Of Aesop’s Fables in Latin, their Morals, and Potentially-Derived Political Bias

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If I were to say that I am not rich, what might the reader think?  That those better off than I am, are the objects of my envy or other negative feelings?  That I am a leftist?  Is that the end to which I have been educated?

I pose the above questions because of a recent accusation that I seem to have some kind of bias against those living in a superior economic stratum.  Apparently, the reason for anyone to level such a charge against me was not based on my wording, but on my use of quotation marks!

I would certainly like to post my political feelings, but I feel that it is too dangerous nowadays.  One thing is for certain, anti-social behavior needs to be condemned, no matter which side is guilty.  Such behavior is possible at any economic level.

I have a strict policy in my articles of not defaming anybody.  In that sense, whether it was my article referring to President Obama, or his successor, President Trump, I said nothing evil about either of them.  Of people deemed too evil even to discuss, I might make it clear en passant.

The above four paragraphs now lead in to the present, where I read on the Internet with a certain frequency that universities are mainly staffed by leftist professors.  But when did this start?

I am not going to delve into the matter, which would probably have me regurgitating data already available elsewhere.  In general, it is probably safe to say that the big guns of leftist academia came out in the later sixties, at least in Canada, (but I was not exposed to it – at least knowingly – until the seventies).  Fortunately, it was not too radicalized, except in the French Department of my university.  As far as I could tell, the Political Science Department was safer – though not completely.

Yet today, in reviewing some Latin textbooks – which I have found to disagree remarkably with one another on aspects of grammar – I have found what might be a political slant going back to the 1930s.  It is this which I now propose to examine.

Of all places, the idea originally came from the reading of a fable by Aesop, the one about the wolf and the lamb.  W. W. Ewbank, in Second Year Latin, (1938, pp. 129-30) stated (in Latin) that the moral of the story is that there are people who use fictitious reasons to oppress the innocent.

Take the word “innocent”, substitute for something more political after “oppress”, and what are we led to think of in the political sphere?

We need not look to any Marxist interpretation for the above, since the thinking along the above line existed, in a book written by Samuel Croxall in 1775, who translated the fables into English.  He stated that the moral hardly needed to be explained, but did so, adding about 200 words to the 260 of the translation. Let us reduce those 200 to this, and the reader may compare it to the tone of the preceding moral: “… whenever ill-[minded – P.K.M.] people are in power, innocence and integrity are sure to be persecuted …”

Now comes my secondary school text, Latin for Canadian Schools, by David Breslove and Arthur G. Hooper. Here, the moral was written as “Ill-natured people can always find an excuse”, (p. 115). That quote should be followed by “to oppress the innocent”, which would make it a valid translation of the Latin text, which is rather neutral, but the same cannot be said of the fable which preceded it, the one about the frog and the cow.  An almost Delphic-like moral states: The poor always court disaster when they ape the rich.  This saying, interpreted politically, suggests the opposite of Ewbanks thinking, and we will look at it a bit more closely.

The moral, as stated in this text, does seem to have a negative opinion of the poor.  Could it be that the authors, living in Ontario, reflected a certain conservative thinking associated with the majority of the years in which a conservative government ruled that province, and the special character of the city of Toronto?

We asked ourselves how the poor can possibly imitate the rich and thereby invite difficulties into their lives.  I think it would have been more difficult at the time when the book was written than it is at the present.

The poor could choose to act and dress like the rich, eat and drink like the wealthy, drive a car like the monied, and have a house like the upper classes.  Perhaps even their vices (if they have any), could be copied.  Under this heading, we could include leisure: books and magazines to read, sports to play, movies to see.

Eating, drinking, dressing, driving, and living under a roof like that of the rich will involve squandering such sums of money that financial disaster can be the only result – unless our big-spender can move out of his lower status class fast enough.

As for the vices, in the absence of a universal medical plan, the poor may end up with no medical aid, or unpaid bills for health care.  One way or another, it is a disaster.  On a less serious level, since we have mentioned reading material, a recent book on which we have commented, El rey de la inmoralidad (The King of Immorality) by I. Borovoi, [Buenos Aires: Editorial Lihuel, 1982], p. 32, 41), made clear that Playboy was intended as a magazine for men of an elite economic level.  I wonder what percentage of the buyers did not meet the economic criteria stipulated by the editor.  Ironically, almost, this, then, would be an exploitation (in leftist eyes) of the lower classes by the rich (Hefner, et. al.), which, if it has even been criticized, has not received any press as far as this writer knows.

I am only left wondering if there was a specific reason for mentioning this moral in the text.  On what economic level were students of Latin considered to be?  At the time the text was written, if I am not mistaken, it was still a language required in Ontario for entering law and medical schools.  Could it be that the financial burden of entering university for such studies implied that those who studied Latin were elite, and thus could almost look down upon their lower class imitators?  Could something have happened to the idea that success breeds imitation?

Probably the most serious charge that can be made against the study of Latin is the emphasis on the military exploits of Julius Caesar and other Romans, and the concomitant idea of empire – which certainly found itself echoes by at least the British, Germans, Italians, the French, the Spanish, and the Portuguese, and probably, to a lesser extent, the Dutch and the Belgians. For the fact that there were not more Central European countries  with such pretensions, perhaps we would have to thank the Austro-Hungarian Empire for absorbing so many nationalities. To the east, if the charge can be laid, it would be to the Russians.    (However, that said, it must be emphasized that the Russian aristocracy was, to a very high degree, descended from Germans, so any accusation against a pre-revolutionary Russian imperialism by Russians is much more false than true.[In retrospect, the supposed fact here stated is something the writer learned at university, for which this writer has found no confirmation yet, except for Russia’s former Baltic possessions.]) As for nations even further to the East, they had their own role models, and probably did not study Latin until very recent times.

Latin has fallen on hard times, though perhaps less so than Greek.  The politically-correct idea of this present decade decrees that if it is the work of white men, it’s bad.  If that idea is held by a lemming-like group, I hold that the criticism cannot be justified.  If entertained by others who have never fixed their roots into the culture which nourished them, what is to be done?

Perhaps we throw our hands up in despair, and in the vein of that fox who could not get at the desired grapes, shout, “I didn’t want to learn such difficult languages anyway.”.

July 7, 2019

© 2019, Paul Karl Moeller.





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