Metaglossia: The Translation World
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Metaglossia: The Translation World
News about translation, interpreting, intercultural communication, terminology and lexicography - as it happens
Curated by Charles Tiayon
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Tales of an intrepid pantster: Review: Aesop's Fables; a new translation

I'd heard a lot of Aesop's fables, here and there, but I'd never read them all. There are a lot, it turns out, and most are fewer than 100 words long.

They all have similar elements, but these elements aren't there in all of them. Sometimes animals stand in for human traits (like the fox almost always represents cleverness, the lion danger and strength, the wolf is sneaky and scary, the crow a big dope, the monkey cute and clever), but some of the stories have only human characters. The stories don't even all have explicit lessons at the end; sometimes it's spoken by a character in the fable.

The most interesting part of reading these fables is that the lessons at the end have become clichés in our time (and probably before then, too), and the stories were written in the 7th century BC. Some are timeless, but surely some attitudes have updated since then. I refer to the two that were explicitly sexist, and the many that implied that slavery is a normal, everyday thing.

My favorite fable, which I've never heard before, is about wolves who complain to the sheep that they're not given the chance, because the dogs bark and bite and chase them off when they try to get close. The sheep get rid of the dogs, and are torn to pieces for their stupidity. It reminded me of the tone argument, the precept that one needs to be nice about it when pointing out others' prejudices.

Most of the stories can likely be similarly updated, because the lesson isn't always explicit. It may well have been meant for one situation, but its universal application is what's made it survive this long.!
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