Phaedrus


Biography of Phaedrus

Phaedrus (c. 15 BC – c. 50 AD), Roman fabulist, was probably a Thracian slave, born in Pydna of Macedonia (Roman province) and lived in the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius. He is recognized as the first writer to Latinize entire books of fables, retelling in iambic metre the Greek prose Aesopic tales.

According to his own statement (prologue to book III), he was born on the Pierian Mountain in Macedonia, but he seems to have been brought to Italy at an early age, since he mentions reading a verse of Ennius as a boy in school. According to the heading of the chief manuscript he was a slave and was freed by Augustus.

He incurred the wrath of Sejanus, the powerful minister of Tiberius, by some supposed allusions in his fables, and was brought to trial and punished. We learn this from the prologue to the third book, which is dedicated to Eutychus, who has been identified with the famous charioteer and favorite of Gaius.

The fourth book is dedicated to Particulo, who seems to have dabbled in literature. The dates of their publication are unknown, but Seneca, writing between AD 41 and 43, knows nothing of Phaedrus, and it is probable that he had not yet published anything.

His writing introduces a mannerist style, rendered in iambic trimeters, to the fables attributed to "Aesop", popular with his contemporaries. The verses are interspersed with anecdotes drawn from daily life, history and mythology.

His use of Latin is typified by a particular use of abstract concepts that belies an awareness of the literary canon, especially Augustan works. Phaedrus draws comparisons with Babrius, and directly inspired a modern imitator, La Fontaine. He is mentioned by Martial, who imitated some of his verses, and by Avianus; Prudentius must have read him, for he imitates one of his lines (Prud. Cath. VII 115; ci. Phaedrus, IV 6, 10).

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