Gabriele Faerno, also known by his Latin name of Faernus Cremonensis, was born in Cremona about 1510 and died in Rome on November 17, 1561. He was a scrupulous scholar and an elegant Latin poet who is best known now for his collection of Aesop's Fables in Latin verse.
Gabriele Faerno was born in Cremona to Francis Faerno, a local lawyer and scholar. In 1528 he was enrolled at the Collegium Notariorum in his hometown and then entered the service of the Bishop of Cremona. Biographical details for this period are sparse, except that in 1538 he followed his master on a mission to Barcelona in Spain. At some time in the next decade he was recommended by his sponsors to Rome. The first evidence of his presence in the city is in a letter from Carlo Gualteruzzi to Giovanni Della Casa in October, 1548. At the start of 1549 he began working in the Vatican Library and was brought into contact with many of the scholars and philologists who gravitated around the activities there.
Faerno's literary accomplishments over the next decade gained him the esteem and friendship of the cardinal Giovanni Angelo de Medici, afterwards Pope Pius IV, and of his nephew the cardinal Charles Borromeo. Having acquired a critical knowledge of the Latin language, he was enabled to display much judgment in the correction of the Roman classics, and in the collation of ancient manuscripts on which he was frequently employed. Once Pius IV was elected to the papal throne, Faerno was urged to publish some of the results of his diligent work. He was also offered a bishopric, which he modestly refused. Illness intervened before he could see the works he was preparing through the press and he died at the home of Cardinal Giovanni Morone towards the end of 1561.
Faerno died in the prime of life. How much might have been expected from his talents and habits of study, had he lived longer, may appear from the works he left.
- 1. Terentii Comoediae, Florence 1565, 2 vols. 8vo, a valuable and rare edition, completed after his death by his friend Piero Vettori. There is no ancient editor to whom Terence is more indebted than to Faerno; who, by a judicious collation of ancient manuscripts and editions, has restored the true reading of his author in many important passages. Faerno’s edition became the basis of almost every subsequent one, and Dr. Richard Bentley had such an opinion of his notes that he reprinted them entire in his edition.
- 2. Ciceronis Orationes Philippicae, Rome 1563, 8vo, very highly praised by Graevius.
- 3. He also worked on the conflicting manuscripts of the historian Livy and Faerno's contemporary, Latino Latini, has left a note on the scrupulous care with which he approached the subject. 'As for Livy, I would not want you to believe that [Faerno] is so bold and presumptuous as to add or change anything without the evidence of the ancient codices, unless obviously corrupt. If he cannot avoid mistakes at times, he does everything scrupulously, giving exact reasons for any opinion or conjecture of his, so as to leave anyone free to judge for himself.'
Faerno is counted one of the foremost of the Renaissance Latin poets, largely on account of his "100 Fables" (Centum Fabulae ex antiquis autoribus delectae, et carminibus explicatae). Though not published until 1563, there is evidence that he was compiling the work as early as 1558. So excellent were his versions that one scholar went so far as to accuse him of concealing an undiscovered manuscript of Phaedrus for fear of lessening the value of his own versions. But Charles Perrault, who published a translation of Faerno’s work into French verse (Paris 1699), has defended the author from this imputation.
Perrault's preface gives the following account of the work:
- Pope Pius IV, convinced that reading the fables of Aesop was of great use in forming the morals of young children, commissioned Gabriel Faerno, whom he knew as an excellent poet as well as a man with a taste for elegant and beautiful Latinity, to versify these fables so that children might learn, at the same time and from the same book, both moral and linguistic purity....Faerno has been called a second Phaedrus, by reason of the excellent style of his Fables, though he never saw Phaedrus, who did not come to our knowledge till above thirty years after his death; for Pithoeus, having found that manuscript in the dust of an old library, published it in the beginning of this century. Thuanus, who makes very honourable mention of our author in his history, pretends that Phaedrus was not unknown to him; and even blames him for having suppressed that author, to conceal what he had stolen from him. But there is no ground for what he says; and it is only the effect of the strong persuasion of all those who are so great admirers of antiquity as to think that a modern author can do nothing that is excellent, unless he has an ancient author for his model. Out of the hundred fables which Faerno published in Latin verse, there are but five that had been treated by Phaedrus, and out of those five there are but one or two that have been managed nearly in the same manner: which happened only because it is impossible that two men, who treat on the same subject, should not agree sometimes in the same thoughts, or in the same expressions."
Besides fables collected 'from ancient authors', Mediaeval folk tales such as The miller, his son and the donkey and The Mice in Council were included in the work as well. It was to go through some forty European editions, including translations into Italian, English, German, Dutch and French. In England the 1741 edition, which included Perrault's French translations and an English translation, was to serve as a school textbook. But the work was successful and influential for other reasons than the fineness of the language. Its illustrations were also esteemed and have been attributed to Titian, or to Pirro Ligorio by others. Published at the time of a taste for Emblem books, the morals with which Faerno furnished the fables by way of conclusion were seen as contributing to that fashion and widening the subject matter to include the Aesopic fable too.
Poems attributed to Faerno were also printed in some later editions. They include his attack on Protestantism as a 'Germanic sect', In Lutheranos, sectam Germanicam, verses accompanying illustrations of artistic works, complimentary addresses and other occasional verse. He was also the author of sonnets in Italian.
The title of Faerno's celebrated work translates as 'One hundred delightful fables, poetically interpreted from ancient authors'. The following is a list of the fables occurring there, with links to those that have a separate article devoted to them.
- 1. Ollae duae - The Two Pots
- 2. Iupiter et Minerva.
- 3. Leo, asinus et vulpes - The Lion's Share
- 4. asinus et lupus.
- 5. leo mente captus et caprea.
- 6. asini duo.
- 7. Formica et cicada - The Ant and the Grasshopper
- 8. turdi.
- 9. sus et canis.
- 10. Senex et mors - The Old Man and Death
- 11. mergus, rubus et vespertilio.
- 12. cornix et canis.
- 13. Corvus et mater - The Sick Kite
- 14. musca.
- 15. rusticus et eques.
- 16. Equus et asinus - The Horse and the Donkey
- 17. vulpes et erinaceus.
- 18. Leo et vulpes - The Lion and the Fox
- 19. Vulpes et uva - The Fox and the Grapes
- 20. Corvus et vulpes - The Fox and the Crow (Aesop)
- 21. dies festus et profestus.
- 22. pavo et monedula.
- 23. cervus et hinnulus.
- 24. cervus et serpens.
- 25. cygnus et anser.
- 26. puer et scorpius.
- 27. anguilla et serpens.
- 28. canis et lupus.
- 29. Canis, gallus et vulpes - The Cock, the Dog and the Fox
- 30. mulus.
- 31. iuvenes duo et coquus.
- 32. cochleae.
- 33. cornix et hirundo.
- 34. Mercurius et statuarius.
- 35. Pater et filii - The Farmer and his Sons
- 36. simius et delphus.
- 37. ranae duae sitientes.
- 38. ranae duae vicinae.
- 39. Auceps et cassita - The Bird-catcher and the Blackbird
- 40. deceptor et Apollo.
- 41. Uxor submersa et vir - The drowned woman and her husband
- 42. Feles et gallus - noticed under The Wolf and the Lamb
- 43. asinus simius et talpa.
- 44. vulpes vota mutans.
- 45. musca et quadrigae.
- 46. pica et aves.
- 47. Mures - The Mice in Council
- 48. Avarus - The Miser and his Gold
- 49. vulpes et lupus.
- 50. Canna et oliva - The Oak and the Reed
- 51. asini et Iupiter.
- 52. herus et canis.
- 53. Canis et caro - The Dog and its Reflection
- 54. asinus et aper.
- 55. pullus asini et lupus.
- 56. Lupus et grus - The Wolf and the Crane
- 57. Iupiter et cochlea.
- 58. Satyrus et homo - The Satyr and the Traveller
- 59. Mures et feles - The Cat and the Mice
- 60. vulpes et aquila.
- 61. vulpes.
- 62. Lignator et Mercurius - The Honest Woodcutter
- 63. fullo et carbonarius.
- 64. iactator.
- 65. vulpes et rubus.
- 66. vulpes et larva.
- 67. canes duo.
- 68. Mulier et medicus - The Old Woman and the Doctor
- 69. Asinus dominos mutans - The Ass and his Masters
- 70. cerva et vitis.
- 71. latro et mater.
- 72. vates.
- 73. Astrologus - The Astrologer who Fell into a Well
- 74. Leo et vulpes - The Fox and the Sick Lion
- 75. armentarius.
- 76. lupus et mulier.
- 77. vespertilio et mustela.
- 78. aper et vulpes.
- 79. gallinus et hirundo.
- 80. canes duo et coquus.
- 81. Simius et vulpes - noticed under The Boy and the Filberts
- 82. Vulpes, asinus et leo
- 83. Formica - noticed under The Ant and the Grasshopper
- 84. asinus et equus.
- 85. monedula.
- 86. herus et canes.
- 87. agnus et lupus
- 88. Asinus et vulpes - The Ass in the Lion's Skin
- 89. asinus corvus et lupus.
- 90. Mercurius.
- 91. Bubulcus et Hercules - Hercules and the Wagoner
- 92. Momus.
- 93. arbores et rhamnus.
- 94. spes.
- 95. asinus simulacrum gestans.
- 96. cassita.
- 97. vulpes et simius.
- 98. rusticus et Iuppiter.
- 99. leo lupus et vulpes.
- 100. Pater, filius et asinus - The miller, his son and the donkey
The bulk of the biographical information is taken from the Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (Dictionary of Italian Biography) It has been supplemented with details from Alexander Chalmers’ General Biographical Dictionary (1812–17), a text that is in the public domain on account of its age.
- E. Pastorello, Inedita Manutiana 1502-1597. Appendice all'inventario, Venezia-Roma 1960, ad Indicem; Corrispondenza Giovanni Della Casa-Carlo Gualteruzzi (1525-1549), a cura di O. Moroni, Città del Vaticano 1986, p. 524
- Archived online
- Letter to Andrea Masio, quoted in P. Paschini, Cinquecento romano e riforma cattolica, in Lateranum, XXIV (1958)
- The principal early Italian editions of this work are listed online
- The 1753 London reprint of this and Faerno's original Latin is available online
- The French text online
- Henry Green, Shakespeare and the emblem writers: an exposition of their similarities of thought and expression; preceded by a view of emblem-literature down to 1616,(London 1870), ch2, section 4, p.84
- Centum Fabulae, London 1753, pp.3-12
- A sonnet "On Scanderbeg's sepulchre" is available online with a modern translation into Albanian
- View online
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