Zen Master

[For visitors new to English 109, “The Lost Horse” is a folktale in our class text.]

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s retelling ofThe Lost Horsein Charlie Wilson’s War:

Dialogue from Charlie Wilson’s War – 2007

In this scene Gust Avrakotos, an American case officer and Afghan Task Force Chief for the CIA is talking to Charlie Wilson, a Texas Congressman, about the successful conclusion of the first Afghan War in 1989.

Gust Avrakotos: There’s a little boy and on his 14th birthday he gets a horse… and everybody in the village says, “how wonderful. The boy got a horse” And the Zen master says, “we’ll see.” Two years later, the boy falls off the horse, breaks his leg, and everyone in the village says, “How terrible.” And the Zen master says, “We’ll see.” Then, a war breaks out and all the young men have to go off and fight… except the boy can’t cause his leg’s all messed up. And everybody in the village says, “How wonderful.”

Charlie Wilson: Now the Zen master says, “We’ll see.”

Translating the fables

A very interesting problem is posed by the linguistic gender of the animals in Greek and Latin. Every Greek and Latin noun, including the names of animals, has a fixed linguistic gender which is either masculine or feminine. The Greek raven, korax, is always masculine, as is the Latin corvus, while the Greek weasel, gale, is always feminine, as is the Latin weasel, mustela. Yet sometimes the gender may be masculine in Greek and feminine in Latin, or vice versa. So, for example, the Greek frog, batrachos, is masculine while the Latin frog, rana, is feminine. In English, then, a fable that is translated from the Greek will refer to the frog as ‘he’ while a fable translated from Latin will refer to the frog as ‘she’. The same thing is also true of the eagle, one of the most common characters in the fables: the Greek eagle, aetos, is masculine, while the Latin eagle, Aquila, is feminine. This may cause some confusion at first, but by consulting the source for the fable, the reader can reassure himself (or herself) that the animal in question is not suffering from a gender-identity crisis—unless, of course, the animal is a hyena (see Fable 365).

Aesop’s Fables. Trans. Laura Gibbs. London: Oxford University Press, 2002. Kindle.