The Frog-King: Another Frightening Fable for our Times

Aesop’s Fables, No. 44:

“The frogs, distressed by the anarchy prevailing among them, sent ambassadors to Zeus asking him to give them a king. He took note of their silliness and threw down a piece of wood into the pond. The frogs, terrified at first by the loud sound, submerged themselves in the depths of the pond.

Later, when the piece of wood was still, they came back up and rose to such a height of insolence that they mounted the wood and perched upon it. Deeming this king unworthy of them, they sent messengers to Zeus, asking him to change their king, because the first one was too lazy. Zeus was irritated by this, so he sent them a snake as king, by whom they were all snatched up and eaten.”

βάτραχοι λυπούμενοι ἐπὶ τῇ ἑαυτῶν ἀναρχίᾳ πρέσβεις ἔπεμψαν πρὸς τὸν Δία δεόμενοι βασιλέααὐτοῖς παρασχεῖν. ὁ δὲ συνιδὼν αὐτῶν τὴν εὐήθειαν ξύλον εἰς τὴν λίμνην καθῆκε. καὶ οἱ βάτραχοι τὸ μὲν πρῶτον καταπλαγέντες τὸν ψόφον εἰς τὰ βάθη τῆς λίμνης ἐνέδυσαν, ὕστερον δέ, ὡς ἀκίνητον ἦν τὸ ξύλον, ἀναδύντες εἰς τοσοῦτο καταφρονήσεως ἦλθον ὡς καὶ ἐπιβαίνοντες αὐτῷ ἐπικαθέζεσθαι. ἀναξιοπαθοῦντες δὲ τοιοῦτον ἔχειν βασιλέα ἧκον ἐκ δευτέρου πρὸς τὸν Δία καὶ τοῦτον παρεκάλουν ἀλλάξαι αὐτοῖς τὸν ἄρχοντα. τὸν γὰρ πρῶτον λίαν εἶναι νωχελῆ. καὶ ὁ Ζεὺς ἀγανακτήσας κατ’ αὐτῶν ὕδραν αὐτοῖς ἔπεμψεν, ὑφ’ ἧς συλλαμβανόμενοι κατησθίοντο.

In January, this website will see the first old-school publication to emerge from its pages alone. (Some posts have become pieces of articles, especially the translations). A few years ago, we published a translation and commentary of the Homeric Battle of Frogs and Mice in serial form. It will be coming out in print in January 2018.. This fable above is included as part of a note to line 17.


Image result for Fable frog and king medieval

“Frogs Desiring a King” by John Vernon Lord


Fragmentary Friday: Have We All Forgotten that Life is Short?

We have a small group of fragments attributed to the Hellenistic poet Bion. Here are a few.

Bion, fr. 3 [- Stobaeus 1.9.3]

“Let love call the Muses; let the Muses carry love.
May the Muses always give me a song in my longing,
A sweet song—no treatment is more pleasing than this.”

Μοίσας Ἔρως καλέοι, Μοῖσαι τὸν Ἔρωτα φέροιεν.
μολπὰν ταὶ Μοῖσαί μοι ἀεὶ ποθέοντι διδοῖεν,
τὰν γλυκερὰν μολπάν, τᾶς φάρμακον ἅδιον οὐδέν.

Bion fr. 7 [=Stobaeus 4.16.14]

“I don’t know and it does not seem right to labor over things we haven’t learned”

Οὐκ οἶδ’, οὐδ’ ἐπέοικεν ἃ μὴ μάθομες πονέεσθαι.

Bion fr. 8 [=Stobaeus 4.16.15]

“If my songs are good, then these few
Fate has granted as a safeguard for what I have done.
If they are not pleasing, why should I toil any longer?
If Kronos’ son or devious Fate had granted to us
Two lifetimes, so that we could dedicate
The first to happiness and pleasure and the second to work,
Then it would be right to work first and sample happiness later.
But since the gods have decreed that one time come
For human life and that this is brief and minor too,
How long, wretches, should we toil tirelessly at work.
How long will we throw our soul and hearts into
Profit and skill, longing always for more and greater wealth?
Truly, have we all forgotten that we are mortal?
Have we all forgotten our lifetime is brief?”

Εἴ μευ καλὰ πέλει τὰ μελύδρια, καὶ τάδε μῶνα
κῦδος ἐμοὶ θήσοντι τά μοι πάρος ὤπασε Μοῖσα·
εἰ δ’ οὐχ ἁδέα ταῦτα, τί μοι πολὺ πλείονα μοχθεῖν;
εἰ μὲν γὰρ βιότω διπλόον χρόνον ἄμμιν ἔδωκεν
ἢ Κρονίδας ἢ Μοῖρα πολύτροπος, ὥστ’ ἀνύεσθαι
τὸν μὲν ἐς εὐφροσύναν καὶ χάρματα τὸν δ’ ἐπὶ μόχθῳ,
ἦν τάχα μοχθήσαντι ποθ’ ὕστερον ἐσθλὰ δέχεσθαι.
εἰ δὲ θεοὶ κατένευσαν ἕνα χρόνον ἐς βίον ἐλθεῖν
ἀνθρώποις, καὶ τόνδε βραχὺν καὶ μείονα πάντων,
ἐς πόσον, ἆ δειλοί, καμάτως κεἰς ἔργα πονεῦμες,
ψυχὰν δ’ ἄχρι τίνος ποτὶ κέρδεα καὶ ποτὶ τέχνας
βάλλομες ἱμείροντες ἀεὶ πολὺ πλείονος ὄλβω;
λαθόμεθ’ ἦ ἄρα πάντες ὅτι θνατοὶ γενόμεσθα,
χὠς βραχὺν ἐκ Μοίρας λάχομες χρόνον;

Bion, fr. 16 [=4.46.17]

“But I will take my own path down the hill
Toward the sandy shore, murmuring my song to
plead with harsh Galatea. I will not give up sweet hope
Even at the last steps of old age.”

Αὐτὰρ ἐγὼν βασεῦμαι ἐμὰν ὁδὸν ἐς τὸ κάταντες
τῆνο ποτὶ ψάμαθόν τε καὶ ἀιόνα ψιθυρίσδων,
λισσόμενος Γαλάτειαν ἀπηνέα· τὰς δὲ γλυκείας
ἐλπίδας ὑστατίω μέχρι γήραος οὐκ ἀπολειψῶ.


Image result for Ancient Greek Eros vase

Cato’s Opposition to Greek

J.E. Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship Vol. 1:

“Greek influence was stoutly resisted by the elder Cato (234-149), and it was probably at his instance that the Greek philosophers and rhetoricians were expelled from Rome in 161. The philosophers returned in 155 in the persons of the Academic Carneades, the Peripatetic Critolaus, and the Stoic Diogenes, who aroused the interest of the young Romans, and the indignation of the aged Cato, by the sophistry of the arguments with which they defended the seizure of Oropus by Athens (Plut. Cato, i 22). In his old age Cato warned his son against Greek physicians and also against Greek literature, adding that the latter was worthy of inspection but not of study (Plin. X. H. xxix 14). He is said to have learnt Greek late in life (Cic. De Sen. 26), and to have derived some advantage, as an orator, from the reading of Thucydides and still more from that of Demosthenes; but Plutarch, in recording this tradition, is careful to add that, even as a writer, Cato showed the influence of Greek literature, and that many of his apophthegms were translated from Greek (Cato i 2). Toward the end of his days, as he looked forward to the conquest of Carthage by the younger Scipio, he expressed his sense of the contrast between that leader and the rest of the Roman generals by quoting a line from Homer : οἶος πέπνυται, τοὶ δὲ σκιαὶ ἀίσσουσι (ib. 27).”

Zooglossia 8: Horse Sounds in Ancient Greek

Did Ancient Greek horses go khraaaaaaay?

Apthonius, 3 [Aesop’s Fables = Perry 396]

“Once, nature provided a song to kites as great as that of swans. But when they heard the horses neighing they fell in love and tried to mimic it. As they tried to imitate them, they lose their own voice. They never learned to neigh and they forgot how to sing.

The imitation of something different deprives you of what is yours.”

     ὅσην τοῖς κύκνοις ἡ φύσις ᾠδήν, τοσαύτην ἰκτίνοις παρέσχε τὸ πρότερον. ἵππων δὲ χρεμετιζόντων ἀκούσαντες εἰς ἔρωτα ἧκον τῆς ἐκείνων φωνῆς καὶ μιμεῖσθαι πειρώμενοι συναποβάλλουσιν ἃ εἶχον, οἷς μαθεῖν ἐπετήδευον. χρεμετίζειν μὲν γὰρ οὐκ ἔμαθον, ᾄδειν δὲ ἐπελάθοντο.

     φέρει τῶν προσόντων τὴν στέρησιν ἡ τοῦ μὴ προσήκοντος μίμησις.

The most common representation of horse sounds in Ancient Greek is seems to be based off a root with uncertain origins. I suspect it might have, at least to some speakers, represented a similar vocalism to that of English neigh.

Image result for ancient greek horse


khremetismos: the sound of horses.”

χρεμετισμός· ἡ φωνὴ τῶν ἵππων

Cf. Zonaras Χρεμετισμός. ἡ τῶν ἵππων βοή

Herodian = Schol. T ad Il. 21.575b

“Then he heard the barking” Aristarchus says that some have “dog-howling” [kunulagmon]. Stesichorus also seems to read this, for he says (fr. 78) “the endless dog-howling”, We don’t know of any other examples of the compound. For howling  [ulagmos] is elsewhere the name properly applied for hearing dogs, just as neighing is for horses.

     Hrd. ἐπεί κεν ὑλαγμὸν ἀκούσῃ: ᾿Αρίσταρχός τινάς φησι γράφειν „κυνυλαγμόν”· καὶ Στησίχορος (fr. 78 P. = P.M.G. 255) δὲ ἔοικεν οὕτως ἀνεγνωκέναι· φησὶ γοῦν „ἀπειρεσίοιο κυνυλαγμοῖο”.  οὐχ ὁρῶμεν δέ τι πλεῖον ἐκ τῆς συνθέσεως· ὁ γὰρ ὑλαγμὸς καὶ χωρὶς τοῦ προσκεῖσθαι τὸ ὄνομα ἰδίως ἐπὶ κυνῶν ἀκούεται, ὡς ὁ χρεμετισμὸς ἐπὶ τῶν ἵππων.

Beekes (2010)


Anyone who has spent time with horses knows that they do not make only one type of sound. There are two basic lexical items for equine snorting: the somewhat uncommon φρυάγμα and the slightly more common φριμαγμος. Both are understood by ancient authors to be onomatopoetic representations of nasalized snorting. But some sources make one or the author a synonym of neighing. All of these words seem to be nominalized abstracts from (what ancient speakers considered) animal-sound roots.


“Snorting [phrimagmos]: whinnying [khrêtismos]

Φριμαγμός. ὁ χρεμετισμός.

Lexicon Vindobenese, khi 5

“Whinnying [krêtismos] and snorting [phruagmos] are poetically applied to horses.

χρεμετισμὸς καὶ φρυαγμὸς ποιητικῶς ἐπὶ ἵππων.

Schol in Lyk. 244

“Snorting is neighing. A snorting echo. This, I believe, means neighing. But neighing is not the same as snorting. It is the sound that comes through horses’ noses when they prance.”

     φριμαγμός ὁ χρεμετισμός.φριμαγμὸν ἦχον. οὗτος, οἶμαι, τὸν χρεμετισμόν φησιν· οὐκ ἔστι δὲ φριμαγμὸς ὁ χρεμετισμός, ἀλλὰ διὰ τῶν ῥινῶν *τῶν ἵππων* ἐκπεμπόμενος ἦχος, ὅταν γαυριῶσιν.

Schol. PT ad Theocr. 5.2

“Snorting [phrimasseo] This means to prance with pleasure, to leap, the whole herd. The verb snorting is onomatopoetic from the sound of goats. The verb is also applied to horses. It is onomatopoeia from their sound.”

PT φριμάσσεο: τουτέστι μεθ’ ἡδονῆς σκίρτα, ἐπαίρου, πᾶσα ἀγέλη. τὸ δὲ φριμάσσω ἀπὸ τοῦ ἤχου τῶν αἰγῶν ὠνοματοπεποίηται. τὸ δὲ φριμάσσω λέγεται ἐπὶ τῶν ἵππων· κατὰ ὀνοματοποιΐαν δὲ τοῦτο ἀπὸ τοῦ ἤχου.


Zonaras, Phi 1823

“Phruagmos: this is a meaningless sound, mixed with fierce breath, emitting through the nose of horses and mules. They do this especially when they are responding to the treatment of those taming them”

Φρυαγμός. ἠχὴ τὶς ἀσημοτάτη, πνεύματι ῥαγδαίῳ συμμιγὴς, διὰ τῆς τῶν ἵππων καὶ ἡμιόνων ῥινὸς ἐκπίπτουσα. δρῶσι δὲ τοῦτο μάλιστα, ὅταν παραιτούμενοι ὦσι τὰς τῶν τιθασσευόντων θεραπείας.

More Beekes (2010)


The sound I find most intriguing is attested only in one author but may be parallel to Latin hinnitus.


“Mimikhmos: a horse’s voice

μιμιχμός· τοῦ ἵππου φωνή

Mimaksasa: whinnying, making a sound”

μιμάξασα· χρεμετίσασα. φωνήσασα

From the LSJ 1902


Greek Jokes: A Sacred Thing

Basil Gildersleeve, Hellas and Hesperia

“Now this necessity of vitalizing classical study is felt everywhere, and due praise must be given to the honest efforts made in this direction, though many of them are mere revivals of abandoned experiments, so slow are men to learn from history. To be sure, the readiness with which a man can vitalize his subject is something that varies with the individuality. Some men can pass from the morning newspaper or the midnight novel straight to the lecture on Greek literature, or to the investigation of grammatical phenomena, and feel that the life is one; others have to put on mental bands and gowns in order to present the gospel of Hellenism, as Buffon is said to have put on court dress before he paid his respects to Nature ; others regard a Greek joke as a sacred thing, not lightly to be laughed at. In fact, there is no more pitiable object than a man born to an honest slowness of vision and expression, who is goaded by the requirements of the age into being lively; your Goodman Dull who will fain be as nimble-witted as Moth. The students soon see through this false liveliness, are irritated, are repelled by it, and prefer in the long run the honest, steady bore of a methodical wimble to the tumultuous prodding of a would-be live teacher. We are supposed to be a race of humorists, and American jokes I have found to be in great demand in the common rooms and combination rooms of English universities; and I am afraid that this reputation has had a bad effect on the style of American lecturers, who seem to think that no matter what the subject, they must vindicate their right to a share in the national sense of humor. They are not very Greek in this unfailing funniness; there is no very good Greek equivalent for ‘fun’ ; indeed, it is hard, it is almost impossible, to restore for the outsider the volatilized savor of Attic salt. One has to create an atmosphere for the inhalation of the delicate perfume.”

The Advantages of a Well-Spoken Liar

Antiphon, On the Murder of Herodes, 1

“I would wish, men of the jury, that I might possess a power of speech and experience of events equal both to my misfortune and the events that occurred. But now I have experienced the latter beyond what is fitting and I lack more of the former than is advantageous. When it was necessary that I endure physical suffering because of the unjustified charge, experience didn’t help me at all; and since it is necessary now that I tell you want happened truthfully, my limited speaking ability undermines me. For many of those who are bad at speaking are disbelieved regarding the truth and they perish because of this, because they cannot make the true events clear. But many people who can speak well are credible by lying and save themselves in that way, because they lied! Therefore, whenever someone has no experience in speaking publicly, his challenge is more the words of his accusers than the events themselves and the truth of the matter.

I would, then, ask you, men, not what many of those who go to court ask for, to be heard, these men who don’t trust themselves and who believe something unjust about you beforehand—for it is right that a defendant will get a fair hearing among good men without asking for it since even the prosecution obtains this without asking—No, I need these things from you. If I make a mistake in my speech, pardon me and take it more as inexperience than a deliberate injustice. If I say something correctly, assume it spoken truly rather than cleverly. For it is not right that the one who does wrong in deed be saved through speech any more than it is that the one who has done rightly in deed perish through speech. For a word is a slip of the tongue, but a deed is an error in judgment. Someone in danger necessarily makes some mistakes. For he not only is forced to think about what has been said, but about what will happen, since all the things that may still happen are subject to chance for than to good planning. This is why someone in danger is out of sorts. For I also see people very familiar with talking in public speaking much worse about themselves whenever they are in danger. When they act without any danger, they speak more correctly.”

Ἐβουλόμην μέν, ὦ ἄνδρες, τὴν δύναμιν τοῦ λέγειν καὶ τὴν ἐμπειρίαν τῶν πραγμάτων ἐξ ἴσου μοι καθεστάναι τῇ τε συμφορᾷ καὶ τοῖς κακοῖς τοῖς γεγενημένοις· νῦν δὲ τοῦ μὲν πεπείραμαι πέρᾳ τοῦ προσήκοντος, τοῦ δὲ ἐνδεής εἰμι μᾶλλον τοῦ συμφέροντος. οὗ μὲν γάρ με ἔδει κακοπαθεῖν τῷ σώματι μετὰ τῆς αἰτίας τῆς οὐ προσηκούσης, ἐνταυθοῖ οὐδέν με ὠφέλησεν ἡ ἐμπειρία· οὗ δέ με δεῖ σωθῆναι μετὰ τῆς ἀληθείας εἰπόντα τὰ γενόμενα, ἐν τούτῳ με βλάπτει ἡ τοῦ λέγειν ἀδυνασία.πολλοὶ μὲν γὰρ ἤδη τῶν οὐ δυναμένων λέγειν, ἄπιστοι γενόμενοι τοῖς ἀληθέσιν, αὐτοῖς τούτοις ἀπώλοντο, οὐ δυνάμενοι δηλῶσαι αὐτά· πολλοὶ δὲ τῶν λέγειν δυναμένων πιστοὶ γενόμενοι τῷ ψεύδεσθαι, τούτῳ ἐσώθησαν, διότι ἐψεύσαντο. ἀνάγκη οὖν, ὅταν τις ἄπειρος ᾖ τοῦ ἀγωνίζεσθαι, ἐπὶ τοῖς τῶν κατηγόρων λόγοις εἶναι μᾶλλον ἢ ἐπ᾿ αὐτοῖς τοῖς ἔργοις καὶ τῇ ἀληθείᾳ τῶν πραγμάτων.

Ἐγὼ οὖν, ὦ ἄνδρες, αἰτήσομαι ὑμᾶς, οὐχ ἅπερ οἱ πολλοὶ τῶν ἀγωνιζομένων ἀκροᾶσθαι σφῶν αὐτῶν αἰτοῦνται, σφίσι μὲν αὐτοῖς ἀπιστοῦντες, ὑμῶν δὲ προκατεγνωκότες ἄδικόν τι—εἰκὸς γὰρ ἐν ἀνδράσι γε ἀγαθοῖς καὶ ἄνευ τῆς αἰτήσεως τὴν ἀκρόασιν ὑπάρχειν τοῖς φεύγουσιν, οὗπερ καὶ οἱ διώκοντες ἔτυχον ἄνευ αἰτήσεως·—τάδε δὲ δέομαι ὑμῶν, τοῦτο μὲν ἐάν τι τῇ γλώσσῃ ἁμάρτω, συγγνώμην ἔχειν μοι, καὶ ἡγεῖσθαι ἀπειρίᾳ αὐτὸ μᾶλλον ἢ ἀδικίᾳ ἡμαρτῆσθαι, τοῦτο δὲ ἐάν τι ὀρθῶς εἴπω, ἀληθείᾳ μᾶλλον ἢ δεινότητι εἰρῆσθαι. οὐ γὰρ δίκαιον οὔτ᾿ ἔργῳ ἁμαρτόντα διὰ ῥήματα σωθῆναι, οὔτ᾿ ἔργῳ ὀρθῶς πράξαντα διὰ ῥήματα ἀπολέσθαι· τὸ μὲν γὰρ ῥῆμα τῆς γλώσσης ἁμάρτημά ἐστι, τὸ δ᾿ ἔργον τῆς γνώμης. ἀνάγκη δὲ κινδυνεύοντα περὶ αὑτῷ καί πού τι καὶ ἐξαμαρτεῖν. οὐ γὰρ μόνον τῶν λεγομένων ἀνάγκη ἐνθυμεῖσθαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν ἐσομένων· ἅπαντα γὰρ τὰ ἐν ἀδήλῳ ἔτ᾿ ὄντα ἐπὶ τῇ τύχῃ μᾶλλον ἀνάκειται ἢ τῇ προνοίᾳ. ταῦτ᾿ οὖν ἔκπληξιν πολλὴν παρέχειν 7ἀνάγκη ἐστὶ τῷ κινδυνεύοντι. ὁρῶ γὰρ ἔγωγε καὶ τοὺς πάνυ ἐμπείρους τοῦ ἀγωνίζεσθαι πολλῷ χεῖρον ἑαυτῶν λέγοντας, ὅταν ἔν τινι κινδύνῳ ὦσιν· ὅταν δ᾿ ἄνευ κινδύνων τι διαπράσσωνται, μᾶλλον ὀρθουμένους.


Image result for Antiphon ancient Greek

Longing for a Time of Peace

The consummate artistry of the Homeric poems, and their relevance to contemporary life, are perfectly illustrated in the following lines from the Iliad (22.153-156):

“There, right next to the springs, there were broad and beautiful washing-basins made of stone, where the beautiful wives and daughters of the Trojans used to wash dirty clothes, back in the time of peace before the sons of the Achaians came.”

ἔνθα δ᾽ ἐπ᾽ αὐτάων πλυνοὶ εὐρέες ἐγγὺς ἔασι
καλοὶ λαΐνεοι, ὅθι εἵματα σιγαλόεντα
πλύνεσκον Τρώων ἄλοχοι καλαί τε θύγατρες
τὸ πρὶν ἐπ᾽ εἰρήνης πρὶν ἐλθεῖν υἷας Ἀχαιῶν.

Homer does not rely on cheap and easy effects to develop deep, gut-wrenching pathos. The simplicity of the scene from daily life reminds the listener/reader of exactly what the Trojan women were no longer able to do after the commencement of the war – a troublesome daily chore, to be sure, but one which comes to represent a happier time.

But it is the last line quoted which evokes so much without stating it explicitly. The informed reader, armed with the knowledge of the war’s outcome, knows that these washing basins will never be used again, and so the phrase ‘before the sons of the Achaians came’ calls to mind not just a minor inconvenience in the Trojan women’s lives; it reminds us that the lives of these women are already, effectively, over. Moreover, the use of the phrase ‘previously, at a time of peace,’ (which is balanced so clearly in the Greek against the word ‘before’ with ‘to prin…prin’) underscores the fact that after the sons of the Achaeans arrive, the Trojans never know peace again – their entire city is destroyed, and most of the citizens wiped from the face of the planet.

The destruction of an entire polity is horrific, whether it result from ten years of brawling or from ten minutes of bombing. It is easy to blame the Trojan War on Helen, or Paris, or Aphrodite, but the real causes were folly and intransigence; these are immortal, and in no shorter supply than they were three thousand years ago. This passage brings tears to my eyes every time I read it and remember that, though they did not yet know it, the ‘time of peace’ was forever lost to the Trojans – never again would they visit the washing basins; rape, death, and slavery were all that remained. I sincerely hope that we do not find ourselves in the same position of longing for our own ‘time of peace, before the sons of the Achaians came.’