apis apis (m. and f.): bee
focus: drone
vespa: wasp (vespa and wasp are cognate words from the root *uobh-s-eh2, which in its turn is a derivation of the root*uebh  `to weave’)
quercus –us (f.): oak
favus: honey-comb
iners inertis: inactive, lazy
lis litis (f.): suit, process
ad forum: into court
quae…nosset cum = quae cum nosset
pulcherrime: very well
legem: rule
inconveniens –entis: dissimilar
par paris: equal
in dubium plane res ut merito venerit  =  ut merito (justly) res plane (clearly) in dubium venerit
religio mea: my conscience, duty
imprudens –entis: without knowledge
alvus: beehive
ceris opus infundite: pour your labour into the wax (opus refers to honey, which drones can’t make.)
sapor saporis (m.): smell, taste
mel mellis (n.): honey
de quis = de quibus (quis, with long i, is an ancient form .)
recuso (-are): to reject
illa (vespa)
apertum est: it is clear
praeter-eo: to pass by
pactam fidem: the agreed deal (of following the verdict of the wasp)

Translation by HENRY THOMAS RILEY, B.A. (1887)


Some Bees had made their combs in a lofty oak. Some lazy Drones asserted
that these belonged to them. The cause was brought into court, the Wasp
{sitting as} judge; who, being perfectly acquainted with either race,
proposed to the two parties these terms: “Your shape is not unlike, and
your colour is similar; so that the affair clearly and fairly becomes a
matter of doubt. But that my sacred duty may not be at fault through
insufficiency of knowledge, {each of you} take hives, and pour your
productions into the waxen cells; that from the flavour of the honey and
the shape of the comb, the maker of them, about which the present
dispute exists, may be evident.” The Drones decline; the proposal
pleases the Bees. Upon this, the Wasp pronounces sentence to the
following effect: “It is evident who cannot, and who did, make {them};
wherefore, to the Bees I restore the fruits of their labours.”

This Fable I should have passed by in silence, if the Drones had not
refused the proposed stipulation.

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