Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

NEWSPAPERS and the radio have recently been full of Minimus - the little mouse (mini-mus) of the new primary school Latin course, Minimus - and Maximus, hero of the film Gladiator. This week, therefore, Minimus.

The ancients used animals for food, hunting, sacrifice and haulage, and occasionally as pets. It was the shadowy figure of Aesop (6th century Bc) who gave them literary status. His fables are, as the ancient Greek rhetorician Theon saw, `fictitious stories picturing a truth', and the characters are almost always animals. The reason is that fables present a world where truth is black and white. Since human motives and character are usually devious, the lessons of the fable are better presented by nonhuman types, primed to behave in standard ways - the brave lion, tricky fox, feeble mouse, and so on. The lessons thus conveyed are clean, decisive and instantly applicable: `The dolphins were always at odds with the whale. …

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