Term Paper: Myth to Reality the Hidden

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[. . .] Both served as illustrations to the illiterate or semi-literate. Many of the animals used had quite specific meanings. The fox, for example, had been employed since antiquity to denote covetousness, thus its use by Aesop and La Fontaine in the "Fox and the Grapes." (Partridge, 1958) Many of the two fabulists' images were so instantly recognizable by contemporaries that they were shown in paintings. "The Satyr and the Peasant" figures frequently in Flemish of the period. (Hall, 1979) Again, this and other images quickly brought to mind an entire story whose theme was easily comprehensible.

It is important to keep in mind as well, the fact that contemporaries were well aware that many of these tales were entirely fictitious. We are not speaking of children unable to separate fantasy from reality. That these were stories with hidden meanings was clear from the outset. As La Fontaine wrote in the preface to his works, "I sing the heroes who were fathered by Aesop, A troop whose history, although mendacious, Contains truths which serve as lessons." (Guiton, 1961) Though separated by thousands of years in time, La Fontaine's works were composed with essentially the same purpose in mind as those of Aesop. Though perhaps based upon real persons and events, it was understood that the fables were alterations of the actual story, the characters and their actions modified in order to prove a certain point.

Myth could be made to conform to reality or vice-versa. La Fontaine's great innovation, however, consisted in separating out the fable as a specific genre. Aesop's works were clearly fables, but many later authors made no distinction between the fable and other forms of moral example. (Kaufmann and Sutherland, 1996) With his wit and humor, La Fontaine set the standard that later fabulists would follow. The specific form of the fable would now be nearly as important as the story itself. Only tales with a genuinely fabulous element could be accounted part of the genre. While the concept of fictitious moralistic tales had been quite popular even in medieval times and onward into the Renaissance, works such as Boccaccio's Daecameron were not really fables as such. Each of Boccaccio's narratives was something that could have happened, much like the many outlandish situations one sees in today's television sitcoms. Boccaccio never actually crosses over into the realm of myth. (Kaufmann and Sutherland, 1996)

La Fontaine demonstrated too, that the precise way in which the fable was presented was as significant as the story. He pioneered the placement of the tale's most striking point at the beginning of the fable. (Scaglione, 1972) As described above in "The Ant and the Grasshopper," this meant drawing the reader's attention immediately to the grasshopper's "mistake." Such a rendering of the tale made its impact all the more dramatic. The grasshopper's past actions have placed him in an untenable situation. He gave no thought to the consequences of his decisions just as we the readers cannot, at the beginning, of the story have any idea what brought him to this point. It is a clear case of "think before you act." The grasshopper's sad story then unfolds like the criminal's testimony during a trial. We only learn of his motives as we step backward in time. We furthermore become one with the protagonist - in this case the grasshopper. Unaware of the explanation for his predicament, he must go over each stage of its creation one bit at a time. In the sense that we see things through the grasshopper's eyes, it is as if we are psychoanalyzing ourselves, attempting to discern the causes of our current problem by re-examining what led to its creation. This is a very effective means of conveying a moral imperative - define the problem, identify the reader with that problem, and finally let the reader go back over his own thoughts until he understands where and why his mistake was made.

Thus do both Aesop and La Fontaine stand out as the two primary developers of the genre we call the fable. Aesop recorded some of the earliest known short, fabulous tales the purposes of which were the moral instruction of the hearer (or reader). La Fontaine re-told many of these same tales, but ingeniously embellished them. He formed a specific set of rules which y served the purpose of more easily conveying the fable's moral point. Witty, poetic language, language that was beautiful in and of itself, made a symphony of instruction. The mythical and semi-mythical stories of ancient times were shown to have a continuing relevance. Human nature is human nature, and though the characters and costumes might change, what is underneath does not. He showed as well, that by employing the language of stock motifs and symbols, one could say far more in a short passage than one could possibly ever hope to describe were it necessary to begin anew each time. The metaphors of antiquity held true as much for the Seventeenth Century as they do for the Twenty-First. The fable speaks to us all, whether child or adult, and in no matter what age we live. That was the secret known to La Fontaine, and that was the secret known to Aesop.

Works Cited

http://www.questia.com/PageManagerHTMLMediator.qst?action=openPageViewer&docId=97627824"Duncan-Jones, Katherine, ed. Sir Philip Sidney. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 223, 1989.

Guiton, Margaret. La Fontaine: Poet and Counterpoet. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press 23, 1961. Hall, James. Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art. New York: Westview Press 274, 1979.

A www.questia.com/PageManagerHTMLMediator.qst?action=openPageViewer&docId=65846650"Kaufmann, Wanda Ostrowska, and Madeline Sutherland. The Anthropology of Wisdom Literature. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey 111, 1996.

Long, John R.

The Ant and the Grasshopper." Aesop's Fables: The Online Collection: Star Systems 30 March 2002. URL: http://www.pacificnet.net/~johnr/cgi/aesop1.cgi?1&TheAntandtheGrasshopper&antgrass.ramPartridge, Edward B. The Broken Compass: A Study of the Major Comedies of Ben Jonson. New York: Columbia University Press 84,1958.

Patterson Annabel. Fables of Power: Aesopian Writing and Political History. Durham, NC: Duke University 82, 1991. Scaglione, Aldo. The Classical Theory of Composition; From Its Origins to the Present: A Historical Survey. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press 276, 1972. [END OF PREVIEW]

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