Fables of a Jewish Aesop
Berechiah ben Natronai
. David R. Godine Publisher, , Nonpareil Books: David R. Godine . Boston
PJ5050.B4 M53 2001 (Carlson Fable Collection, BIC bldg)
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I have a hardbound copy of the 1967 original publication from which this paperback is reprinted. This edition adds an essay by David Hadas. Let me repeat some of my comments from that edition. This is a curious but disappointing book. The 119 Hebrew fables come from France of the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries and seem to be based chiefly on those of Marie de France. They are bleak about the fickleness of fortune's turning wheel. They are also rhetorically fulsome, using Biblical phrases to expand on (and sometimes obfuscate) simple action and speech. A favorite insult seems to be My little finger is bigger than your loins. These fables become parables squeezed for moral meaning, like those in Rodriguez' Christian Perfection. The fables regularly have an application afterwards and often a bit of poetry. Kredel's few illustrations are nice reinterpretations of the Ulm woodcuts: 7, 33, 51, 68, 90, 109, 135, 157, 184, 214 and the frontispiece. The point of many fables seems to be simply missed in the search for meaning: #12, 18(?), 22, 33, 64, 94, and 112. The rhetoric becomes unconsciously funny when the lamb hopes he will not fulfill the prophecy that the wolf will lie down with the lamb (45). Differently told: the eagle gets the frog but not the mouse, who survives; the sheep argues that children should not die for their fathers' sins; the frogs ask the tree to be king; the crane stores food in a tree's holes; the fox apportions whole beasts to the lion, lioness, and cub; the covetous and the envious become apes before king lion (the story is repeated with human characters in #119); the shepherd gives the wolf away with his eyes, though no one notices; an osprey fills a pot with stones; a man is besieged by flies; and the father ape comes to love his hated son. Some stories are new to me and delightful: #26, 32, 36, 38, 40, 46, 49, 71, 77, 91, 113, and 115. The Apes' King (#78) is particularly well told.