Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Potpourri from Charlie Hebdo -- November & December 2016, & January 2017


~by David Aiken~


9 November 2016 / No. 1268, p. 12.


Under the rubric: Charlie sitting by the fire.


Icons. “Arendt-Heidegger: The Fall of the Idols.” By Yann Diener

            “ABSTRACT: The passion that tied Hannah Arendt to Martin Heidegger was not just of the flesh. Despite the apparent contradictions, and despite the awkwardness that resulted from it, we are obliged to conclude that this passion represented as well an intellectual bond. Emmanuel Faye’s recent book provides a new look at the complex relationship between these two icons of 20th century philosophy.


In his recent work, Arendt and Heidegger, Nazi Extermination and Destruction of Thought (2016: Albin Michel), the philosopher Emmanuel Faye shows that Hannah Arendt, who has been considered the critic of totalitarianism, adhered for the most part to the ideas of Heidegger. After publishing in 2005 Heidegger, the Introduction of Nazism into the Philosophy, Emmanuel Faye is now interested in the relationship between Heidegger and Arendt, and in particular the role of philosophy in the world-wide diffusion of the texts of her former professor.

            The work of Arendt has become compulsory in any analysis of totalitarianisms, and yet her work embodies an apologetic for Heidegger. An anti-Semitic Heidegger, who eulogizes the “internal truth and grandeur” of the Nazi movement. Is this a contradiction? Up to now, everyone has preferred explaining this ambiguity by citing the relationship between Arendt and Heidegger (the professor and the student were lovers in the 1920s). Everyone wanted to believe that Arendt was protecting her love for Heidegger without following him in his ideas. Unfortunately, this is unconvincing.

            After rereading the texts of Arendt, which referred either explicitly or implicitly to Heidegger, and after accessing an unpublished correspondence, Faye shows that the attachment of Arendt for Heidegger is profound. She chose to adopt the ideas of her former professor, to “follow in his footsteps,” – to use her expression. The idea of Nazism that Arendt has, which is functionalist and structural, allows her to rehabilitate all of the Nazi ideologues:  she sees Nazism and its crimes as the extreme consequences of the way our mass societies function. We all knew already that Arendt was shocking when she put forward the thesis that the Jewish Councils shared in the responsibility for the extermination. Faye underlines that she goes so far as to assert their co-responsibility with the Nazis, and to reduce the Final Solution to resolving an overpopulation problem.

            In fact, both The Origins of Totalitarianism and The Human Condition, two Arendt texts that constitute the foundation for much current scholarship about totalitarianism, develop a vision of modernity that is entirely Heideggerian in nature. Of course, Arendt is not Heidegger; and Faye certainly knows that Arendt did not have access to the Black Notebooks or to Heidegger’s more violent texts, those which have only now been added to the corpus of the Complete Works.


God of Thought.

But Faye also shows the effort made by Arendt to raise Heidegger up to the level of being a ‘God of Thought’, by contrasting him with Eichmann, the ‘One Who Does Not Think’. With this nightmare couple, Arendt creates what Faye calls a bipolar structure, a sort of new Modern Myth. We understand better why Arendt accepted the thesis of Eichmann at the time of his trial, and why she constructed the conceit of this banal fool, a cold executioner without ideas – although we have since learned that there was also an Eichmann, Ideological Fanatic.

            Faye’s minutious demonstration is very disconcerting, but also very important for at least two reasons. For constructing a more complex analysis of totalitarian ideas and projects, both past and present, religious or not. And, for allowing Faye to interrogate other 20th century authors who claim to derive from Heidegger, like Sartre, Levinas, or Derrida (when Derrida critiques Heidegger, he uses Heidegger’s ideas!). And then there is Lacan. At the beginning of his teaching career Lacan depended enormously on Heidegger.  Even if Lacan was able to get past Heidegger, the disciples of Lacan – and myself first of all – depend all too much and too lightly on a Lacan who cites Heidegger. The debate, even if it is violent, has been happening on the battlefield of philosophy, but it has not yet happened on the psychoanalytical battlefield.           

            It is one of the merits of Emmanuel Faye’s book, that it encourages us to shake up our idols. So, philosophers and psychoanalysts, just another little effort to stop being Heideggerian.”


23 November 2016 / No. 1270, p. 12.

Under the rubric: Charlie sitting by the fire.


Intellectual Bankruptcy. “Finished, pop-philosophy, here comes Trump-philosophy.” By Yann Diener

            “ABSTRACT: More than any other electoral campaign, the campaign that pits Trump against Clinton happened without any debate about ideas. Nothing surprising, then, that Slavoj Zizek should put in his two-cents worth, the philosopher-guru who offers as his basic argument that we should keep fleeing into the future.


Whoever said that Trump did not have any intellectuals with him? He may have had only one supporter from the university-world, but that came from someone who has the ear of a great many American and European students: Slavoj Zizek, the Slovenian philosopher, who has been hosted by all the important American universities, and has become the star of pop-philosophy. This is a notion invented by Gilles Deleuze, and which consists of applying philosophical questions to trivial objects, a strategy that Zizek has pushed to the nth degree, to the point that he has even been called the Elvis of social criticism.

            Students from Berkeley or from New York University were astonished to hear this famous thinker come out in favor of Donald Trump’s candidacy. They were baffled to hear Zizek describe the millionaire as a disgusting but necessary revolutionary, during an interview on British Channel 4, last November 3rd.

            Zizek said in this interview that, were he an American, he would vote for Trump; then he engaged in a number of dialectical pirouettes for which he is famous. Certainly, Trump scares Zizek; but the real danger, he says, is Clinton. “Where I was entirely in agreement with Trump: When Bernie Sanders finally threw his support to Hillary, Trump announced that it was as if someone from Occupy Wall Street was backing the Lehman Brothers.”

            Zizek finished the interview by saying that he was delighted by the businessman, “who stomped on all the non-written rules that make politics possible, and upon which everyone agrees: Trump threw a monkey-wrench into all that.”

            Apologies for the fine Hegelian dialectic, but this demonstration seems to me to be just as short-sighted as the one from the worker in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region who votes Front National (Marine Le Pen’s extreme right wing party) because we have not yet tried Le Pen in a position of power, and because such a vote would certainly not fail to stir things up in the present system.         

            Again, Slavoj Zizek: “If Trump wins, the two biggest parties, republicans and democrats, will have to return to their bases, will have to rethink themselves, and then perhaps something can happen. This is my hope, my desperate hope. Trump will not introduce fascism, because America is not yet a dictatorship. But it will be a sort of big wake-up call. New political processes will be put into place. Even if I am aware that it is dangerous, and not just in terms of supremacist groups: Trump has said openly that he will name extreme rightwing people to the Supreme Court. There are dangers, but I am more afraid that Hillary will stay aligned with this total inertia, which is even more dangerous.” (Note that Zizek uses Trump’s name, but addresses Clinton by her first name.)


The End Justifies the Means.

The great Slovenian philosopher turned political scientist and seer: he assures us that fascism is not for tomorrow in the United States. Does he regret this? After all, he did claim that Hitler had not been “violent enough” [TN: in “Why Heidegger made the right step in 1933,” International Journal of Zizek Studies, I, 4, 2007]. (That must have been more of that dialectic…).

            Zizek calling for a Trump vote, is a little like Derrida declaring in 2002 that the election of Le Pen would cause a great wake-up call for the political parties. Is it possible that Zizek, who is often thought of as a useful provocateur, bubbling over with neat, subversive ideas (such as, recently, that of remilitarizing Europe), might even be a bit of an embarrassment to the extreme left with this pronouncement?  This Left that sees in him, along with his friend Badiou, their Great Thinker.

            Roland Barthes used to say that in order “to exasperate the fixed order of sentences, to break the structures of language,” one does not need subversion. You have to have an upheaval. Barthes himself did not used to predict from which horizon the earthquake would come. So we are forced to observe that for Zizek, as for Badiou, the end justifies the means: Pol Pot, or the jihad, or, today, Trump, are the disruptions necessary to overthrowing the system in place.

            Which puts Zizek on the same page as the neocon Newt Gingrich, principal actor in the “conservative revolution” of the 1990s and probable Secretary of State in the future American administration. On the eve of the beginning of the American primaries, Gingrich announced that the candidacy of Trump constituted “one of those vital disruptions whose nature it is to remodel everything.”

            And now that Trump has been elected, what does our philosophical Elvis say? He continues to strike out at Clinton, and does not criticize anything but the physical appearance of the president elect: he even writes a column in Le Monde of November 12th entirely dedicated to Trump’s hair style!

            Zizek has passed, resolutely, from pop-philosophy to Trump-philosophy. In recompense, he is still waiting for his appointment to the deanship of some important American university, in order to be able to set into motion the great awakening of University Thinking.”


28 December 2016 / No. 1275, p. 3.


Riss’s Editorial

Minds like a sieve” (Les têtes passoires, or Birdbrains)


“The execution in Milan of the author of the Berlin terrorist attack by the Italian police, instantly provoked the anger of the right and of the extreme right against the Schengen zone. For Florian Philippot, of the Front National: “Let us put an end to this sieve that is the Europe of the Schengen Area.” For Eric Ciotti, of the Republicans: “Europe has for a long time been a sieve-like Europe with no controls on its external borders; it is time for Europe to rearm.” And for Nigel Farage: “If the man killed in Milan is the terrorist from Berlin, then the Schengen Area is a risk for public security, and must disappear.”

            Schengen to blame for terrorism… someone has to be to blame after all. Yet, as the JDD [NT: Le Journal du Dimanche is a weekly French Sunday newspaper] reminds us, the Schengen Agreement does not forbid reestablishing border controls. Since 1995, unhindered circulation has been suspended more than 20 times, and, in the case of “exceptional circumstances,” borders can be reestablished for a duration of up to 24 months. This is not the right argument, but it is, of course, always good to be seen to whack on Europe when we do not have anything else to say. The right-wing nationalists and the extreme right-wing parties rarely have satisfying explanations; they only have scape-goats. And, if possible, scape-goats who do not lift their voices up in protest. Like the various minorities—yesterday the European Jews, today the Roma and the immigrants. Likewise, the Schengen Agreement has the requisite quality to become the ideal scape-goat: it neither talks nor protests.

            Schengen to blame for terrorism, is a con for another reason. In France, almost all of the terrorist attacks were committed by French citizens converted to Islamism. Good little French folks, born in France, grown up in France, and killing in France. What could borders have done against these?

            The argument about the borders does not hold any water, so the right-wing nationalists try to make-do with immigration; because controlling the borders can no longer be the solution, immigration toward Europe must be prohibited. For a week now, in Germany, the AfD (NT: The Alternative for Germany, a right-wing populist political party) has been using this argument in accusing Merkel of being responsible for spilled blood because she allowed one million refugees to enter the country, among whom there were some terrorists. Welcoming such a large number of migrants in such a short space of time could not have been an easy job, and certainly carried some risks. But in an attempt to conquer new territories, Islamism is willing to forget about physical borders, because it is in minds that it first wishes to become established. No border guard can prohibit the internet from diffusing videos calling for stupid young French or Germans to join forces with Daech. We cannot build any border guard stations nor any barbed-wire fences, no matter how many miles in length, in the inside of heads. Sieve-like Europe does not exist; there are only sieve-like minds.


Just between France and Belgium there are more than 1500 points of entry or exit. In the brain of a young brainless kid, how many billions of gray cells would one have to control in order to keep Islamism from entering through the borders of his skull? Certainly more than 1500. When one is submerged by the multitude of minds contaminated by a totalitarian ideology, one is tempted to give up trying to convince them, one by one, to return to reason. Just like in the zombie movies, physical borders do not help in protecting yourself against them. The only alternative is to take a shot-gun and shoot them between the eyes. But, then, you really cannot say that out loud. And yet, supposedly, already 75% of the jihadists in Syria have been killed in fighting in the Middle East. But, officially, terrorists are still considered to be human, and our democratic societies have the obligation to treat them as such. In order to do this, centers for deradicalization had to be created—in order to save their souls from perdition, to be able to reestablish boundaries in their troubled minds, but this time between good and evil. Centers for deradicalization are like collection at mass, one puts a small coin in the offering plate to appease one’s conscience.

            The military Chief of Staff is also passing an offering plate. He publically declared that the government needed to augment by 2% the part of the Gross Domestic Product [NT: PIB = GDP] dedicated to the Army, in order for the Army to have the means to continue the war against the zombies—or the terrorists, if you prefer. The war against the terrorists will not be won with border and border guards. Terrorists do not give a damn about borders. But then again, neither do the Rafales (TN: French military aircraft), which take off from the aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle in order to eliminate those terrorists.”



Cartoons from 18 January 2017



















Kim Kardashian's philosophy


















Further reading around Charlie Hebdo themes in Phrontisterion:

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.fr/2016/09/a-rousing-charlie-hebdo-rendition-of.html

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.fr/2015/12/paris-and-charlie-hebdo-enlightenment.html

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.fr/2015/11/paris-and-charlie-hebdo-wager-on.html

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.fr/2015/01/january-2015je-suis-charlie.html

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.fr/2016/02/heidegger-treacherous-millesime.html

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.fr/2015/02/the-divine-right-of-kings.html

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.fr/2015/03/enlightenment-and-spirit-of-jihad.html

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.fr/2015/11/from-eric-emmanuel-schmitt-question-on.html

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.fr/2016/04/martin-heideggeris-lady-philosophys.html

·      http://nonimprimatur.blogspot.fr/2015/05/singing-good-and-evil-in-garden-of-lord.html


Reprised and reworked from original Phrontisterion translations published in January 2017.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Once Upon a Time There Was a Wolf and a Dog, and a Collar.


~by David Aiken~


Sometimes called fables in older literature, moral tales have extraordinarily long and robust lives. The one that interests us here is Aesop’s A Wolf and Dog.


§ A very succinct biography of an ugly slave with a witty tongue

Aesop, whose dates are circa 620-560 BC, was a Greek slave who had an incredible knack for spinning a tale with a moral tweak. When these tales were eventually compiled, they of course began to go by the name of — (no real spoiler alert necessary, surely): Aesop’s Fables. Historically speaking, Aesop’s dates put him squarely in the period of many of the earlier Greek Pre-Socratic philosophers and teachers of wisdom, such as Thales and Anaximenes both at around 585 BC, Anaximander at c. 610-546 BC, Pythagoras from 571-497 BC, and Xenophanes at c. 570-475 BC. There is, however, no evidence that Aesop knew or was known by any of these very wise and clever philosophically minded folks. Historical sources for Aesop include Aristotle, Herodotus, and Plutarch.

            According to one ancient tradition, which those in the know do not consider very reliable (viz. The Aesop Romance; vide wiki for the biographical details that follow), Aesop was an amazingly ugly slave who, because he was quite clever, wins his freedom and goes on to become a counselor to the hoity-toity of his day.

Scholarship and tradition have postulated for Aesop a variety of possible birthplaces, most of which are in modern day Turkey. The non-Turkish possibility is a town in ancient Thrace called Mesembria, which is Nesebar in modern day Bulgaria, just a hop, skip, and a jump up the Black Sea coast road from old Byzantium. Apparently, Nesebar is today “one of the most prominent tourist destinations and seaports on the Black Sea,” in addition to sporting what many consider to be the highest number of churches per capita. An accomplishment indeed… in some quarters.

In Turkey, choices for birthplace seem to favor either someplace in Phrygia, which is modern-day Erdogan’s authoritarian stomping grounds in central Turkey; or perhaps Sardis, an ancient city close to Ephesus on the west coast of Turkey, located in the ancient kingdom of Lydia; or, finally, some undetermined place generally located within the borders of the ancient kingdom of Lydia. From this diversity of geographical possibilities, it can be safely said that one may assume almost nothing about Aesop’s birthplace, other than to say that there certainly was one, someplace.

            On the question of where Aesop might have practiced his craft as entrepreneurial story-teller and slave, Aristotle (Rhetoric 2.20), Herodotus (Histories 2.134), and Plutarch (On the Delays of Divine Vengeance; Banquet of the Seven Sages; Life of Solon) all had something to say.

From Aristotle and Herodotus we learn that Aesop was a slave in Samos and that his masters were first a man named Xanthus and then a man named Iadmon; that he must eventually have been freed, because he argued as an advocate for a wealthy Samian; and that he met his end in the city of Delphi. Plutarch tells us that Aesop had come to Delphi on a diplomatic mission from King Croesus of Lydia, that he insulted the Delphians, was sentenced to death on a trumped-up charge of temple theft, and was thrown from a cliff… Before this fatal episode, … Plutarch has him dining with the Seven Sages of Greece, sitting beside his friend Solon, whom he had met in Sardis.


It is a disingenuous hypocrisy of Aesopian scholarship that although almost everyone in the know agrees that The Aesop Romance (the AR) is not historically or biographically reliable, nevertheless almost all the historical and biographical information that passes for such derives from just that very source. For example, the following rather detailed description of an African, or more precisely, an Ethiopian Aesop is given in the AR:

he was "of loathsome aspect... potbellied, misshapen of head, snub-nosed, swarthy, dwarfish, bandy-legged, short-armed, squint-eyed, liver-lipped—a portentous monstrosity," or as another translation has it, "a faulty creation of Prometheus when half-asleep." The earliest text by a known author that refers to Aesop's appearance is Himerius in the 4th century, who says that Aesop "was laughed at and made fun of, not because of some of his tales but on account of his looks and the sound of his voice." The evidence from both of these sources is dubious, since Himerius lived some 800 years after Aesop and his image of Aesop may have come from The Aesop Romance, which is essentially fiction; but whether based on fact or not, at some point the idea of an ugly, even deformed Aesop took hold in popular imagination. […] The presence of such slaves in Greek-speaking areas is suggested by the fable "Washing the Ethiopian white" that is ascribed to Aesop himself. This concerns a man who buys a black slave and, assuming that he was neglected by his former master, tries very hard to wash the blackness away.  


There is no evidence, however, that Aesop injected himself autobiographically into this fable about “Washing the Ethiopian While,” which leaves all academic speculation fanciful—nothing new there, of course. The idea of a black Aesop takes hold in the tradition, though, and traveling hither and yon from interpretation to translation until it has established a firm foothold for itself in 17th and 18th century iconography, in popular perception Aesop and his fables eventually find themselves being linked at the hip to “the stories of the trickster Br'er Rabbit told by African-American slaves.”


§ There, and back again to Aesop’s ‘A Wolf and Dog’

It is reasonable, and not at all anachronistic to read in this very short Aesopian moral tale a precocious enlightenment story, which is to say, a tale about right attitudes, and wrong, toward liberty and slavery. Reading metaphorically, the notion in this ‘fable’ of the burden of enlightenment to be a cause of freedom does not change, whether in the times of the early Greek philosophers or in the 18th reprisal of their philosophical themes.

According to the wiki-folks on this fable, Aesop’s A Wolf and Dogis one of [the] Fables, numbered 346 in the Perry Index [=Chambry 226]. It has been popular since antiquity as an object lesson of how freedom should not be exchanged for comfort or financial gain.” So, we can see right off the interpretative bat that the notion of slavery in this moral tale is not to be construed literally, but is already presented figuratively, as a deliberate choice to put ourselves, or not, on the slaver’s auction block in exchange for material comforts.

A perhaps primary, because skeletal version of this fable is found in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae [TLG: AESOPUS et AESOPICA Scr. Fab. Fabulae {0096.002} Fable 294], of which Phrontisterion proposes the following translation:

A wolf asked an enormously large dog shackled by a neck collar to a property stake: “Who is it who, by putting this chain around your neck, has trained you to act this way? And the other answered: “My huntsman master.


  λύκος ἐν κλοιῷ δεδεμένον ὁρῶν μέγιστον κύνα ἤρετο·
δήσας τίς <σ’> ἐξέθρεψε τ<οι>οῦτον; ὁ δὲ ἔφη· κυνηγός.


This (very) short original text suggests some core postures and attitudes that, in a happy footnote of history, will be confirmed in the later amplifications and translations of the fable. These also have the virtue of translating wonderfully into more concrete philosophical ideas.

Perhaps the most obvious idea in this fable is that the Wolf encounters here an enormously large and powerful Dog, who would under normal circumstances be quite an intimidating animal. This use of megiston [μέγιστον] is superlative, which gives us the idea that this is really an exceedingly powerful Dog in his prime. The irony, of course, which becomes apparent to the Reader in the Wolf’s question, is that this powerful Dog, which is by its own canine nature both powerful and mobile, has been transformed by his collar and chain into a harmless piece of quasi-motionless real estate. The Dog is become property; and its obvious natural strength and ability to be active is debilitated by an (en)forced immobility, by a repressive neck collar that fetters it, reducing its active world to a very limited patch of land in close proximity to a stake in the ground.

A second powerful idea in this fable is that the Dog has learned to accept his persona and role as chained-piece-of-property; the Dog was not born to be as it has become. But the Dog has been bowed for so long that, being now in the prime of his life, the years of habitual bowing have accustomed Him, have trained him up in the way he should go, might have said the Ecclesiast (Proverbs 22:6), and he finds comfort in the familiarity of his demeaned posture.

A third idea in this fable is that it is only in respect to the huntsman that this Dog-property has value. Which is to say that its value is not personal, it is not integral to the Dog, but rather determined uniquely by its utility to its master.

And, finally, it is patently obvious in this fable 1) that the Wolf thinks that it is definitely uncool to be in the Dog’s position, and 2) that the Wolf is really quite certain that the Dog has some power to change his condition. When we meet the Dog in this Aesopian fable, his mind and spirit are already light-years removed from the heroic mind and spirit of, for example, Boethius’ Hercules (c. 480-524; Consolation of Philosophy, IV, lns. 29-35):

As his last labour he with unbended neck

Bore up the heavens, and as his reward

For that last labour, heaven deserved.

Go then, you brave, where leads the lofty path

Of this great example. Why in indolence

Do you turn your backs in flight? Earth overcome

Grants you the stars.


The Dog has also left long-forgotten in some dim past the magnificent idea of the free hearts and free foreheads of Ulysses’ comrades, which so inspired Tennyson (1809-1892; Ulysses)

My mariners,

Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me—

That ever with a frolic welcome took

The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed

Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;

Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;

Death closes all: but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done,

Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.


§ ‘A Wolf and Dog’ expanded.

Using the TLG short text as our springboard, we can now consider the longer and expanded Chambry Greek version of this fable [Chambry 226=Perry 346] in an attempt to elucidate how the core idea was interpreted already in Aesop’s day. In the Townsend translation it reads like this:

A WOLF, meeting a big, well-fed Mastiff, having a wooden collar about his neck, inquired of him who it was that fed him so well, and yet compelled him to drag that heavy log about wherever he went. The master, he replied. Then said the Wolf: May no friend of mine ever be in such a plight; for the weight of this chain is enough to spoil the appetite.


Λύκος καὶ κύων.

Λύκος ἐν κλοιῷ δεδεμένον ὁρῶν μέγιστον κύνα ἤρετο· " Δήσας τίς ς' ἐξέθρεψε τοῦτον;" Ὁ δὲ ἐφη· "Κυνηγός. -- Ἀλλὰ τοῦτο μὴ πάθοι λύκος ἐμοὶ φίλος· λιμὸς γὰρ ἡ κλοιοῦ βαρύτης."
Ὁ λόγος δηλοῖ τὸ ἐν ταῖς συμφοραῖς οὐδὲ γαστρίζεσθαι.


Frankly, Townsend’s translation does not do much for meaning in the rendering of this fable; the Laura Gibbs (2002) translation for Oxford press is much richer in texture and ideas. Gibbs translates the fable as ‘The Wolf, The Dog and the Collar’ [Perry 346 (Babrius 100)].

A comfortably plump dog happened to run into a wolf. The wolf asked the dog where he had been finding enough food to get so big and fat. 'It is a man,' said the dog, 'who gives me all this food to eat.' The wolf then asked him, 'And what about that bare spot there on your neck?' The dog replied, 'My skin has been rubbed bare by the iron collar which my master forged and placed upon my neck.' The wolf then jeered at the dog and said, 'Keep your luxury to yourself then! I don't want anything to do with it, if my neck will have to chafe against a chain of iron!'


Λύκῳ συνήντα πιμελὴς κύων λίην.
ὁ δ' αὐτὸν ἐξήταζε, ποῦ τραφεὶς οὕτως
μέγας κύων ἐγενετο καὶ λίπους πλήρης.
"ἄνθρωπος" εἶπε "δαψιλής με σιτεύει."
"ὁ δέ σοι τράχηλος" εἶπε "πῶς ἐλευκώθη;"
"κλοιῷ τέτριπται σάρκα τῷ σιδηρείῳ,
ὃν ὁ τροφεύς μοι περιτέθεικε χαλκεύσας."
λύκος δ' ἐπ' αὐτῷ καγχάσας "ἐγὼ τοίνυν
χαίρειν κελεύω" φησί "τῇ τρυφῇ ταύτῃ,
δι' ἣν σίδηρος τὸν ἐμὸν αὐχένα τρίψει."


Gibbs supplements her rendering of this longer Perry 346 version of Aesop’s fable with a further note, remarking that Caxton (Caxton 3.15) “adds this epimythium: 'Therfore there is no rychesse gretter than lyberte / For lyberte is better than alle the gold of the world.'” Now an epimythium is simply a moral conclusion that is appended to the end of a story, which means that Caxton was quite intent that we do not miss the moral of this particular moral tale. And correctly so.

            The translation of this fable for the Harvard Classics (1909–14) looks like this: The Dog and the Wolf.

A GAUNT Wolf was almost dead with hunger when he happened to meet a House-dog who was passing by. “Ah, Cousin,” said the Dog. “I knew how it would be; your irregular life will soon be the ruin of you. Why do you not work steadily as I do, and get your food regularly given to you?”

1 “I would have no objection,” said the Wolf, “if I could only get a place.”

2 “I will easily arrange that for you,” said the Dog; “come with me to my master and you shall share my work.”

3 So the Wolf and the Dog went towards the town together. On the way there the Wolf noticed that the hair on a certain part of the Dog’s neck was very much worn away, so he asked him how that had come about.

4 “Oh, it is nothing,” said the Dog. “That is only the place where the collar is put on at night to keep me chained up; it chafes a bit, but one soon gets used to it.”

5 “Is that all?” said the Wolf. “Then good-bye to you, Master Dog.”




§ Jean de La Fontaine.

In the meandering ebb and flow of history, Jean de la Fontaine, French fabulist extraordinaire, made his appearance from 1621–1695, and would go on to become one of the most widely read French poets of the 17th century. Showing their usual witty talent for categorizing, scholars generally divide La Fontaine’s work into the Fables, the Tales, and Miscellanea; he would compose or reprise some 239 fables, with the Aesop adaptions occurring in the first collection of fables beginning in 1668.

An important part of a monumental work, La Fontaine’s moralizing fables in free verse, which comprise 12 books and 3 collections published over a space of some 25 years, are domiciled at the crossroads of literature and philosophy. According to the wiki sources:

When he first wrote his Fables, La Fontaine had a sophisticated audience in mind. Nevertheless, the Fables were regarded as providing an excellent education in morals for children, and the first edition was dedicated to the six-year-old Dauphin. Following La Fontaine's example, his translator Charles Denis dedicated his Select Fables (1754) to the sixteen-year-old heir to the English throne.


It was recognized very early on that the fabulist means of expression was a wonderful teaching device for the young and young at mind –(scholars never cease to stun and amaze with the acuity of their perception!)—so it should not surprise us to learn that French lycée students, who are preparing for the baccalaureate, are still regularly called upon to write a literary commentary (commentaire littéraire) on one or another of La Fontaine’s fables. This philosophical reflection will generally take the form of an initial statement about The Art of the Narrative (L’art du récit), which tends to be general; will then reasonably proceed to consider the question of animals and the world of men (Etude des animaux et du Monde humain); and will then conclude by a reflection about the moral lesson of the fable (L'enseignement moral de cette fable).

            With respect to the fable that has drawn our attention, Aesop’s A Wolf and Dog, although La Fontaine remains faithful to the message of the original Aesopian short text and that of the subsequent expanded textual tradition, he presents a significantly more amplified narrative in his rendition of Le Loup et le Chien, all the while telling us the same story of two very different lives: the Wolf’s, which, as we know by now, represents liberty, and that of the Dog who allows himself to remain bound by force to the service and use of his master.

            Now, to defer just a little to the French method of the literary commentary, or, if one prefers the philosopher’s method, we can give the floor to Aristotle (Met I 981b27) and talk about Wisdom being concerned with first causes and principles—to the point: Let us ask first questions first. What is one to make of talking animals?


If one accepts the various religious traditions on this question, certainly the Jewish and Christian traditions have their share of chatty animals, from the eloquently philosophical Serpent of the Genesis narrative, to the visionary ass who complains clamorously to his master, Balaam, about the poor treatment he receives at his master’s hand (Numbers 22:30). Hindu tradition has monkey society in the Age of Legend as “beings endowed with extraordinary intelligence, speech, immeasurable strength and nobility, and were of godly parentage” (Ramayana 98), whose representative, godlike Hanuman, will prove immensely important to Rama and the success of his quest to find his lost Sita. Grendel and mom, of Beowulf fame, are of course both of a monstrously conversational bent. And then there are all the talking dragons of the old Norse myths, including Fáfnir (from the 13th century Volsunga Saga), who will likewise make an appearance in Richard Wagner’s operatic cycle, Der Ring der Nibelungen. Native American animal wisdom is populated with every sort of critter chitchat and animal animation, and full of stories of coyotes conversing with ducks, bears with chipmunks, buffaloes and grizzly bears, men and horses, snakes and boys.

On the other hand, although Auggie, our personal canine philosopher, is extraordinarily communicative, including non-yarking, mouth related sounds, he has yet to break into formal utterance of any recognizably human sort.

A second element in this fable, obviously, has to do with collars. It is clear in our Aesopian fable tradition that the Dog is chained by a collar to the huntsman’s stake, and thereby transformed into his property. There is a formulaic equation between collar and dominance or slavery or otherly-possession, where the lack of collar corresponds to liberty and self-possession. The wiki definition of a dog collar is internet proof that some things just do not require much insight or original thinking:

A dog collar is a piece of material put around the neck of a dog. A collar may be used for control, identification, fashion, or other purposes. Identification tags and medical information are often placed on dog collars. Collars are also useful for controlling a dog manually, as they provide a handle for grabbing. Collars are often used in conjunction with a leash, and a common alternative to a dog collar is a dog harness. Dog collars are the most common form of directing and teaching dogs.


By way of reviewing collars as cultural artifacts of dominance, see here for slave collars from the civil war period; and here for a cast neck iron for convicted convicts. In a more symbolic vein, there are also any number of images of the starched collars worn by social dressers of by-gone eras; and a rather different sort of neck collar, which speaks to the relational human-animal sexual dynamic, and the collar as symbol of that dynamic.


§ Le Loup et le Chien, or The Wolf and Dog (French and English).

Le Loup et le Chien
Un Loup n'avait que les os et la peau,
Tant les chiens faisaient bonne garde.
Ce Loup rencontre un Dogue aussi puissant que beau,
Gras, poli, qui s'était fourvoyé par mégarde.

L'attaquer, le mettre en quartiers,
Sire Loup l'eût fait volontiers ;
Mais il fallait livrer bataille,
Et le Mâtin était de taille
A se défendre hardiment.
Le Loup donc l'aborde humblement,
Entre en propos, et lui fait compliment
Sur son embonpoint, qu'il admire.
"Il ne tiendra qu'à vous beau sire,
D'être aussi gras que moi, lui repartit le Chien.
Quittez les bois, vous ferez bien :
Vos pareils y sont misérables,

Cancres, haires, et pauvres diables,
Dont la condition est de mourir de faim.
Car quoi ? rien d'assuré : point de franche lippée :
Tout à la pointe de l'épée.
Suivez-moi : vous aurez un bien meilleur destin. "
Le Loup reprit : "Que me faudra-t-il faire ?
- Presque rien, dit le Chien, donner la chasse aux gens
Portants bâtons, et mendiants ;

Flatter ceux du logis, à son Maître complaire :
Moyennant quoi votre salaire
Sera force reliefs de toutes les façons :
Os de poulets, os de pigeons,
Sans parler de mainte caresse. "
Le Loup déjà se forge une félicité
Qui le fait pleurer de tendresse.
Chemin faisant, il vit le col du Chien pelé.
"Qu'est-ce là ? lui dit-il. - Rien. - Quoi ? rien ? - Peu de chose.
- Mais encor ? - Le collier dont je suis attaché

De ce que vous voyez est peut-être la cause.
- Attaché ? dit le Loup : vous ne courez donc pas
Où vous voulez ? - Pas toujours ; mais qu'importe ?
- Il importe si bien, que de tous vos repas
Je ne veux en aucune sorte,
Et ne voudrais pas même à ce prix un trésor.

Cela dit, maître Loup s'enfuit, et court encor.


The Wolf and The Dog

A prowling wolf, whose shaggy skin
(So strict the watch of dogs had been)
Hid little but his bones,
Once met a mastiff dog astray.
A prouder, fatter, sleeker Tray,
No human mortal owns.
Sir Wolf in famish'd plight,
Would fain have made a ration
Upon his fat relation;
But then he first must fight;
And well the dog seem'd able
To save from wolfish table
His carcass snug and tight.
So, then, in civil conversation
The wolf express'd his admiration
Of Tray's fine case. Said Tray, politely,
'Yourself, good sir, may be as sightly;
Quit but the woods, advised by me.
For all your fellows here, I see,
Are shabby wretches, lean and gaunt,
Belike to die of haggard want.
With such a pack, of course it follows,
One fights for every bit he swallows.
Come, then, with me, and share
On equal terms our princely fare.'
'But what with you
Has one to do?'
Inquires the wolf. 'Light work indeed,'
Replies the dog; 'you only need
To bark a little now and then,
To chase off duns and beggar men,
To fawn on friends that come or go forth,
Your master please, and so forth;
For which you have to eat
All sorts of well-cook'd meat--
Cold pullets, pigeons, savoury messes--
Besides unnumber'd fond caresses.'
The wolf, by force of appetite,
Accepts the terms outright,
Tears glistening in his eyes.
But faring on, he spies
A gall'd spot on the mastiff's neck.
'What's that?' he cries. 'O, nothing but a speck.'
'A speck?' 'Ay, ay; 'tis not enough to pain me;
Perhaps the collar's mark by which they chain me.'
'Chain! chain you! What! run you not, then,
Just where you please, and when?'
'Not always, sir; but what of that?'
'Enough for me, to spoil your fat!
It ought to be a precious price
Which could to servile chains entice;
For me, I'll shun them while I've wit.'
So ran Sir Wolf, and runneth yet.


Another English Translation

The wolf grew gaunt-his bones stuck out-
Because for once the watchdogs never shut their eyes.
At last he took a drowsy mastiff by surprise,
A gorgeous, glossy-coated, oxlike layabout.
Sir Wolf would happily have set upon this giant
And ripped him all to shreds, but seeing his huge size
And his stout means of self-defense,
To challenge him to combat simply made no sense
And so instead he groveled, winningly compliant,
And told him how he envied him his plump physique.
"Dear boy, if being fat as I is what you seek,
It is entirely up to you," the mastiff said.
"Just leave the woods and you'll improve your lot-
For there the only close associates you've got
Are stupid, ragged and ill-fed,
They live half-dead from hunger, just a bunch
Of desperate losers. Why? They've no free lunch,
No real security. There, all live by the knife.
But follow me and find the way to better life."
"What must I do?" the wolf replied.
"Not much at all," the mastiff said. "You wait outside
And chase off beggars from the door
And old lame types with walking sticks,
You lick your master's hand and fawn before
The family, and in return you get a mix
Of lovely leavings, bones of chicken or of squab,
And they will pat your head and scratch behind your ears."
Picturing all this, the wolf's delight was such
Emotion overwhelmed him, and he began to sob.
But as they walked along together, through his tears
He saw the mastiff's neck looked raw and bare.
The wolf inquired, "What happened there?"
"Oh, nothing." "That is nothing?" "Nothing much."
"But, what?" "The collar they attach me with may be
What caused the little spot of soreness that you see."
"Attach?" the wolf replied. "You mean you are not free
To go just where you want?" "Well, not always, no-
But does that matter?" "Matter! Yes, it matters so
That I refuse to touch one bite of your fine swill.
For even a treasure, that price would be too high for me!"
That said, the wolf ran off, and he is running still.


§ A modern epimythium, or—a contemporary moral for this story.

            In a world of ideas, we are now at an historical crossroads where two roads are diverging in a Frostian fashion. The first road in this wood is well-known and well-traveled by students of human history; it is the comfortable road of strong central leaders, of nationalisms, and of authority figures who promise to guide us safely through the obscurity and darkness, in exchange for a velvet collar around the neck. The other road, more solitary and less traveled by, and massively uncomfortable, has known mainly the footfall of those who have resisted oppression with free hearts and free foreheads, who have sought enlightenment and accepted the burden of freedom and responsibility as the cost of democracy.

I do not know what kind of America I will wake up to November 9. But I know that the future of America does not hinge on Election Day. What happens to the U.S. will be the cumulative effect of a Trump campaign that has mainstreamed bigotry and is now mainstreaming – or at least severely playing down – white supremacist violence.


Continues the author, speaking about a journalist named Lovejoy who was murdered by a racist mob in 1837 in Missouri:

In October, I visited Lovejoy’s monument, contemplating the election. To Lovejoy, the greatest threat was not death, but the abdication of one’s principles – the selfishness of self-preservation in an era of mob rule. That is the clarity of conscience that bides your time to the grave.


Resources & Further Reading:

·      http://arch.oucs.ox.ac.uk/detail/89323/index.html --Title : Aesopica : Aesop's fables in English, Latin and Greek

·      http://fablesofaesop.com/the-dog-and-the-wolf.html

On talking animals:

·      https://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/may/01/andrew-ohagan-talking-animals

·      https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2015/feb/02/best-talking-animals-childrens-books

·      http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150216-can-any-animals-talk-like-humans

·      http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Talking_animals_in_the_Bible


Reprised and reworked from an original Phrontisterion essay published in December 2016.