Translating an Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds: Words Amusing and Intriguing

[Presented by George Baloglou -- Copenhagen, August 1996]

In our recently completed translation of this 14th century secular poem of 1,100 lines we have had the pleasant task of navigating through a vibrant language that is Attic in intent and Modern Greek in spirit; its sometimes obscure syntax, together with a number of compound words unique to the poem, presented us with the challenge of rendering it in a form acceptable to the contemporary English-reading lay reader. Our guiding principle while translating the Tale--often at the expense of word-for-word rendering--was that whatever had been Entertaining six centuries ago should be made to retain its humorous qualities today, and in a way appealing to both Byzantinists and the general public.

We also argue that the poem can offer to the contemporary reader more than a quick laugh and an intimate look at 14th century daily life. Indeed, behind the Quadrupeds' coarse dialogues and self-exalting monologues, one can observe the poet looking decline and death in the eye, at times pessimistic and at times, more remarkably, optimistic. Further, besides the obvious political message encoded in the "hard working" herbivores' victory over the "parasitic" carnivores (after a never ending conference and a hastily described battle), this lively, most sarcastic poem sends a singularly subversive message: not through any direct critisism of the upper classes, but by constantly and skillfully overturning whatever has just been established! Finally, the poem's timelessness and universality are strengthened by the fact that, although influenced by such previous works, it is, for example, less "historical" than the "Book of Birds" (" Poulologos ") and far less "theological" than the "Physiologus".

The original text is available in Vassiliki Tsiouni's critical edition (based on all five manuscripts) "Paidiofrastos Diegesis ton Zoon ton Tetrapodon", Institut fuer Byzantinistik und Neugriechische Philologie der Universitaet Muenchen, 1972. In 1956 V. S. Shandrovskaja's Russian translation appeared in Vizantijskaja basnja "Rasskaz o Cetveronogih" (XIV v.), Vizantijskij Vremenik, IX (Moscow), pp. 211-249.

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