The Fables of Avianus

David R. Slavitt, Translator, Neil Welliver, Illustrator, Jack Zipes, Foreword by Johns Hopkins University Press $19.95 (80p) ISBN 978-0-8018-4684-7
Slavitt, translator of Seneca, Ovid and Virgil, here translates 42 fables by the fifth-century Roman writer Avianus into contemporary (perhaps too contemporary) English. A fabulist in the Aesopic tradition, Avianus interpreted such familiar fables as those of the oak and the reed. His translator here admits having first been attracted to Avianus as ``a decadent, bumbling fabulist, whose work I could do with one hand tied behind my back.'' Later, Slavitt came to appreciate the poet's playfulness. Avianus's view of human nature is dark, if not cynical; the fables about animals are more often parables of humanity's greed, cruelty, vanity and stupidity than of its wisdom. In his introduction, Jack Zipes praises Slavitt for his rather free translations (``All the world's dog-chow piled into a dish /cannot begin to assuage the spirit's essential hungers''), claiming that ``it is because of Slavitt's poetic license that Avianus can now be appreciated as a `contemporary' commentator on the `postmodern condition.' '' But the effort to turn Avianus into a postmodern critic can be ill-advised--as in a rendering of ``The Fish and the Lamprey'' that concludes with a reference to Charlie the Tuna. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 11/01/1993
Release date: 11/01/1993
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