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.

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