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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 8 page 19

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* Page 13: The fabulist Aesop is supposed to have lived in Greece circa 600 BCE. In his stories he enlists animals for the moral instruction of humans. For example, the lion spares a mouse his life and one day the mouse frees the lion from a trap by gnawing the ropes. Moral: do a kind-hearted favor, get a surprise favor back. The speedy hare stops for a nap and is overtaken by the plodding tortoise. Moral: over-confidence breeds defeat, or, if you prefer, persistence wins the race. Aesop projected human characteristics upon his animal characters and even gave them speech. At least, that’s how the fables have come down to us. Many of the tales are probably not Aesop’s in the first place but were free-floating ancient stories that got attributed to Aesop by the scribes who compiled them in later centuries. Where the stories feature a monkey, elephant, hyena, or lion — there are lots of lions — we are entitled to suspect not Greek but rather Asian or African origins. Aesop’s name, if it is true that it is a nickname derived from Aethiops, meaning “the Ethiopian,” points to an African background of some sort.

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* Page 13: The monks re-used the accounts they found in Physiologus mixed in with whatever tall tales of travelers came their way. Alongside the fox and the dove, the bestiaries included completely imaginary animals such as dragons and unicorns. Their readers would be disappointed if such well-known creatures were not included. In any case, an accurate depiction of physical nature was far less important than the moral or theological points embodied in nature.

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* Page 15: There’s a theory that some dinosaurs escaped the catastrophe and became birds, perhaps the very birds that chirp so cheerily outside your window in the morning. But don’t bet the house on that. It may rather be that birds and dinosaurs have some remote reptilian ancestor in common.

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* Page 17: Perhaps the most famous case of disobedience to a destruction order was that of Paris, where the German military governor, Dietrich von Choltitz, and his colleagues declined to destroy the city's bridges, railroads, factories, monuments, etc. Randall Hansen suggests that had the Germans left Paris a heap of rubble as Hitler demanded, the chances of a constructive post-war Franco-German relationship, and hence of a European Union, might have been slim.

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