Ἀλώπηξ καὶ βότρυς (Aesop, Perry 15)

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Andrew Chapman
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Re: Ἀλώπηξ καὶ βότρυς (Aesop, Perry 15)

Post by Andrew Chapman » June 14th, 2015, 7:38 am

I think I have read somewhere that τὰ ἐπιμύθια were added later. It seems to me that we have in view here two different ways of responding to a failure to achieve a desired result. One can blame the circumstances - the bunch was exceptionally high, I had a hard day hunting yesterday and am not as strong as usual etc - or one can alter one's perception of the intrinsic worth of what was aimed for. We use this second strategy all the time, I think. When we are aiming for something we concentrate on all its good aspects, I guess partly to increase our determination to obtain it. If we fail, then we (or most of us) tend to look for its negative aspects, to help to lessen the disappointment. The engagement's been broken off - well, perhaps you have been spared a lot of misery. This is what makes the story amusing, I think, and I prefer to read it as humour than as a moral tale.

Andrew

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Re: Ἀλώπηξ καὶ βότρυς (Aesop, Perry 15)

Post by cwconrad » June 14th, 2015, 9:26 am

Andrew Chapman wrote:I think I have read somewhere that τὰ ἐπιμύθια were added later. It seems to me that we have in view here two different ways of responding to a failure to achieve a desired result. One can blame the circumstances - the bunch was exceptionally high, I had a hard day hunting yesterday and am not as strong as usual etc - or one can alter one's perception of the intrinsic worth of what was aimed for. We use this second strategy all the time, I think. When we are aiming for something we concentrate on all its good aspects, I guess partly to increase our determination to obtain it. If we fail, then we (or most of us) tend to look for its negative aspects, to help to lessen the disappointment. The engagement's been broken off - well, perhaps you have been spared a lot of misery. This is what makes the story amusing, I think, and I prefer to read it as humour than as a moral tale.
What you are saying, Andrew, is certainly not wrong, but it's worth noting that humor generally involves discernment of a discrepancy between human πρόφασις (in BDAG's sense 2: "falsely alleged motive, pretext, ostensible reason, excuse") and human πρᾶξις. In moral terms, that's hypocrisy, and I think it's the hypocrisy that's the butt of the story here.
οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: Ἀλώπηξ καὶ βότρυς (Aesop, Perry 15)

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » June 17th, 2015, 10:52 am

cwconrad wrote:
Andrew Chapman wrote:I think I have read somewhere that τὰ ἐπιμύθια were added later. It seems to me that we have in view here two different ways of responding to a failure to achieve a desired result. One can blame the circumstances - the bunch was exceptionally high, I had a hard day hunting yesterday and am not as strong as usual etc - or one can alter one's perception of the intrinsic worth of what was aimed for. We use this second strategy all the time, I think. When we are aiming for something we concentrate on all its good aspects, I guess partly to increase our determination to obtain it. If we fail, then we (or most of us) tend to look for its negative aspects, to help to lessen the disappointment. The engagement's been broken off - well, perhaps you have been spared a lot of misery. This is what makes the story amusing, I think, and I prefer to read it as humour than as a moral tale.
What you are saying, Andrew, is certainly not wrong, but it's worth noting that humor generally involves discernment of a discrepancy between human πρόφασις (in BDAG's sense 2: "falsely alleged motive, pretext, ostensible reason, excuse") and human πρᾶξις. In moral terms, that's hypocrisy, and I think it's the hypocrisy that's the butt of the story here.
That careful student of the fable, Ben Edwin Perry, writes the following in the introduction to “Babrius and Phaedrus Fables” from the Loeb Classical Library:
Perry wrote:Since fable as we have defined it amounts to nothing more than an indirect and inexplicit way of saying something, the truths that it pictures metaphorically can be, and are in practice, of many different kinds. Often the idea conveyed is a general proposition relating to the nature of things or to types of human or animal character or behaviour, with or without an implied moral exhortation; but often also it is a particular truth applying only to a particular person, thing, or situation. The general proposition implicit in the fable is not always a moral or ethical principle, as is sometimes supposed; on the contrary, the majority of fables in our collections, as W. Wienert in his study of Sinniypen has pointed out, one of the following types of story: a fairy tale (Märchen), an aetiological nature-myth, an animal story exhibiting the cleverness or the stupidity of this or that animal, or a series of amusing actions, a novella, like the story of the widow in Phaedrus (App. 15), a myth about the gods, a debate between two rivals (Streitgedicht), or an exposition of the circumstances in which a sententious or a witty remark was made. It is a mistake, often made in the past by literary historians, to look for the origin of fable in the narrative materials out of which fables are made. The history of those materials is something very different from the history of fable as a form of art, as a façon de parler. The latter has not originated until the peculiar purpose and metaphorical orientation which governs the material and shapes it, and thereby makes it fable, is in force. If we look for that rhetorical device in early literary history we shall find it and rightly call it the origin of fable; but if we look for the origin of fable in mere animal story or epic, as many have done, we shall never find it, because stories of that kind, not intended to teach anything by implication, have been told everywhere in the world from time immemorial.
So the fable arises from the history of storytelling, and as Perry says elsewhere in the same volume, Aesop himself likely never wrote a word, and the original writing of his fables was in prose form.

In my reading, though, the normal understanding of this particular fable is described well by the antithesis which Carl portrays between πρόφασις and πρᾶξις with resulting moral overtones. The reason I say that is because the text itself seems to portray this antithesis quite pointedly.

The following line from Babrius is one place where this is seen:
Babrius wrote:παρῆλθεν οὕτω βουκολοῦσα τὴν λύπην· "ὄμφαξ ὁ βότρυς, οὐ πέπειρος, ὡς ᾤμην ." ‘… so he went away deceiving his disappointment. The grapes are sour, not ripe as I had supposed.’

Likewise from Chambry v1: “…μὴ δυνάμενοι δι' ἀσθένειαν τοὺς καιροὺς αἰτιῶνται.” ‘…not being able [to reach the grapes] through weakness, he blamed the season’

- and Chambry v2: “Ἡ δὲ ἀλώπηξ μὴ θέλουσα ἡττηθῆναι παρὰ τοῦ μυὸς ἔφη· Ὄμφακές εἰσιν.” – ‘As he did not wish to be bested by the mouse, he said, “The grapes are sour.”

The text in all three versions portrays a failure of character on the part of the fox - a 'cover-up' to save face and deceive himself . In our own lexicon, the normal reading of “Sour grapes!” definitely carries a moral overtone. I desire (covet) something which I cannot have, and because I cannot have it, I “diss” the thing itself - and often the possessor of the thing as well. Motive, as with ἡ ἀλώπηξ, is typically understood as face-saving and self deception. I don't think this is so much personal opinion, but the agreed upon implication of the phrase, as described in our English lexicons.
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Andrew Chapman
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Re: Ἀλώπηξ καὶ βότρυς (Aesop, Perry 15)

Post by Andrew Chapman » June 17th, 2015, 11:23 am

I suppose I find myself imagining the fox sauntering off in happy unreality, rather than in bitterness. Certainly the English expression 'sour grapes' does convey bitter disappointment, but that doesn't mean that the tale (lines 1 & 2 of Chantry v.1) has to be read that way. I am not sure that I see him as blaming the season, so much as changing the season in his mind. No doubt, this is a failure to face reality, and reprehensible in its own right. (Then again, if there could be a possibility that the grapes actually were sour - can we necessarily tell just by looking from a distance - then he might just be looking on the bright side.) I am still interested to know if τὰ ἐπιμύθια were added later. 'aleator classicus' suggests so, but I feel that I have read it somewhere else also: https://aleatorclassicus.wordpress.com/ ... hambry-32/.

Andrew

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Re: Ἀλώπηξ καὶ βότρυς (Aesop, Perry 15)

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » June 17th, 2015, 11:53 am

I must note from my quote above that I am not certain that Perry wrote the Introduction found in the Loeb Classical Library publication. I cannot find reference to any other author, but it might have been written by the editors.
Andrew Chapman wrote:I suppose I find myself imagining the fox sauntering off in happy unreality, rather than in bitterness. Certainly the English expression 'sour grapes' does convey bitter disappointment, but that doesn't mean that the tale (lines 1 & 2 of Chantry v.1) has to be read that way. I am not sure that I see him as blaming the season, so much as changing the season in his mind. No doubt, this is a failure to face reality, and reprehensible in its own right. (Then again, if there could be a possibility that the grapes actually were sour - can we necessarily tell just by looking from a distance - then he might just be looking on the bright side.) I am still interested to know if τὰ ἐπιμύθια were added later. 'aleator classicus' suggests so, but I feel that I have read it somewhere else also: https://aleatorclassicus.wordpress.com/ ... hambry-32/.

Andrew
Babrius says explicitly (and emphatically) that the grapes were ripe: ἦν γὰρ πέπειρος κεἰς τρυγητὸν ἀκμαίη. As to when some version appeared in its current form, from everything I've read about the Aesop fables that would be very difficult to determine. Without question Babrius, and most likely every fabulist of the ancient world received variations on the tale, and then added their own.
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