(From the publisher):
Christoph Martin Wieland's comic novel History of the Abderites (1774-81) is, in its author's own words, a "work that was written to entertain all intelligent people and to admonish and chastise all fools." It is thus a part of that tradition in European literature that includes Sebastian Brant's The Ship of Fools
(1494) and the Praise of Folly
(1509) by Erasmus. The target of Wieland's wit and humor is the provinciality, lack of taste, pedantry, backwardness, bigotry, narrow-mindedness, ignorance, and sodden contentment with things as they are, which he found in people all around him. But instead of attacking the follies of his German contemporaries directly, he sets his novel in the small Thracian city-state of Abdera in the fifth century B.C. This novel is one of the sprightliest literary achievements of the Enlightenment in Germany, and reveals that Wieland was a kindred spirit of Henry Fielding and Laurence Sterne.
Each of the five divisions, or "Books," of History of the Abderites conveys a different aspect of life in Abdera, and the author allows his readers to draw whatever parallels they may perceive between what goes on in this ancient backwoods community and life in contemporary Germany.
The novel opens with the return of Democritus after many years from an extended tour abroad. He is the main character in the first part of the book, and combines the traits of his historical counterpart with those of an eighteenth-century empirical scientist, along with the moral attributes of the ideal gentleman. The Abderites think Democritus a very odd sort of fellow and cannot at all comprehend what they consider his outlandish notions about a great variety of subjects. Soon it is quite clear that Democritus is everything that they are not. Moreover, his having come home with a black mistress seems to support their conviction that there is something wrong in his head, for they fail entirely to understand how anyone who is not white could be considered beautiful.
In the Fourth Book, the most renowned and hilarious part of the novel, acute civil strife over a trial concerning the shadow of an ass threatens the very existence of the little republic. The last book tells of the decline and fall of Abdera. But in the "Key" to his novel, Wieland asserts that the Abderites, an "indestrucible, immortal tribe," never died out. They fled from their old home to live dispersed among all other peoples of the world. This is the reason, Wieland says, that although he had thought he was writing about fools in ancient Thrace, some people came to believe that he was describing his contemporaries. Of this he is clearly minded not to disabuse them.
Original title: Die Abderiten
Genre: Fiction→ General Fiction→ Humor→ Satire
Fiction→ General Fiction→ Literary Fiction/classics
Fiction→ Historical→ Ancient World (Greece, Rome, etc)→ Greece