1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Babrius
BABRIUS, author of a collection of fables written in Greek. Practically nothing is known of him. He is supposed to have been a Roman, whose gentile name was possibly Valerius, living in the East, probably in Syria, where the fables seem first to have gained popularity. The address to “a son of King Alexander” has caused much speculation, with the result that dates varying between the 3rd century B.C. and the 3rd century A.D. have been assigned to Babrius. The Alexander referred to may have been Alexander Severus (A.D. 222-235), who was fond of having literary men of all kinds about his court. “The son of Alexander” has further been identified with a certain Branchus mentioned in the fables, and it is suggested that Babrius may have been his tutor; probably, however, Branchus is a purely fictitious name. There is no mention of Babrius in ancient writers before the beginning of the 3rd century A.D., and his language and style seem to show that he belonged to that period. The first critic who made Babrius more than a mere name was Richard Bentley, in his Dissertation on the Fables of Aesop. In a careful examination of these prose Aesopian fables, which had been handed down in various collections from the time of Maximus Planudes, Bentley discovered traces of versification, and was able to extract a number of verses which he assigned to Babrius. Tyrwhitt (De Babrio, 1776) followed up the researches of Bentley, and for some time the efforts of scholars were directed towards reconstructing the metrical original of the prose fables. In 1842 M. Minas, a Greek, the discoverer of the Philosophoumena of Hippolytus, came upon a MS. of Babrius in the convent of St Laura on Mount Athos, now in the British Museum. This MS. contained 123 fables out of the supposed original number, 160. They are arranged alphabetically, but break off at the letter O. The fables are written in choliambic, i.e. limping or imperfect iambic verse, having a spondee as the last foot, a metre originally appropriated to satire. The style is extremely good, the expression being terse and pointed, the versification correct and elegant, and the construction of the stories is fully equal to that in the prose versions. The genuineness of this collection of the fables was generally admitted by scholars. In 1857 Minas professed to have discovered at Mount Athos another MS. containing 94 fables and a preface. As the monks refused to sell this MS., he made a copy of it, which was sold to the British Museum, and was published in 1859 by Sir G. Cornewall Lewis. This, however, was soon proved to be a forgery. Six more fables were brought to light by P. Knöll from a Vatican MS. (edited by A. Eberhard, Analecta Babriana, 1879).