Bernd Schneider (ed. and tr.), Sebastian Brant: Fabeln = Hans-Gert Roloff (ed.), Arbeiten und Editionen zur Mittleren Deutschen Literatur, neue Folge Band 4. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: frommann- holzboog Verlag, 1999. Pp. 454, incl. 140 black-and- white wood-cuts of the 1501 edition. ISBN 3-7728- 1877-3. No price supplied.
University of Natal, Durban
In the same years before the end of the 15th century, when Christopher Columbus undertook his first epic voyage to the Far West in small caravels (1492-1494), Sebastian Brant sent out his 'Ship of Fools': the most penetrating satire castigating Europe's decadent society before the Reformation. Columbus took with him a little fewer than 100 men; Brant acidly described no less than 112 various sorts of fools -- the kinds of characters he met in daily life.
His other works are not so well-known any more. It is therefore a most delightful refresher course for all of us that Bernd Schneider, Professor of Classics at the University of Vechta in Germany, gives us a model edition of 140 Latin fables, which Brant collected and edited in 1501. This is in fact another full 'ship of fools': short poignant stories about human stupidity, impudence and arrogance, telling examples of the moral excesses among high- and low-class people taken from literature and life from pagan antiquity to his own day.
Schneider provides the user with all possible help: a clear, precise German translation; a concise apparatus criticus where needed; and a list of sources, enumerating in the final index fontium more than 300 texts from Cicero to Gellius to Albertus Magnus, from Ovid to Poggio, from Valla to Virgil to Vulgata. There is also a Nachwort (pp. 407-54) discussing thoroughly eight fundamental aspects of the text and its edition: 'Der Aesop-Druck von 1501' (pp. 409- 412); 'Der erste Teil des "Esopus" von 1501: Brants "Esopus"-Revision' (pp. 413-16); 'Der zweite Teil des "Esopus" von 1501: Brants Additiones' (pp. 416-28); 'Brants Textvorlagen' (pp. 428-33); 'Die Holzschnitte der Additiones' (pp. 434-41); 'die Nachwirkung der Additiones' (pp. 442-44); and 'Zur vorliegenden Ausgabe' (pp. 444-47).
So far, the book appears to be a very useful and most welcome scholarly tool for anyone studying the history of the fable or researching the humanists' world around 1500; what makes it a real gem is the addition of the 140 woodcuts of the 1501 Basel edition. Schneider makes a very plausible case for the workshop of Johann Grüninger in Strassburg as the source of these precious little illustrations. He underlines that here the pictures, contrary to the intention to interpret the text as in the 'ship of fools', do not aim at anything else other than to help the fantasy of the contemporary viewer ('des zeitgenössischen Betrachters') along its way to the core of the fable. Whoever looks at them today will be delighted to have these charming pictures available to study them and--even more--to enjoy their wit and wisdom.