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Souvenirs from a Visit to Online International Treasures at the Library of Congress

Many of us are currently spending more time than ever on the internet. If you feel like a bit of virtual browsing, consider the “4 Corners of the World” blogposts from the International Collections at the Library of Congress. A number of the posts feature online works. Below are a few samples from the European Division blogposts. Please note that one does not have to know foreign languages to enjoy some of the fascinating pictures illustrating, e.g., medieval life in Europe.

In the blogpost “Aesop’s Fables at the Library of Congress,” perhaps the most entertaining online work is the “Aesop for Children” interactive book, in English, with Milo Winter’s charming illustrations that provide occasional surprises. Consider, for instance the story of the “The Frogs & the Ox.”

The old frog puffs up to become as big as an ox. This does not end well. The lesson we derive from this fable is “Do not attempt the impossible.” From the “Aesop for Children” interactive book.

“Aesop’s Fables” have been known for well over two millennia, and have been published in many languages and formats. Expressions such as “sour grapes,” “birds of a feather flock together,” “familiarity breeds contempt,” and “slow and steady wins the race,” have their origins in these fables.

The interactive “Aesop” is adapted from the 1919 book “The Aesop for Children: with Pictures by Milo Winter,” digitized in a more conventional book format.

If you read the Milo “Aesop,” it should be easy to identify individual Aesop fables from the illustrations in “Vita et Aesopus moralisatus” from 1485. They are worth perusing, and begin soon after introductory material and a fictitious description of the life of Aesop.

“Hares and Frogs,” “Country Mouse and City Mouse,” and “Lion and the Mouse,” in “Vita et Aesopus moralisatus.” Naples: [Germani fidelissimi for] Francesco del Tuppo, 13 Feb. 1485. Aesop’s fables. Italian & Latin.

Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75) is the author of such well-known stories as The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, “The Ugly Duckling” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Less well known is the small number of scrapbooks (now in libraries and private possession) that Andersen created with clipped illustrations from magazines for the children in his circle of friends. Some of the illustrations have little notes in Andersen’s own handwriting. April is Andersen’s birth month and “Happy Birthday, Hans Christian Andersen!” discusses the Library’s Andersen scrapbook.

Little comments in Andersen’s writing note that the engaged lady and gentleman confronted by the snake and crocodile exhibit no fear. The whale refers to Jonah, or Jonas, the recipient of this scrapbook. The menu on the left is from an October 6 birthday celebration for King Frederick VII (1808-63). The meal featured thirteen courses with seven different kinds of wine. Items from in “Billedbog til Jonas Drewsen” (Picturebook for Jonas Drewsen) compiled by Hans Christian Andersen and A.L. Drewsen. [Kjøbenhavn, ca. 1862].

The Water Spirit Melusina,” centers around the tale of the beautiful water spirit Melusina and the noble Raymond of Poitou. They married on her condition that he never enter her chamber on a Saturday. The two lived happily and had a number of children, but one day Raymond broke his  promise, and on a Saturday saw Melusina in her bath as part-woman, part-serpent. As a result she was forced to fly off, while wailing sorrowfully.

The woodblock images in the 15th-century “Von einer Frouwen genant Melusina” (About a lady called Melusina) give a charming glimpse into the customs and clothing of that time. Based on the 14th-century “Livre de Lusignan” (Book of Lusignan) by Couldrette, the work reads like a soap opera, featuring interrelated characters who have the most unusual adventures.

Scenes in “Von einer Frouwen genant Melusina” from the first meeting of Raymond and Melusina at a stream to his betrayal and Melusina’s departure.

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