This is the first English translation of a unique satirical poem from the last century of the Roman Empire. Written in vernacular Greek in the third quarter of the fourteenth century the Entertaining Tale tells of a parliament of beasts called by the king of beasts, the Lion. Like any experiment in democracy it must first run the gauntlet of class conflict, for the herbivores are understandably reluctant to meet with those creatures who prey upon them. Once King Lion assures them of their safety by signing a treaty, the atmosphere of amity does not last long. In keeping with the common modern description of parliament as a 'Bear Pit', recriminations soon begin to fly. The divisions are not along herbivore / carnivore class lines, however. Rather, every beast is moved to extol its own virtues, and denigrate those of the one preceding it. After each beast has spoken, King Lion concludes that peace amongst them is a fantacy, and abrogates the treaty. The resulting melee is by no means a walk-over, for many herbivores are far from defenceless. A nil-all stalemate sees the survivors slink back to the woods and fields to resume the daily skirmishing of the wild.

The interest of this work is the insights it provides into various aspects of the life of the time. Some one might never think of today, such as the propensity for the cat to use the grain or flour store as a litter tray. Others might be more useful, such as the mentions of clothing and food for which some animals boast they are raw materials. There is quite a lot of very interesting material on crafts using animal products. There is insight into the attitudes of the time and culture, and great stock of medieval Greek insults for anyone who should want them! The introduction and commentary to the translation are both substantial and extensively researched, and would be a great resource for someone wishing to follow up any of these areas.

The origin of this translation is itself something of a curiosity, for while the collaborators are both of Greek extraction, one is an Australian Linguist and the other an American professor of mathematics!

Not a book for everyone, but a good read for those interested in the popular culture and daily life of the Eastern Roman Empire.


TIMOTHY DAWSON (Medieval History Magazine, February 2004)