The Two Cocks (J. de La Fontaine)

Benoît Chantre, co-author of René Girard’s Achever Clausewitz (Battling to the End), made a reference to the fable of Les Deux Coqs (The Two Cocks) by Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695) at a conference in Paris. René Girard gave a lecture at the Centre Pompidou (March 30, 2005) a good week after he became one of the “immortals” of the Académie française (March 17, 2005). Benoît Chantre humorously and aptly ended the gathering by quoting some lines of the famous French poet, one of Girard’s predecessors in the Academy.

The fable is about mimetic rivalry between two men (“cocks”) over a woman (a “hen”) – indeed a rivalry that sparked more than one (“Trojan”) war in human history. Note that, at the end, La Fontaine suggests a new potential cycle of mimetic rivalry, this time of women over a man…

Deux Coqs vivaient en paix: une Poule survint,
Et voilà la guerre allumée.
Amour, tu perdis Troie; et c’est de toi que vint
Cette querelle envenimée,
Où du sang des Dieux même on vit le Xanthe teint.
Longtemps entre nos Coqs le combat se maintint:
Le bruit s’en répandit par tout le voisinage.
La gent qui porte crête au spectacle accourut.
Plus d’une Hélène au beau plumage
Fut le prix du vainqueur ; le vaincu disparut.
Il alla se cacher au fond de sa retraite,
Pleura sa gloire et ses amours,
Ses amours qu’un rival tout fier de sa défaite
Possédait à ses yeux. Il voyait tous les jours
Cet objet rallumer sa haine et son courage.
Il aiguisait son bec, battait l’air et ses flancs,
Et s’exerçant contre les vents
S’armait d’une jalouse rage.
Il n’en eut pas besoin. Son vainqueur sur les toits
S’alla percher, et chanter sa victoire.
Un Vautour entendit sa voix:
Adieu les amours et la gloire.
Tout cet orgueil périt sous l’ongle du Vautour.
Enfin par un fatal retour
Son rival autour de la Poule
S’en revint faire le coquet:
Je laisse à penser quel caquet,
Car il eut des femmes en foule.
La Fortune se plaît à faire de ces coups;
Tout vainqueur insolent à sa perte travaille.
Défions-nous du sort, et prenons garde à nous
Après le gain d’une bataille.

English translation:

Two cocks had lived in peace, till from afar
A hen came in, and kindled up a war.
          0 love! thou wert the curse of Troy;
By thee were troubled the abodes of joy,
Where strife arose, and god opposed to god,
Till Xanthus flowed with their celestial blood.
          Long time the cocks maintained the fight,
Les Deux Coqs (Gustave Doré)The noise of which spread everywhere around;
The crested tribes came flocking to the sight.
Many a Helen plumed the victor crowned;
          The vanquished hero blushing fled
          To his retreat to hide his head—
There wept his honour and his mistress lost;
          Hearing his happy rival boast
His mistress lost and in his rival’s power,
Which he must see and suffer every hour!
The sight his courage kindled into rage;
His beak and claws he whetted to engage,
          And flapped his sides, and fought the air,
          In his excess of wild despair,
          Burning with jealous wrath to bleed,
          For which at last there was no need.
          The victor cock sat perched on high,
          Proudly chanting victory.
          A vulture heard him as he crew—
          To all his gallantry adieu.
His pride was crushed beneath the vulture’s claws,
And thus by fortune’s unexpected laws,
          Behold, the rival cock again
          Come back to gallant with the hen.
          I leave to guess what tattling lives;
          For there he found a mob of wives.
          Thus Fortune lays the fatal snare:
          The haughty victor seeks to be undone.
Then Fate distrust—be humble, and take care
          After the victory is won.

Nederlandse vertaling:

Twee hanen leefden kalm; een hoentje kwam erbij
En plots was d’oorlog uitgebroken.
Gij, Liefde, hebt den fakkel ook ontstoken
Voor Troje’s brand; van u kwam deze razernij,
Die zelfs met godenbloed den Xanthus kleurde.
Lang duurde der twee hanen felle strijd.
Door gansch de buurt werd het rumoer verspreid,
En al wat kammen droeg, kwam kijken hoe ‘t gebeurde.
Ook menig Helena met fraai gevedert
Werd ‘s overwinnaars loon; de andre haan verdween,Les Deux Coqs (Jean-Jacques Grandville)
Hij hield zich schuil, verslagen en vernederd,
Treurde om zijn glorie en zijn lief, met droef geween,
‘t Lief, dat de medeminnaar voor zijn oogen
Trotsch op zijn overwinning, nu bezat.
Het daaglijksch schouwspel kwam zijn haat en kracht
Die hij voorheen te weinig had. [verhoogen,
Hij scherpte nu zijn bek, sloeg met de vleuglen,
Zich oefnend tegen ‘t windgeblaas,
In woede en jaloezie, niet te beteuglen.
Het was niet noodig. D’andre vechtersbaas
Vloog op het dak en kraaide er zijn victorie.
Een gier, die loerde, hoorde ‘t nauw,
Of uit was ‘t met zijn liefde en zijn glorie,

‘t Bleef alles in de scherpe gierenklauw.
Toen kwam, natuurlijk wisselspel,
Weer d’ander om het hoentje draaien;
Men kan begrijpen wat een kakelen en kraaien,
Want nu beviel hij haar en d’andre wijfjes wel.
Vaak heeft Fortuin dus wraak genomen,
Elk onbeschaamd verwinnaar komt ten val;
Voorzichtig dus; want na gewonnen spel vooral,
Is ‘t zaak, de fierheid in te toomen.

Klik hier voor pdf fabels van La Fontaine

Watch the fable, remade for children, here:

 

3 comments

  1. supernunny · November 15, 2014

    Reblogged this on supernunny.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. gaudetetheology · November 15, 2014

    Sadly, this fable strikes me as a Girardian variant of blaming Eve for original sin, and all the evil that flows therefrom.

    I don’t think we need to be holding up any fables that can easily be construed as perpetuating misogyny.

    Like

    • erik buys · November 16, 2014

      I understand what you’re saying, but consider this: males fighting over females is an ethological as well as an anthropological truth. Women are often objects of mimetic rivalry.

      As Girard says in the above mentioned lecture, the misogynist version of this fact is the transfer of the anger, rivalry and violence between men on the object itself. It means that the mimetic nature of desire is not acknowledged and presented as the cause of the rivalry, but that the object is blamed precisely because it is no longer presented as an object but as a “seductive” subject. It may sound strange, but stories that present women as subjects in these contexts are much more misogynist than stories like de La Fontaine’s. Eve, Pandora, etc. are not passive, they’re active. According to their respective stories, they “do” something wrong and thus they can be blamed, whereas in de la Fontaine’s fable it’s the cocks who “do” something, not the hen!

      Read more here:
      https://erikbuys.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/a-womans-uncanny-valley/

      Moreover, the ending of the fable suggests that the cock can become an object of mimetic rivalry himself, amidst “a mob of wives”. This is clearer in the Dutch translation: Want nu beviel hij haar en d’andre wijfjes wel. Literally: “For now he was pleasing to her and the other wives.” So my take is that the fable indeed is more about mimetic rivalry as such (as its objects may change) – an ethological and anthropological fact… Indeed, no “seductive” hen is mentioned, jealousy all the more:

      The sight his courage kindled into rage;
      His beak and claws he whetted to engage,
      And flapped his sides, and fought the air,
      In his excess of wild despair,
      Burning with jealous wrath to bleed

      Finally, while the hen is not presented as tempting or seductive, the cock is! See:

      Behold, the rival cock again
      Come back to gallant with the hen.

      This is much better in French, in a word-play:

      Son rival autour de la Poule
      S’en revint faire le coquet

      Like

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