Tuesday, April 09, 2013

renard le renard

This beautiful guy taking his ease at home among an assortment of freshly-slaughtered`domestic fowls, has just been made chancellor by the king. Not so long ago he was a well-known criminal and fugitive, but now the wheel Fortuna has turned, and he hopes his sons will inherit his high station.

Reynard the Fox was first told in Flanders in medieval times, but the smooth-talking sociopath who triumphs over all might be the most up-to-date fable there is. The idea that a person can get away with pretty much anything, given enough charm, an ability to flatter effectively, and good line of b.s., is an idea whose time comes and goes with the seasons.

The fox is in hot water with the authorities throughout most of Goethe's novel-length poem, and manages to survive two capital trials, drawing pardons both times, the first as he was standing on the gallows with the string round his neck.

Then there was a third trial, of course, because in these old stories things always happen in threes, but this one was different, for it was decided by mortal combat, in the medieval fashion, between nobly-born enemies. Everybody expected the larger and heavier wolf to win easily, but Reynard gained the victory through the simple expedient of cheating -- he threw dirt in his enemy's eyes, then proceeded to injure him grievously.

Then, presumably as a reward for his having achieved the status of a master criminal, the king made the fox his chancellor, as if to underscore that in politics, no bad deed goes unrewarded.

So if you're one of the earth's humble denizens, take heart. because no matter how grandiose your heart's desire, you can realize it. It's all in knowing who to butter, who to ignore, and who to rob. Employ violence only when necessary, make bombastic, patriotic speeches when the opportunity arises, and learn to do apology with tears running down your face. Timing is everything, those who can't help you are nothing, and deserve lies and bad faith.

Remember these things, and you too can become president of the US.

The illustration, executed by English engravers after a design by Wilhelm von Kaulbach, was one of dozens accompanying Thomas Arnold's translation of Goethe's poem, and was published in the US by Gebbie and Co. of Philadelphia in 1894 in Vol. IV of their five-volume "Library of Wit and Humor," by which I was first acquainted with this wonderful fable.

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