Archive for the ‘literature’ Category

Let’s get back to Martin Luther today.

The Frog and the Mouse
by Martin Luther

A mouse would have liked to cross the water, alas she could not do it. So she asked the frog for help. The frog was a jokester and the mouse’s enemy and so he said to the mouse: “Tie your foot to my foot and I will swim across the water pulling you with me.”

But as they were in the water, the frog took a dive and wanted to drown the mouse. And while the mouse is struggling and fighting, a harrier comes a-flying, snatches the mouse with the frog still tied to her leg and eats them both.

This fable shows that the world is filled by evil and betrayal. But in the end, betrayal beats her master.

Copyright for the fable’s translation: TaleTellerin


The jump from past tense to present tense is actually in the original text and it’s very interesting. Obviously, we know this from novels and stuff as a technique to quicken the pace so the reader is pulled in and left breathless. It’s interesting to see it in such a short text. Not sure it’s quite working.

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The fables of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing were one of my subjects in my final exams at university and I still cannot remember having ever read this one. Or actually these ones as there are four of them. Did I skip them because otherwise I would surely remember as they are awesome. Right?

The Animals’ Contest
in four fables by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing


A heated dispute about rank arose amongst the animals. In order to sooth the tempers, the horse spoke: “Let us ask the human for his advice as he is not part of the disputing parties and can thus be all the more impartial.”

different animals, same dispute of egos?

“But does he possess the intelligence necessary for such an undertaking?” asked the mole. “He certainly needs the most precise one to recognise our often times deeply hidden perfections.”

“That was very wisely remarked!” said the hamster.

“Certainly!” cried the hedgehog. “I shall never believe that the human has the necessary ingenuity.”

“Be silent!” the horse ordered. “We all know: who can rely on his own qualities the least, is always the most eager to doubt his judge’s insight.”


The human was made judge. – “Upon a word,” the majestic lion called, “before you deliver your verdict! On which standard, human, will you measure our worth?” (more…)

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Today, let me tell you a tale by Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), the famous Danish author and poet. I only ever read his more well know tales but I’m so fascinated by this one, that there will be undoubtly more. To begin with:

The Evil Lord
by Hans Christian Andersen

full version below

Once upon a time, there lived an evil and high-spirited lord who only ever strived to conquer all the world’s countries and to inspire fear with his name alone. He travelled around with fire and sword; his soldiers trampled down the corn in the fields; they set fire to the farmers’ house so that the flames licked the leaves from the trees and the fruits hung roasted from the scorched trees. Many a poor mother hid with her naked infant behind smoking walls and the soldiers searched for her and when they found her and the child, the devilish pleasures began. Evil spirits could not have done worse. But the lord thought things were proceeding just as they were supposed to. Day after day his power grew, his name was feared by all and luck was on his site in all his deeds. He brought home large treasures from the conquered cities; in his kingly city a wealth was accumulated that was matched in no other place on earth. Now he had splendid castles, churches and halls built and everybody who saw this glory, said: “What a great lord he is!” But they did not remember the distress he had brought upon other countries, they did not hear the sighs and the misery which rose from the cremated cities. (more…)

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As you probably know Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is generally considered one of the most if not the most important German author/poet/writer. Through school and university, I majored in German Literature, I got to read quite a bit by him and I still nurture something of a love-hate-relationship with him.

But if there is non literary piece by him which I love dearly, it is “Der Erlkönig” (The Erl King). I love the pace, the sense of being hunted that Goethe manages to create. To me it feels very folktaley in its atmosphere which is captured quite well in the two musical adaptations included in this post. Or what do you think?

The Erl King
(translated by Edgar Alfred Bowring)

Who rides there so late through the night dark and drear?
The father it is, with his infant so dear;
He holdeth the boy tightly clasp’d in his arm,
He holdeth him safely, he keepeth him warm. (more…)

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After Kafka, who is certainly one of the most well-known German writers but not especially famous for his fable about the mouse and the cat, let’s today move on to Gotthold Ephraim Lessing.

Wenzel Hollar's The Three Furies

Are you feeling furious yet?

As one of the most important figures of Enlightenment in Germany and of German literature in general, Lessing was very productive in a number of genres. The fable being one of the most prominent ones. He translated many of the classical fables by Aesop, he created his own and he also wrote a very distinct normative theory of the genre.

And he wasn’t the only one, of course, who was so into this genre. Fables – so the intellectuals figured – were a great medium to enlighten the masses. Most people back then couldn’t read but, of course, everybody was familiar with folklore. So fables were a medium people were used to and their “Moral von der Geschicht'” (the fable’s moral) was so clear-cut, nobody could misunderstand it. Fables thusly combined entertainment with guaranteed teaching success, or so the idea.

Looking back, there are obviously a number of problems with this brilliant idea. Not the least was that authors like Lessing did write their fables down so it’s anybody’s guess how they were supposed to find their way to the illiterate people… But enough of the theory, let’s see this in practise. (more…)

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Kafka, approx. 5 years old

tiny Kafka with neither mouse nor cat

Something a little different to start off the week. Instead of the usual folktale, we’ll have a Little Fable by Franz Kafka. I am not one of those obsessive Kafka-fans (I’m rather taken with his ancestor-in-spirit Kleist) but ever since I first came upon this tiny little gem of literature, I’ve loved it dearly. So let me share with you the experience of puzzled perplexity that comes from reading:

Little Fable
(by Franz Kafka)

“Alas,” said the mouse. “The world is growing closer every day. In the beginning it was so wide, that I was afraid. So I went on further and was happy when, in the distance, I saw walls to the left and to the right. But these walls race towards each other so quickly that I am already in the last room and there in the corner is the trap, into which I run.” – “You only need to change directions,” said the cat and ate her.

Copyright for translation: TaleTellerin
Copyright for image: Wiki Commons


And because I by no means claim to be an experienced translator of modern literature, have the original German text as well. So you can compare/skip mine. 😉

Kleine Fabel
(von Franz Kafka)

»Ach«, sagte die Maus, »,die Welt wird enger mit jedem Tag. Zuerst war sie so breit, daß ich Angst hatte, ich lief weiter und war glücklich, daß ich endlich rechts und links in der Ferne Mauern sah, aber diese langen Mauern eilen so schnell aufeinander zu, daß ich schon im letzten Zimmer bin, und dort im Winkel steht die Falle, in die ich laufe.« – »Du mußt nur die Laufrichtung ändern«, sagte die Katze und fraß sie.

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