Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Phaedrus: Venus interrogates a hen.

The fables of Phaedrus, well-known nowadays, where hardly read during the Middle-Ages and the first printed edition (1596) was based on a single manuscript. The Italian bishop and Humanist Nicollò Perotti (1429-1480) had collected some manuscripts too, but it was not until 1831 that the best copy, containing 32 fables unknown before, was published. These did not constitute a separate book, but must have been part of the original five books. As it is impossible to decide where, they are printed as an appendix, the appendix Perottina.
The following fable gives a picture of how Romans – better: Roman men - thought about the fidelity of women. I have an excellent German school edition with commentary published in 1889. It does not contain this fable.

Phaedrus, Fabula, Appendix Perotinna XI. [Iuno, Venus et gallina]
De mulierum libidine

Cum castitatem Iuno laudaret suam,
iocunditatis causa non renuit Venus,
nullamque ut affirmaret esse illi parem
interrogasse sic gallinam dicitur:
"Dic, sodes, quanto possis satiari cibo?"
Respondit illa "Quidquid dederis, satis erit,
sic ut concedas pedibus aliquid scalpere."
"Ne scalpas" inquit "satis est modius tritici?
"Plane, immo nimium est, sed permitte scalpere."
"Ex toto ne quid scalpas, quid desideras?"
Tum denique illa fassa est naturae malum:
"Licet horreum mi pateat, ego scalpam tamen."
Risisse Iuno dicitur Veneris iocos,
quia per gallinam denotauit feminas.

castitas –atis: chastity
iocunditas –atis (f.): pleasure, joke
renuo renui (-ere): to deny, disapprove
nullam (feminam)
par, paris: equal
gallina: chicken
sodes (= si audes): please
satio (-are): to satisfy
cibus: food
scalpo scalpsi scalptum: to scratch
ne: in order not to
modius: corn measure (8.75 litre)
triticum: wheat
plane: sure
immo: in reality, and even
nimium: too much
ex toto: not at all
fateor fassus: to confess
denique: at last
licet: even if
horreum: barn
mi = mihi
denoto: to brand, scandalize

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

When Juno was praising her own chastity, Venus did not lose the opportunity of a joke, and, to show that there was no female equal to herself in that virtue, is said to have asked this question of the Hen: “Tell me, will you, with how much food could you be satisfied?” The hen replied: “Whatever you give me will be enough; but still you must let me scratch a bit with my feet.” “To keep you from scratching,” said the Goddess, “is a measure of wheat enough?” “Certainly; indeed it is too much; but still do allow me to scratch.” “In fine,” said Venus, “what do you require, on condition of not scratching at all?” Then at last the hen confessed the weak point in her nature: “Though a whole barn were open for me, still scratch I must.” Juno is said to have laughed at the joke of Venus, for by the Hen she meant the Female Sex.