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Aesop’s Human Zoo

Roman Stories about Our Bodies

Translated by John HendersonIllustrated by Thomas Bewick
Most of us grew up with Aesop’s Fables—tales of talking animals, with morals attached. In fact, the familiar versions of the stories attributed to this enigmatic and astute storyteller are based on adaptations of Aesop by the liberated Roman slave Phaedrus. In turn, Phaedrus’s renderings have been rewritten so extensively over the centuries that they do not do justice to the originals. In Aesop’s Human Zoo, legendary Cambridge classicist John Henderson puts together a surprising set of up-front translations—fifty sharp, raw, and sometimes bawdy, fables by Phaedrus into the tersest colloquial English verse.

Providing unusual insights into the heart of Roman culture, these clever poems open up odd avenues of ancient lore and life as they explore social types and physical aspects of the body, regularly mocking the limitations of human nature and offering vulgar or promiscuous interpretations of the stuff of social life.

Featuring folksy proverbs and satirical anecdotes, filled with saucy naughtiness and awful puns, Aesop’s Human Zoo will amuse you with its eccentricities and hit home with its shrewdly candid and red raw messages. The entertainment offered in this volume of impeccably accurate translations is truly a novelty—a good-hearted and knowing laugh courtesy of classical poetry. Beginning to advanced classicists and Latin scholars will appreciate the original Latin text provided in this bilingual edition. The splash of classic Thomas Bewick wood engravings to accompany the fables renders the collection complete.

128 pages | 19 halftones | 5 1/4 x 8 | © 2004

Ancient Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: Classical Languages


"Henderson has a mission to show us ancient witticisms we may have missed--and why we may find in them ’all manner of odd byways of ancient thinking.’ The jokes may often be neither savoury nor subtle to readers now. But the mocking of pretension and the pricking of vanity are means to understanding how people thought and felt about themselves, their partners and their masters: Rome beyond the Roman Odes, far, far beyond."

Peter Stothard | Times Literary Supplement

“Henderson has applied his inimitable acuity, wit, and word power to the fables of the liberated Roman slave Phaedrus. In his sharp translations, he shows how Phaedrus turns tongue-wagging into finger-wagging. These fables explain male baldness, and nanny goats’ beards, why dinner parties are a torment, and why dogs sniff other dogs’ bottoms. Surely the perfect gift for anyone you know who needs to be told a few home truths about themselves!”

Susanna Morton Braund, Stanford University

“A charming collection of surprising, reflective short poems about human and animal failures. Aesop’s Human Zoo will prove a playful read for anyone interested in Aesopian fables, or in a form of poetry that reflects the anxieties and power dynamics of the early Roman imperial period. It is, also, simply fun to read.”

Shadi Bartsch, University of Chicago

Table of Contents

Phaedrus’ Fables
Aesop’s Fables, and Every body’s
A Human Zoo
The Stories:
Creation and Birth
Sex and Gender
Size and Shape
Sight and Sound
Hair and Head
Genitals and Behinds
Part and Whole
Old Age and Death
Further Reading
Tables for the Fables
The Cast of Characters
Tempting Topics

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