Translations by Terry L. Norton. Original Latin by Phaedrus follows each.

The Red Kite and the Doves

When doves had from a certain kite fled
And by the swiftness of their wings escaped,
The wily bird of prey unto them said,
“Why let your lives by constant fear be shaped?
To end hostilities, make me your liege,
And from your anxious hearts lift terror’s siege.”

On hearing him, the doves believed the kite,
And in his rule, they blindly placed their trust.
Then one by one, he seized them in their flight
And ate them with each ruthless talon’s thrust.
At last, one of the few still left observed,
“We made him king. This cutthroat we deserve.”

Fables of Aesop, Book I, Fable 31

Milvus et Columbae

Columbae saepe cum fugissent milvum,
et celeritate pennae vitassent necem,
consilium raptor vertit ad fallaciam
et genus inerme tali decepit dolo:
“Quare sollictum potius aevum ducitis
quam regem me creatis icto foedere,
qui vos ab omni tutus praestem iniuria?”
Illae credentes tradunt sese miluo;
qui regnum adeptus coepit vesci singulas
et exercere imperium saevis unguibus.
Tunc de relicuis una: “Merito plectimur,
(huic spiritum praedoni quae commisimus.”)

 

 

Aesop on the Success of the Wicked

A vicious dog attacked a man
And tore deep lacerations.
So he applied bread to his wounds
And sopped up blood oblations.

He tossed these gifts out to the dog
To keep in check the cur,
For he had heard such offerings
The fierce beast would deter.

On viewing what had just transpired,
Said Aesop to the man,
“Do not allow more dogs to see
Your pacifying plan.

“For if a sop holds them at bay,
Lest they eat us alive,
They’ll ever want our precious blood
As their continuous bribe.”

Fables of Aesop, Book II, Fable 3

Aesopus ad Quendam de Successu Inproborum

Laceratus quidam morsu vehementis canis,
tinctum cruore panem inmisit malefico,
audierat esse quod remedium vulneris.
Tunc sic Aesopus: “Noli coram pluribus
hoc facere canibus, ne nos vivos devorent,
cum scierint esse tale culpae praemium.”
Successus inproborum plures allicit.

 

 

The Eagle and the Crow

No one against the mighty is secure,
But might conjoined with guile none can endure.

An eagle clasped a tortoise as its prey
And soared aloft, but to his deep dismay,
No harm the sovereign lord of air could cause
Despite his razor beak and savage claws.
For in the horny aegis of his race,
The tortoise hid within his carapace.

A crow, however, flying near espied
The eagle with the plated shell and cried,
“You carry in your talons a rich prize,
Yet you will soon tire from this enterprise,
Unless you heed the tactic I advise.”

“What is your scheme?” the eagle begged to know.

“But drop your burden on the rocks below,
And on the flesh you easily may feed.”
The eagle acquiesced and then agreed
To share the booty should the plan succeed.

The raptor next did as the shrewd bird indicated,
The crow’s advice with all speed consummated.
And he who thought that nature’s gift protected
Succumbed to might by wicked guile directed.

Fables of Aesop, Book II, Fable 6

Aquila et Cornix

Contra potentes nemo est munitus satis;
si vero accessit conciliator maleficus,
vis et nequitia quicquid oppugnant ruit.
Aquila in sublime sustulit testudinem.
Quae cum abdidisset cornea corpus domo
nec ullo pacto laedi posset condita,
venit per auras cornix et propter volans:
“Opimam sane praedam rapuisti unguibus;
sed nisi monstraro quid sit faciendum tibi,
gravi nequiquam te lassabit pondere.”
Promissa parte suadet ut scopulum super
altis ab astris duram inlidat corticem,
qua comminuta facile vescatur cibo.
Inducta vafris aquila monitis paruit,
simul et magistrae large divisit dapem.
Sic tuta quae Naturae fuerat munere,
impar duabus occidit tristi nece.

 

 

On the Flaws of Humans

Two knapsacks on us Jupiter has laid,
And what each holds is openly displayed.
Full of our faults, the first hangs down our back.
Replete with others’ flaws, the second pack,
Suspended on our chest, before us lies,
And on this second one we fix our eyes.
We thus of our own faults are unaware
Yet on the flaws of others ever stare.

Fables of Aesop, Book IV, Fable 10

De Vitiis Hominum

Peras imposuit Iuppiter nobis duas:
propriis repletam vitiis post tergum dedit,
alienis ante pectus suspendit gravem.
Hac re videre nostra mala non possumus;
alii simul delinquunt, censores sumus.

 

 

The Mountain in Labor

A mountain in the pangs of labor
Heaved heavily in expectation,
And all the lands miles roundabout
Were filled with great anticipation.
Then after moans and groans galore,
A tiny mouse the mountain bore.

Some seem to work with much ado.
Yet there’s no there there when they’re through.

Fables of Aesop, Book IV, Fable 24

Mons Parturiens

Mons parturibat, gemitus immanes ciens,
eratque in terris maxima expectatio.
At ille murem peperit. Hoc scriptum est tibi,
qui, magna cum minaris, extricas nihil.

 

 

Terry L. Norton is professor emeritus of literacy, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, South Carolina, and is the author of Cherokee Myths and Legends. His poems have appeared in Ekphrastic Review, The Society of Classical Poets, and Kakalak Review. He is a long-time student of French, Spanish, and Latin.


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15 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    In the Latin text “Aquila et Cornix,” the last word in line nine should be “tibi,” (not “titi”). It’s an easy fix.

    Reply
  2. C.B. Anderson

    How kind of you, Professor Norton, to render Latin into English verse. If Aesop had known this would happen, I’m sure he would created a fable to encapsulate the phenomenon.

    With undeniable sincere elation
    We read translations from an ancient nation,
    But only if the text is very good
    Or somewhere in that comfy neighborhood.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      To be exact, a translation of a translation, of a translation, of a translation, etc. from Greek to Latin prose, to Latin verse, to Greek verse, to Latin, then to English and who knows how many other languages in both prose and verse, each translation or paraphrase drawn from whatever text or tradition the most recent author had available! I was surprised to discover this morning that today the name of the possibly-apocryphal 7th century BC Aesop is associated with somewhere between 400-650 fables! Wow!

      Terry, Thanks for the story/poems. I particularly enjoyed your rich and varied vocabulary–such as using and finding a rhyme for carapace! Not that it matters much, but what was your source for the Latin?

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        That’s precisely the same case as with much of the Bible.

      • Terry Norton

        This reply is to both your comments and to those of C.B. Anderson. Thank you both for your kind words concerning my translations.

        As for the Latin originals, I used thelatinlibrary.com/phaedrus.html . It contains the five books by Phaedrus plus Perotti’s Appendix, a renaissance document of additional fables in poetic form attributed to Phaedrus.

        Many of Phaedrus’ poems are not fables at all but comments on historical events of his time, his responses to his critics, and his praise for his own work. I have completed translating 50 of the pieces which are more properly considered fables and which I believe are the best of Phaedrus. Some of the pieces are short, while others run to several pages such as “The Widow and the Soldier” (Perotti’s Appendix, No. 15). This later poem was expanded into a prose story in Petronius’ SATYRICON, sections 111-112, a work among of my favorites of Latin writers.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        We’re not sure if Niccolo Perotti’s Appendix of fables was actually by Phaedrus, since the manuscript has been lost. Perotti located it himself, probably on one of his searches in monastic libraries, but since then it has disappeared.

        Perotti was a brilliant translator from Greek, one of the best in his day.

  3. Monty

    You may or may not’ve noticed, Terry, that another poetry-translation on these pages recently was subsequently exposed as containing blatant discrepancies in the actual translating of the narrative. Thus, not speaking an ounce of the Latin . . I’ll have to accept your word as to the veracity of yours.

    Given that each piece is philosophical in nature, it would appear that you wouldn’t have had much scope for straying away from the original meaning (to pursue a perfectly-rhymed translation) without losing some of the philosophy itself; which might indicate that yours is a true translation.

    But that’s another matter. What IS beyond doubt is the skill of your writing in the English; the steady flow; the clear diction; the rich imagery . . each piece is high-class poetry. Which again gives the impression that you may’ve stayed true to the original pieces.

    One minute snag that I stumbled over was your omittance – in L3 of ‘The Red Kite’ – of a hyphen in cutthroat. It should be cut-throat. I don’t know if there’s any such grammatical-law to determine this; but it’s always appeared to me that if we join two words together, and the last letter of the first word is the same as the first letter of the second word (in this case both ‘t’): then we simply HAVE to insert a hyphen to separate the double ‘t’. To not do so can sometimes make the word look alien . . non-English. There’s no such word as cutthroat in our language!

    I didn’t comment upon it at the time, but just last week on these pages, someone used the non-word ‘nighttime’; which immediately smacked me full in the face. To me, it was unrecognisable for a split second; and seemed like it might’ve belonged in the German – neegteem!

    When we talk of a ‘cut-off point’, we don’t write ‘cutoff point’, ‘coz cutoff can then be read as kuetoff . . see? It distorts the word (or words). Hence, without a hyphen, cutthroat could conceivably be read as cuh throat. In any case, it would only take a reader a cuppla seconds to realise that the one word is in fact two words . . but it’s an unnecessary pause for a reader.

    Hence, if we choose to use two words as one word, we have a duty to inform the reader of such by means of a hyphen. Well, that’s how I see it anyway.

    Reply
    • Terry Norton

      I enjoyed your comments on my spelling of “cutthroat” minus the hyphen.

      I remember puzzling over how to spell the word and consulted several print and online sources. I decided to go without the hyphen after looking the word up in ROGET’S INTERNATIONAL THESAURUS, third edition (1962) and THE AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY, second college edition (1982). In a somewhat related matter, I decided to translate the Latin word as “cutthroat,” although it is usually given as “pirate” or “robber” in English. To me, these last two words did not convey the cruelty of the kite in killing the doves and seemed less of an adequate equivalence than my choice.

      Concerning your comments on translation, my approach has been to follow suggestions from the Latin rhetorician Quintilian, who came a generation after Phaedrus. In suggesting Aesopic fables in the teaching of children, he advocated that they learn them orally, then write them out in clear and simple prose using different words in which they paraphrase them freely, condensing some parts and expanding others. I more or less adhered to this method before I rendered the fables into metered and rhymed lines. Other influences on my approach are suggestions given by Dryden in his prefatory remarks to his many translations – Chaucer, Virgil, Boccaccio. He finds additions (expansions and embellishments) to be perfectly acceptable as long as they grow out of the work to enhance it and are not artificially grafted (he says “stuck”) on to it as he indicates in his dedication to his translation of AENEIS (1697) Further ideas on translation I have adapted from reader-response theory of Louise Rosenblatt and more recently E. D. Hirsh. Sometime, I hope to write an essay, with proper attribution, explaining these matters in detail. I have found them more practical for translation than some of the rarified approaches occasionally contained in such books as THEORIES OF TRANSLATION (1992) and TRANSLATION – THEORY AND PRACTICE – A HISTORICAL READER (2006; rpt. 2009).

      In any event, translations lie along a continuum from literal to loose. A very loose one would be Fitzgerald’s RUBIYAT, really more adaptation than translation. In comparison to his, I would say that mine tend toward the less free. While I do not reject additions/embellishments out of hand, my goal has always been to adhere to the sense of the original, especially to the essential plot if a narrative poem.

      I have gone on much too long. Let me close by thanking you for taking the time to comment on my work.

      Reply
  4. Paul Oratofsky

    Delightful. I especially like “Yet there’s no there there when they’re through.”

    You’re a clever fellow.

    Reply
    • Terry Norton

      Yes, Perotti is a question mark but his stories are considered part of Aesopica. His versions are like those of Phaedrus proper in that he rendered them in Latin verse. Unlike other Aesopic transmitters, Perotti consistently included a moral and put it at the beginning of each fable as a promythium. For the morals of both Perotti and Phaedrus, when the latter included them, I find them sometimes forced on the narrative.

      Reply
  5. Aedile Cwerbus

    It is nice, at this site that promotes the classical, whenever we get translations from the ancient Greek and Latin writers. Mr. Norton’s translations fit that classical vein. I most appreciated his “The Red Kite and the Doves”. The stanzas and the iambic pentameters do not tangle inordinately with the twelve lines of Phaedrus. It is interesting to note how Phaedrus divides his poem up into seven-and-five-lined groups capped by the voice of the kite and the voice of one of the doves, and how he sets up the conflict in the fist line “Columbae…milvum”. That one dove, among the doves harried by the kite, sees at last the error of their ways, and acknowledges the justice of their punishment. Cutthroat is more than appropriate there. I also appreciate Mr. Norton going to the NeoClassical poet Dryden for some of his rationale in translating.

    Phaedrus is certainly important in European fable literature, the last grand example, George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”. The outstanding qualities of Phaedrus include his direct simplicity, his unpretentious phrasing (almost classical, though showing signs of Silver-Age Latinity), his brevity (though Mr. Norton points out his capacity at longer works), his condensation, and his avoidance of exaggeration and preciosity (attaining at times an Attic temperance, earlier achieved by Terence). At those moments, he reminds me of La Fontaine.

    In the summer of 2015, I tried my hand at short (dodeca-length) contemporary fables modeled after Aesop, ASAP fables, with a touch of the “fractured-fairy-tale” quality. Those brief pieces were a joy to write, and I wished I had written more of them (but I can never go back and pick up that same vibe/inspiration). I have to admit that, in the summer of 2019, I was inspired by Phaedrus to write a tennos called “The Pompous Frog”, which was an exciting poem to write. Because of its abstract nature, there is that within the fable that allows one a great deal of freedom.

    In his comments, I did not feel that Mr. Norton had “gone on much too long” at all; articulate, thoughtful comments are a joy to read.

    Reply
    • Terry Norton

      I much appreciate your knowledgeable remarks and kind comments. I have translated 50 of Phaedrus’ poems and experimented with various lengths of iambic lines as well as stanza forms to capture, I hope, the tone of a particular poem. These include what I consider Phaedrus’ best Aesopic renditions and a few of his trenchant addresses to critics. I suppose, if I had to pick my top three, they would be “The Widow and the Soldier” (#15 in Perotti’s Appendix), “King Demetrius and the Poet Menander” (Book V, #1), and “The Clown and the Rustic” (Book V, #6). Although the first one is from renaissance scholar Perotti and perhaps in question as to whether Phaedrus composed it, the story is very old with an expanded version appearing in Petronius’ SATYRICON (sections 111 and 112) from the time of Nero and often titled “The Widow of Ephesus.” Both Phaedrus and Petronius likely borrowed the tale from even earlier stories. In working on a collection of folktales about monkeys from around the world, I came across some variants of “Aesop’s” fables that originate from India several hundred years before the legendary Thracian slave is said to have lived. The Victorian folklorist Joseph Jacobs was well aware of these parallels and commented on their origins in his folktale collection from India. All fascinating material.

      One more thought on Phaedrus. A century after Petronius, the Latin novel, THE GOLDEN ASS, expands Phaedrus’ “The Ass and the Priests of Cybele’ into a complete chapter in which Apuleius, cursed and transformed into a donkey, falls in with the abusive eunuch priests of the Great Goddess of Syria.

      Reply

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