Phaedrus and Tiberius

I have been reading the Fables of Phaedrus, in five short books, available from Gutenberg here.  These are adaptations of the older Aesop literature, as the prologue to book three makes clear.

Few will know that the fables contain sidelights on the Rome of Tiberius. 

Tiberius Cæsar, when on his way to Naples, came to his country-seat at Misenum, which, placed by the hand of Lucullus on the summit of the heights, beholds the Sicilian sea in the distance, and that of Etruria close at hand.

One of the highly girt Chamberlains,whose tunic of Pelusian linen was nicely smoothed from his shoulders downwards, with hanging fringes, while his master was walking through the pleasant shrubberies, began with bustling officiousness to sprinkle the parched ground with a wooden watering-pot; but only got laughed at.

Thence, by short cuts to him well known, he runs before into another walk, laying the dust. Cæsar takes notice of the fellow, and discerns his object. Just as he is supposing that there is some extraordinary good fortune in store for him: “Come hither,” says his master; on which he skips up to him, quickened by the joyous hope of a sure reward. Then, in a jesting tone, thus spoke the mighty majesty of the prince: “You have not profited much; your labour is all in vain; manumission stands at a much higher price with me.”

This is the only overt example, but there is also a reference to Augustus, and one to Sejanus.  As to why the author should write in fables, this he tells us himself:

Now will I explain in a few words why Fabulous narrative was invented. Slavery, subject to the will of another, because it did not dare to say what it wished, couched its sentiments in Fables, and by pleasing fictions eluded censure.

The historical value of the book is low, all the same.  But it is worth a brief glance, I think.


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