Feb 21: Henryson’s Fables

In “The Fox, the Wolf and the Carter” and “The Fox, the Wolf and the Farmer,” we are shown two relatively similar views of the wolf and the fox. However, as the Moralitas tells us, the human characters in these two fables represent drastically different entities. Compare these two depictions of men in the medieval period. How and why are they represented so differently? Does this difference have anything to do with their connection with nature?

4 thoughts on “Feb 21: Henryson’s Fables

  1. You’re right, the men in these stories do represent quite different things — Death in the first story, and godly men in the second. I’m not convinced that these stories are all that well crafted, at least as allegories, since the relationships begin to break down a little as one examines them. The carter represents Death, for example, but his relation to the other characters doesn’t support this reading very well. The herring represent greed, but there’s no real connection to Death carrying greed and tempting other creatures with it. All creatures die, whether they fall for the temptations of greed or not.

    And in the second story, the hens represent works of faith, which makes sense if the farmer represents a godly man. But the Moralitas tells us that the fiend (i.e., the devil) turns against him and turns his goodness back on him due to his spurning of evil, which I don’t think makes sense under the moralistic viewpoint the story offers. What are we supposed to conclude from this? That if you do works of faith, you’ll get punished by the fiend, so don’t do works of faith?

    As for why the two men represent two such drastically different things, I think you may have a good point in terms of their connection to nature. A farmer, after all, works together with nature, coaxing a living out of it, working alongside it, responding to the rhythms of seasons, weather, etc. I could see this as lining up as a symbol for a godly man, since the farmer has to know nature well and respond to it correctly in order to grow anything. Whereas the carter basically makes his living off the death of other creatures (the herring).

  2. The wolf in the the story “The Fox, the Wolf and the Carter” and the fox represent man and the world. The wolf and fox in “The Fox, the Wolf and the Farmer” represent the wicked man and the devil. I think it is interesting that both stories exemplify the wolf as wicked and human, while the fox is a representative figure of the invisible devil and the fox is the abstract figure of the world. Both stories hone in on the big picture represented in few daily lives of singular animals. In the second story with the Farmer, there seems to be a significance on human nature and how the spiritual realm influences it. In the first story with the carter, there seems to be no outside influence aside from the natural forces, essentially nature.

  3. The fox as deceiver and the wolf as the schoolyard bully remain constant through both fables but the depiction of man is rather different between the two stories. The carter as a representation of death I find rather tenuous seeing as he never actually kills the wolf – just maims him, and as Michael pointed out, death comes for everyone, not just those who are tempted by greed. If anything the carter is a depiction of man in nature. Out of his element, easily ripped off, and covetous of the natural riches (the fox’s pelt) around him, perhaps indicating a lack of respect for the natural world that provides for him.

    Meanwhile the farmer is a representation of man’s cultivation of nature. He has a bounty – and he is willing to part with some of it (his hens) as he can afford it in order to avoid greater trouble. He is non-confrontational unlike the carter but may still be guilty of that lack of respect that resulted in the carter losing his haul. If he had never cursed his ox then he would never have been put into the situation he found himself in. Both interpretations of man seem to point out that man should have more respect for nature, because as easily as it provides, it can take everything away.

    I reach this conclusion regardless of what the morilitas say because they tend to be more out-there than any conclusion I could come to.

  4. I’m in agreement with Michael, some of the intended subtext in these fables seem flimsy on a more critical cross examination. Billy raises the distinction between the farmer and the carter, one as Nature and one as Death, but are we to believe that these fables are moralizing towards Man in the negative? Be wary certainly, but the “lack of respect” the farmer shows is not necessarily his doom. There’s an odd sense of fatalism in these particular fables that we could attribute to the medieval understanding of Fortune.

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