Friday Fable. LaFontaine’s version of Aesop’s “THE JAY IN THE FEATHERS OF THE PEACOCK.”*

Posted by jlubans on January 15, 2016

Caption: Illustration by André Hellé, 'Le Geai Pare des Plumes du Paon,' 1922.

“A peacock moulted: soon a jay was seen
Bedeck'd with Argus tail of gold and green,
High strutting, with elated crest,
As much a peacock as the rest.
His trick was recognized and bruited,
His person jeer'd at, hiss'd, and hooted.
The peacock gentry flock'd together,
And pluck'd the fool of every feather.
Nay more, when back he sneak'd to join his race,
They shut their portals in his face.”
“There is another sort of jay,
The number of its legs the same,
Which makes of borrow'd plumes display,
And plagiary is its name.
But hush! the tribe I'll not offend;
'Tis not my work their ways to mend.”

Notably, at fable’s end, LaFontaine targets plagiarists. To which “tribe” is he is referring? Academics? Or is he targeting the Parisian equivalent of London’s Fleet Street? Or, is his complaint in general of anyone, like Aesop's jay, who feathers his cap with feathers (achievements) lifted from others?
For scholars, the most blatant “plagiary” is straightforward copying without attribution. In the workplace, this is akin to taking full personal credit for someone else’s good ideas or work. And, then there’s the sly supervisor who attributes the good work to her department but omits naming the individual(s) most responsible.
Equally petty and unsavory is when someone imitates another’s ideas, recasts them somewhat, but gives no tip of the hat to the originator. Interestingly, a professed oblivion is often the case with hard-core plagiarists, people who’ve ripped off pages of someone else’s work almost word for word. When confronted, they deny, shift blame, obfuscate, and often threaten to sue. Since many academic plagiarists won’t apologize for stealing - nor will their peers “out” them - I understand why LaFontaine ends his commentary with “'Tis not my work their ways to mend.”

*Source: THE FABLES OF LA FONTAINE Translated From The French by Elizur Wright. [original place and date: Boston, U.S.A., 1841.] A New Edition, with Notes by J. W. M. Gibbs,1882. Available at Gutenberg.

Copyright © John Lubans 2016

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