Journey through the illustrated pages of a 15th-century Aesop's Fables Book
Aesop was a Greek writer of the sixth century BC. His fables are still extremely well-known and popular, and he is considered the initiator of the fable as a written literary form. The very definition of fable is based on the form and structure of Aesop’s tales: short stories, often inhabited by personified animals, whose explicit purpose is to provide moral education about the values of life, to teach proper behaviour and how to avoid danger and bad habits.
Aesopus moralisatus, leaf b3r (1487)Fondazione BEIC - Biblioteca Europea di Informazione e Cultura
[...] Non lassar mai lo certo per lo incerto | Se non che del tuo proprio sie diserto. [...] So firmly cling to solid and let go dubious prospects, or you’ll see vanish what is most your own.
The Esopo moralizzato
Vernacular translation became popular in 13th-14th century Italy. It is a translation or, more properly, an adaptation of original Latin and French texts into 'volgare', the vernacular spoken in Italy that was to become Italian. The first works in volgare were chivalric romance and texts from the Latin and Greek tradition. Among these last ones, we find the adaptation of Aesopus moralisatus, a heterogeneous collection of Greek and Latin fables, with elements from the Ancient Near East tradition. These adaptations had a very strong impact on the culture of the time for the vast success they had, as they spread to a large audience, of different social and cultural backgrounds.
Aesopus moralisatus, leaf e3v (1487)Fondazione BEIC - Biblioteca Europea di Informazione e Cultura
"Se tu fai cosa alcuna guarda il fine | Acio che in le piu grave non ruine." Whatever you will undertake, if you first ponder wellwhere it will lead up to, you will not swap a lesser for a greater evil.
Accio Zucco’s fortune
Accio Zucco was a 15th-century Italian writer, known for his translation of Aesop's fables. This version had great success, as well as the adaptation of the Aesopus moralisatus by Francesco Del Tuppo, a famous Neapolitan writer and typographer. The so-called Esopo Zuccarino was reissued 15 times between 1479 and 1498 and 4 more times during the 16th century. On display we see the Bonino Bonini edition, printed in Brescia in 1487.
Aesopus moralisatus, leaf f8v (1487)Fondazione BEIC - Biblioteca Europea di Informazione e Cultura
"Non ce qui conscientia che el rimorda | Che ben fu offeso quel che offende | E de picol cagion gran mal descende." With a clean conscience you may sternly scorchwho slightly injured you, but that on purpose: a single hornet’s sting a volley of slaps does trip.
In Accio Zucco's translation, the 67 fables are in Latin verses, followed by two sonnets in volgare. Each fable is decorated with a woodcut illustration.As sources of his adaptation, Accio relied on the issue of the Aesop's Fabulae, commonly attributed to Gualterio Anglico (the so-called Anonymus Neveleti).
Aesopus moralisatus, leaf g1v (1487)Fondazione BEIC - Biblioteca Europea di Informazione e Cultura
"[...] Quod tibi non faceres aliis fecisse caveto | Vulnera ne facias, que potest ipse pati." [...] Do not treat others as you will not be treated,do not inflict them blows they could inflict you.
The moral lesson
The structure of the work follows that of the exempla, a literary genre which was very popular between the 13th and the 14th century. The exempla are short stories in which the protagonist, behaving properly in a certain situation, achieves as a result the salvation of the soul. The great diffusion of such stories can be connected to the rise of the mendicant orders.
Aesopus moralisatus, leaf g4v (1487)Fondazione BEIC - Biblioteca Europea di Informazione e Cultura
"Collui che lassa el suo per tuor laltrui | Ignorante di se diserta lui." Those who strive to be as they are not,will lose themselves, a puzzle to themselves.
The authority of Aesop
Ment for an illiterate audience, exempla usually responded to a few rules, aimed at easily capturing attention and arousing interest in morals. The stories were short, the facts presented as true, the goal was to teach and to entertain. To obtain greater credibility, the preachers used sources that were trusted by the audience, such as the Holy Scriptures, but also the authors of the ancient Greek and Latin literature, such as Aesop.
Aesopus moralisatus, leaf g6v (1487)Fondazione BEIC - Biblioteca Europea di Informazione e Cultura
"[...] Adunque questo racogli e state tacito | E tale exempio fa che te sia placito." [...] Those who strive to be as they are not,will lose themselves, a puzzle to themselves.
The role of illustrations
The presence of illustrations also facilitated the understanding of the stories. For this reason the pages were adorned with detailed woodcuts that interpreted the content of the text.Bonino Bonini's edition of the Esopo Zuccarino opens with a full-page illustration that depicts Aesop with a wayfarer in c. a2r. The title of the work is inscribed in a Roman altar in c. A3V. The edition is enriched by 65 woodcuts whose purpose was to illustrate the content of the tales with images.
Aesopus moralisatus, leaf i4v (1487)Fondazione BEIC - Biblioteca Europea di Informazione e Cultura
"Vivere de rapto vitam rapit invidus instans | Alterius damnis in sua damna redit." Robbery robs robbers of life,And, seeking to hurt, envy enviers hurts.
Aesopus moralisatus, leaf m6r (1487)Fondazione BEIC - Biblioteca Europea di Informazione e Cultura
"[...] Si chi prende diletto di far frode | Non se de lamentar se altrui linganna." [...] Do not complain of being deluded, you who delight to fool your neighbour.
Ambra Carboni, Lisa Longhi, Marcella Medici, Mara Persello.
Thanks to Mario Zanotti for translitarations.