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Commentary on Emblem 7

The poem is a fairly closely rendered fable from Aesop (Halm 324, Perry 182), though in the Aesopan tradition the figure is "an image of a god," not of Isis, whose presence heightens the sense of the "mysteries." A slightly different ending emphasizes the unhappiness of the driver (Perry, in his Loeb edition of Babrius and Phaedrus, p. 456, translates: "Miserable creature, did this too remain for me to experience, to behold you, an ass, bowed down to by men?").

There is also the ancient proverb Asinus portans mysteria, An ass that bears the mysteries (Erasmus Adages 2.2.4), found in Aristophanes Frogs 159-60 ("God knows, an ass that bears the mysteries / Am I; but I'll not carry them much longer"), the moment played with in Apuleius Metamorphoses 8.24 when the narrator, transformed into an ass, carries about the goddess Ceres.

A classical fable that applies nicely to 16th-century debates over symbol and substance in the Christian faith.

Virginia Callahan has written a commentary on the Latinity of the poem.

We have added two early English translations of the emblem, and there is the well-known version in Whitney's Choice of Emblemes, on page 8 (you may compare these in frames). And there is at Glasgow a 1536 French translation of this emblem, conventionally number 35 by Jean Lefevre (Alciato and this are also together in frames).

Last modified 1 May 1996