Posted by: ayac | September 19, 2014

Aesop’s Fables: general notes

The Nahuatl translation of Aesop’s fables is found along with several other texts in MS 1628 bis, a volume held by the National Library of Mexico. The first part of the manuscript, the Cantares Mexicanos, is the most famous, and a fascimile of the entire volume was published under that name. I received a copy of that fascimile as an unexpected gift from Maunus, and it’s the source of the transcriptions here.

This text has been studied before, but I haven’t read any of the previous literature or translations yet. The translations here are my own, as are the guesses about its origin.

Linguistically the text seems not noticeably different from standard Classical Nahuatl as described by Carochi et al. One exception is that the author apparently did not distinguish between /t/ and /tt/, writing t where tt is expected, and writing tt where /tt/ is not only unexpected but phonologically impossible (i.e. at the start of a word, as in ttiçitl, or after a consonant, as in tlaachtopayhttohuani).

I don’t know enough about palaeography to describe the handwriting, except one feature immediately stands out: the letter h is not uncommonly rotated 180 degrees, i.e. ɥ. I have no idea what precedents there are for that, if any.

These features are also found in the Life of Saint Bartholomew which immediately precedes the fables, so they were probably products of the same scribe.

Although the fables were originally written in Greek, the Nahuatl version is apparently based on the Latin translation by Joachim Camerarius. [Or maybe not.] Another text in the volume, Object Lessons Pertaining to the Perfect Eucharist, repeatedly cites Caesarius of Heisterbach, another German. I don’t know if that’s a coincidence or not; I don’t know to what extent German books were available in Mexico in the 16th century.



  1. Do you know an recently article about the Aldo Manuzio like the source of those fables?

    • Nope, I know nothing about that.

  2. Gracias, Alexa. Efectivamente, yo escribí un artículo sobre las fuentes latinas de las “Fábulas de Esopo en lengua náhuatl”, que se puede encontrar en Latomus 2015. En él explico cómo la selección de Aldo Manucio fue la fuente del autor mexica, que según mis análisis pudo ser un alumno de fray Bernardino de Sahagún, Francisco Plácido, junto a su maestro.
    El autor de este post señala que no hay otras traducciones, pero existen las de Volmer & Gunter, Cíntora, entre otras, además de varios estudios serios y dictaminados sobre el tema.

    • Sólo quería decir que no había leído ningún traducciones, no que no existen. Pero gracias por su comentario.

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