Kamel – C. – III.1 Fabel

The camel is represented in four fables, two of them widely transmitted in Latin, two of them less so. The Aesopic fable of the camel and the → flea is common to Babrius and the Romulus traditions, and is also related by Ps. Dositheus and Alexander Neckam (see Grubmüller/Dicke no. 157, p. 169f.). A flea rides for some time on a camel’s back, before getting off and telling the camel that he is doing so to relieve the camel’s burden – to which the camel responds that he has at no point noticed the flea’s presence. If this fable acts above all as a warning to insignificant people (like the flea) against vaunting their own presumed importance, the comparably well known Avianic fable of the camel and Jupiter presents the camel itself in a morally negative light (see Grubmüller/Dicke no. 328, p. 381f.). The camel asks Jove for a pair of horns like those of a bull, only to be derided, told to be content with what nature has provided, and in several accounts denuded of his long ears. The camel is sometimes addressed as »livide«, thereby implying an association also with the deadly sin of envy. Meanwhile a fable from the Kalila wa-Dimna tradition (also in Baldo, Bono Stoppani, John of Capua, and Raymond of Béziers – see Grubmüller/Dicke no. 389, p. 449) casts the camel as a selfless servant who allows himself to be eaten by the sick → lion-king in order to save the latter’s life; and the Cyrillus fable of the camel 4 Tiere in der Literatur des Mittelalters. Ein interdisziplinäres Lexikonprojekt – Probeartikel »Kamel« and the → oxen (Grubmüller/Dicke no. 331, p. 386f.) presents the former as a prudent father-figure (he is addressed as ‘pater’), who mediates between two steers fighting each other over the same female calf. One suspects that most of these characterizations are based above all on the camel’s large size; and certainly they contain little to imply a connection with the encyclopaedic and patristic traditions described above.

Nigel Harris

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