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Borrowed Plumes: Phaedrus’ Fables, Phaedrus’ Failures

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Chapter Summary

Phaedrus writes in a period when speaking out, even briefly, could prove catastrophic. He suggests that his own choices sparked a prosecution by Sejanus but, despite this calamity, he will run the same risks. With first-hand access as Augusti libertus, it is not difficult to construct a Phaedrus who criticizes high level inequalities and injustices. Phaedrus' re-clothing of Aesop's Greek prose fables in Latin verse is a master stroke. Fable is the medium par excellence for encoding deceptive commentary: mutato nomine de te/fabula narrator. Exile was a terrible thing for a Roman. But what sort of Thraco-Graeco-Roman is Phaedrus? Given his perversion of the ideal death, perhaps he presents here a "prestige" model of exile. Exile befalls prominent people, Roman citizens who provoke the wrong reader/observer. Fable's low-brow topics in high-brow environments reflect the unequal power relations mediated by the genre.

Keywords: Augusti libertus; injustice; low-brow topics; Phaedrus' Fables; Roman



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