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Aesop and the Gods

Divine Characters in the Aesop Romance

Stefano Jedrkiewicz

Résumé

Le Roman d’Ésope, anonyme et écrit probablement entre la fin du Ie siècle et le IVe siècle de notre ère, se propose comme la biographie d’un personnage fictif, Ésope. Ce récit est structuré sur un modèle tragique : Ésope, un esclave muet et ignorant au départ, reçoit grâce à un miracle divin des pouvoirs qui en font un sage de réputation mondiale. Par cette évolution paradoxale, il prouve que les « hommes de science » officiels n’ont aucune compétence. Dans la version du Roman, Vita G, qui est particulièrement étudiée ici, Ésope jouit du soutien des Muses, reconnait la souveraineté cosmique de Zeus, et, à un certain moment, s’oppose à Apollon, causant ainsi sa propre mort à Delphes. Toutefois, la lecture attentive des épisode de la Vita G, où Apollon et d’autres personnes divins apparaissent en tant qu’actants, ne mène pas à conclure que cette opposition décrit la lutte d’une « culture populaire » contre une « érudition d’élite ». Ce qui émerge plutôt est la nécessité pour le personnage d’Ésope d’avoir un antagoniste divin dans la personne d’Apollon, afin de parfaire sa dimension héroïque définitive.

The anonymous Aesop Romance, probably written from the end of the 1st century A. D. to the 4th century A. D. aims at providing a consistent biography of Aesop as a fictitious character by following a tragic pattern. Aesop, initially a speechless and ignorant slave, is empowered by a divine miracle to become a world-famous sage. By this paradoxical achievement, he proves that the institutional « men of learning » are utterly devoid of competence. In the version of the Romance, Vita G, which is specifically discussed here, Aesop enjoys the support of the Muses, recognizes the cosmic sovereignty of Zeus and, at a given moment, antagonizes Apollo, so triggering his own death in Delphi. However, a close reading of those episodes of Vita G, where Apollo and all other divine characters appear as actants, does not lead to conclude that such an opposition describes the struggle of « popular culture » with « elitist erudition ». It rather points to the narrative need for Aesop as a character to have Apollo as an antagonist in order to fully achieve an eventual heroic status.

Texte intégral

Knowledge and religion in the Aesop Romance

  • 1 The Romance is preserved in two main versions, Vita G (first redaction: 1st - 2nd century AD?) and (...)
  • 2 «Mad Wise Man»: Jedrkiewicz 1990-1992, p. 116, 119, 125.
  • 3 Herodotus 2.134 = Test. 13 Perry (logopoios); Aristophanes, Wasps 1446-8 (and schol.) = Test. 20-21 (...)
  • 4 Cf. Hansen 1998, p. xiv-xv. Referring to the roughly contemporary Life of Secundus, Gallo 1997, p. (...)
  • 5 The very fact that the Romance has an episodical structure (i. e. mainly consists in a sequel of se (...)

1The Aesop Romance, an anonymous fictitious biography probably written from the end of the 1st century A.D. to the 4th century A.D.1, bears the imprint of a struggle for coherence. Traditions had been developing since the 5th century B. C. around Aesop: prior to becoming a specimen of the Mad Wise Man in later times2, this logopoios was known to have been a slave in Samos and to have met a violent death in Delphi3. The Romance, a typical instance of «consumption literature» visibly placing «content» above «form»4, binds disparate episodes together, resorts to massive interpolation (from the Oriental Ahiqar Romance), includes variants, produces parallel versions, yet aims at reaching some sort of biographical consistency5.

  • 6 Cf. Hansen 1998, p. 166: «delicious fantasies of astounding personal success».
  • 7 Reproduced in Perry 1936, p. 58-69
  • 8 «Tragic paradox» as a paradigm for the Aesopian biography: Jedrkiewicz1989 p. 158-9, 182.

2The Romance can be read as a success-story centered on a pleasant paradox6. The protagonist is a living contradiction on his own: the ugliest of slaves, lacking education, initially even unable to speak, he is empowered by a divine miracle to emerge from initial abjection, assert a kind of unconventional yet dominant knowledge, gain freedom, reach the top of the social and political hierarchy, reap universal recognition as the wisest of philosophers, be honored as a hero. He miserably fails in the end, his very reputation causing his ruin; yet he consolidates his heroic status in death. One version of the Romance, Vita G, further increases the dramatic dimension by introducing Apollo as a main actant: at the peak of his success, Aesop brusquely calls the god’s wrath upon himself, and so prepares his own end (the same story is told in the Golenischeff Papyrus7). Slavery in Samos and death in Delphi thus become the initial and final terms of a biography shaped in the end by tragic paradox8.

  • 9 Yarbro Collins 1998, p. 187-8; Pervo 1998; Shiner 1998; Elliott 2005.
  • 10 Divine punishment inflicted on Aesop’s murderers: Herodotus 2.134.4 = Test. 13 Perry; Plut., On the (...)
  • 11 Cf. La Penna 1962, p. 279-80; Nagy 1979, p. 302-3, 306-7; Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 94-99.

3Recent readings of Vita G have highlighted the role of divine characters in shaping Aesop’s existence as a whole9. Apollo’s role is especially conspicuous. Elsewhere, the god has a benign role and is friendly to Aesop, to the point of punishing the Delphians who murder the wise man10; it is only in Vita G that he takes a downright hostile or, at best, deeply ambiguous posture, since he seems to be the cause both of the crime and of its punishment11. The nature of Aesop’s relationship to Apollo thus remains controversial.

  • 12 For the purposes of this essay, «knowledge», and «wisdom» are given the meaning of the «sum of the (...)

4Such relationship is however a particular instance of Aesop’s «religion» (his peculiar way of relating to divine beings and supernatural events), which is linked to his «savoir» (the wisdom he is made to display). Indeed, Aesop is awarded an exceptional epistemic ability as a reward for his inborn piety; he attracts divine wrath for an objectively impious action; at the point of death, he snatches victory (albeit posthumously) from the jaws of defeat because he knows how to appeal to the gods. The following close reading of those episodes in Vita G calling divine characters into play will therefore focus on: i) the content and orientation of Aesop’s actual knowledge12; ii) the function of Isis, and (much more pointedly) of the Muses; iii) the actual implications of the Aesop – Apollo relationship; iv) the role of a divine actant usually given little textual mention and critical consideration, yet holding a paramount function, Zeus.

What aesop knows

  • 13 Cf. e. g. Hahn 1989, p. 15-32. The benefits conferred by paideia are typically listed by Lucian, Th (...)
  • 14 This is by no means an isolated approach in representing contemporary «intellectuals»: see Jerphagn (...)

5Aesop asserts his wisdom through a series of «counter-cultural» exploits. An unschooled slave, he proves that his master, Professor Xanthos, factually owns no scientific competence, teaching skill nor moral authority, and therefore usurps the social consideration he enjoys. Questions like «what is true knowledge?» and «what is the real use of learning?» loom in the background, fully connecting Vita G to the contemporary context of the Second Sophistic, where paideia ranks as a paramount value, enshrines and reproduces the Hellenic cultural tradition, includes cognitive procedures, ethical principles, and social norms, provides access to whatever is worth knowing. Cultural pre-eminence entitles to, and is the mark of, social supremacy13. Aesop’s «subversion», in general terms, consists in showing that those individuals who institutionally detain culturally dominant functions do not factually possess the corresponding capabilities14.

  • 15 Cf. Bowersock 1969, p. 43-58; Schmitz 1997, p. 45-52; Flaig 2002, p. 124-7.

6Aesop’s overall epistemic performance satirizes the representatives of «highbrow» culture at their worst; it eventually prescribes how such a culture should operate at its best. The slave progressively deflates all of his masters’claims to cultural supremacy; he exposes Xanthos as a worthless philosopher, both at the cognitive and ethical levels. When mysterious omens (in fact, foreboding an onslaught by King Croesus) materialize, the Samians turn to the reputed scholar as to their obvious resource in order to find the right interpretation (G81) (the pepaideumenos, in Imperial times, has a political role to play precisely because of his cultural excellence15). Xanthos fails; Aesop provides the solution, managing to acquire his freedom in the process (G89-90). But now this most disrespectful slave turns into a free-lance political adviser; his subversive criticism is replaced by shrewd political counseling, to the benefit of the Samian polis, then of King Croesus, finally of King Lykourgos in Babylon (G101-124). There, Aesop, being appointed Chief of the Royal Household (G101), becomes supremely wise and supremely powerful for a while (the perennial dream of intellectuals made true).

  • 16 Adrados 1999, p. 677-81; Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 111-27. Diogenes as «Mad Socrates»: Aelianus, Histori (...)

7What should one make of this reversal? The answer is that cooperation is the hidden face of opposition. As a Wise Mad Man, Aesop imitates Socrates, and even more Socrates’«crazy» duplicate, Diogenes the Cynic16. In early Imperial times, these two latter characters come to be represented as authentic philosophers, holding real knowledge, asserting hidden or forgotten or obliterated truths, unmasking intellectual impostors and exposing the aporias produced by current erudite, or rather pseudo-erudite, discourses and practices. It is the philosopher’s duty to contradict, criticize and oppose all epistemically and ethically faulty opinions and behaviors: the harsher his words, the greater the benefits he brings to humanity (correspondingly, Aesop’s first and most general denotation is to be βιωφελέστατος: G1). The philosopher will be initially scorned for being ignorant or vulgar, but he becomes the master of men, for their own good. In this capacity, he also holds a primary political responsibility, and lends his assistance, sparing no criticism if need be, to the rulers, so that they may use their power to the general benefit. Aesop’s behavior easily fits the mould: Xanthos soon realizes that he has bought himself a master and a teacher (G28, 40); subsequently, his slave promises to give up opposition and act as a reliable assistant (Xanthos’stupidity nullifies the pledge) (G64).

  • 17 «Street Cynics»: Dio of Prusa, XXXII. 9. Socrates and Diogenes as models for cultural polemics: Dio (...)
  • 18 At crucial moments, Aesop will quote a fragment of Euripides for Xanthos’benefit (fr. 1059 Nauck2: (...)

8Cooperative opposition thus belongs to a sophisticated philosophical orientation. A near-contemporary author like Dio of Prusa can despise the wandering Cynics of Imperial times for their insufferable and seditious babble which turns the heads of their listeners in the streets; but precisely this consummated pepaideumenos extolling «high» literary tradition elaborates his own brand of Socrato-Diogenic discourse in order to criticize some aspects of contemporary paideia17. Indeed, in Vita G Aesop’s utterances are often harsh; they make the best out of a specifically «unlearned» device, the constant reference to the «bodily stratum» (see infra); they turn the world upside down, by asserting that the authentic knowledge is the one displayed by the apparently ignorant; but their content is surely dependent on established cultural conventions18.

  • 19 Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 127-35, 159.
  • 20 On political counselling by Aesop and the Seven Sages, see Jedrkiewicz 1989 p. 138-40; Jedrkiewicz (...)
  • 21 See Dio of Prusa, xlix. 3: the philosopher as natural adviser of the rulers (indeed, as the effecti (...)

9Above all, Aesop in Vita G eventually assumes the role which, according to Dio, is proper to the authentic pepaideumenos: to provide intellectual and ethical support to rulers. Aesop gains his freedom because he puts his wisdom at the service of the Samian polis; he also extends sound advice to King Croesus, and, duplicating the Oriental sage Ahiqar, becomes the support of King Lykourgos’throne (since the Romance of Ahiqar is also inspired by the idea that political expertise is an essential part of knowledge, the interpolation of this work within the Aesop Romance is all but casual19). The use by Vita G of the age-old tradition of the wise adviser assisting mighty rulers recalls Dio’s efforts in emphasizing the central relevance of the support that intellectuals can bring to rulers20. It is the same (potentially highly ambiguous) ideal: wisdom at the service of power, power at the service of wisdom21.

A non-theophany

  • 22 Cf. θεοσεβής, G4; εὐσεβῆ, εὐσέβησεν, εὐσεβείας, G5.
  • 23 See Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 179-80. Vita W replaces Isis first with Artemis (W4, 5 Karla) then with Ty (...)
  • 24 See the Isiac aretalogies possibly echoed within Vita G: Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 89-90; Dillery 1999, (...)

10The Isiac Priestess asking her way at G4 is recognizable through her sacred garments. Aesop’s proskynesis immediately shows that he cannot speak but knows piety22. Aesop gives her full hospitality, which is much more than requested. Therefore, the divinity becomes indebted to him. When the Priestess begs Isis to requite her benefactor, she notes, however, that this «utterly miserable live has been made abject by some other gods». Therefore, a complete redress (διορθώσασθαι: G5) might not be possible; Aesop will remain a slave, then, but will be receive the gift of language (G5). This is all consistent with the syncretistic religious practice of late Hellenistic and early Imperial times. Far from qualifying as exclusively «popular» nor elitist, Isis appears as a universally accessible deity, ready to bestow benefits on all those deserving them, either high or lowborn23: Aesop is worthy of compassion because he is pious, not because he is a slave. The goddess’powers of salvation and her status as the provider of language to humans are well known: she is the best-qualified divinity for regenerating Aesop24.

  • 25 Plutarch, Isis and Osiris 3, 352b.
  • 26 Full textual discussion by Mignogna 1992. Cf. Hunter 2007, p. 46, n. 27 quoting J. Th. Papademetrio (...)
  • 27 The notion of «liminar space» (Van Gennep) is applied by Pucci 2007, p. 56-7 to the setting of the (...)
  • 28 See Mignogna 1992, p. 79. On Hesiod: Hunter 2007, p. 256-8. On Archilochus Clay 2004, p. 14-6.

11Isis appears, followed by the Nine Muses. Readers might have been expected to be familiar with the position of «First of the Muses» that she holds in Egyptian Hermoupolis, also under the name of Dikaiosyne (Justice)25. Here the Muses, whom Isis calls daughters (thygateres), have a mother and no prostates. They come to Aesop while he sleeps in a garden (G6), the object of an exceptionally elaborated ekphrasis (at strategic passages the narrator is liable to get under stress, cumulate rhetorical trappings and/or produce narrative confusion, opening the way to subsequent textual corruption: see infra)26. Yet such overwork aims at creating the appropriate liminar space where the Muses appear in full daylight27. The poetic initiations of Hesiod and Archilochus provide the obvious models to the scene28.

  • 29 Cf. Hunter 2007, p. 51-2, for whom the episode however hints to a «double explanation» (mythologica (...)
  • 30 By contrast, G10 humorously describes two opposite kinds of superstition: the slave overseer Zenas (...)
  • 31 Holzberg 1992a, p. 45, n. 60, reads the formula «bringing back to light those things which have fal (...)

12Yet Aesop goes to sleep, and has no dreams: he experiences no incubation. The theophany is only for the reader, who learns that Isis physically removes the impediment blocking Aesop’s tongue, and that the Muses, at Isis’bid, confer something of their respective faculties on the sleeper (how they manage to do that is just not described). The prelude to this supernatural intervention is provided by a physical context of breeze, birds, and trees producing sounds (as if language were to be «created», not by some divine heuretes, but by a concomitance of natural causes)29. The reader guesses that Isis handles some sort of knife. Aesop’s first words are down-to-earth: «Ah! I’ve had a pleasant nap!». Then his attention is drawn to the objects lying around: «mattock, pouch, sheepskin, napkin, ox, ass, sheep» (G8): divine interference brings no disruption to this world. Aesop may expect to «realize good hopes from the gods» from now on; however, since he has not been transformed into a speaking human by divine caprice but in retribution for his behavior, it is exclusively up to him to make the best use of the gifts he has just received30. So long as he lives, he will benefit from no other extraordinary intervention. Isis, her debt repaid, leaves the scene, not to be mentioned ever again31. The Muses keep reappearing within the text, and Aesop is the first to mention them (G8: «I speak, by the Muses!»), but they never come back on stage.

Logos, paideia and the body

  • 32 Noted by Holzberg 1992a, p. 48, n. 70.
  • 33 Aesop resorts to story-telling only fifteen times in the 142 Chapters building up Vita G: see Jouan (...)

13Once Isis has given speech to Aesop, the Muses provide the ability to use it. Two connected yet distinct competences are mentioned (G7). The first, λόγων εὕρεμα, is the capability to construct appropriate utterances, eloquence in general. Accordingly, Aesop is εὑρεσίλογος32: he has «a knack for finding the right thing to say» (G34). The second, μύθων Ἑλληνιϰῶν πλοϰὴν ϰαὶ ποιήσεις, concerns story-telling. That seems specifically to denote the fabulist’s trade, Aesop’s traditional field of competence: G1 has introduced the protagonist as λογοποιός, and «Aesop» is indeed, by established convention, the traditional author of all otherwise anonymous fables. In Vita G, story-telling is but one among Aesop’s many rhetorical instruments, yet is given a strategic function33.

  • 34 See discussion in Schmitz 1997, p. 63-96, 161-74.

14All in all, what the Muses actually provide is the ability to implement universal communication. Aesop will address anybody: fellow-slaves, women-slaves, humble people like gardeners or peasants, his various masters including Xanthos the Scholar, the learned and rich scholastikoi around him, Xanthos’wife, mighty Kings like Croesus, Lykourgos, Nectanabo, and, last but not least, that most difficult and dangerous of all audiences, the assembled polis, first the Samians and later the Delphians, with outstanding success in the first case and total failure in the second. Now, in the times of the Second Sophistic the ability to communicate universally denotes a full-fledged paideia34: the Muses have actually endowed Aesop with the means to become an accomplished pepaideumenos.

  • 35 Diodorus, 4.7.3-4. Cf. also Strabo 10.3.10: πρόπολοι δὲ τῶν Μουσῶν οἱ πεπαιδευμένοι πάντες (he adds (...)

15Here, Vita G draws support from extant learned discourse. In the etymology proposed by Diodorus Siculus, the name «Muse» denotes the action to initiate (μυεῖν) men, that is to teach them (διδάσϰειν) whatever is worthy and useful (τὰ ϰαλὰ ϰαὶ συμφέροντα) and unknown to those lacking paideia (ὑπὸ τῶν ἀπαιδεύτων ἀγνοούμενα)35. Taken to the letter, this obvious allegory of the educational process also describes what the Muses bring to the so far dumb and ignorant Aesop.

  • 36 G23; cf. Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 189-91.

16However, the assertion that Aesop’s future career is dependant on such gifts needs qualification. Before his initiation, Aesop has been shown to hold two innate faculties. Human solidarity and religious piety shape his behavior towards the priestess of Isis and inspire his first spoken utterances, first to himself (G8: it is really good to be pious), then to the slave overseer Zenas (G9: why is he beating somebody who did him no harm?). But already in the opening scene (G2), the still dumb and obscure protagonist is qualified as polypeiros for displaying a most peculiar ability. Visual or bodily communication is a familiar topic in the Second Sophistic, and Xanthos is correspondingly made to dissert impromptu about «silent philosophy», as he pompously calls it (G22)36. Aesop goes much further: he is able to put his whole body to good semantic use; his very first irrefutable assertion is produced, much more than by gesturing, by a selfinduced physiological reaction. Some ingested hot water, two fingers deep into the mouth, and everybody can see that he ate none of the stolen figs: a most irrefutable proof of innocence, the real culprits being unmasked by the same method (G3). Both a character (the master) and the narrator utter moralizing comments at this place. In fact, Aesop has asserted truth and justice by producing vomit.

  • 37 Cf. Plato, Symposium 216d5-217a1.
  • 38 At G100, Aesop writes down his mythoi and places the «book» in Croesus’Royal Library: this is consi (...)
  • 39 Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 196, n. 34.
  • 40 Explicit references to food, excreta and sex recall the inversed world of Attic comedy: cf. Goins 1 (...)
  • 41 This can recur in contemporary erudite discourse too: see e. g. how Diogenes the Cynic is made to p (...)

17From the outset, the capacity of referring to the «bodily stratum» in order to produce meaning is given paramount importance. First, Aesop’s physical appearance, usually striking the interlocutor as almost monstrous, paves the way to asserting the superiority of hidden substance on visible appearance (the Socrates of the Platonic Symposium is looming in a more or less remote background)37. Secondly, this bodily dimension is systematically put at the service of Aesopian wisdom: Aesop performs with spoken words and meaningful gestures (the written word is merely a trick to solve and design enigmas: see G78-80, 12238). Thirdly, the manipulation of corporality, from food to sex, becomes an effective tool for producing thought and unveiling truth. This is Aesop’s distinctive device and it has an epistemic impact: it factually opposes or refutes any «learned» yet unfounded utterance, and so makes fun of academic posturing. Among many other exploits, Aesop mocks the «Peripatetic» tradition by teaching objects to «walk» (peripatein) (G18-19)39; he causes the problem of the relation of One-and-Many to literally boil down to the single lentil he cooks for dinner, which also gives him the opportunity to refute Xanthos in matters of grammatical correctness (G39-41); he recalls that the risk of defecating one’s brains arises only if one has some (G67); he becomes Xanthos’alter ego as the (occasional) lover of the Professor’s wife (G75-6). In Delphi, he tells how the beetle eventually caused justice to triumph: by threatening to drop dung on Zeus (G137)40. Aesop thus grafts the divinely originated competence to produce language onto his apparently innate ability to manipulate the «bodily stratum». Corporeal semantics cooperate with logos41.

Whose muses?

  • 42 Following Ferrari 1997; cf. Ferrari 1995, p. 251-2.

18When Aesop is about to make his first entrance into his master’s house, who has announced him as «an Apollo, an Endymion, a Ganymedes» (G29), fighting erupts among the sex-starved slave-girls. The one who eventually gets a glimpse of Aesop comes back shouting: «Girls, for the sake of your Muses, stop! Have a look at his beauty, first!» (G30) (my transl.)42. So, slave girls apparently have some Muses of their own (to provide them with good inspirations?). Soon after, Aesop unveils the shameful sexual fantasies of Xanthos’wife. This sharp-tongued slave, Xanthos remarks, will even «turn into a Demosthenes» if he will ever see the woman performing some bodily function. She interjects «How nice, by the Muses!» and concedes defeat (G32). The invitation to the Muses to certify Aesop’s rhetorical ability in matters of sex and scatology is meant to be sarcastic: yet Aesop has just proved himself effective in denouncing immorality.

  • 43 Cf. the strikingly similar criticisms directed at spurious intellectuals by Dio of Prusa XXXII, 20;(...)

19The Muses, therefore, are omnipresent deities, as familiar to slave as to free women and men. But Xanthos, educated in Athens by the canonical row of philosophers, rhetoricians and grammarians, knows better. On lofty Helikon, these goddesses embody Hellenic highbrow culture: they can exclusively care for pepaideumenoi like himself (G36). He cannot believe that an ignorant gardener in his orchard might raise the sort of philosophical question to be discussed in the akroateria (why do the wild vegetables grow better then the others?). How dares the uneducated slave Aesop laugh at the Professor, his Master, for answering that there is nothing to answer, since «divine Pronoia has designed all that»? Xanthos cannot imagine that Aesop, initiated by the Muses who have regained precisely the Helikon afterwards (G8), is now to demonstrate that such «learning» provides no knowledge at all. It is up to the slave to satisfy the gardeners’scientific curiosity, by means of the appropriate epistemic device: a parable (earth is like a mother to wild plants, like a stepmother to cultivated plants: G-W37). Authentic paideia, Aesop implies, is the one enabling universal access to knowledge: the real pepaideumenos knows how to answer any sensible question, irrespectively of the interlocutor’s social or cultural status43.

  • 44 Aesops interjects «By the Muses!» when, on Xanthos’orders, he meets a real aperiergos, the supreme (...)

20The interjection «by the Muses!» thus becomes a marker of authorial irony as well44. Precisely by calling to the deities of education and culture the spurious pepaideumenos proves that he owns no paideia. The trick is plaid on two additional occasions, where Aesop consistently connects the idea of knowledge to drink, food and the body.

  • 45 Cf. Papathomopoulos 1989, p. 48 and Ferrari 1997, p. 141 n. 57. The text is unclear: εὔρεις G, ὑμεῖ (...)

21During a learned symposium, Aesop shows some wit; somebody comments that he must have taken quite a lot from Xanthos (G47). Aesop’s rejoinder is most probably ironical45, yet it causes the scholastikoi to beg the Professor, «by the Muses!», to let the slave to have a drink, so including him, however temporarily, among them. The request rests on the assumption that the slave has been absorbing the erudition distilled all around him: yet the reader knows that he derived it from the Muses. More praise, again «by the Muses!» is soon lavished on Aesop for solving another symposial riddle.

  • 46 A typically Aesopian ability: Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 183-9, 191-94.
  • 47 Cf. Hunter 2007, p. 53-4.

22At G51, Xanthos gets universal applause for the dinner he is offering, «fraught with philosophy»: he has ordered Aesop to prepare only «the best» and, «by the Muses!» (the scholastikoi exclaim), the spiced tongues being served are exquisite. Even these pepaideumenoi can occasionally connect knowledge to food: haute cuisine equals intellectual sophistication (G51-52). But nothing else is on the menu; everybody gets sick; Xanthos is furious. Aesop refers to his instructions: the best, the «tongue»; does not all good in the world come from the logos? The scholastikoi declare, once again «by the Muses!», that Aesop is right; «it was your mistake, Professor» (G53). Indeed, Xanthos does not control logos, while Aesop, who does, can blend literality and metaphor (G54-55)46. Yet the disciples approve Aesop’s answer by calling on the Muses only because they can think of no objection. They obviously miss both the irony and the effective philosophical point of Aesop’s performance: unqualified assertions produce no univocal meaning (this is why the same scenario is reproduced in the following round: «prepare the worst possible thing», and here come back the tongues)47. The scholastikoi too lack control of logos. According to the Aesopian logic, they must also lack control of their own bodies, and suffer from diarrhoea all night (G53).

23The pepaideumenoi obviously believe the Muses to be with them. They are systematically proved wrong: they are simply unable to put the Muses’gift, logon heurein, to good effect. Authentic knowledge results from the Aesopian performances. Is then «highbrow» learning denied any value? Are Aesop’s Muses really the same characters as Diodorus’goddesses of paideia? For an answer, one should consider the episodes where Aesop definitely establishes his philosophical worth against Xanthos, and becomes a free man and a Samian national hero (G81-100).

Which paideia?

24In front of the Samian assembly, Aesop is about to explain the supernatural omens threatening Samos (Xanthos could think of no interpretation and, being unable to comply with official requests, was almost driven to suicide). Since this champion of ugliness is greeted by general derision as soon as he takes the floor (he is compared to the most grotesque objects or beings, all of them speechless), he must, first of all, win credibility as an orator. His preliminary address thus asserts that a vile appearance can hide a worthy content (G88).

  • 48 A parallel, specially corrupted version is also reproduced as G88a: geminatum, variatum, corruptum (...)
  • 49 Odysseus’words: Homer, Odyssey 8.169-73.
  • 50 Cf. e. g. Euripides, The Cyclops 529: μισῶ τὸν ἀσκόν, τὸ δὲ ποτὸν ϕιλῶ τόδε; and obviously Plato, S (...)
  • 51 Τὸν λόγον ἀϰοῦσαι τὸν πείθοντα ἡμᾶς: Ferrari 1997, p. 198. Perry deletes whole sentence, Ferrari pa (...)

25Vita G, as already noted, tends to get muddled at crucial passages. This over-elaborated speech is textually confused too48. Moreover, it is so crammed with rhetorical platitudes that it almost looks like a (not very successful) parody of contemporary oratorical exercises. An individual, the speaker asserts, may look wholly unattractive, and yet possess a clever mind (a famous Homeric line turned commonplace49); a doctor does not feel deterred by his patient’s bad physical shape, but strives to identify the hidden problem by probing the sore spot (a factually irrelevant yet ostensibly learned medical metaphor); one should not look at the jar, but taste the wine (a symposium-related truism, already produced at G2650). Then «theatre» is mentioned as the proper place where to assess the Muse’s worth (note the singular), and «bed» as Cypris’own (for all rhetorical belaboring, knowledge and sexuality reappear linked together). A personification of wisdom is then declared to be actually in attendance, not in order to interact with the orator but just to listen to «the sort of speech that will convince us»51. All this produces the assertion that the measure of wisdom is τὸν ϰαιρὸν σϰοπεῖν». The speaker is credible, this is the conclusive paradox, because he can chose the right moment either for talking or for keeping silent.

26The performance ends in triumph. «By the Muses! He is full of wit and is a masterly orator» (ϰομψός, νὴ τὰς Μούσας, ϰαὶ δυνάμενος εἰπεῖν: my transl.), the audience reacts (G88). Once again, the Muses are called to certify a masterly act of logon heurein. Is there an authorial irony here? After all, the Samians have been given what they would have expected from Xanthos, a show of conventional eloquence. Yet such eloquence has a peculiarly Aesopian function: to provide essential information not only to a restricted group of cognoscenti but to the whole polis.

  • 52 G98. Dio of Prusa XXXII. 16, where the logos is the pharmakon of orge, might have provided a model.

27Aesop has now acquired the authority he needs to explain the omens and, subsequently, to impart political advice by means of apologues and fables designed to tell the Samians, still rather confused in their deliberations, the policies they should actually adopt (G93, 96). At G98, in another crucial speech, Aesop is made to face King Croesus by using the same combination: an introductory peroration, aimed at capturing the King’s attention (including the same pointless medical metaphor52) and closed by conclusive paradox (if you do not listen to me, you will loose credibility); then, in response to Croesus’curiosity, one more fable, «Man and Cicada» (G99).

  • 53 Hesiod, Works and Days 287-92; cf. notably Prodichus’version (= Xenophon, Memorabilia 2.1.21); Dio (...)
  • 54 Plutarch, Life of Demosthenes 39.
  • 55 An imitation of Archilochus fr. 223 West = 167 Tarditi, possibly popular at the time (cf. Lucian, T (...)

28Exactly as the standard oratorical devices Aesop has resorted to, all these narrative resources are provided by handbooks. The apologue of the «Two Roads», going back to Hesiod, is commonplace in early Imperial times (the story at G94 is but an edulcorated reply of the famous version by Dio of Prusa)53; the fable of the «Sheep, Wolfs and Dogs» (G97) is the one traditionally attributed to Demosthenes (a character already mentioned at G32 as an emblem for «highbrow» culture)54; the fable told for Croesus’benefit is drawn from the standard iambic repertory, its original sarcasm turned into appeasement55. However, what visibly matters to the narrator is that Aesop has now made full use of the Muses’gifts, heurema logon and mython poiesis.

  • 56 By comparing himself to the humble cicada, Aesop utters this claim in a most tactful way.

29Vita G87-100 describes Aesop as a speaker who has reached full control of paideia, putting it at the service of universal communication (something Xanthos definitely fails to achieve). Aesop is now fully entitled to close his speach to Croesus by calling himself a benefactor of humanity (G99: βίον τῶν μερόπων ὠφελῶν), the very label that he had been given at the beginning of the narrative (G1: βιωφελέστατος)56.

Logopoios, semeiolytes, pepaideumenos

  • 57 Rather ungratefully, the Samians had at first bowed to Croesus’demand that Aesop be delivered unto (...)

30Aesop now embarks on a political career. He correctly interprets the omen anticipating Croesus’imperialistic threat against Samos (G91-2) and suggests the best policy to adopt, firmness (G96-7). He objects to the demand that he be delivered to the despot, who has decided tο eliminate him, then accepts the challenge (a narrative development which anticipates the Delphian episode in momentarily casting Aesop into the shape of a pharmakos). Aesop manages to befriend Croesus and to persuade him to respect Samos’indipendence (G98-100). Back to Samos, he is awarded the highest retribution conceivable short of deification: in the place where he had been turned over, an Aesopeion is established. The Samian polis thus officially confers heroic honors onto his savior (G100)57. All these victories are produced by Aesop’s distinctive knowledge. Such knowledge is produced by the masterly use of logos supported by the shrewd manipulation of the «bodily stratum»; it also includes competence as a diviner of sorts.

  • 58 The term pronoia, also mentioned by Xanthos in the circumstance, seems to mock Stoicism (see e. g. (...)
  • 59 Aesop reports seeing a pair of crows outside the door: a good omen, declares Xanthos, who boasts of (...)
  • 60 In this respect too, Aesop’s wisdom smacks of Stoicism. No doubt, in Vita G all philosophical brand (...)

31Aesop has already proved that he can both define and practice divination. Exactly as he vindicates substantial paideia against erudite babble, he can tell what really comes from the gods and what does not. As soon as he enters Xanthos’home, he explains that dreams are not necessarily truthful (G33). When his master asserts that what is regulated by divine nature, τὰ ὑπὸ θείας φύσεως, cannot undergo scientific enquiry, Aesop makes fun of him as a philosopher (G36)58; after the whipping he gets as a consequence of Xanthos’bogus «orneoscopy», he makes fun of his master as a diviner (G77)59; he shows a virtuoso ability in interpreting a mysterious inscription at will, and an authorial comment recalls that he has received his phronema from the Muses as a mark of divine favor (G78). The interpretation of the omens in Samos thus proves the extraordinary extent of Aesop’s knowledge (and of Xanthos’ignorance)60.

  • 61 The terms σημειολύτης (G86; cf. G81: σημεῖον διαλύσασθαι, ἐπιλύσασθαι; G77: σημεῖα) and ὀρνεοσκόπος(...)
  • 62 For all the muddle, this is the Stoic tenet that divination is an epistemic discipline.

32Aesop is recognized as an alethinos mantis by the Samians (G93): yet he experiences no incubation and no frenzy (nor did he while being initiated by Isis and the Muses). He utters no prophecy. His mantic competence is an extension of his ability to handle logos: it consists in extracting an intelligible meaning from arcane signs. This is why he is the reliable specialist the polis needs, a serious semeiolytes. At G83, a Samian makes the point with the utmost clarity: seers and priests, unable to explain the present omens, are mere impostors; interpretation must be provided by somebody effectively able to put paideia to good use (ἔμπραϰτος παιδείας); since divination is a special branch of knowledge, one should turn to Xanthos, the universally famous philosopher. Xanthos can provide no help, but must agree on the principle: the range of his epistemic competences ( ἡμέτερος ϰανών) is not restricted to «logical philosophy», he declares; unfortunately, he just happens to be no semeiolytes nor orneoskopos himself61; but since his slave Aesop has undergone the appropriate philosophical training, he will be the one to loose the enigma62. Aesop, again by blending metaphorical and factual discourse together, draws some inferences and reaches some conclusions. The eagle, king of the birds, has removed the seal, the symbol of authority, from the Book of the Laws and then dropped it into the lap of a public slave. This means: some foreign potentate will try to enslave Samos (G91).

33This is plain and convincing logos. The Muses cannot be remote from such hermeneutical performance: divination is indeed a component of paideia. In fact, they are there even when Aesop discusses prophetic dreams: for on such occasion he refers to the oracular powers of the Προστάτης τῶν Μουσῶν.

Apollo and his wrath

34Aesop is the only character to use such circumlocution. He also calls Apollo by name in a factual statement at G126, as the narrator does at G100 and 127. This is enough to give this divine character three welldefined features, enabling him to play a peculiar role in Vita G.

  • 63 Although this tale is usually read as a mockery: cf. e. g. Nagy 1979, p. 290 («the humour is at the (...)
  • 64 Oracles originate within Zeus’s own power (Homeric Hymn to Hermes 533-35); Zeus is the supreme mant (...)
  • 65 Perry 1962, p. 299-300, finds the antecedent of this story in Euripides, Iphigeneia in Taurica 1259 (...)
  • 66 Locus classicus: Homer, Odyssey 19.560 sq.

35Firstly, Apollo is introduced as the god controlling prophecy (G33). Aesop is asked to clarify an apparent aporia: «how can false dreams exist (since all dreams come from the gods)?». He answers with an aetiological tale that includes several traditional data and so confirms Apollo’s oracular omniscience63: a) Apollo receives an outstanding, though not exclusive, oracular competence from Zeus64; b) he becomes exceedingly arrogant and thus angers his divine superior, who deprives him of the mantic supremacy by sending truthful dreams to humanity; c) since his credibility disappears, Apollo begs Zeus to restore his powers65; d) to that end, Zeus produces false dreams too66, so that human beings, never sure of truth, have to turn back to Apollo as to the highest oracular instance.

  • 67 Nagy 1979, p. 291 suggests that in some «original» version the Muses were effectively led by Apollo (...)

36Secondly, as Aesop declares, this god is the prostates of the Muses. At G33, Aesop also qualifies him as «the one who is superior ( μείζων) to the Muses». (Zeus is also μείζων to him, but then he is superior to everybody else too, by definition). Anyway, Apollo’s pre-eminence is clearly asserted: what does that imply? The handiest translation of prostates is «leader». But nowhere in Vita G does Apollo exert any visible leadership on the Muses. Aesop receives the Muses’gifts at Isis’, not Apollo’s, bid67; the Muses alone, and never Apollo, are mentioned as emblems of knowledge; the god plays no paideutic role whatever. Yet the functional relation between the Muses and their prostates is described precisely at G33. Aesop’s narrative performance thus takes a metanarrative relevance. It is by means of his specific story-telling performance that Aesop defines divine signs as structurally opaque messages; at the same time, he specifies the actual powers hold by the prostates of the Muses. Aesop’s performance is therefore the emblem of what the human capability of logon heurein, the Muses’gift, achieves in respect of divine omniscience: it provides definition of the kind of knowledge specifically detained by Apollo.

  • 68 Kurke 2003, p. 82-85 gives a radically different interpretation of the term prostates.

37This also clarifies Apollo’s position in respect of the Muses. The god’s proper function, to produce arcane messages foretelling truths, opens the way to the Muses’own, to empower human discourse to articulate such truths. A prophetic text must precede its interpretation, and both are structurally inseparable: this is why Apollo, the provider of oracles, «takes precedence» on the Muses, the providers of the hermeneutical capabilities needed by humanity in order to understand the god’s messages68.

  • 69 At G33, the god «habitually looking down on everyone else, got to be too boastful in everything» (s (...)
  • 70 Pucci 2007, p. 91, notes, with reference to epic poetry, that groups consisting of nine members see (...)

38Thirdly, this Apollo, conforming to literary tradition, is a domineering character, extremely touchy about his status; his wrath can destroy an offender69. When granted heroic honors by the Samians, Aesop places the statues of the Nine Muses in the Aesopeion, by itself a gesture of perfectly pious gratitude. He also sets up a tenth statue70, whose identity can be only conjectured (the text is corrupt): Mnemosyne (according to Perry), mother of the Muses (what of Isis, then?), or Aesop himself (according to Papathomopoulos, Ferrari). For sure, not Apollo: this is what should mostly matter to the reader (and apparently matters to the narrator as well, since at G127, when repeating that the god is irate for not having been set up along with the Muses, he omits specifying whose statue has been set up instead). After having become angry with Aesop, Apollo disappears, and one has to wait for the Delphian episode before hearing of him again.

  • 71 Such rather misleading terms have been used in modern discussions of the Vita Aesopi (including by (...)
  • 72 Ira dei: Holzberg 1990, p. 98-100. The pattern of «heroic» confrontation has been identified by Nag (...)

39Aesop’s gesture might denote a sudden lapse of judgment, since at G33 he has specifically declared Apollo’s precedence over the Muses. But all explanation is omitted: only at G126 does the text simply (and belatedly) refer to the event with the purely factual notion of atimia. It has no use for words like hybris or hamartia, which could point to moral or religious guilt71; it does not denote Aesop’s gesture as resulting from any deliberate hostility against the god. The narrator concentrates on the dramatic innovation he is introducing here, the ira dei, the fact that the protagonist has a divine antagonist from now on72.

  • 73 Cf. Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 91-4. Iconic representations of Marsyas confronting Apollo are especially (...)
  • 74 Marsyas is defeated because he can use his vocal outputs exclusively to give voice to the aulos, wh (...)
  • 75 Perry 1936, p. 15, quoting Hausrath 1931, p. 61, quoting Crusius 1913, p. for whom Aesop was the «G (...)

40The reader has to make the most out of the three words dropped into the text at this moment, ὡς τῷ Μαρσύᾳ: Apollo becomes angry with Aesop as he had with Marsyas. A host of similarities seem to arise instantly: both Marsyas and Aesop are Phrygians sophoi, exhibit an abnormal bodily shape, defy Apollo’s supremacy, are finally destroyed by the god73. Marsyas explicitly challenges the god’s supremacy in musical performance74; Aesop factually negates what Apollo takes most seriously, his own pre-eminence in respect of the nine goddesses. But name-dropping is designed to impress the reader, not to convey accurate information: its actual function is to anticipate that Aesop’s so far ascending career must now head towards an unhappy ending. It is therefore hazardous, to put it mildly, to read this passage as the explicit statement of a «deep-seated opposition between… two types of culture»75.

  • 76 Sic Perry 1936, p. 15-16, who was possibly thinking of the testimonies Athena (not Apollo) throwing (...)
  • 77 They impartially attend the agon opposing Marsyas to Apollo on vase paintings (5th and 4th cent. B. (...)
  • 78 Perry 1936, p. 15. The Muses might possibly be «humble» (whatever this term is supposed to imply) i (...)
  • 79 Assertions like «Apollo… is allied with the privileged and formal teachings of the philosopher, Xan (...)
  • 80 Dirlemeier 1939.

41Moreover, extra-textual references would hardly support such reading. That the «flute-music of Marsyas» is «wild», and as such opposes «the aristocratic lyre of Apollo», is debatable76. The Muses are not known for specially supporting Marsyas77. Tradition at large does not provide them with a «relatively humble, though universal» nature78, nor does their intervention in Aesop’s favor. Nor does the text of Vita G provide any support to this interpretation: not to repeat that Aesop’s «subversive» performance, aimed at unmasking incompetent cultural practitioners, could eventually validate the ability of «highbrow» culture to produce authentic knowledge, it is impossible to find a single word about Apollo resenting any of Aesop’s «philosophical» or «political» victories. The prostates of the Muses has simply no role to play in respect of the most peculiarly Aesopian practices, such as story-telling (by means of which the god’s pre-eminence is indeed proclaimed) or the manipulation of the «bodily stratum». It never occurs to Xanthos, the representative of «elitist» culture, that he may turn to this god for help (to him, as to everybody else in Vita G, the deities of culture are the Muses)79. The narrator does not even allude to Apollo’s (real or supposed) dignity as «Gott und Erzieher des Hellenischen Adels»80.

  • 81 Not really surprizing, since in Vita G mantic competence is part of paideia, the Muses’gift. Pace C (...)
  • 82 On Marsyas as «uno dei rappresentanti più perfetti della forma eroica», see Brelich 1958, p. 323-24
  • 83 Holzberg 1992a, p. 70, n. 128, tentatively suggests a different reason.
  • 84 This is the model identified by Nagy 1979: see notably p. 9, 62, 121, 150.

42Apollo is not even made to react against the triumphant recognition of Aesop’s superiority in wisdom, the Samians’decision to institute an Aisopeion: he does react against the setting that Aesop specifically designs for the premises, which excludes any representation of Apollo. Another possible narrative option remains unexploited too: the god does not expect Aesop, who has triumphed as a semeiolytes to show any gratitude to him81. Ultimately, the reason why Aesop must now antagonize Apollo is that his newly acquired heroic personality requires precisely that. This is what the sheer mention of Marsyas, a typically «heroic» opponent of the god, effectively signifies82. When, in Babylon, King Lykourgos takes on himself to duplicate the honors already rendered to Aesop by setting up a statue of his counselor surrounded by the Muses, and by instituting a festival in his honor, Apollo is not even mentioned (G123)83: the plot demands that the god’s wrath be exclusively directed against the heroic antagonist who has slighted him84. What renders this character furious is Aesop’s «heroic», not «cultural», opposition to divine pre-eminence.

Aesop in delphi: death and after-death

  • 85 Cf. Adrados 1999, p. 270, for a parallel with Homer’s death (the loss of powers anticipates the poe (...)

43As he arrives at Delphi, Aesop is a world-famous sophist. His aim is no longer to bring help to his interlocutors: he expects a retribution and resents missing it. However appropriate the taunts he hurls at his miserly interlocutors, whom he calls «slaves» (he presently owns a slave himself…), his harsh words come out of personal frustration, not objective judgment or moral indignation. His former inner disposition producing victory even on philosophers and kings has apparently faded away: Aesop is now ready for disaster85.

  • 86 It also exploits the pharmakos paradigm. See Wiechers 1961; Nagy 1979, p. 279-86; Adrados 1979, p. (...)
  • 87 Cf. Callimachus, Iambi I fr. 191, 26-8 Pf.; schol. ad loc. in PSI 1094 fr. 4b, 14 ss (I p. 165 Pf.) (...)
  • 88 Cf. Homer, Iliad 6.146.
  • 89 On the tithe to Apollo: Detienne 1998, p. 217-20; Jouanno 2006, p. 244.
  • 90 To put visitors to death under pretext of hierosylia belongs to the Delphian «black legend»: Jedrki (...)

44Again, the narrator does not care for psychological explanations. What matters to him is that the protagonist must become vulnerable in Delphi because he has to die there, a conclusion demanded by the tragic paradigm inspiring the narrative (and also imposed by extra-textual tradition, where Aesop’s death reproduces the model of the «blame-poet» destroyed by his own words86). Yet Vita G disconnects the Aesopian psogos from its traditional Delphian targets, such as the role of the machaira in sacrificial rites or the greediness and parasitism of the local citizens87. Aesop’s sarcasms too are given a deliberately «learned» appearance: they start with the ironical quote of an Homeric verse (G124)88 and end with a display of antiquarian erudition, apparently the latest addition to Aesop’s cultural riches. The Delphians, so runs the aetiology he recounts, are despicable for being just the offspring of the human tithes to Apollo (G126)89. Fearing that Aesop might spread around such damning truths, the Delphians decide to put him to death on a forged charge of hierosylia (they hide a golden cup from the treasury of Apollo in his luggage while his slave is asleep)90.

  • 91 Current in early Imperial times: see the Latin versions of Petronius, Satyricon 111-12 and Phaedrus (...)
  • 92 At G130, «a friend», who has no other function in the story, asks Aesop the same sort of reproachin (...)

45Aesop is initially haughty and insulting (G124-6); as soon as he is charged with hierosylia, he is a broken man, and declares that he has by now lost all his wits (G128-131). The narrator sees no incongruity in letting his hero draw such conclusions by two successive acts of logon heurein, two misogynic apologues intended to titillate the reader: a condensed version of the «Widow of Ephesus» tale (G129)91, and the story of the stupid girl losing her virginity (G131). He also suggests that Aesop has become as ineffective as his former adversary, Xanthos92. Yet the protagonist soon puts his resources to better use. On the verge of capital execution, he warns of divine justice by means of two animal fables, «the Frog and the Mouse» (G133) and «the Beetle, the Eagle and Zeus» (G135-9). But it is too late by now: he temporarily reverts to insults (more story-telling: G140-141), then calls on the prostates of the Muses as a witness, utters a curse on the Delphians and throws himself over a cliff, so committing heroic suicide (G142).

  • 93 Aeschylus (fr. 139 N. = fab. 276a Perry) provides a striking instance of this reversal by means pre (...)

46As in the case of the Samian Aisopeion, Aesop is made to bear full responsibility for what befalls him: he damages himself by his own behavior. The initial incentive for assassinating him is provided precisely by his formidable intellectual authority. His defence can only make things worse (the better he speaks the more he shows how dangerous he is). This is the tragic pattern of the hero being entrapped and destroyed by his own outstanding qualities93.

  • 94 Exactly as at G100, the Delphian episode includes no textual indication of any direct challenge to (...)
  • 95 In the Golenitscheff Papyrus, Apollo actually cooperates with the Delphians (συνεργοῦντος αὐτοῖς: P (...)
  • 96 Cf. Nagy 1979, p. 302. To send loimos, and to protect from it, is most typical Apollo: see Detienne(...)

47What has Apollo to do with all? The text calls him back into play at G127 by adding a genitive absolute (ϰαὶ τοῦ Ἀπόλλωνος μηνίοντος) to a self-standing sentence: he is irate against Aesop because of the Samian atimia, «in not setting him up along with the Muses» (G127). No other reason is given. The god is not even said to resent what might conceivably have most incensed him, Aesop’s insults to the Delphians for being the despicable descendants of the human tithes to the Lord of Delphi94. He approves of the intrigue, yet contributes nothing tangible to it (having already represented the Delphians’actions as entirely autonomous, the narrator could hardly add some other factor)95. In other words, he takes no direct responsibility for the murder. Indeed, after Aesop has jumped to his death, supernatural punishment strikes the Delphians in the form of a loimos, a calamity whose origin is not specified, but that is typically sent by Apollo (G142). The god then becomes Aesop’s avenger96.

  • 97 Cf. Nagy 1979, pp. 118-141.
  • 98 At Vita W142, Aesop makes clear that the call to witness which he addresses to «the gods» (he is in (...)
  • 99 Nagy 1979, p. 290-1 considers the appellation «a matter of indirectness».

48Why should Apollo avenge a human being whose murder he has approved? An abstract answer would be that this is how the god behaves towards those heroes who antagonize him97. A concrete answer is that Aesop, facing death, has turned the «prostates of the Muses» (as he calls him once again) into a witness, so that he would be aware of the injustice being perpetrated (G142). Injustice, to Apollo, cannot consist in the false accusation of hierosylia (he was favorable to it), but must consist in the Delphians’sacrilegious action of tearing Aesop away from the little sanctuary where he had sought a refuge: the shrine, indeed, of the Muses. Whatever the degree of approval or incitement that the god might have extended to the Delphians, he must now acknowledge the profanation98. By calling not on «Apollo» but on the «prostates of the Muses», Aesop makes the god specifically aware of a sacrilege being committed against the divine group functionally connected to him99. A clever move: now the god must punish the offenders. A loimos strikes the guilty polis (ἐψηφίσαμεν at G132 declares a collective responsibility) and Vita G finally falls into agreement with the traditions representing Apollo as Aesop’s friend.

  • 100 G142: λοιμῷ δὲ ϰατασχεθέντες οἱ Δέλϕιοι χρησμὸν ἔλαβον παρὰ τοῦ Διὸς ἐξιλεώσασθαι <τὸν> Αἰσώπου μόρ (...)

49While Apollo produces the sign of the divine wrath, somebody else, as usual, provides the meaning: Zeus, by way of an oracle enjoining the Delphians to atone for Aesop’s death (G142)100. Zeus’role is such as the reader can expect. From the start, Aesop asserted that even Apollo’s oracular knowledge comes from his divine superior. Later on, he refuted the claims to supremacy of Pharaoh Nectanabo, who fancied himself as a Roi Soleil of sorts, by recalling that Zeus has absolute power on all celestial bodies, the Sun included (and King Lykourgos of Babylon, who is like Zeus, has therefore authority over the Pharaoh) (G115). With his beetle, Aesop again put Zeus in charge of cosmic order: for the sake of justice, Zeus could blame even his favorite bird, the eagle, whose eggs he had vainly tried to shelter against the insect; to avoid endless strife among the species, he regulated animal reproduction, allotting different seasons to the beetles for proliferating and to the eagles for ponding.

  • 101 For this very last episode, see Brodersen 1992.

50Pious Aesop finally reminds the impious Delphians that Zeus Xenios is actually extending protection to him (a xenos in Delphi) and anticipates divine vengeance by cursing his murderers. Divine retribution is imparted. Human retribution soon follows: final revenge for Aesop’s death is taken on the Delphians by «the peoples of Greece, Babylon and Samos» (G142)101.

Conclusion: divine and human behavior

  • 102 Even more so at W142, where he is granted a shrine at Delphi.

51Aesop died a hero’s death and is now living a hero’s afterlife102. His career started as Isis repaid her debt to him; it headed towards disaster as he angered Apollo; as it came to an end, he succeeded in triggering divine vengeance. An heroic status was initially conferred unto him by a human institution, the free and sovereign Samian polis, and King Lykourgos, the most powerful of all monarchs, reasserted it. By causing the divinity first to antagonize him, and then to punish his murderers, Aesop raised Apollo’s hostility and friendship in turn, and thus definitely asserted his heroic nature.

52In this tale, all divine actants do what is expected from them. Isis presides over existential regeneration and human language; the Muses dispense paideia; Apollo sends oracles and is terribly jealous of his status; Zeus rules the cosmos. Yet Isis operates on Aesop’s tongue, but as a surgeon might do; the Muses shower their gifts on him, but the narrator has no interest in describing such event, although he is at pains to locate it into the appropriate setting; Apollo supports Aesop’s murderers, but they plan everything by themselves. No individual god is the author of the supernatural messages reaching Samos: not even the eagle, Zeus’favourite bird, is sent by the cosmic ruler, although he represents political sovereignty. And the Almighty can be given a beetle for an adversary.

53As Aesop reminded Xanthos, to refuse to investigate this world under pretext that it just reproduces some providential design is unworthy of a philosopher. The gods are there so that human beings may interact with them. In the last line of Vita G, the whole civilized world acts as the adjuvant on earth of divine justice. Such heroes as Aesop are even able to confront the gods. Yet Aesop does not lose his innate piety. In the religious as in the cultural field, cooperation is the hidden face of opposition.

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Notes

1 The Romance is preserved in two main versions, Vita G (first redaction: 1st - 2nd century AD?) and Vita W (3rd - 4th century AD?) and some fragmentary papyri. Latest general discussions: Karla 2001, p. 1-17; Jouanno 2006, p. 14-22 (cf. also Beschorner-Holzberg 1992, p. 165-9). Vita G is quoted here according to Perry 1952, with explicit references also to Papathomopoulos 1990 and Ferrari 1997. Vita W is quoted according to Perry 1952 and Karla 2001. Translations from Vita G are reproduced from Daly 1961, based on Perry 1952.

2 «Mad Wise Man»: Jedrkiewicz 1990-1992, p. 116, 119, 125.

3 Herodotus 2.134 = Test. 13 Perry (logopoios); Aristophanes, Wasps 1446-8 (and schol.) = Test. 20-21 Perry.

4 Cf. Hansen 1998, p. xiv-xv. Referring to the roughly contemporary Life of Secundus, Gallo 1997, p. 188-9 identifies some stylistic features of biographical tales «consumption» literature, which are exhibited by the Aesop Romance as well: a) some occasional, more or less happy attempts at stylistic sophistication; b) a somewhat pedestrian implementation of basic rhetorical precepts; c) a display of at least some «learned» references (drawn from available compilations or handbooks); d) a mixture of predominantly «low» and occasionally «high» speech. That the style of Vita G is a mixture of so-called «popular» («volkstümlich») and learned elements had already been stressed by Adrados 1953, p. 325.

5 The very fact that the Romance has an episodical structure (i. e. mainly consists in a sequel of self-standing scenes) may cause the whole story to appear lacking in overall narrative consistence (cf. e.g. Anderson 1996, p. 110); see Holzberg 1992a, p. 32-6 for a quick review of such judgements. The unitarian meaning of Vita G has been highlighted Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 157-64, Holzberg 1992a and Ferrari 1997, p. 23-32; cf. by 2006, p. 27-32. The older claim that the Romance was a Rahmenerzählung designed to enclose a collection of fables has been proved wrong by La Penna 1962, Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 157-82, Holzberg 1992a and others.

6 Cf. Hansen 1998, p. 166: «delicious fantasies of astounding personal success».

7 Reproduced in Perry 1936, p. 58-69

8 «Tragic paradox» as a paradigm for the Aesopian biography: Jedrkiewicz1989 p. 158-9, 182.

9 Yarbro Collins 1998, p. 187-8; Pervo 1998; Shiner 1998; Elliott 2005.

10 Divine punishment inflicted on Aesop’s murderers: Herodotus 2.134.4 = Test. 13 Perry; Plut., On the delays of the divine vengeance 12, 557a = Test. 24 Perry; Pap. Oxy. 1800 [II Century B. C.] = Test. 25 Perry; cf. the proverb Αἰσώπειον αἷμα, quoted in Aristotle’s Constitution of Delphi = fr. 487 Rose = Suda s.v.; cf. Zenobius I, 47 s.v. = Test. 27 Perry; Diogenianus I, 46 s.v. Explicit mentions of divine affection for Aesop: Libanius, In Defence of Julian 31 = Test. 28 Perry; Libanius, Apology of Socrates 181 = Test. 29 Perry; Himerius 13.5-6 = Test. 30 Perry (Apollo as Aesop’s friend and avenger); Suda s.v. Ἀναβιῶναι = Test. 45 Perry. Cf. Vita W 134: in Delphi, Aesop takes refuge inside the temple of Apollo.

11 Cf. La Penna 1962, p. 279-80; Nagy 1979, p. 302-3, 306-7; Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 94-99.

12 For the purposes of this essay, «knowledge», and «wisdom» are given the meaning of the «sum of the detained notions», and used as synonym. Vita G uses various terms, sometimes loosely: philosophia, the highest form of knowledge; paideia, the amount of learning; sophia, the competence to put one’s knowledge into use.

13 Cf. e. g. Hahn 1989, p. 15-32. The benefits conferred by paideia are typically listed by Lucian, The Dream 13: time, doxa, epainos, proedria, dynamis, archai, and so on.

14 This is by no means an isolated approach in representing contemporary «intellectuals»: see Jerphagnon 1981, p. 167-82 (fundamental); Anderson 1989, p. 184-8; Hahn 1989, p. 192-6; Flaig 2002, p. 121-5.

15 Cf. Bowersock 1969, p. 43-58; Schmitz 1997, p. 45-52; Flaig 2002, p. 124-7.

16 Adrados 1999, p. 677-81; Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 111-27. Diogenes as «Mad Socrates»: Aelianus, Historical Miscellany 14.33; Diogenes Laertius, Lives 6.54.

17 «Street Cynics»: Dio of Prusa, XXXII. 9. Socrates and Diogenes as models for cultural polemics: Dio of Prusa, XII; cf. Döring 1979, p. 91-3; Brancacci 2000, p. 256-60. On the ideological contiguity between Vita G and many of Dio’s positions on the role of paideia and philosophy in contemporary society: S. Jedrkiewicz, «Targeting the «Intellectuals»: Dio of Prusa and the Vita Aesopi», Paper delivered at ICAN, 2008-IV International Conference on the Ancient Novel (Lisbon, 21-26 July 2008) (publication forthcoming).

18 At crucial moments, Aesop will quote a fragment of Euripides for Xanthos’benefit (fr. 1059 Nauck2: G32), a famous Homeric line for the discomfiture of the Delphians (Iliad 6.146: G124), and, when in Babylon (G109-110), a string of maxims coming from well-established gnomic traditions (see Luzzatto 2003). Cf. Jedrkiewicz 1990-1992, p. 126-30; Jedrkiewicz 1997, p. 130-33.

19 Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 127-35, 159.

20 On political counselling by Aesop and the Seven Sages, see Jedrkiewicz 1989 p. 138-40; Jedrkiewicz 1997, p. 66-68. Cf. West 2003, p. 423-28 for the possible connection between the Romance of Ahiqar and some of the episodes Herodotus recounts.

21 See Dio of Prusa, xlix. 3: the philosopher as natural adviser of the rulers (indeed, as the effective ruler: ibid. 6-8); cf. Desideri 1991, p. 3955-6. On the contemporary relevance of such political ideology, see Desideri 1978, p. 80-90 and Desideri 1991a, p. 3897 (monarchy as the «rule of wisdom»). On paideia and power, see Schmitz 1997, p. 44-50. To handle absolute rulers is a traditional Aesopian competence: see Diodorus 9.28.1 (Aesop instructs the Seven Sages how kings are to be dealt with); therefore Winkler 1985, p. 287 seems to go too far when denoting Aesop as a speaker «in grotesque disguise… allowed… to utter critical truths about authority… [and] unspeakably irrevent thoughts about rulers that are forbidden to normal citizens».

22 Cf. θεοσεβής, G4; εὐσεβῆ, εὐσέβησεν, εὐσεβείας, G5.

23 See Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 179-80. Vita W replaces Isis first with Artemis (W4, 5 Karla) then with Tyche (W 7, 1; Philoxenia P: see Perry 1936, p. 12, n. 11; Karla 2001 ad loc.). The strong similarities between Tyche and Isis as religious characters in the Hellenized world (see La Penna 1962, p. 260-62; Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 89, n. 17) make it difficult to decide which is the «original» version. Cf. also the good remarks both by Holzberg 1992a, p. 45, n. 59 (Tyche’s priority) and Jouanno 2006, p. 147 (Isis’priority).

24 See the Isiac aretalogies possibly echoed within Vita G: Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 89-90; Dillery 1999, p. 271-2. The connection of such passage with the Isiac palingenesis of Lucius (Apul., Met. 11.3, 7) has been stressed by Anderson 1984, p. 211-2; cf. Finkelpearl 2003. Hunter 2007, p. 49-50 and 53-56 (drawing also on Ferrari 1997, p. 22-32), stresses the propriety of putting the «goddess of human language» in charge of Aesop’s regeneration, since language is a central theme in the whole narrative.

25 Plutarch, Isis and Osiris 3, 352b.

26 Full textual discussion by Mignogna 1992. Cf. Hunter 2007, p. 46, n. 27 quoting J. Th. Papademetriou, Αισώπεια ϰαι Αισωπιϰά, Athens, 1989, p. 41-42 on the rhythm perceivable here.

27 The notion of «liminar space» (Van Gennep) is applied by Pucci 2007, p. 56-7 to the setting of the poet’s initiation by the Muses in Hes., Theog. 1 sq. On the Muses’love for secluded sites: Pucci 2007, p. 42, with reference to Plutarch, On being a busybody 12, 521d. Noon as the «divine hour»: Jouanno 2006, p. 219.

28 See Mignogna 1992, p. 79. On Hesiod: Hunter 2007, p. 256-8. On Archilochus Clay 2004, p. 14-6.

29 Cf. Hunter 2007, p. 51-2, for whom the episode however hints to a «double explanation» (mythological and materialistic) of the origins of human language.

30 By contrast, G10 humorously describes two opposite kinds of superstition: the slave overseer Zenas is upset by the «monstruous prodigy» (τερατῶδές τι πρᾶγμα) of Aesop’s transformation; the master takes divine interventions for granted and sees nothing abnormal in them.

31 Holzberg 1992a, p. 45, n. 60, reads the formula «bringing back to light those things which have fallen into darkness» (G5) as an anticipation of Aesop’s imprisonments and deliverances to come; Ηunter 2007, p. 43-4 reads the formula «they paid the penalty (for their wrongdoings)» (ἔτισαν δίκας) (G4) as an anticipation of the appearance of Isis (implied to be identical with Dikaiosyne). Isis is however given no visible role in these episodes.

32 Noted by Holzberg 1992a, p. 48, n. 70.

33 Aesop resorts to story-telling only fifteen times in the 142 Chapters building up Vita G: see Jouannο 2006, p. 31-2, 206, n. 82-86 for a full discussion. Aesop’s rhetorics also include parables, aetiologies and novellas, and conceptual devices as factual induction, logical deduction, amphibology, irony, paradox, adynaton, construction and deconstruction of enigmas: cf. Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 183-9, 191-4; Ferrari 1997, p. 20-36.

34 See discussion in Schmitz 1997, p. 63-96, 161-74.

35 Diodorus, 4.7.3-4. Cf. also Strabo 10.3.10: πρόπολοι δὲ τῶν Μουσῶν οἱ πεπαιδευμένοι πάντες (he adds: ϰαὶ ἰδίως οἱ μουσιϰοί).

36 G23; cf. Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 189-91.

37 Cf. Plato, Symposium 216d5-217a1.

38 At G100, Aesop writes down his mythoi and places the «book» in Croesus’Royal Library: this is consistent with his role as a royal adjuvant: the collected Aesopian wisdom will remain at the exclusive disposal of the Lydian kings. But this passage might also be a late textual addition: cf. Holzberg 1999, p. 47.

39 Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 196, n. 34.

40 Explicit references to food, excreta and sex recall the inversed world of Attic comedy: cf. Goins 1989; Jouanno 2006, p. 41-2.

41 This can recur in contemporary erudite discourse too: see e. g. how Diogenes the Cynic is made to perform by Dio of Prusa (VIII, 36).

42 Following Ferrari 1997; cf. Ferrari 1995, p. 251-2.

43 Cf. the strikingly similar criticisms directed at spurious intellectuals by Dio of Prusa XXXII, 20; Or. XLIV, 5-11, 20-24, 27-28; 32,9; 34, 2. Cf. also Or. LV, 9-11, on the use of images for conveying ideas to an unsophisticated public.

44 Aesops interjects «By the Muses!» when, on Xanthos’orders, he meets a real aperiergos, the supreme embodiment of philosophy. Xanthos repeats the interjection when this man apparently behaves philosophically (G60). In a later interpolation (G65), Aesop’s call to the Muses in support to the declaration of nescience he has just delivered to the strategos (something like: Where are you going? – I don’t know, by the Muses! – What? take him to jail! – You see I didn’t know?).

45 Cf. Papathomopoulos 1989, p. 48 and Ferrari 1997, p. 141 n. 57. The text is unclear: εὔρεις G, ὑμεῖς Perry, εὔρινες Papathomopoulos, εὔρις Ferrari. Translations differ accordingly: «So it is with all of you!» (Daly following Perry); «Quel flair vous avez tous!» (Papathomopoulos, Jouanno); «Ecco perché ho buon fiuto!» (Ferrari).

46 A typically Aesopian ability: Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 183-9, 191-94.

47 Cf. Hunter 2007, p. 53-4.

48 A parallel, specially corrupted version is also reproduced as G88a: geminatum, variatum, corruptum (Perry). Cf. Jouanno 2006, p. 236-7

49 Odysseus’words: Homer, Odyssey 8.169-73.

50 Cf. e. g. Euripides, The Cyclops 529: μισῶ τὸν ἀσκόν, τὸ δὲ ποτὸν ϕιλῶ τόδε; and obviously Plato, Symposium 216d5 – 217a1 (cf. note 37 supra). A near-contemporary parallel in the Life of Alexander 2.15 (the glorious King looks like a «small vessel»).

51 Τὸν λόγον ἀϰοῦσαι τὸν πείθοντα ἡμᾶς: Ferrari 1997, p. 198. Perry deletes whole sentence, Ferrari part of it. The subject could be either Phronesis (Papathomopoulos) or «the Muse» (Ferrari). Phronema has already been mentioned at G78, however not as an autonomous agent, but as one of the Muses’gifts (an unexpected and isolated occurrence).

52 G98. Dio of Prusa XXXII. 16, where the logos is the pharmakon of orge, might have provided a model.

53 Hesiod, Works and Days 287-92; cf. notably Prodichus’version (= Xenophon, Memorabilia 2.1.21); Dio of Prusa I, 66-68.

54 Plutarch, Life of Demosthenes 39.

55 An imitation of Archilochus fr. 223 West = 167 Tarditi, possibly popular at the time (cf. Lucian, The Liar 1-2).

56 By comparing himself to the humble cicada, Aesop utters this claim in a most tactful way.

57 Rather ungratefully, the Samians had at first bowed to Croesus’demand that Aesop be delivered unto him.

58 The term pronoia, also mentioned by Xanthos in the circumstance, seems to mock Stoicism (see e. g. La Penna 1962, p. 303; Jouanno 2006, p. 41; cf. also the gibes identifying physis and pronoia by Plutarch, On Stoic Self-Contradictions 34, 1049f = SVF II.269, fr. 937). Yet Aesop does not laugh at the idea of pronoia as such, but at Xanthos’self-serving mention of it; he implies that what is natural can be known, something which might recall the Stoic belief that nature is materia sapientiae (Cicero, On the Ends of Good and Evil 3.18, 60 = SVF III, 189, fr. 763). This might be indirectly confirmed by Aesop declaring at Vita W36, p. 185, 12 Karla: τὰ ὑπὸ θείας προνοίας: γινόμενα ὑπὸ σοϕῶν διαλύονται, «what is produced by divine providence is explained by the wise». The notion of physis too (cf. ϕυσικά W37, p. 186, 10 Karla; ϕύσει Perry; see also La Penna 1962, p. 303 n. 97) is part of the same ideological background.

59 Aesop reports seeing a pair of crows outside the door: a good omen, declares Xanthos, who boasts of being a οἰωνιστής (Ferrari at G77). But the second crow has flown away when Xanthos comes out and sees for himself, and Aesop is whipped for being a liar. Meanwhile, his master gets an invitation to dinner. If good omens bring misfortune and lack of omens brings good fortune, then divination is worth for nothing, Aesop concludes. All this happens thanks to Xanthos’stupidity and malevolence (for Aesop had taken the omens correctly); as in the case of pronoia (see preceding note), Xanthos is simply unable to handle a valuable epistemic tool; he also produces a most un-Stoic mess by opposing dike (G77: ἀδίκως με δέρεις, Aesop remarks). It is a Stoic principle that incompetent diviners must fail, while oracles are always truthful by themselves (Cicero, On Divination I, 118 = SVF II 346, fr. 1210). Holzberg 1992a, p. 58-9, rightly stresses that the episode (which may also be a later addition: see Jouanno 2006, p. 235) anticipates the display of «orneoscopic» competence by Aesop at G98 sq.

60 In this respect too, Aesop’s wisdom smacks of Stoicism. No doubt, in Vita G all philosophical brands can be put to comic use [see Hägg 2003 (= 1997), p. 68, n. 58], Stoic vocabulary and practices making no exception (cf. Jouanno 2006, p. 40-41, 224, 227). Obviously, the text does not aim at conceptual elaboration; yet it makes clear enough that Aesop’s divinatory competence extends over the two domains distinguished by the Stoics (the «inspirational» from dreams, and the one from natural signs, such as provided by the birds), produces sound knowledge and provides his owner with the ultimate mark of (Stoic) sophia: cf. Stobaeus II, 114, 16 W. = SVF III, 157, fr. 605: μαντιϰὸν δὲ μόνον εἶναι τὸν σπουδαῖον. This is fairly common stuff at the time: cf. e. g. Lucian, The Dream 10: paideia confers the ability to anticipate ta mellonta; it brings knowledge of both ta theia and ta anthropina. When Aesop declares to Xanthos that he is no mantis and can only solve «logical enquiries», he just wants to tease his master (G84).

61 The terms σημειολύτης (G86; cf. G81: σημεῖον διαλύσασθαι, ἐπιλύσασθαι; G77: σημεῖα) and ὀρνεοσκόπος (G86; cf. οἰωνιστής, Ferrari at G77) denote rational divination (the σημειολύται are one kind of mantic specialists in Life of Alexander 1.4.3). The term μάντις (plural at G81, coupled with ἱερεῖς; 84; 93) is more general, but does not need to imply «possession» either: see Georgoudi 1998, p. 333-34. According Paus. 1.34.4, this is the general name anciently given to those practicians who work with birds and dreams: see Dillery 2005, p. 169-71, who also notes that the word is to the «independent» diviner, not connected to any specific cult (such as Aesop).

62 For all the muddle, this is the Stoic tenet that divination is an epistemic discipline.

63 Although this tale is usually read as a mockery: cf. e. g. Nagy 1979, p. 290 («the humour is at the god’s expense»). The «anti-Apollinean» orientation of Vita G is discussed by Perry 1952, p. 12; La Penna 1962, p. 269-72; Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 85-6, 92, 148 (but see also p. 94-6).

64 Oracles originate within Zeus’s own power (Homeric Hymn to Hermes 533-35); Zeus is the supreme mantis (Archilocus fr. 298 West = 187 Tard.; Euripides, fr. 1110 Nauck); Apollo has the privilege to announce his father’s messages (Homeric Hymn to Hermes 536-38; Homeric Hymn to Apollo 131; Aeschylus, Eumenides 17, 19, 616-8, 713; Aeschylus, fr. 86 Nauck; Pindar, Olympian Odes 8.44-45), something which he also performs at Vita G142 (see infra); he can redistribute some oracular faculties (to Hermes), yet the beneficiary too will act as Zeus’keryx (Apollodorus III, 10.2, 115). Cf. also Apollodorus I, 4.1, 22: Apollo learns the mantike from Pan, son of Zeus, and Hybris. The dissenting voice is Plato, Symposium 197a6: mantike was invented by Apollo.

65 Perry 1962, p. 299-300, finds the antecedent of this story in Euripides, Iphigeneia in Taurica 1259-1281.

66 Locus classicus: Homer, Odyssey 19.560 sq.

67 Nagy 1979, p. 291 suggests that in some «original» version the Muses were effectively led by Apollo. He also argues (ibid. 290) that «Aesop’s essence as a poet is defined not only by the Muses but also by their leader, Apollo himself». That may well have been the case elsewhere; Vita G tells a rather different story.

68 Kurke 2003, p. 82-85 gives a radically different interpretation of the term prostates.

69 At G33, the god «habitually looking down on everyone else, got to be too boastful in everything» (so Zeus chastised him): cf. Homer, Iliad 1.43-7; Homeric Hymn to Apollo 1-4, 66-73; Pindar, Paean 6.98-120; Euripides, Iphigeneia in Taurica 1249-53. He usually wants to be the first: cf. πρυτανευσέμεν, Homeric Hymn to Apollo 68 (prytanes recalls prostates). On his violent and murderous ways, see Detienne 1998, p. 39, 122-3, 186-7, 194-200.

70 Pucci 2007, p. 91, notes, with reference to epic poetry, that groups consisting of nine members seem almost to call for an additional tenth component. In respect of the nine Muses, such «N. 10» can be Mnemosyne: see Hesiod, Theogony 815-7; Zeus, ibid. 71; Apollo, ibid. 94-95 and Homer, Iliad 1.603-4 (one may add Isis, at Vita G7); he also notes (ib. 92, with reff.) that iconic representations of the Nine Muses alone are extremely rare.

71 Such rather misleading terms have been used in modern discussions of the Vita Aesopi (including by Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 158).

72 Ira dei: Holzberg 1990, p. 98-100. The pattern of «heroic» confrontation has been identified by Nagy 1979, p. 289-316, as subjacent to the Aesopian biographical tradition. On the popularity of the «heroic» model in Imperial times, see Wills 1997, p.

73 Cf. Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 91-4. Iconic representations of Marsyas confronting Apollo are especially popular in Imperial times: Weis 1992, p. 377.

74 Marsyas is defeated because he can use his vocal outputs exclusively to give voice to the aulos, while Apollon is able to play the lyre and sing at the same time: see the detailed description by Diodorus 3.59, 2-6, and Plutarch, Table-Talks 7.8, 713d. Cf. also Apollodorus 1.4.24, and Leclercq-Neveu 1989, p. 258-9. Xenophon, Anabasis1.2.8 is alone in making the agon verge on sophia (which does not exclude the meaning of «musical competence»). Vascular images occasionally show Marsyas playing the lyre: cf. Queyrel 1984, p. 127, 136, 145-6.

75 Perry 1936, p. 15, quoting Hausrath 1931, p. 61, quoting Crusius 1913, p. for whom Aesop was the «Gegenindeal zum aristokratischen Hellenentum, als Fleisch gewordener Protest gegen die Forderungen und Anschauungen, die Urteile und Vorurteile des Adels», in line with what he considered the «subversive» orientation of the Aesopic fable in Archaic Greece (when «aristocracy» was supposedly loosing its predominance). Hausrath also asserts that Aesop’s death in Delphi is produced by the conflict between «professioneller und volkstümlicher Weisheit» (Hausrath 1909, c. 1711). On the actual nature of this conflict, see notably La Penna 1962, p. 298-309; Winkler 1985, p. 276-91; Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 171-82, 211-12; Hopkins 1993; Jedrkiewicz 1997, p. 79-82, 130-33 Hägg 2003 (= 1997), p. 61-68; Kurke 2003; Finkelpearl 2003, p. 39-47; Marincic 2003, p. 61-3, all considerably diverging in focus and conclusions.

76 Sic Perry 1936, p. 15-16, who was possibly thinking of the testimonies Athena (not Apollo) throwing away the aulos because this instrument defaces the player (Melanippus fr. 2, ap. Athenaeus 14.616e = PMG 758; Pausanias 1.24.1; Plinius, Natural History 35.66), or about the «vulgarity» inherent in flute-playing (Aristoteles, Politics 8, 1341b; Plutarch, Life of Alcibiades 2). But there is no want of opposite evidence: see the very accurate discussion by Leclercq-Neveu 1989.

77 They impartially attend the agon opposing Marsyas to Apollo on vase paintings (5th and 4th cent. B. C.): Queyrel 1984, p. 139, 145-47; Queyrel 1992, p. 677. They act as judges for the occasion according to Hyginus, Fables 165, as they usually do for musical competitions (cf. e. g. Aristophanes, Frogs 875 sq.; Plato, Euthydemus 285c-d; schol. [Plat.] Minos 318b; Pausanias 9.29.6). They destroy a «double» of Marsyas, the Thracian bard Thamyris (an «inversed» double, strikingly beautiful): Homer, Iliad 2.594-600; [Euripides] Rhesus 915-25; Apollodorus I 3.3.

78 Perry 1936, p. 15. The Muses might possibly be «humble» (whatever this term is supposed to imply) in their primitive shape as rustic, and oracular, nymphs (see 1980, p. 199-200, 206) but certainly not in their sophisticated association to poetry (see Delcourt 1981, 15-16, 201-6) and philosophy (see Pierre Boyancé, Le culte des Muses chez les philosophes grecs, Paris, 1936).

79 Assertions like «Apollo… is allied with the privileged and formal teachings of the philosopher, Xanthus» (Finkelpearl 2003, p. 42-3) have no textual support.

80 Dirlemeier 1939.

81 Not really surprizing, since in Vita G mantic competence is part of paideia, the Muses’gift. Pace Compton 2006, p. 29, there is no such thing as mantic between Aesop and Apollo here.

82 On Marsyas as «uno dei rappresentanti più perfetti della forma eroica», see Brelich 1958, p. 323-24.

83 Holzberg 1992a, p. 70, n. 128, tentatively suggests a different reason.

84 This is the model identified by Nagy 1979: see notably p. 9, 62, 121, 150.

85 Cf. Adrados 1999, p. 270, for a parallel with Homer’s death (the loss of powers anticipates the poet’s death).

86 It also exploits the pharmakos paradigm. See Wiechers 1961; Nagy 1979, p. 279-86; Adrados 1979, p. 94-5; Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 99-104; Compton 2006, p. 19-40.

87 Cf. Callimachus, Iambi I fr. 191, 26-8 Pf.; schol. ad loc. in PSI 1094 fr. 4b, 14 ss (I p. 165 Pf.); II fr. 192, 15-17 Pf.; Vita Aesopi, in P. Oxy. 1800, fr. 2, 1.32 sq. (= Test. 25 Perry); schol. Aristophanes, Wasps 1446 (= Test. 21 Perry). The motive of Delphian «parasitism» is an old one: see Homeric Hymn to Apollo 535-7; Pindar, Nemean Odes 7, 62 (43) and schol.; Pherekydes, FGrHist 3 F 64a; Aristophanes, fr. 705 Kassel-Austin (PCG III 2); Achaios fr. 12 Snell; App. Prov. I, 95 s.v. Δελϕιϰὴ μάχαιρα = CPG I 393. For its connection to the Aesopian biographical tradition: Wiechers 1961, p. 15-18; La Penna 1962, p. 278-9; Nagy 1979, p. 125-27 (for whom Vita G suggests the scenario of a «genuine ritual practice»); Kurke 2003, p. 78-82 (for whom Aesop’s death in Delphi echoes a political and ideological conflict within the Greek poleis dating from the 5th century B. C.).

88 Cf. Homer, Iliad 6.146.

89 On the tithe to Apollo: Detienne 1998, p. 217-20; Jouanno 2006, p. 244.

90 To put visitors to death under pretext of hierosylia belongs to the Delphian «black legend»: Jedrkiewicz 1989, p. 83-6. For the insertion of this motive within Vita G, cf. Holzberg 1992a, p. 71; Brodersen 1992, p. 104 n. 31.

91 Current in early Imperial times: see the Latin versions of Petronius, Satyricon 111-12 and Phaedrus, Appendix 15.

92 At G130, «a friend», who has no other function in the story, asks Aesop the same sort of reproaching questions addressed to Xanthos at G85.

93 Aeschylus (fr. 139 N. = fab. 276a Perry) provides a striking instance of this reversal by means precisely of an Aesopic fable: «I die because of my own feathers», says the eagle hit by the arrow.

94 Exactly as at G100, the Delphian episode includes no textual indication of any direct challenge to Apollo by Aesop: contra Pervo 2005, p. 79

95 In the Golenitscheff Papyrus, Apollo actually cooperates with the Delphians (συνεργοῦντος αὐτοῖς: Perry, Papathomopoulos), for the explicit reason that Aesop had not placed him among the Nine Muses (i. e., had deprived him of the status of «N. 10» in the group?). However, such cooperation remains mysterious. The suggestion of Weil 1885, p. 23, to integrate the text so as to read that Apollo causes the slave of Aesop to fall asleep inside the temple, the golden cup being then slipped into Aesop’s luggage, has met no success.

96 Cf. Nagy 1979, p. 302. To send loimos, and to protect from it, is most typical Apollo: see Detienne 1998, p. 227-31, who points to the contiguity between the god’destructive and purifying activities. For Apollo as Aesop’s avenger, cf. note 10 supra.

97 Cf. Nagy 1979, pp. 118-141.

98 At Vita W142, Aesop makes clear that the call to witness which he addresses to «the gods» (he is inside Apollo’s temple) aims at bringing divine justice onto his murderers (cf. ἐϰδικήσουσί με).

99 Nagy 1979, p. 290-1 considers the appellation «a matter of indirectness».

100 G142: λοιμῷ δὲ ϰατασχεθέντες οἱ Δέλϕιοι χρησμὸν ἔλαβον παρὰ τοῦ Διὸς ἐξιλεώσασθαι <τὸν> Αἰσώπου μόρον.

101 For this very last episode, see Brodersen 1992.

102 Even more so at W142, where he is granted a shrine at Delphi.

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