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Classical Interviews: Phaedrus the Fabulist

Ancient World

Classical Interviews: Phaedrus the Fabulist

Phaedrus, a fable writer

 

By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB

This article is one of a series of fictitious interviews with important figures from the ancient Roman and Greek worlds. The concept of made-up interviews first appeared in the writings of the Italian novelist Giuseppe Papini, though he “interviewed” people from more recent times. Today’s interview is with a man who once was a slave, but his talent for writing was so great that his master granted him his freedom. He was a fable writer living during the reign of Augustus, and in my opinion, his stories will live forever. That’s right…I’m talking about Phaedrus!

 

Q. Ave, Phaedre. Thanks for having us today, and congratulations on your freedom. Are you enjoying your status as a free Roman citizen?

A. Yes, I’m loving it! Now I have the time to compile everything I’ve written in the last number of years. When I was a slave, I hardly had any free time at all to write. Just between us, I would often write when my master wasn’t looking. Before he finally realized how talented I was, he would make me work sixteen hours a day! I hope your age will banish the whole idea of slavery. Freedom is a noble thing!

 

Q. What are your plans for the future?

A. I’ve been focusing a lot on fables. I feel that fables have a lot to teach us. As Horace put it, mutato nomine fabula de te narratur. Animals are the stars of fables, in reality they are about people, with all their vices and flaws. I often can’t call people by name since some of them are very powerful, so I use animals instead. That’s why I am working on a translation of Aesop’s complete fables in Latin iambic verse. Aesop is and always will be the greatest fabulist of all time!

 

Q. Translating Aesop into Latin verse must have been very difficult…

A. Not really, no. I believe the two languages and cultures have much in common. I realize some people are skeptical regarding the veracity of the legend of Aeneas, but I think it’s true that Romans descended from the Trojans, who probably spoke a language which was similar to Greek. My good friend Vergil is working on an extensive epic poem about our great city. He agrees with me that the two cultures are connected. The two cultures have similar tastes in literature and poetry, so translating Aesop into Latin was a piece of cake!

 

Q. What do you think of people who believe fables are just for children?

A. I feel sorry for these people! They’re missing out on so much by neglecting Aesop. I hope that people in the future will enjoy his fables as much as I do, considering that I’m putting so much into translating them. Besides, just as Greek was the language of the past, Latin is the language of the future, and I’m certain everyone will speak it in your time. And so, through my translation, millions of people will have access to Aesop’s classic works!

 

Q. Do you have a favorite Aesop fable?

A. It’s hard to pick just one, but I’ve always had a special place in my heart for “The Fox and the Grapes”. I think there’s a little of the fox in every one of us. When we come to see that reach a particularn goal is impossible, we should acknowledge our incapacity rather than pretending that the object of our desire is suddenly not good enough! Another fable worth mentioning is the one in which the wolf and the sheep are standing by a river. No matter how wicked someone is, they will always have a rationalization for oppressing the weak, which is why the wolf comes up with his lame justifications for killing the poor lamb.

 

Q. This next question is a bit off topic, but what’s your opinion of Augustus’ politics?

A. I genuinely admire Augustus as a great leader, and I hope he will create an even more prosperous and successful Rome. I spoke to our emperor once, and I felt that he was a wise man who understood the true meaning of fables. If we were still living in the times of the old republic, he would definitely get my vote!

 

Q. What message would you like to give to people in the future?

A. I hope they will appreciate fables and the wonderful lessons contained within them. Like all artists, I hope my name will become immortal, but that’s for your age to decide!.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
André Bastos Gurgel
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Latin (the last of which he learned with Carmenta) and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. Mr. Gurgel is currently studying Old English through Carmenta as well.

Click here to read Mr. Gurgel’s full profile.

 

 

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