Thursday, July 24, 2008

Frogs in fairy tales, folk tales or songs (II)

Another type of stories that often includes animals as characters are the fables, and more precisely the beast fables. In this domain, Jean De La Fontaine, a French fabulist, is very famous.

Jean De La Fontaine was born in 1621 at Chateaux-Thierry, a small town located in the Champagne area. He started a career of lawyer, but turned to a literary career in his 40’s. In 1668 he published the first six books of the Fables. For writing these fables he took inspiration from famous predecessors, Aesop, Horace and from ancient Indian literature such as the Panchatantra. The first collection of 124 fables was dedicated to Monseigneur Louis, the six years old son of Louis XIV, the French king. His fables are short poems that always ends with a moral. He used animals to caricature the defaults of human being and to criticize the behaviour of some of his contemporaries. Jean De La Fontaine died in Paris, in 1695.

His is pictured for the first time on this stamp issued in 1938 in a series about famous people.


France 1938

(the pictures comes from phila-echange)

Among the most famous fables he has written I can mention : The crow and the fox, The wolf and the lamb, The lion and the rat, The cicada and the ant… A lot of animals appear in his fables, as illustrated on the cover of this booklet issued in 1978 for the Red Cross.

France 1978, Scott #B512a

As you can see, frogs appear in some of his fables : The two bulls and the frog, The frog and the rat, The frogs that claimed a king, The hare and the frog, The sun and the frogs… But the most famous one is surely : The frog that wished to be as big as an ox (sometimes known simply as The frog and the ox).

Here is a translation I made of this fable :

A Frog saw an Ox that seemed to her of a noble size.
She, no bigger than an egg,
Envious, stretched, swelled up and laboured
To match the animal in size
Watch me, sister, she said
Is this enough ? Tell me, am I there yet ?
No - How about now ? - Not at all !
Is that it ? - You're not even close !
The pretentious creature swelled up so much that she burst.

The world is full of people that are not wiser,
Every middle-class person wants to build castles like kings
Every little prince has ambassadors
Every marquis wants to have pages.


Interesting story, isn’t it ?

The frog that wished to be as big as an Ox is pictured on several stamps. Indeed, in 1995, French post and Albanian post have commemorated the 300th anniversary of the death of Jean De La Fontaine by issuing some stamps.

France has issued a set of six stamps issued in a se-tenant band, together with two labels.


France 1995, Scott #2491


One of the label pictures a portrait of Jean De La Fontaine, the other one gives the list of fables that are illustrated on the stamps. From left to right :
- The cicada and the ant
- The frog that wished to be as big as an ox
- The wolf and the lamb
- The fox and the crow
- The cat, the weasel and the little rabbit
- The hare and the turtle

A set of pre-stamped envelopes has also been issued using the same design.

Albania has issued the same year a set of three stamps and one label. The label and one of the stamps picture also the frog.


Albania 1005, Scott #2492

Albania 1005, Scott #2493

To be noted that the stamp has been re-issued in 2006 with a surcharge of 40 leke instead of 25 (I do not have yet this stamp).

Personnally I’m surpised that Albania has commemorated the anniversary of the death of Jean De La Fontaine. It makes me wonder how much is he known out of France. I would be happy to get some feedback on this from the readers of my blog.



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