Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Babrius

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BABRIUS, or Babrias, or Gabrias (the original name being possibly Oriental), a Greek fabulist, who wrote, according to Sir G. C. Lewis, shortly before the Augustan age, though dates have been assigned to him from 250 B.C. to 250 A.D. One of his editors, Boissonade, believes that he was a Roman. His name occurs in some of the old grammarians, and a few fragments were ascribed to him. The first critic who made him more than a mere name, was Bentley in his Dissertation on the Fables of Æsop. In a careful examination of these prose Æsopian 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 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, however, M. Mynas, a Greek, the discoverer of the Philosophoumena of Hippolytus, came upon a MS. of Babrius in the convent of St Laura on Mount Athos. This MS. contained 123 fables out of the supposed original number, 16O. 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, pointed, and elegant, and the construction of the stories is fully equal to that in the prose versions. The MS. was first published by Boissonade in 1844; afterwards by Lachmann, 1845; by Orelli and Baiter, 1845; by Sir George Cornewall Lewis, 1846; and by Schneidewin, 1853. The genuineness of this collection of the fables was generally admitted by scholars. In 1857 Mynas professed to have discovered at Mount Athos another part containing 94 fables and a proœmium. According to his statement, the monks, who had been willing to sell the MS. containing the first part for a sufficient price, refused altogether to part with the second. He therefore made a copy which was sold to the British Museum, and was published in 1859 by Sir G. C. Lewis. But these fables only purport to be Babrius spoiled,, after having passed through the hands of a "diasceuast," that is, some late writer who has turned his verses into barbarous Greek and wretched metre. In a Latin dissertation, published in 1861, Professor Conington carefully examined this part, arriving at the conclusion that the fables were metrical versions of the prose stories, executed by some forger who must have been acquainted with Lachmann's conjectures on fragments formerly known. Cobet expresses a similar opinion, but in stronger terms. It is not impossible that the forger was Mynas himself. Sir G. C. Lewis, however, holds that the similarity between the fables and these existing prose versions appears such as might have been produced not by a forger copying from a prose writer, but rather by two grammarians recasting the same work of Babrius. The standard edition of Babrius is that of Sir. G. C. Lewis; there is a faithful translation in verse by Davies. For Conington's dissertation see his Miscellaneous Writings, vol. ii. pp. 460-491.