Commentary on the Batrakhomuomakhia, Part 1 (lines 1-8)

We are near completing draft commentary on the Homeric Battle of Frogs and Mice. Starting this week, we will be posting it in sequence on this website. We welcome additional comments and suggestions. For our translation, go here.

  1. ᾿Αρχόμενος πρώτης σελίδος[1] χορὸν ἐξ ῾Ελικῶνος
  2. ἐλθεῖν εἰς ἐμὸν ἦτορ ἐπεύχομαι εἵνεκ’ ἀοιδῆς
  3. ἣν νέον ἐν δέλτοισιν ἐμοῖς ἐπὶ γούνασι θῆκα,
  4. δῆριν ἀπειρεσίην, πολεμόκλονον ἔργον ῎Αρηος,
  5. εὐχόμενος μερόπεσσιν ἐς οὔατα πᾶσι βαλέσθαι
  6. πῶς μύες ἐν βατράχοισιν ἀριστεύσαντες[2] ἔβησαν,
  7. γηγενέων ἀνδρῶν μιμούμενοι ἔργα Γιγάντων,
  8. ὡς λόγος ἐν θνητοῖσιν ἔην· τοίην δ’ ἔχεν ἀρχήν.

1 ᾿Αρχόμενος: “Beginning from”, a rather common motif in epic and hymnic poetry. Ap. Rhodes starts: ᾿Αρχόμενος σέο Φοῖβε παλαιγενέων κλέα φωτῶν (cf. Glei 112 ad loc.)

πρώτης σελίδος: translate as “page”. This phrase is associated with Homeric poetry in later writing as in the Gr. Anth (4.2: ῎Ανθεά σοι δρέψας ῾Ελικώνια καὶ κλυτοδένδρου / Πιερίης κείρας πρωτοφύτους κάλυκας / καὶ σελίδος νεαρῆς θερίσας στάχυν ἀντανέπλεξα …) or in the Vita Homeri (Plutarch) where the works of Homer are refered to as the “double pages of heroes” (δισσὰς ἡμιθέων γραψάμενος σελίδας / ὑμνεῖ δ’ ἡ μὲν νόστον ᾿Οδυσσῆος πολύπλαγκτον / ἡ δὲ τὸν ᾿Ιλιακὸν Δαρδανιδῶν πόλεμον) Cf. also Photius 187 (μηδ’ ἐς ῾Ομηρείην σελίδ’ ἔμβλεπε μηδ’ ἐλεγείην / μὴ τραγικὴν Μοῦσαν, μηδὲ μελογραφίην).Some texts have πρῶτον μουσῶν instead of πρώτης σελίδος but the phrase seems rather bland and, with the parallels above adduced, less engaged with poetic traditions.

χορὸν ἐξ ῾Ελικῶνος: see Hesiod Th. 1 (Μουσάων ῾Ελικωνιάδων ἀρχώμεθ’ ἀείδειν) . Heliconian Muses are special to Hesiod but not to be differentiated from the Olympian Muses. Mt. Helicon is in Thrace, but this epithet may have been brought by Thracians to Olympus; see West 1966, 152.

2 ἐλθεῖν εἰς ἐμὸν ἦτορ ἐπεύχομαι: introduces indirect statement, accusative subject χορὸν. In Homer ἐπεύχομαι means something closer to “boast” or “threaten” (cf. Il. 21.109; see Od. 15.353 for accusative plus infinitive construction). Here it means more like “to pray or hope”, which is also possible in Homer; see Muellner 1976, 17-67.

εἵνεκ’ ἀοιδῆς: trans as “song” . In Homer, aoidê indicates the action of a performing bard. Cf. Od. 1.340-341. (οἶνον πινόντων• ταύτης δ’ ἀποπαύε’ ἀοιδῆς / λυγρῆς, ἥ τέ μοι αἰὲν ἐνὶ στήθεσσι φίλον κῆρ)

ἣν νέον ἐν δέλτοισιν ἐμοῖς : which I just recently wrote on my tablets” νέον, neuter singular adjective used as adverb. This line is close to a fragment from Callimachus’ Aetia (1.21-22: καὶ γὰρ ὅτε πρώτιστον ἐμοῖς ἐπὶ δέλτον ἔθηκα / γούνασιν, ᾿Α[πό]λλων εἶπεν ὅ μοι Λύκιος•) The earliest appearance of writing with delt- is in Aeschylus. Cf. Prometheus Bound, 789: ἣν ἐγγράφου σὺ μνήμοσιν δέλτοις φρενῶν. Cf. also Eur. Iphigenia Taurica : ἐς τήνδε δ’ ὤικισ’ αἶαν. αἵδ’ ἐπιστολαί, / τάδ’ ἐστὶ τἀν δέλτοισιν ἐγγεγραμμένα. For additional association between delt- and Homer, see Gr. Anth 12.2.1-2: Μὴ ζήτει δέλτοισιν ἐμαῖς Πρίαμον παρὰ βωμοῖς

3 ἐπὶ γούνασι θῆκα: Tmesis with unagumented aorist. Homeric poetry drops augments frequently.

4 δῆριν ἀπειρεσίην: “endless strife”; cf. Il. 17.158 for the stife in war; cf. Od. 24.515: υἱός θ’ υἱωνός τ’ ἀρετῆς πέρι δῆριν ἔχουσι.” δῆριν: line-initial on Hes. Scutum (251 and 306). Cf. Nicander 450. In this position, ἀπειρεσίην appears at Il. 20.58 and Od. 11.621

πολεμόκλονον ἔργον ῎Αρηος: transfered epithet from Ares to the work. Epithet applied to Athena at Anacreonta fr. 55.33

5 εὐχόμενος μερόπεσσιν ἐς οὔατα πᾶσι βαλέσθαι : See line 2 for indirect statement.μερόπεσσιν: “mortals” (see μερόπεσσι βροτοῖσιν, 2.285). The term only appears in the plural and has its origins in meromai plus ops (literally “dividing the voice”, meaning “articulate” or having language). In Homer, the word is only used as an adjective for brotos or anthrôpos. For the imagery of sound striking the ears, see Il. 10.535 ἵππων μ’ ὠκυπόδων ἀμφὶ κτύπος οὔατα βάλλει.

6 πῶς μύες ἐν βατράχοισιν : Used here as an indirect interrogative, i.e. “tell you how the Mice went amog the frogs”. The indirect interrogative use of this form is not common in Homer (though the direct use is).

ἀριστεύσαντες ἔβησαν: various MSS have the future ἀριστεύσοντες instead. The aorist form of this particple does not occur in early poetry. The form ἔβησαν is used with the aorist participle at Od. 5.107. But here the periphrasis has the effect of a progressive aspect: “they went about triumphing among the frogs”.

7 γηγενέων ἀνδρῶν μιμούμενοι ἔργα Γιγάντων
γηγενέων, “earth-born”; Mice live in the earth and are born from it. For the giants, see Hes. Th. 185 and fr. 43a 65 (ἐν Φλέγρηι δ]ὲ Γίγαντας ὑπερφιάλους κατέπεφ[νε). For the connection between the Giants and Mice, both were children of the earth. The comparison to giants is also likely pejorative (giants were arrogant and challenged the cosmic order). And thus absurd. μιμούμενοι is later than Homer (the participle does not occur in hexameter poetry).

8 ὡς λόγος ἐν θνητοῖσιν ἔην• τοίην δ’ ἔχεν ἀρχήν.
Some MSS have epos instead of λόγος (which would be more Homeric). Homeric heroes “enjoy stories” (ἧστό τε καὶ τὸν ἔτερπε λόγοις, ἐπὶ δ’ ἕλκεϊ λυγρῷ, 15.393).
τοίην δ’ ἔχεν ἀρχήν: “this sort of beginning”. This creates a ring structure with the beginning of the proem (᾿Αρχόμενος) and creates the general sort of introduction that is not uncommon to the transition to the actual narrative.

5 thoughts on “Commentary on the Batrakhomuomakhia, Part 1 (lines 1-8)

  1. Along with being a proper-name, is the word in Greek for ‘marsh-love’ or ‘pool-joy’ λιμνόχαρις in any way metaphoric like the Old-English and Old Norse kenning: hron-rade = whale rpad = sea; bee-wulf = bear?

  2. There seems to be a typo on line 6

    ἀριστεύσαντες ἔβησαν: various MSS have the present ἀριστεύσοντες instead.

    Should that be ἀριστεύοντες ie the present rather than the future?

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