Sunday, January 8, 2012

Aesop, Plato and barking dogs: a note from Gregory Nagy

In response to my post on "Socrates’s worst argument ever: the philosopher and the barking dog" here, my friend Gregory Nagy sent me a breathtaking article which includes stories of Aesop and a barking dog. See below and here.

In the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, a classicist herself, tells of stored memories in a memory pool, a pensieve, into which one can plunge and see what happened once upon a time. This invention is a little like Plato, the master of stories, but in addition, Plato, also a magician, changes every one. Tracking the sources in Plato is thus revelatory (see the ring of Gyges here and here).

Here is Greg’s account of the story:

§100. The fable I have chosen is “Aesop and the Bitch” (Fable 423 ed. Perry), which is attested only in the Wasps of Aristophanes (1400-1405). One evening, according to the fable as narrated here in verse, Aesop was walking along after having attended a deipnon ‘dinner’ (1401), and he encountered along his way a bitch that started barking angrily at him (1402). Aesop responded to the dog by saying to her, and the iambic verses quote his words, that she would be sensible if she were barking for the purpose of getting wheat as a payment for putting a stop to her barking (1403-1405).

§101. Why wheat and not meat? In terms of the convoluted logic of the narrative, it is because it would not make any sense for the bitch to be barking so furiously at Aesop unless it was wheat that she wanted as payment for putting a stop to her angry barking. I think it is the convolutedness of the logic here that makes the narrative amusing. The premise that is built into the narrative, I further think, is that dogs crave to eat meat, not wheat, and, presumably, there was meat to be eaten at the ‘dinner’ that Aesop had just attended. But the bitch is barking up the wrong tree, as it were, if what she really wants to get from Aesop is a cut of meat as a payoff for stopping her furious barking. Aesop has no meat to give to the bitch. And so the dog deserves to get nothing to eat by barking so angrily. In terms of such a convoluted logic, I think, the moral of the fable would be something like this: you can’t always get what you want, no matter how hard you try.

§102. Here is the actual wording of the fable as the narrator tells it within the comedy:

Αἴσωπον ἀπὸ δείπνου βαδίζονθ’ ἑσπέρας

θρασεῖα καὶ μεθύση τις ὑλάκτει κύων.

κἄπειτ’ ἐκεῖνος εἶπεν· “ὦ κύον κύον,

εἰ νὴ Δί’ ἀντὶ τῆς κακῆς γλώττης ποθὲν

πυροὺς πρίαιο, σωφρονεῖν ἄν μοι δοκεῖς.”

One evening, when Aesop was walking along after having taken his leave from a dinner,

an audacious and drunken bitch started barking at him.

And that famous man said: “Bitch, bitch,

I swear by Zeus, if you could somehow use that nasty tongue of yours

to get paid off in wheat, then I think you would be sensible.”

Aristophanes Wasps 1400-1405

§103. Although it is not essential for sustaining my argument, I now add here a further point. I think that this narrative featuring the words that Aesop said to the angrily barking bitch while he was departing from a ‘dinner’ that he had attended is linked to the narrative in Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 1800 about the words that the same Aesop had said while attending a primal feast: in that narrative, as I already noted, Aesop reproached (ὀνιδίζων [sic]) and ridiculed (ἐπέσκωψεν) the wrangling and general strife he saw at a sacrifice in Delphi where sheep were being slaughtered and where bystanders at the sacrifice, carrying concealed makhairai ‘sacrificial knives’, competed at the altar with the initiator of the sacrifice and with each other by indiscriminately slicing for themselves with their makhairai whatever portions of the sacrificial meat they could capture and then taking their prizes back home with them. Presumably, when Aesop left that feast, he had taken no meat with him. So if a bitch were to bark at Aesop angrily while he was leaving that feast, he would have no meat to give her as a payoff to put a stop to her barking.”

Plato probably had Aesop’s stories in mind in having Socrates ironically compare both guardians and philosophers as barking dogs, as he had Herodotus’s tale of Gyges, the King's chief minister, without a ring but hiding to spy on the Queen naked and becoming not quite invisible, in his own tale of the ring of Gyges, the original ring of invisibility and hidden injustice - here. Socrates amusingly can be taken to compare both himself and Aesop by implication to barking dogs, highlighting ironically that these poor or enslaved wise men are by no means hounds…

First, Aesop’s report in Aristophanes’ Wasps - a fable misappropriated by Philocleon to accuse a woman he had injured by drunkenly knocking over her bread basket and destroying the bread she was selling - of being a barking and (to boot!) drunken bitch, the sheerest form of projection - calls to mind the thought that guardians and philosophers (cf. Diotima in the Symposium) can be male or female. Note: that women could be sellers of bread in Athens is an aspect of independence, outside the prison of the home.

That guardians may be female is suggested both by the dog who barks and by the woman injured and intelligently responding to the malaproprisms of the angry and drunken Philocleon. Though this association with Aesop and Aristophanes is a kind of joke common in Plato, I think this is also a serious thought on Plato’s part as is, in a sense, the philosopher-king (philosopher-kingship, as I see it, is mainly Socrates standing for philosophy against the persecution of the democracy in the Apology and Crito; Plato also explored this idea in Syracuse in his advice to the tyrant Dionysius to give laws. The philosopher-tyranny of the Republic is largely ironic, however. See here).

Plato sought to inspire or provoke further questioning and, ultimately, argument on a higher level (an ascent) by his students, present and future (the latter: serious as distinct from sleepy readers). Most of what is in the dialogues is not to be – literally – agreed to or swallowed. Some of “Socrates’s” thoughts are foolish or at best incomplete and all are an invitation to question, to think further. For instance, the comparison of a philosopher to a barking dog is funny and little else, as is the second image from the city in speech, that of women and men wrestling naked together; the latter is merely and patriarchally - the snickering of boys - a send-up of ancient, egalitarian Cretan rituals: the girls and boys vaulting over a bull’s horns. (We know from surviving statues and frescos from 3600 years ago of these practices, but the full meaning of the rituals is lost. See here for an account of what I discovered about this in Crete.)

Plato would have had the Wasps in mind not just because it was part of the cultural life of Athens. Aristophanes and Socrates were friends; they have the two most brilliant speeches and talk deep into the night, beyond the narrator's sleepy hearing, in the Symposium; and Plato, it is told, as he was dying, had a copy of Aristophanes’ plays (some of them) under his pillow. More darkly, the Apology suggests that the send-up of “Socrates” in Aristophanes, “The Clouds,” nurtured the old slander that caused the jury to convict the real Socrates; that slander's longterm impact may be hard to answer in a single speech or a single day...

The Wasps' retelling of Aesop’s story of the drunken dog also recalls, as Greg wonderfully suggests, the story of Aesop reprimanding those who stole the sacrificial meat at Delphi for not growing wheat. The latter then sacrificed him. For Socrates, too, was sacrificed…

Recalling the tale from The Wasps and Plato’s oblique reference to it in the barking dogs of the Republic also strengthens the argument, offered by Socrates in book 1, that those who are stronger- including democrats of a McCarthyite sort like Meletus - often mistake their advantage. They bark hopelessly for meat - steal it hungrily from the gods - when they should grow wheat (and of course, dogs, except those unluckily fed by today’s American manufacturers of “food-like substances,” do not eat wheat). By implication, the "stronger" often commit horrors for their cities…

Another thought given Aristophanes’s/Aesop's tale: it would be wise not to become such a dog, even the refined version (Glaucon). The city in speech in fact would often be a city of angry and drunken (methuse) dogs…See here and here.

Plato's use of this fable is, as Greg says, also diachronic (in this case, a use over time in different media with different bearings). And it shows, along with Socrates’s direct invocation of Aesop in the Phaedo, how the wise slave, though low, is in some subtle conversation with the Athenian wise man about death. At the behest of a dream, a kind of divine omen or message, Socrates, Greg notes, writes poems based on Aesop's tales, the swan singing in the days before he takes the hemlock...

Socrates does not write, so the poems - and his relationship to Aesop - have an unusual character; though some of his speech is musical (see Phaedrus) and he is a kind of shape-shifter, he is not ordinarily a poet, either.

Aesop is a slave to a philosopher, his tales low (not aristocratic culture) and also high (appearing in writing by Socrates, the comedy of Aristophanes, the words of Plato). In the Wasps, the aristocrats' symposium suggests things to pacify angry democrats - the imitation Philocleon does the opposite, of course - which are...Aesop's. Some of the aristocrats were into helpful advice for haughty parasites - slave-owners - to get out of a scrape (Philocleon was a would-be haughty non-parasite)...Those who look down on democrats and slaves rely for their survival on...the words of a slave. The well-to-do, one might say, are always searching, sometimes intelligently but particularly drunkenly, for something to say...

One might think of the misappropriation of the Bible and Jesus - one of the 99% - by Bush, Santorum, Southern aficinados of torture, and others (capitalist appropriations of Christianity, in Max Weber's sociology, are a very peculiar thing)...

But there is an egalitarian wisdom in the invocation of Aesop by Socrates. More deeply the egalitarianism of philosophy (and such tales) is also underlined strikingly in the Meno where Socrates shows that any slave can prove advanced theorems of Greek geometry under questioning. Further, the slave, he suggests, knew this from eternity - questioning leads to aletheia, not-forgetting (a strikingly abolitionist argument, one ignored once upon a time when I was a graduate student doing political theory but talking with many philosophy students in the Harvard Philosophy Department; we were all colleagues in the anti-Vietnam War movement and the rumor was that no Greek philosopher was theoretically opposed to slavery...). See here and here on the Meno and here on aletheia.

In a lovely way, Greg also invokes that beggar in disguise - Odysseus - talking with the haughty suitors of Penelope (paragraph 137) before slaying them. Appearances - deception in war particularly - can be lethal.

What is or appears to be “low” may thus turn out to be high – in Odysseus's case, defending a just claim, or more commonly in Plato, true. And what appears high may turn out under questioning to be the most ignorant…

In Greek culture, though not in Plato, consider, also, Oedipus and his son Creon (Antigone).

Recall the main claim of Socrates in the Apology – that those who are most powerful or famous think they know but are often the most ignorant. In contrast, Socrates who does not know the ideas, who is always searching, is wise in one respect: he neither knows nor think he knows. Socrates's defense captures this same theme of high and low, beautiful and ugly, the kaloskagathos (beautiful and good, the puffed-up name for an Athenian gentleman like Anytus in the Meno who says any Athenian can teach virtue except Socrates…) and Socrates. Plato and Socrates thus diachronically develop further a central theme of Greek culture.

Third, this thought leads directly to another Platonic thought about Socrates's words and how they are to be taken by students which emphasizes the relation of Aesop the slave to a philosopher Xanthos, his master. As Greg notes, Aesop was told by his master to serve a meal to “she whom the philosopher loved.” But the wife, in the spirit of Philocleon, had taunted Aesop. So Aesop served the meal instead to the master’s wolf-dog Lukaina: she whom the philosopher loves...

As in Aesop's tale, one should be careful about the meaning of words when reading a Platonic dialogue. As Socrates says in the Phaedrus,

“Socrates: Writing Phaedrus, has this strange quality, and it is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing. And every word, when once it is written, is bandied about, alike among those who understand and those who have no interest in it, and it knows not to whom to speak and to whom not to speak; when ill-treated or unjustly reviled, it always needs its father to help it; for it has no power to protect or help itself.

…in my opinion, serious discourse about them [justice and similar subjects] is far nobler when one employs the dialectic method and plants and sows in a fitting soul intelligent words which are able to help themselves and him who planted them, which are not fruitless but yield seed from which there springing up in other minds other words capable of continuing the process for ever and which make their possessor happy, to the furthest possible limit of human happiness.” Plato, Phaedrus, 275d-277a.

This fable about Aesop parallels Leo Strauss's tale from Al-Farabi - the 13th century Arab Platonist - about the variation in a repetition being significant as a way to reveal a hidden meaning. A pious ascetic, Farabi relates, is hunted by a tyrant and dresses up as a drunken musician with a cymbal making noise and staggering toward the city gate. "Who goes there?" asks the nightwatchman. "That pious ascetic you are looking for..." slurs the seeming musician, banging his cymbal. The watchman lets him pass out of the city. As Strauss emphasizes, the pious ascetic has literally told the truth - this is what Strauss names probite (French for probity) about his own writing - but of course, his disguise provides the needed ambiguity which fools the watchman.

On one level, this is a tale about what Farabi learned from Plato. In contrast, the Aesop tale suggests how Plato himself learned the importance of ambiguity, as a way of suggesting and not suggesting implications, from Greek culture itself. The sleepy sayer, listener, reader looks away...

Consider another of Strauss's examples in his beautiful lectures on the Symposium compiled by his fine student Seth Benardete (the correspondance between the two is often about the meaning of difficult passages in Greek; Benardete has little of Strauss's interest in authoritarianism...). Strauss suggests that Socrates conjures Diotima to tell a tale of Eros as the son of Poros and Penia, resource and poverty. Eros was conceived when Resource was drunk at a celebration of Aphrodite's birth (he had lain down in a park and Penia got the idea of conceiving some benefit from him, and lay down beside him).

Plato's reason for creating the tale, Strauss suggests, is to make it clear that for Socrates, Eros is not a god. In terms of the Athenian charge - disbelieving in the Athenian gods - Strauss thinks that Plato here demonstrates Socrates's guilt - as well as suggesting, he thinks, that Socrates and not so much Alcibiades is really the impious one, though Alcibiades in banished for it. Thus, he has a stranger, a prophetess, seemingly speak the blasphemous words and not Socrates. Strauss also infers his own point of view (roughly Xenophon's) from this.

On Strauss's behalf, I might add, in Phaedrus, Eros is previously a god whom Socrates is taking in vein, telling a tale about how horrid the love of an aging man, going sour, for a young thing is (how ugly it appears to the younger person). Socrates hears his inner voice, his daimon, warning him not to continue; he changes course and apologizes to the god. But of course, the earlier account remains; one need not take the apology fully seriously...

In contrast, according to Diotima in the Symposium, Eros is no god. This difference in the paired dialogues about love is striking, and Strauss's inference a plausible way to look at it.

But it is not the only way. That Plato thinks that Socrates as well as the Athenians disbelieve the gods of Athens (this is the point of the opening of the Republic: the procession to the Thracian moon goddess Bendis by the democrats of the Pireaus show that Athenians, too, stray from their gods) suggests that the law is bad, not that Socrates is an enemy of Athens.* He wasn't.

The story of Eros is both low - Penia - and high - Poros. Eros, says Diotima, is always fainting, fading away, exhausted, and then suddenly, resourceful, empowered and empowering, on his journey. He is like Socrates, the philosopher who does not know...and yet daily fashions arguments, takes steps...

Socrates, too, is between humans and the the divine, searching through questioning, making an ascent (the Mystery religions used, as I discovered in Crete, poppies/opium; clay sculptures of goddess had snakes coming out of their heads - they are often snake goddesses prefiguring Athena - as well as poppies and more rarely, birds. See here, here, here, here, here, and here. Questioning and the ascent for Socrates and Plato were, one might say, a better "high"...).

In the Symposium, Alcibiades describes Socrates as ugly on the outside like the Silenuses - one can find these figures on the first floor walking up on the left in the new Acropolis Museum - but full of the greatest beauty within (Alcibiades just can't quite reach it). When Alcibiades is with Socrates, he has a nearly religious experience with philosophy. He wants to sit there forever. For a time as it were, Socrates teaches Alcibiades virtue (Glaucon is even less involved with philosophy than Alcibiades, but somehow, in the Republic accepts this teaching more fully and unlike Alcibiades, is unknown otherwise to history).

Socrates, however mysterious in some respects, is also exactly, in this fundamental way, like Aesop. See here and here on the Symposium. More importantly, what appears ugly or plain on the outside – some of the words in the dialogues - may have another meaning within…

Socrates asks simple questions. He seems common and proclaims not to know. But his questions reveal depths and beauties. Open him up…

In Alcibiades 1, we get an additional picture of this: if you will think about a question, Socrates suggests, you will arrive yourself, through questioning, at the opposite (or at least something quite different) from the opinion you currently express. You yourself turn out not to believe the opinion you are currently expressing (these are also Diotima's words to Socrates, the befuddled interlocutor, in her speech recalled by Socrates in the Symposium).

And if you are proud or “high,” your words, as Euthyphro puts it, get up and walk away from you.

Fourth, Greg’s article wonderfully traces ainos - praise and blame. This relates to the idea in Book 1 of the Republic espoused by Polemarchus that justice is to benefit friends and injure enemies (one of the turns of Socrates in the discussion of the dog in book 2 is just to praise friends i.e. not to injure enemies – see here).

Praise and blame, friends and enemies, is the material of a kind of justice a la Polemarchus initially and of politics a la the fascist/Nazi Carl Schmitt (The Concept of the Political). And of course today in America enmity in the corporate or war complex political parties is common enough (and Obama is wonderfully different about this, whatever his problems; Karen Feste, the head of the conflict resolution program at the University of Denver, often reminds me that Barack is and would be, in important respects, the conflict resolution president).

Breaking this wretched belittling down is why I have come so forcefully to nonviolence (it is also one of the virtues of Greg’s elegant defense of his work**). One should criticize and develop a mass movement to stop the policies or consequences, but not demonize the people. Everyone has a soul, everyone forgets themselves some times and can learn…

Fifth, the passage from Plutarch, "On the Controlling of Anger" (113c below) - “‘we often get angry, feeling that we are being disrespected, whenever we get into nasty encounters with beggars or sailors or drunken mule-drivers, and we are similarly irked by barking dogs or by donkeys that bump into us’" - echoes the Republic, book 8, on the cycle of regimes, where in a democracy, donkeys rub up against one in the street (Socrates speaking perhaps exaggeratedly in the voice of Plato son of Ariston, the best). I often contrast this passage with the laws in the Crito speaking to Socrates with the force that the Corybants hear the flutes. Socrates could not go to his death with that mocking of democracy in his ears (that is where Leo Strauss's subtle interpretation goes haywire). So some other unstated argument must convince Socrates rather than the clashing ones which silence Crito. See here. That speech, too, reveals Plato’s art to his students (it is self-contradictory and in a certain way, sophistic/rhetorical, appealing to Socrates first, intimidatingly as a slave, then reasonably as a free man. Of course, the Aesop story of feeding the meal to the wolf-dog suggests an apt response by Socrates to the first, authoritarian “argument.”)

On my understanding, Greg’s context of Aesop’s stories of the angry dogs and meat (and wheat) mocks the guardians of Glaucon’s city and deepens one's sense of the ironic analogizing of philosophers and dogs that bark. Neither Aesop nor Socrates is a barking dog….

Here are some relevant passages from Greg’s article:

§99. I will now focus on another example of Aesopic fables embedded within the verses of Aristophanes. In this example, we will see once again the narrative frame of Aesop’s own life and times. I will then follow up with a set of related examples.

§100. The fable I have chosen is “Aesop and the Bitch” (Fable 423 ed. Perry), which is attested only in the Wasps of Aristophanes (1400-1405). One evening, according to the fable as narrated here in verse, Aesop was walking along after having attended adeipnon ‘dinner’ (1401), and he encountered along his way a bitch that started barking angrily at him (1402). Aesop responded to the dog by saying to her, and the iambic verses quote his words, that she would be sensible if she were barking for the purpose of getting wheat as a payment for putting a stop to her barking (1403-1405).

§101. Why wheat and not meat? In terms of the convoluted logic of the narrative, it is because it would not make any sense for the bitch to be barking so furiously at Aesop unless it was wheat that she wanted as payment for putting a stop to her angry barking. I think it is the convolutedness of the logic here that makes the narrative amusing. The premise that is built into the narrative, I further think, is that dogs crave to eat meat, not wheat, and, presumably, there was meat to be eaten at the ‘dinner’ that Aesop had just attended. But the bitch is barking up the wrong tree, as it were, if what she really wants to get from Aesop is a cut of meat as a payoff for stopping her furious barking. Aesop has no meat to give to the bitch. And so the dog deserves to get nothing to eat by barking so angrily. In terms of such a convoluted logic, I think, the moral of the fable would be something like this: you can’t always get what you want, no matter how hard you try.

§102. Here is the actual wording of the fable as the narrator tells it within the comedy:

Αἴσωπον ἀπὸ δείπνου βαδίζονθ’ ἑσπέρας

θρασεῖα καὶ μεθύση τις ὑλάκτει κύων.

κἄπειτ’ ἐκεῖνος εἶπεν· “ὦ κύον κύον,

εἰ νὴ Δί’ ἀντὶ τῆς κακῆς γλώττης ποθὲν

πυροὺς πρίαιο, σωφρονεῖν ἄν μοι δοκεῖς.”

One evening, when Aesop was walking along after having taken his leave from a dinner,

an audacious and drunken bitch started barking at him.

And that famous man said: “Bitch, bitch,

I swear by Zeus, if you could somehow use that nasty tongue of yours

to get paid off in wheat, then I think you would be sensible.”

Aristophanes Wasps 1400-1405

§103. Although it is not essential for sustaining my argument, I now add here a further point. I think that this narrative featuring the words that Aesop said to the angrily barking bitch while he was departing from a ‘dinner’ that he had attended is linked to the narrative in Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 1800 about the words that the same Aesop had said while attending a primal feast: in that narrative, as I already noted, Aesop reproached (ὀνιδίζων [sic]) and ridiculed (ἐπέσκωψεν) the wrangling and general strife he saw at a sacrifice in Delphi where sheep were being slaughtered and where bystanders at the sacrifice, carrying concealed makhairai ‘sacrificial knives’, competed at the altar with the initiator of the sacrifice and with each other by indiscriminately slicing for themselves with their makhairai whatever portions of the sacrificial meat they could capture and then taking their prizes back home with them. Presumably, when Aesop left that feast, he had taken no meat with him. So if a bitch were to bark at Aesop angrily while he was leaving that feast, he would have no meat to give her as a payoff to put a stop to her barking.

§104. The scholia for the Wasps of Aristophanes (1445.5) preserve a relevant detail from the Life of Aesop tradition: it was said that the people of Delphi had resolved to kill Aesop because he insulted them by ridiculing (ἀποσκῶψαι) the fact that they had no land of their own for growing their own produce. Because they had no land for agriculture, according to the scholia here, the people of Delphi had to depend for their sustenance on the meat they obtained from the sacrifices made by visiting sacrificers. This insult, I think, is built into the fable of “Aesop and the Bitch,” where the dog who angrily barks to get meat is like the people of Delphi, who would be well advised to use their barking to get wheat instead of meat.

§105. Some think, however, that this fable “Aesop and the Bitch” is not a genuine Aesopic fable, explaining it instead as an ad hoc invention by Aristophanes. One reason given for such an explanation is that Aesop himself is featured here as a character inside the narrative of the fable (for more, see MacDowell 1971:312). But that is not a good reason, I think, for doubting that this fable is genuinely Aesopic. I can cite other examples of Aesopic fables where Aesop himself is featured as a character inside the narrative of the fable, as in the case of “Aesop and the Shipbuilders” (Fable 8 ed. Perry). Another example is “Aesop and the Corinthians” (Fable 424 ed. Perry), where we see two verses of an elegiac couplet being spoken by Aesop himself to the people of Corinth: according to Diogenes Laertius (2.5.42), who is our source here, Socrates himself had composed those verses.

§106. I should add, in arguing that this story of “Aesop and the Bitch” is a genuine Aesopic fable, that there is in the Life of Aesop narratives an attestation of another story about Aesop and a bitch. In this case, the action takes place on the island of Samos, and the dog is described as a purebred female house pet living in the residence of a philosopher named Xanthos, who is at the time the master of the slave Aesop (VitaG+W 44-46). Summoning the bitch by calling out her name, Lukaina ‘She-Wolf’ (VitaG+W 45), Aesop proceeds to feed her a basketful of food that he had been instructed by Xanthos to give as a dinner gift ‘to her who loves me’. By giving the whole dinner to the bitch and not to the wife of Xanthos, Aesop has his revenge on a nasty aristocratic woman who had been tormenting him with her insults. In terms of this fable, then, Aesop has something of a reputation for giving generous handouts to bitches.

§107. Even if the story of “Aesop and the Bitch” as narrated in the Wasps of Aristophanes is a genuine Aesopic fable, as I think it is, it is a failure as a fable in the context of this comedy. What makes it a failure is the fact that it is badly applied. But that is actually good for comedy. The bad application is exactly what makes the fable work successfully in the comedy. The fact that the fable is badly applied is what gives the fable a comic twist. The narrator of the fable here has actually botched the application of his narrative to his own circumstances. And that is what makes the fable a failure in this context, since the narration of a fable can succeed only if its narrators are successful in applying it to suit their own intentions. As I have argued (BA 282§5n4), the moral of a fable must be applicable to the circumstances of the narrator of the fable. That is the synchronic reality of applying fables.

§108. In the case of this particular narration in the Wasps, as I will now show, the narrator of the fable fails badly in applying the myth for his own purposes, but the comic effect of this failure makes it a most successful application in comedy as comedy.

§109. The narrator of “Aesop and the Bitch” in the Wasps of Aristophanes is the unsophisticated character Philocleon. His comic name means ‘the one who loves Cleon’ and he is the comic antithesis of the sophisticated character Bdelycleon, who is the son of Philocleon and whose comic name means ‘the one who is disgusted with Cleon’. The unsophisticated father Philocleon is a populist who takes the side of the radical democrat Cleon, while the sophisticated son Bdelycleon is an elitist reactionary who takes the side of those who are opposed to all forms of populism. In this comedy of Aristophanes, produced in the year 422 BCE, a prime political target for elitist reactionaries like the character Bdelycleon is the Athenian system of jury duty, which had been radically reshaped by Cleon in his role as the self-declared champion of populism.

§110. As the comedy progresses, the elitist son manages to persuade the anti-elitist father to abandon his democratic addiction. From now on, the father will no longer spend all his time as a juror in Cleon’s jury system. Now the father will become an elitist reactionary, like his son. But now that Philocleon is persuaded to go over to the side of the elites, he becomes even more elitist than Bdelycleon. In a comic reversal of roles, the father Philocleon can now take on the role of a childish son while the son Bdelycleon can now take on the role of a somewhat more sensible father. Whereas Philocleon as a juror had been an advocate of the common people, he can now become a noisy parody of the elitist reactionaries.

§111. Philocleon gets drunk and rowdy while attending a symposium attended by drunken and rowdy aristocrats (Wasps 1299-1321), and then, on his way home from the symposium, he gets into violent fights with common people he happens to encounter along the way (1322-1323). Then, the morning after, Philocleon is being confronted by common people he had assaulted during his nighttime rampage, and he is being served summonses by these people. So Philocleon is now faced with the prospect of having to appear in court to answer charges and be judged by the same kinds of jurors he once had been himself before he went over to the other side.

§112. The first claimant to confront Philocleon with legal threats is a woman whose profession is selling bread, and she accuses him of violently knocking to the ground the loaves of bread she was carrying in her breadbasket. The alleged deed was committed by Philocleon in his drunken state of wanton violence as he was making his way home after attending the symposium (Wasps1388-1391, 1396-1398). Philocleon, now hoping to avoid being taken to court for damages, tries to assuage the angry woman (1393-1395). He does so by using, as he describes them, logoi dexioi ‘dexterous words’ (1394 λόγοι … δέξιοι). He announces to her that he will now deliver a discourse, alogos, that is kharieis ‘graceful, elegant’ (1398-1399 λόγον … χαρίεντα). As I have already pointed out, this term kharieis ‘graceful, elegant’ was used in the classical era with reference to measuring various different degrees of sophistication in the practice of verbal arts bysophistai ‘sophists’. So the character of Philocleon is trying to act here like a sophisticated member of elite society. And it is at this point that Philocleon narrates the fable of “Aesop and the Bitch,” which I have already quoted. Of course the fable as he tells it is not at all ‘dexterous’, not at all ‘graceful’ or ‘elegant’. Just the opposite. And that is because the application of the fable is disastrously inappropriate and even malaprop. It is bad enough for the words of Philocleon to set up a parallelism between an angry bitch and the angry woman who had lost the bread she was selling, but the drawing of parallels gets even worse, since the angry bitch is now described further as a drunken bitch: she is methusē ‘drunk’ (Wasps 1402).

§113. Though Philocleon would have no motive here for insulting the woman, he manages to insult her anyway. In his pretentious attempt to assuage her by resorting to the sophisticated discourse of telling fables, he is stuck with using words that are typical of that discourse, and those words will only get him into further trouble. I now give three examples of such wording, which are all typical of the fable.

§113a. We know for a fact from other Aesopic fables that the word methusos ‘drunk’ used here to describe the bitch who barks angrily at Aesop is part of the vocabulary of fables (as in Fable 246 ed. Perry, “The Woman and her Drunkard [methusos] Husband”) as also of comedy (Aristophanes Clouds 555).

§113b. And we also know from the evidence of Aesopic fables that the barking of dogs is associated primarily with anger: in the fable “The Years of Humans” (Fable 105.13 ed. Perry), the words used to describe dogs, ὀργίλους καὶ ὑλακτικούς ‘angry and barking’, highlight such an association. Further, as we read in traditional descriptions of potentially comic situations, aristocrats are prone to experiencing flashes of anger in public spaces whenever they experience chance encounters there with drunkards or barking dogs or other such annoyances (Plutarch On the controlling of anger 460f): ἀλλὰ καὶ πανδοκεῦσι καὶ ναύταις καὶ ὀρεωκόμοις μεθύουσι πολλάκις ὑπ’ ὀργῆς συμπίπτομεν οἰόμενοι καταφρονεῖσθαι, καὶ κυσὶν ὑλακτοῦσι καὶ ὄνοις ἐμβάλλουσι χαλεπαίνομεν ‘we often get angry, feeling that we are being disrespected, whenever we get into nasty encounters with beggars or sailors or drunken mule-drivers, and we are similarly irked by barking dogs or by donkeys that bump into us’.

§113c. Finally, we can see that barking and getting drunk go together in comic descriptions of drunkards: for example, the comically drunken Herakles in the Alcestisof Euripides barks (760 ὑλακτῶν) rather than sings as he guzzles vast quantities of intoxicating wine (757 μέθυ).

§114. In short, the words used by the character of Philocleon in the Wasps (1400-1405) when he narrates the fable about a drunken bitch who barks at Aesop are all compatible with the world of fable, but they are comically incompatible with the situation of Philocleon himself. The only part of the fable that can be made compatible with his situation is where Aesop says that the bitch would be well advised to use her barking to get wheat. At least, this part is compatible to the extent that Aesop recommends wheat as a form of compensation. After all, wheat would be a suitable compensation for the woman who is suing Philocleon, since wheat is presumably the primary ingredient of the bread that she sells for a living. But the problem is, the intended parallel brings with it an unintended parallel. The intended parallelism between the need for wheat in the fable and the need for wheat in the present situation brings with it an unintended parallelism between the bitch in the fable and the woman in the present situation. The woman is of course outraged when she hears that a parallel has been drawn between her and the angry bitch. So she responds to Philocleon by saying in effect: “This is adding insult to injury … so now you are saying I’m an angry bitch!” And so, instead of succeeding in his attempts at assuaging the woman who is angrily threatening to take him to court, Philocleon has by now unintentionally guaranteed the certainty of his being sued for damages.

§115. Besides his narration of the fable “Aesop and the Bitch” (1400-1405; = Fable 423 ed. Perry), Philocleon narrates three other fables in rapid succession within the brief space of this comic scene in the Wasps of Aristophanes: “The Chariot Driver from Sybaris” (1427-1431; = Fable 428 ed. Perry), “The Woman from Sybaris and the Jug” (1435-1436, 1437-1440; = Fable 438 ed. Perry), and, finally, “The Dung Beetle and the Eagle” (1446-1448; = Fable 3 ed. Perry). The first two of these three fables are narrated by Philocleon to a man whom he assaulted on the previous night and who now claims he had suffered a skull fracture from the assault. And the only thing that these two fables have in common with each other and with the present situation of Philocleon is the idea of a fractured skull:

(1) In “The Chariot Driver from Sybaris,” a driver falls off his chariot and suffers a skull fracture; a friend who sees the injured man as he is lying there on the ground goes up to him and advises him to go and look for a different profession that better suits his abilities.

(2) In “The Woman from Sybaris and the Jug,” a woman accidentally drops a wide-mouth jug and breaks it; the personified Jug then sues the woman for fracturing the skull of his jug-head, but the woman says that it would have been more advisable for the Jug to get some adhesive for fixing its skull fracture right away.

Finally, we come to the third example:

(3) In the case of “The Dung Beetle and the Eagle,” Philocleon is telling this fable to Bdelycleon while he is being dragged offstage by his son, who is now desperately attempting to prevent any further damage resulting from any further retellings of fables by his father. The parallelism in this case between the fable and the present situation of Philocleon is simply the idea that “The Dung Beetle and the Eagle” was a fable told by Aesop in response to the false charges made against him by the people of Delphi,*** just as this same fable is now being retold in response to the supposedly false charges made against Philocleon by the people of Athens.

§116. Having seen these three examples and having earlier seen the example of “Aesop and the Bitch,” we have by now reviewed all four of the fables narrated by Philocleon in the Wasps of Aristophanes. And we have seen that he fails in his narration of each one of these fables because he is simply unable to apply any of them in a sophisticated way. Seeing his lack of sophistication, we need to ask ourselves: where on earth would Philocleon have learned these four fables in the first place? The answer is, he learned them at that same symposium that got him so drunk on the night before—and that got him into so much trouble after he had left the party to make his way home. At that symposium, attended by the most sophisticated elites of Athens, Philocleon got to hear how these sophisticates tell fables and how they apply them. At an earlier point in the comedy, such an experience of learning fables at a symposium is previewed in an exchange between Philocleon and Bdelycleon, where the father is being advised by the son to start consorting with elites at aristocratic symposia. At this earlier point in the comic action, the old man is still expressing some degree of hesitation about the young man’s advice, but Bdelycleon finally persuades Philocleon by promising the old man that he will learn at such symposia the sophisticated art of telling fables:

1252 {Φι.} μηδαμῶς.

κακὸν τὸ πίνειν. ἀπὸ γὰρ οἴνου γίγνεται

καὶ θυροκοπῆσαι καὶ πατάξαι καὶ βαλεῖν,

1255 κἄπειτ’ ἀποτίνειν ἀργύριον ἐκ κραιπάλης.

{Βδ.} οὔκ, ἢν ξυνῇς γ’ ἀνδράσι καλοῖς τε κἀγαθοῖς.

ἢ γὰρ παρῃτήσαντο τὸν πεπονθότα,

ἢ λόγον ἔλεξας αὐτὸς ἀστεῖόν τινα,

Αἰσωπικὸν γέλοιον ἢ Συβαριτικόν,

1260 ὧν ἔμαθες ἐν τῷ συμποσίῳ· κᾆτ’ ἐς γέλων

τὸ πρᾶγμ’ ἔτρεψας, ὥστ’ ἀφείς σ’ ἀποίχεται.

{Φι.} μαθητέον τἄρ' ἐστὶ πολλοὺς τῶν λόγων,

εἴπερ γ’ ἀποτείσω μηδέν, ἤν τι δρῶ κακόν.

ἄγε νυν, ἴωμεν· μηδὲν ἡμᾶς ἰσχέτω.

[Philocleon says in response to the advice that he attend symposia:]

1252 No,

drinking is bad. Wine makes you

break doors down or hit people or throw things at them.

1255 And then, while you are still having your hangover, you have to pay money for the damages.

[Bdelycleon persists with his advice that Philocleon should attend symposia:]

No, that won’t happen if you are in the company of the elites [kaloi k’āgathoi].

For they can talk the plaintiff out of taking action.

Or you can tell a logos that is very sophisticated [asteios],

something funny that is Aesopic or Sybaritic—

1260 one of those logoi you learned at the symposium. And then you can turn into laughter

the whole affair, so the plaintiff will let you off and just go away.

Philocleon

So I’ve got to learn many of these logoi

if I want to make sure I don’t have to pay anything when I do something bad.

Let’s get going, then. I don’t want anything to hold us back.

§117. As we see from this description of ‘Aesopic’ and ‘Sybaritic’ fables, called logoi here (Wasps 1258-1259 λόγον … Αἰσωπικὸν … ἢ Συβαριτικόν), they are considered to be a most sophisticated medium, suitable for performance at aristocratic symposia. And the fable is evidently a medium of choice to be used by the elites to advance their own purposes. That is why, later on in the comedy, Philocleon claims that the fables he is about to perform are most sophisticated: as we have already seen, he describes these fables as logoi dexioi ‘dexterous words’ (1394 λόγοι … δέξιοι). And, as we have also already seen, he describes the first fable that he performs, “Aesop and the Bitch,” as a logos that is kharieis ‘graceful, elegant’ (1398-1399 λόγον … χαρίεντα). As I pointed out earlier, this same term kharieis ‘graceful, elegant’ is used by Plato’s Protagoras in referring to his narration of a fable about Prometheus and Epimetheus and Hermes (Protagoras 320c).

§118. As I have shown, then, from the overall context of the four fables narrated in theWasps of Aristophanes, such fables could be used as the elevated and sophisticated discourse of powerful elites. To put it another way, such fables were not at all confined to the lowly discourse of disempowered non-elites. As for the distinction that is being made between ‘Aesopic’ and ‘Sybaritic’ fables in the Wasps (1258-1259 λόγον … Αἰσωπικὸν … ἢ Συβαριτικόν), we can find an explanation in the scholia for the Birds of Aristophanes (471): Aesopic fables concentrate on animals as characters, as we see in the first and the fourth of the four fables retold in the Wasps, whereas the Sybaritic fables concentrate on human characters, as we see in the second and the third fables. I have highlighted this distinction between Aesopic and Sybaritic fables in the course of analyzing these kinds of fables (PH 11§21 with n59; §35 = pp. 325, 334-335). And, as I have shown here, these kinds of fable can be viewed as aristocratic discourse in form as well as in content, even if the actual characters that figure in the narratives can range from the highest to the lowest in social status, as in the case of the Aesopic pairing of the eagle and the dung beetle, or in the case of the Sybaritic pairing of the woman and the wide-mouthed jug. I elaborate on this last point in a separate project, “Homo ludens and the Fables of Aesop,” which is a twin to the present project about diachrony and the case of Aesop. In the twin project, I also review my earlier research on the genre of the Sybaritic fable and on its relevance to the Histories of Herodotus (PH 11§21 = pp. 324-325, 11§35 = 334-335).

§119. By now we have seen that fables, including Aesopic fables, are compatible with the poetic medium of Aristophanes. And what I have shown here with specific reference to one particular comedy of Aristophanes, the Wasps, can be extended to classical comedy in general. I argue, then, that the fables narrated in the classical poetry of comedy are cognate with the fables narrated in the preclassical poetry of figures like Stesichorus and Archilochus. And it would be unjustified, I further argue, to think that the medium of comedy is somehow imitating a performance that can only be imagined as a prose performance whenever a character is narrating a fable. The fables we have already noted in the poetry of Stesichorus and Archilochus show clearly that fables could be narrated in poetry as well as in prose.

§120. It remains to ask why the word logos can be used with reference to the four fables performed by Philocleon in the Wasps of Aristophanes (1258, 1394, 1398). My answer is that this word does not mean that such fables were confined to the medium of prose: as we will see at a later point, logos as used in poetry can refer to poetry as well as to prose.

*The Athenians have on the Acropolis a monument to the unknown god. In its heyday, that society was remarkably tolerant. I saw it the first time I took students to Athens; the account of strictness about the Athenian gods, except in the rare and desperate circumstances of defeat in the long war (the Peloponnesian war ended in 404 BC; the trial and execution of Socrates occurred in 399), is false.

**Classics 9, "Defense Mechanisms" is devoted to serous but non-violent or non-lethal defense of views or self-assertion. Leonard Muellner, another classicist, deals with an hilarious sociobiological excursion into classics; and Carol Gilligan has a fine essay on the 50th anniversary of In a Different Voice. The whole issue here is well worth reading.

***It is a prayer for the lives of the weak - the rabbit about to be rended - by the seemingly weaker. It is a tale of Aesop, who was to be killed, and by extension, perhaps Socrates. As the beetle destroyed the eagle's eggs and startled even Zeus, so one might say, Socrates's words on behalf of philosophy and the Athenian McCarthyites murdering Socrates discredited, for a long time, "democracy" and highlighted its odious possibilities. One needs a Gandhi or a King to fight against the evils of a regime, while not trying to cut off its children or kill its current beneficiaries, i.e. not just, when a movement triumphs, being ever-vengeful beetles. For Gandhi and King help Zeus out, not just removing the eagles from the beetle's sight, but creating movements through which humanity might survive together, and with the rest of the planet, decently.

Quasi-fascist "Nietzscheans," like the politically active followers of Strauss - see here - should meditate on this fable:

"153. THE DUNG BEETLE AND THE EAGLE
Perry 3 (Life of Aesop 135)

As he was being chased by an eagle, the hare ran to the dung beetle, begging the beetle to save him. The beetle implored the eagle to respect the hare's asylum, solemnly compelling him by the sacred name of Zeus and pleading with the eagle not to disregard him simply because of his small size. But the eagle brushed the beetle aside with a flick of his wing and grabbed the hare, tearing him to pieces and devouring him. The beetle was enraged and flew off together with the eagle to find the nest in which the eagle kept his eggs. After the eagle was gone, the beetle smashed all the eggs. When the eagle came back, he was dreadfully upset and looked for the creature who had smashed the eggs, intending to tear him to pieces. When it was time for the eagle to nest again, he put his eggs in an even higher place, but the beetle flew all the way up to the nest, smashed the eggs, and went away. The eagle grieved for his little ones and said that this must be the result of some angry plot of Zeus to exterminate the eagle race. When the next season came, the eagle did not feel secure keeping the eggs in his nest and instead went up to Olympus and placed the eggs in Zeus's lap. The eagle said to Zeus, 'Twice my eggs have been destroyed; this time, I am leaving them here under your protection.' When the beetle found out what the eagle had done, he stuffed himself with dung and went straight up to Zeus and flew right into his face. At the sight of this filthy creature, Zeus was startled and leaped to his feet, forgetting that he held the eagle's eggs inside his lap. As a result, the eggs were broken once again. Zeus then learned of the wrong that had been done to the beetle, and when the eagle returned, Zeus said to him, 'It is only right that you have lost your little ones, since you mistreated the beetle!' The beetle said, 'The eagle treated me badly, but he also acted very impiously towards you, O Zeus! The eagle did not fear to violate your sacred name, and he killed the one who had taken refuge with me. I will not cease until I have punished the eagle completely!' Zeus did not want the race of eagles to be wiped out, so he urged the beetle to relent. When his efforts to persuade the beetle failed, Zeus changed the breeding season of the eagles, so that it would take place at a time when the beetles were not found above ground.

Note: The fable of the dung beetle and the eagle is alluded to on three occasions by Aristophanes: Wasps 1448, Lysistrata 695 and Peace 127-34. In Caxton (6.2), the dung beetle is replaced by a weasel!"


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