2

The question is on the highlighted line of the Moralité to Le petit chaperon rouge as collected by Perrault.

On voit ici que de jeunes enfants,
Surtout de jeunes filles
Belles, bien faites, et gentilles,
Font très mal d’écouter toute sorte de gens,
Et que ce n’est pas chose étrange,
S’il en est tant que le loup mange.
Je dis le loup, car tous les loups
Ne sont pas de la même sorte :
Il en est d’une humeur accorte,
Sans bruit, sans fiel et sans courroux,
Qui, privés, complaisants et doux,
Suivent les jeunes demoiselles
Jusque dans les maisons, jusque dans les ruelles.
Mais hélas ! qui ne sait que ces loups doucereux
De tous les loups sont les plus dangereux.

Questions

  1. What exactly does it mean?

  2. How does it come to mean what it does? (See Background below.)

  3. If today's French would say it differently, how would it go?

Background

For 2, I have come up with the following wild guesses, which may illustrate the kind of sense I would like to make of the line.

A. en as pronoun

By this guess, en stands for the young children and young girls, and the whole line becomes:

S’il est tant que le loup mange de enfants et de filles.

This presupposes many things:

  • manger de would have to be available as an expression (maybe somewhat like the English expressions eating of this bread or drinking of this blood).

  • en would have to travel outside the que context and end up between il and est.

  • tant que has to serve as a conjunction. Maybe it means what it seems to mean and we get:

If it is so much (the same) as the wolf eats of the children and the girls.

B. en not as pronoun

By this guess, en does not refer to anything, but is simply part of a set expression il en est tant que or perhaps even s'il en est tant que. If so, it becomes a matter of learning what this set expression means. I am not able to find the exact thing, but may be the following are related.

From those expressions, I may try to guess at the meaning of the line in question. For example, pretending that s'il en est tan que means the same thing as si tant est que, we get (for the whole line):

Even if the wolf eats.

But eats what? It is unsatisfying to see it end like that. In fact, any solution that includes en in a set expression would let the line end in the same unsatisfactory way.

4

1 - 2 / "Il en est" is a rather archaic equivalent of "il y en a" : "there is / are". "Tant", in this context, means the same as "autant" : "so many / much". "Tant que" also means"while" but that doesn't work here. Putting that together word by word, this phrase means "if there are so many that the wolf eats". If you take what comes before, the meaning becomes clear :

We see that young children, especially girls [...] have a bad habit of listening to all kinds of people and it is no strange thing if the wolf eats so many of them

More simply : young girls listen to strangers, no wonder they get into trouble.

3 / In modern French, the phrase as it is could be found in literature or poetry. It is quite formal and literary (and even a bit pedantic) but correct. More common ways of phrasing it include :

S'il y en a autant qui sont mangées par le loup

Si le loup en mange autant

"S'il y en a autant que le loup mange" would work too, but it feels a bit awkward. It's probably a matter of personal taste and style, though, there is nothing really wrong with it.

  • Thank you. Do you mean that en here is a pronoun? (I think you do.) "Il est" would be the same thing as "il était" which often starts a fairy tale (i.e. there once was/were). So the whole line would go, literally: If there are so many of them (viz. of children and girls) as the wolf eats. This would make perfect sense to me! It doesn't have (what I called) the "unsatisfactory ending" problem either. – Catomic May 10 '16 at 10:31
  • Yes, en is a pronoun. As for the literal meaning : "(au)tant" can, indeed, mean "so much / many" like in a comparison, but it also means "so much" like "that much". "No wonder you got so many phone calls after your ad", "I miss you so much that I made the trip to Paris", "I never thought I'd miss you that much", all of these translate "tant" or "autant". And here it's "if the wolf eats so many of them" => "if there are so many of them that the wolf eats", not as. The author is commenting the amount ("ce n’est pas chose étrange, si"), not comparing it to a wolf's appetite. – DaWaaaaghBabal May 10 '16 at 11:10
2

So first of all, you can't really separate the sentence. Here it should be read in French as "On voit ici que de jeunes enfants, surtout de jeunes filles belles, bien faites, et gentilles, font très mal d’écouter toute sorte de gens, et que ce n’est pas chose étrange, s’il en est tant que le loup mange". The last part, the one that you asked about means it's not surprising that the wolf eats so many of those girls, since they listen to all kind of people.

In modern French the sentence would be usable, yet not commonly, it would be "language soutenu", which means educated people, high class and scientists would use it. In more common French "Et ce n'est pas si étonnant, que le loup en mange autant.".

Hope it helps :)

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