Sunday, 6 December 2015

the fabulists or animal farm

As a freshman I can recall, in anticipation of reading the Platonic dialogues, that young, new students were warned off early on from drawing parallels of the trial and execution of Socrates and the judgement and crucifixion of Jesus—the comparison disdained as something obvious and sophomoric and rather a dangerous path to pursue. I of course was immediately drawn to the forbidden subject—completely new to me and probably nothing that I would have formulated on my own, but—wisely, I suppose, I kept that to myself.
Academics have come to recognize countless other messianic proceedings, both popularly and privately, and does tend to discourage reading too much into these dockets. One rather indulgent biography, with legendary portions and a lot of embellished and contradictory details of exploits and called a romance, addresses the life and career of a slave in Samos called Æsop, whose fables with personified foxes, lambs, donkeys and other characters are so ingrained and indoctrinating that one would be pressed to fail at making the allusion. The talking animals explore power-relationships and this allegorical device is the only way a slave could possibly mock his social betters in a highly hierarchical society and hope to keep his head—though the allegory is a thinly-veiled thing and I always wondered about listeners not getting the subtext. No tyrant, however flattered and deluded, would exclaim, I think, “what do you I’m not the innocent little rabbit?” The life and times of Æsop outside what is revealed in the fables is not really considered a reliably scholastic piece of work, there being too many versions and it’s mostly just lurid and with a lot of crude humour and misogyny, but the life of Æsop is surprising similar to the two exemplars above—Socrates (also considered endearingly ugly) even composing fables in the style of Æsop (many others have continued this tradition of the past three thousand years) as he’s awaiting his punishment, perhaps thinking that the direct-approach was the wrong way to go about things.
Most versions of the romance agree that Æsop was born into slavery and sold to a wealthy sophist on the Ægean island of Samos and was an extremely physically repulsive individual. Mute and without the power of speech at first, after showing kindness to a temple priestess, despite her being terrified of this ugly man offering help, the goddess Isis (figuring large in Greek culture also at the time) granted him not only the power of speech but also of eloquence. Glossing over the lewd episodes, Æsop’s parables saved him in many situations and allowed him to show up the professors at the philosophical schools. The slave who was never allowed to purchase his freedom in the traditional sense but nevertheless enjoyed much respect and autonomy was himself put to death—on trumped up charges of slander, by being made to walk off a cliff in Delphi after having supposedly slandered Apollo. The gods, echoed by Socrates, have a tendency to mete out their own punishment without human help, and a slighted Apollo did not let offending mortals off that easily.