The third lecture given under the auspices of the French Department and the Cercle Francais was given last evening by Professor Lanman. His subject was: "The Oriental Sources of La Fontaine's Fables."
La Fontaine lived in the second half of the 17th century, 1621-1695, and it is interesting to note that this was coincident with the early life of this University. There is no one who is not familiar with La Fontaine, not only because of his simple tales, but because he has been so widely translated, which is the surest proof of the excellence of a work. Many of his fables have been worked into that great stock of books that form the basis of elementary instruction, spellers, primers, and the like.
The character of these fables involves the attribution of mind and speech to dumb animals. In India, the earliest home of these fables, this was easy on account of the belief in the transmigration of souls.
Beast tales in general may be divided into two classes; First, those to amuse, and second, those meant to explain this or that. The former are found even in the earliest and most uncivilized stages of society. It is only when these beast tales have morals attached that they have a place in history.
The whole matter of the sources from which are derived La Fontaine's fables is very prolix and full of detail. One of the greatest collections of such fables is Aesop's, which is intimately connected with the tales of the East. Another great collection is that in the "Jataka," which contains 550 stories of the Buddha's former births. The sources of the first six books of La Fontaine may be traced to Aesop and to Pheidros; from seven to eleven the books were derived in their sources from the oriental, that is, the Jataka and Bidpai literature.
From the Indian originals the stories came down through the Sanskrit Panchatantra, the Tibetan, the Lost Pehlevi, 550 A. D., to the Arabic and Old Syriac. From the Arabic there were many effluxes, the Later Syriac, and through that the English of Keith-Falconer; the Greek of Symeon Seth and from that the Latin of Possinus; the Hebrew of Rabbi Joel and from that the "Directorium," by John of Capua, from which comes the "Buch der byspel der alten Wysen," and the "Moral Philosophia" by Doni, which was translated into English by Sir Thomas North in 1570. from the Arabic we also get the stories through the Persian and French of David Sahid, 1644, down to La Fontaine.
After the lecture Professor Lanman showed many stereopticon views illustrating the ground he had been over.
The fourth and last lecture of this first series will be given in the Fogg Art Museum next Wednesday evening by Professor Sheldon. His subject will be, "The French language at the time of the Norman conquest."
The second series will begin on the first Wednesday after the close of the mid-year examination period.