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Phaedrus (fabulist)

Gaius Julius Phaedrus (/ˈfdrəs/; Greek: Φαῖδρος; fl. first century AD), Roman fabulist, was a Latin author and versifier of Aesop's fables.

His place of birth is unknown. Traditional biographical reconstructions on the basis of the few autobiographical references within the surviving text tend toward his being a Thracian slave,[1] born in Pydna of Roman Macedonia and alive in the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, and quite possibly also those of Caligula and Claudius. He is recognized as the first writer to Latinize entire books of fables, retelling in senarii, a loose iambic metre, the Aesopic tales in Greek prose.


According to his own statement (3.prol.), he claims to have been born on the Pierian Mountain in Macedonia. However, the reliability of this is highly suspect. Phaedrus introduces the work (1.prol.) with a reminder telling us that he 'speaks in jest of things which never happened'. Whilst the Latin heading of the first book states he was a slave of the emperor and freed (liberti Augusti), there is nothing to suggest it was by Augustus.

He claims to have incurred the wrath of (a) Sejanus, the powerful minister of Tiberius (3.prol.). The suggestion that the third book, which is dedicated to Eutychus, dates the work to the reign of Gaius on the basis of identification with the famous charioteer and favorite, is not water-tight. (Eutychus good-fortune is more probably, like most names in Phaedrus, including his own (shiny), a pun.)


The dates of composition and publication are unknown, but Seneca, writing between AD 41 and 43, suggests to Claudius' freedman Polybius to turn his hand to Latinizing Aesop, which suggests Seneca knew nothing of Phaedrus, offering a terminus post quem.

Phaedrus' metre is simple and his fables tend toward the pithy. He reworks Greek stock examples (such as the frogs desiring a king from Jupiter), but intersperses with particularly Roman examples (Tiberius and the slave, Augustus and the accused wife, the piper Prince). Interest in his work inspired a modern imitator, la Fontaine, and a number of serious scholarly studies have arisen since the turn of the century. He is mentioned by Martial and by Avianus; Prudentius must have read him, for he imitates one of his lines (Prud. Cath. VII 115; cf. Phaedrus, IV 6, 10).

Historical editions

The first edition of the five books of Phaedrus was published by Pithou at Troyes in 1596 from a manuscript now in the possession of the Marquis of Rosanbo. Near the beginning of the 18th century, a manuscript of Perotti (1430–1480), archbishop of Siponto (Manfredonia, in Apulia), was discovered at Parma containing sixty-four fables of Phaedrus, of which some thirty were previously unknown. These new fables were first published in Naples by Cassitto in 1808, and afterwards (much more correctly) by Jannehli in 1809. Both editions were superseded by the discovery of a much better preserved manuscript of Perotti in the Vatican Library, published by Angelo Mai in 1831. For some time the authenticity of these new fables was disputed, but they are now generally accepted as genuine fables of Phaedrus. They do not form a sixth book, for we know from Avianus that Phaedrus wrote only five books, but it is impossible to assign them to their original places in the five books. They are usually printed as an appendix.


Modern derivations

Since Pithou's edition in 1596 Phaedrus has been often edited and translated; among the editions may be mentioned those of Burmann (1718 and 1727), Richard Bentley (1726), Schwabe (1806), Berger de Xivrey (fr) (1830), Johann Caspar von Orelli (1832), Franz Eyssenhardt (1867), L. Müller (1877), Rica (1885), and above all that of Louis Havet (Paris, 1895). For the medieval versions of Phaedrus and their derivatives see L. Roth, in Philologus; E. Grosse, in Jahrb. f. class. Philol., cv. (1872); and especially the learned work of Léopold Hervieux, Les Fabulistes latins depuis le siècle d'Auguste jusqu'a la fin du Moyen Âge (Paris, 1884), who gives the Latin texts of all the medieval imitators (direct and indirect) of Phaedrus, some of them being published for the first time.

The most recent critical editions are those of Postgate (1919) for the Oxford Classical Texts series (now out of print) and Perry's (1965) Loeb edition with Babrius.

Further reading

  • Champlin, Edward. “Phaedrus the Fabulous.” The Journal of Roman Studies,95, 2005, pp. 97–123.
  • Glauthier, Patrick. “Phaedrus, Callimachus and the Recusatio to Success.” Classical Antiquity, 28.2, 2009, pp. 248–278.
  • Henderson, John. “Phaedrus' "Fables:" The Original Corpus.” Mnemosyne, 52.3, 1999, pp. 308–329.
  • Henderson, John. Telling Tales on Caesar. Roman Stories from Phaedrus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • Holzberg, Niklas. Die antike Fabel: eine Einführung. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2001.
  • Jennings, Victoria. "Borrowed Plumes: Phaedrus' Fables, Phaedrus' Failures." Writing Politics in Imperial Rome. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2009.
  • Lefkowitz, Jeremy B. "Grand Allusions: Vergil in Phaedrus." AJPh 137.3, 2016, pp. 487-509.
  • Lefkowitz, Jeremy B. "Innovation and Aristry in Phaedrus' Morals." Mnemosyne 70.3, 2017, pp. 417-435.
  • Libby, Brigitte B. “The Intersection of Poetic and Imperial Aurhority In Phaedrus' Fables.” The Classical Quarterly, 60.2, 2010, pp. 545–558.
  • Polt, Christopher B. “Polity Across the Pond: Democracy, Republic and Empire in Phaedrus Fables 1.2.” The Classical Journal, 110.2, 2015, pp. 161–190.
  • Vámos, Hanna “Phaedrus and the Medieval Tradition.” Acta antiqua Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 52.2, 2012, pp. 173-189.


  1. ^ John Henderson (2001), Telling Tales on Caesar (Oxford).


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