Aesopic Conversations

Aesopic Conversations: Popular Tradition, Cultural Dialogue, and the Invention of Greek Prose

LESLIE KURKE
Copyright Date: 2011
DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7t7zw
Pages: 504
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7t7zw
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  • Book Info
    Aesopic Conversations
    Book Description:

    Examining the figure of Aesop and the traditions surrounding him,Aesopic Conversationsoffers a portrait of what Greek popular culture might have looked like in the ancient world. What has survived from the literary record of antiquity is almost entirely the product of an elite of birth, wealth, and education, limiting our access to a fuller range of voices from the ancient past. This book, however, explores the anonymousLife of Aesopand offers a different set of perspectives. Leslie Kurke argues that the traditions surrounding this strange text, when read with and against the works of Greek high culture, allow us to reconstruct an ongoing conversation of "great" and "little" traditions spanning centuries.

    Evidence going back to the fifth century BCE suggests that Aesop participated in the practices of nonphilosophical wisdom (sophia) while challenging it from below, and Kurke traces Aesop's double relation to this wisdom tradition. She also looks at the hidden influence of Aesop in early Greek mimetic or narrative prose writings, focusing particularly on the Socratic dialogues of Plato and theHistoriesof Herodotus. Challenging conventional accounts of the invention of Greek prose and recognizing the problematic sociopolitics of humble prose fable, Kurke provides a new approach to the beginnings of prose narrative and what would ultimately become the novel.

    Delving into Aesop, his adventures, and his crafting of fables,Aesopic Conversationsshows how this low, noncanonical figure was--unexpectedly--central to the construction of ancient Greek literature.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3656-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7t7zw.1
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7t7zw.2
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7t7zw.3
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7t7zw.4
  5. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xvii-xxiv)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7t7zw.5
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-50)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7t7zw.6

    LET ME BEGIN WITH A FABLE about fable. In his second/third-century CE biography of the sage Apollonius of Tyana, Philostratus stages a miniature philosophical debate about the relative merits of mythological poetry and Aesopic fable. Philostratus’s protagonist has just expounded his reasons for preferring humble Aesopic beast fable to the grandiloquent mythic lies of the poets, and then adds a fable by way of coda:¹

    My own mother, Menippus, taught me a tale about Aesop’s wisdom, when I was very young. Aesop, so she said, was once a shepherd, and was tending his flock near a sanctuary of Hermes, and...

  7. PART I: Competitive Wisdom and Popular Culture
    • Chapter 1 AESOP AND THE CONTESTATION OF DELPHIC AUTHORITY
      (pp. 53-94)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7t7zw.7

      LET ME BEGIN WITH AESOP at Delphi. The strange, fissured, and uneven texts of theLife of Aesopand the open and permeable tradition that generated them necessitate the assumption of oral circulation of stories about Aesop, taking shape, traveling, and mutating over hundreds of years before the texts were set down in written form. At the same time, it is my contention that Aesop, like other folkloric trickster figures in other cultural traditions, enabled or gave voice to critiques of power and inequitable power relations from below. In these terms, Aesop was a mobile figure within the common or...

    • Chapter 2 SOPHIA BEFORE/BEYOND PHILOSOPHY
      (pp. 95-124)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7t7zw.8

      BY THE EXPERIMENTAL READING offered in chapter 1, I hope to have demonstrated that it is possible to extract from the Aesopica elements of long-lived ideological commentary and critique of enduring Greek cultural formations. In this and the following chapters, I will attempt to do the same for aspects of the Aesop tradition (especially theLife of Aesop) in dialogue with the complex traditions of Greek “wisdom” (and this analysis will ultimately offer us additional insight into the story of Aesop’s adventures at Delphi). As a precondition for tracing such dialogue, I must first specify what I mean by “wisdom...

    • Chapter 3 AESOP AS SAGE: POLITICAL COUNSEL AND DISCURSIVE PRACTICE
      (pp. 125-158)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7t7zw.9

      IN THIS CHAPTER, we will consider evidence for Aesop as a sage, set against the lineaments of the pre- or nonphilosophical tradition of wisdom I outlined in chapter 2. This will necessitate drawing together scattered fragments of a tradition that constituted Aesop as a wise man in competition with other sages, purveying his own distinctive brand of low or bodilysophia. The very fact that traces of this version of Aesop are so fragmented, muted, or occluded in our preserved texts suggests that this was in some way a popular tradition whose value was contested and challenged throughout antiquity.

      I...

    • Chapter 4 READING THE LIFE: THE PROGRESS OF A SAGE AND THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF SOPHIA
      (pp. 159-201)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7t7zw.10

      THE PROJECT OF THIS CHAPTER is to offer a sustained reading of the whole of theLife of Aesopin terms of the themes ofsophiaI have traced out in the last two chapters. In the latter of these, we reviewed the evidence for Aesop as a sage interacting with the Seven Sages in traditions that may antedate Herodotus’s writing, and we considered (in reverse order) the scenes in theLifein which he offers advice, first to the Samian demos, then to the Lydian king (VitaeG + W, chs. 87–100). At this point, I would like...

    • Chapter 5 THE AESOPIC PARODY OF HIGH WISDOM
      (pp. 202-238)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7t7zw.11

      IN THE TWO PREVIOUS CHAPTERS, we have marshaled the dispersed and fragmentary evidence for Aesop as a sage, participating in a pre- or nonphilosophical tradition ofsophia. We have seen Aesop hobnobbing with the Seven Sages at the court of kings and tyrants; Aesop saving his city from crisis with wise counsel; Aesop engaged in a sage’s pilgrimage at the end of his life; and even Aesop assimilated to the Near Eastern sage Ahiqar in what seems like a pan-Mediterranean confluence of wisdom traditions.

      This popular representation of Aesop as a contender or participant in the sphere ofsophiaaccounts,...

  8. PART II: Aesop and the Invention of Greek Prose
    • Chapter 6 AESOP AT THE INVENTION OF PHILOSOPHY
      (pp. 241-264)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7t7zw.12

      IN PART I, I CONSIDERED Aesop as a voice of resistance in relation to religious institutions, and as a simultaneous participant in and subversive challenger to the high wisdom tradition. In this part, I want to excavate Aesopic elements in the beginnings of Greek mimetic or narrative prose—by which I mean both prose philosophy and prose history. This represents a shift in perspective that will importantly refine our vision of the Aesopic conversations of high and low traditions. For much of the previous five chapters, I have tracked the movementfrominstitutionally authorized systems of cult, ritual, andsophia...

    • Chapter 7 THE BATTLE OVER PROSE: FABLE IN SOPHISTIC EDUCATION AND XENOPHON’S MEMORABILIA
      (pp. 265-300)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7t7zw.13

      STILL, BEFORE WE CAN FULLY unpack the complex relation of Plato’s Socrates to Aesop and Aesopic fable, we need to set the stage by considering the broader fifth-/fourth-century context of what we might call “the battle over prose.” For this purpose, we must at least dip into the “Sophistic movement” as the milieu in reaction to which Plato produced much of his written work. Having long suffered under the burden of Plato’s tendentious misrepresentation and opprobrium, the Sophists have recently enjoyed something of a renaissance, receiving more respectful scholarly treatment that acknowledges their far-reaching influence, complexity of goals and interests,...

    • Chapter 8 SOPHISTIC FABLE IN PLATO: PARODY, APPROPRIATION, AND TRANSCENDENCE
      (pp. 301-324)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7t7zw.14

      WE HAVE SEEN THREE instantiations of Sophistic attempts to appropriate fable for lofty disquisitions on political, ethical, and anthropological topics, and we have considered in turn Xenophon’s reinsertion of Prodicus’s “Choice of Heracles” into a more traditional advice context. It is time to turn back to Plato, first to examine the range of Platonic responses to Sophistic fable (in this chapter), and then to explore a deployment of Aesop and Aesopic discourse within Platonic dialogue that is at once more insidious and more radical (in the next chapter).

      For the first: of course Plato’s representation of the Sophists and Sophistic...

    • Chapter 9 AESOP IN PLATO’S SŌKRATIKOI LOGOI: ANALOGY, ELENCHOS, AND DISAVOWAL
      (pp. 325-360)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7t7zw.15

      LET ME START FROM THE point at which I left off in the previous chapter: from the uniqueness or singularity of Socrates. For it is this most of all that solicits our belief in the world conjured by Platonic dialogue and thereby ultimately draws us into the argumentation that constitutes the main action of Plato’s “anti-tragic theater.”¹ But how, specifically, does Plato achieve this representational tour de force, crafting an image of Socrates as unlike anybody else, compellingly strange and unique? It is my contention that much of this representation of Socrates is shot through with elements drawn from an...

    • Chapter 10 HISTORIĒ AND LOGOPOIÏA: TWO SIDES OF HERODOTEAN PROSE
      (pp. 361-397)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7t7zw.16

      AND SO WE COME FINALLY to Herodotus. I set out originally to write a book on Aesop and Herodotus—Aesop in Herodotus—as a way of mapping something of the bizarre, vertiginous shifts in style, genre, and level of decorum that pervade theHistories.² I slowly discovered that in order to do justice to the topic, I had to go a long way around. But this book was always motivated by a sense of the mystery of Herodotus, so let me start there. It is all too easy for us to take Herodotus for granted. In many ways, it is...

    • Chapter 11 HERODOTUS AND AESOP: SOME SOUNDINGS
      (pp. 398-432)
      DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7t7zw.17

      ACCORDING TO GERT-JAN VAN DIJK, there is a single fable narrated in Herodotus’sHistories: the fable of the aulete and the fish, told by Cyrus to representatives of the Ionian and Aeolian cities in Asia Minor when they come to make terms after his defeat of Croesus (Hdt. 1.141).¹ In contrast, Triantaphyllia Karadagli offers a much fuller list, which, in addition to Hdt. 1.141, includes a whole set of other embedded narratives and communicative performances that Karadagli designatesainoi dramatikoi(Hdt. 1.125, 1.158–59, 3.46, 4.131–32, 5.92, 6.86).² And while Karadagli explicitly acknowledges that all these latterainoiare...

  9. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 433-462)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7t7zw.18
  10. INDEX LOCORUM
    (pp. 463-477)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7t7zw.19
  11. GENERAL INDEX
    (pp. 478-495)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7t7zw.20