Phaedrus (Gaius Iulius

(c. 15 bc — 50 ad)

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(c.15 bc–c.ad 50),

a slave of Thracian birth, received a good schooling, became a freedman of Augustus, and composed five books of verse fables. Under Tiberius, he offended Aelius Seianus through suspected allusions in his fables and suffered some unknown punishment. He is scarcely noticed by Roman writers. Prose paraphrases of his and of other fables were made in later centuries. The five books are clearly incomplete, and 30 further fables have been shown to belong to them; additional fables deriving from Phaedrus are contained in the prose paraphrases.

Phaedrus' achievement, on which he greatly prides himself, lies in his elevation of the fable, hitherto used in literature only as an adjunct, e.g. in satire, into an independent genre. His fables consist of beast‐tales based largely on ‘Aesop’, as well as jokes and instructive stories taken not only from Hellenistic collections but also from his own personal experience. His main source is likely to have been a collection of Aesopic fables compiled in prose by Demetrius 1 of Phaleron. Philosophic weight is sought by borrowings from collections of maxims and from diatribe; moral instruction is generally self‐contained at the beginning or ending of the tale. Besides his professed purpose of providing amusement and counsel, Phaedrus sometimes satirizes contemporary conditions both social and political. His work evidently evoked considerable criticism, and retorts to his detractors are frequent. The presentation is animated and marked by a humorous and charming brevity of which Phaedrus is rightly proud, but which sometimes leads to obscurity. In language he stands in the tradition of Terence.

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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