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From Aesop to ReynardBeast Literature in Medieval Britain$
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Jill Mann

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780199217687

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199217687.001.0001

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How Animals Mean

How Animals Mean

(p.28) 1 How Animals Mean
From Aesop to Reynard

Jill Mann

Oxford University Press

This chapter provides a theoretical basis for the discussion of individual works in subsequent chapters. Taking examples from the Latin prose rendition of Phaedran fables known as the Romulus vulgaris, it analyses ‘how animals mean’ in beast fable, emphasizing the deliberate brevity and sparseness of fable narrative, and connecting these features with the mistrust of words that fable characteristically teaches. In contrast, in beast epic (represented here by the Ysengrimus), words proliferate, and the simple moral conclusion in which the action of beast fable culminates is dissolved in a sea of animal moralizing whose effect is comic rather than didactic. Beast fable and beat epic also differ in their relation to historical reality: whereas fable is a‐historical in itself but can be used as a whole to comment on a historical situation, epic can incorporate topical satire into its narrative.

Keywords:   beast fable, beast epic, Romulus vulgaris, Ysengrimus, brevity, words, narrative

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