Commentary on the Batrakhomyomakhia, Part 2: lines 9-23

Last week, we posted the first installment of our draft commentary on the Homeric “Battle of Frogs and Mice”. This is the second part. We welcome comments and additions.

9 Μῦς ποτε διψαλέος γαλέης κίνδυνον ἀλύξας,
10 πλησίον ἐν λίμνῃ λίχνον προσέθηκε γένειον,
11 ὕδατι τερπόμενος μελιηδέϊ• τὸν δὲ κατεῖδε
12 λιμνόχαρις πολύφημος , ἔπος δ’ ἐφθέγξατο τοῖον•
13 Ξεῖνε τίς εἶ; πόθεν ἦλθες ἐπ’ ἠϊόνας; τίς ὁ φύσας;
14 πάντα δ’ ἀλήθευσον, μὴ ψευδόμενόν σε νοήσω.
15 εἰ γάρ σε γνοίην φίλον ἄξιον ἐς δόμον ἄξω•
16 δῶρα δέ τοι δώσω ξεινήϊα πολλὰ καὶ ἐσθλά.
17 εἰμὶ δ’ ἐγὼ βασιλεὺς Φυσίγναθος, ὃς κατὰ λίμνην
18 τιμῶμαι βατράχων ἡγούμενος ἤματα πάντα•
19 καί με πατὴρ Πηλεὺς ἀνεθρέψατο , ῾Υδρομεδούσῃ
20 μιχθεὶς ἐν φιλότητι παρ’ ὄχθας ᾿Ηριδανοῖο.
21 καὶ σὲ δ’ ὁρῶ καλόν τε καὶ ἄλκιμον ἔξοχον ἄλλων,
22 σκηπτοῦχον βασιλῆα καὶ ἐν πολέμοισι μαχητὴν
23 ἔμμεναι• ἀλλ’ ἄγε θᾶσσον ἑὴν γενεὴν ἀγόρευε.

9 Μῦς ποτε διψαλέος γαλέης κίνδυνον ἀλύξας

Ποτε: this indefinite temporal adverb answers both the temporal echo of the last line (τοίην δ’ ἔχεν ἀρχήν) and the interrogative beginning of πῶς (line 6). In a sense, this echoes the “once-upon-a time” formula of folktales common to fabula. The temporal starting point is not uncommon to epic. Consider the temporal queuing of the Iliad’s proem (“from when those two first stood apart in strife”: ἐξ οὗ δὴ τὰ πρῶτα διαστήτην ἐρίσαντε, Il. 1.6) or the more similar cue in the fragment of the cyclic Kypria: “there was a time when the tribes of men were always weighing down the earth” (ἦν ὅτε μυρία φῦλα κατὰ χθόνα πλαζόμεν’ αἰεὶ, Cyp. Fr.1.1).

διψαλέος: “thirsty” cf. English dipsomania

γαλέης: Glei notes, “Aus dem Text last sich nicht entscheiden, welche Bedeutung γαλέη in der Batr. Hat: ‘Wiesel’ oder ‘Katze’. The modern mythic/fabulistic sense would naturally incline to the selection of the cat as the mouse’s natural enemy, but this would be a crude imposition of modern sensibility on an ancient text. Glei suggests that the original meaning of γαλέη as a weasel is earlier than that of ‘cat’. Also, see Theocritus, 15.27-28: Εὐνόα, αἶρε τὸ νῆμα καὶ ἐς μέσον, αἰνόδρυπτε / θὲς πάλιν• αἱ γαλέαι μαλακῶς χρῄζοντι καθεύδειν.

10 πλησίον ἐν λίμνῃ λίχνον προσέθηκε γένειον,

λίχνον: “Greedy”. This is not an epic word; its earliest attestation is Euripides, Hippolytus 913 (ἡ γὰρ ποθοῦσα πάντα καρδία κλύειν / κἀν τοῖς κακοῖσι λίχνος οὖσ’ ἁλίσκεται). Note the alliteration in this line πλησίον ἐν λίμνῃ λίχνον followed by the near homoioteleuton (quasi-rhyming) between the syllable end after λίχνον and the line final γένειον.

γένειον: “Chin”; Homeric word, often at the end of a line, see Il.24.516

11 ὕδατι τερπόμενος μελιηδέϊ• τὸν δὲ κατεῖδε

τερπόμενος: In the active this verb means “to cause delight” in someone else. A word generally used in the middle for the sensation of taking delight in a thing.
In the Iliad, it seems to indicate delight in sounds and spectacles. Achilles is described at Iliad 9.187: τὸν δ’ εὗρον φρένα τερπόμενον φόρμιγγι λιγείῃ
Similarly so in the Odyssey, Odysseus is afforded the chance to delight in the song of the Sirens (12.52):ὄφρα κε τερπόμενος ὄπ’ ἀκούσῃς Σειρήνοιϊν.

μελιηδέϊ: “honey-sweet”; usually used of wine, see Il. 4.346, 18.345; and grain (10.569) and fruit (18.568) but also of sleep: Od. 19.551.

12 λιμνόχαρις πολύφημος, ἔπος δ’ ἐφθέγξατο τοῖον•

λιμνόχαρις: “pond-loving”; compounds like this are readily formed in early Greek poetry and have the sound of antiquity. Consider the list of the daughters of Nereus in Hesiod’s Theogony (240-263) where we find compound names associated with the sea and its surroundings (e.g. “Wave-swift” Κυμοθόη, 245; “Sea-conveyer” Ποντοπόρεια, 256; and “Sandy” ᾿Ηιόνη  255).

πολύφημος: “very famous”; “much known”. This epithet seems an obvious reference to the famous Cyclops of the Odyssey; one might conjecture on that ground that this reading is to be preferred over the comparatively flat alternative πολύφωνος. However, itis possible that an editor of the text, noting their metrical similarity and seeing the opportunity for poetical improvement, simply substituted our current reading in place of the duller one. Thus, there is no prima facie case for preferring the former over the latter based solely on the fact that πολύφημος seems more clever. However, a comparison with line 19, where we learn that Phusignathos was fathered by Πηλεὺς (“Muddy”, and not the famous father of Achilles), suggests that the incorporation of famous Homeric character names into the text in novel ways is a part of the parody’s general poetic program.

ἔπος δ’ ἐφθέγξατο τοῖον: ‘He uttered this kind of speech”. This is not a very Homeric speech-introduction. The word epos does occur in speech introduction (e.g. Il. 1.361; 3.198) but the verb φθέγγω does not appear in speech introductions apart from Od. 21.192 (φθεγξάμενός σφ’ ἐπέεσσι προσηύδα μειλιχίοισι; cf. Od. 14.292) and Il. 21.123 (ἀνέρι εἰσάμενος, βαθέης δ’ ἐκ φθέγξατο δίνης) where it falls in the same position. But the combination ἔπος… τοῖον is odd. On speech introductions as a feature of oral-composition, see Edwards 1970 and Riggsby 1992.

13 Ξεῖνε τίς εἶ; πόθεν ἦλθες ἐπ’ ἠϊόνας; τίς ὁ φύσας;
“Who are you and where are you from” is formulaic in the Odyssey, see 3.71 (ὦ ξεῖνοι, τίνες ἐστέ; πόθεν πλεῖθ’ ὑγρὰ κέλευθα) and 14.187 (τίς πόθεν εἰς ἀνδρῶν; πόθι τοι πόλις ἠδὲ τοκῆες;). These lines may have been proverbial: Seneca has Claudius quoting the Odyssey in his Apocolocyntosis 5.

φύσας: “who sowed you?” (i.e. “who is your father”). Glei (p.119) notes that this is not epic usage, though it is commonly found in tragedy. This is one of several instances of lexical curiosities found throughout the poem which clearly set it outside of the Homeric tradition. It also suggests that the poem was written subsequent to the fluorescence of Attic tragedy in the 5th Century. Independently of its literary parallels, the phrase was likely chosen as a play on Φυσίγναθος.

14 πάντα δ’ ἀλήθευσον, μὴ ψευδόμενόν σε νοήσω.
ἀλήθευσον: No precedent can be found for this verb in Homer. However, compare Plato, Republic 413.a.6:ἢ οὐ τὸ μὲν ἐψεῦσθαι τῆς ἀληθείας κακόν, τὸ δὲ ἀληθεύειν ἀγαθόν; ἢ οὐ τὸ τὰ ὄντα δοξάζειν ἀληθεύειν δοκεῖ σοι εἶναι; The sentiment, howevever, is similar in the repeated formulaic line ἀλλ’ ἄγε μοι τόδε εἰπὲ καὶ ἀτρεκέως κατάλεξον (e.g. 4.486) or Od. 15.263 (εἰπέ μοι εἰρομένῳ νημερτέα μηδ’ ἐπικεύσῃς).

μὴ ψευδόμενόν σε νοήσω: Negative purpose clause with a subjunctive: “so that I may not know you are a liar.”

ψευδόμενόν: “Liar”; used hear more as a simple substantive than a subordinating participle. One may chose to recognize an indirect statement here rather than a simple predicate accusative—such compact utterance is typical of epic poetry.

15 εἰ γάρ σε γνοίην φίλον ἄξιον ἐς δόμον ἄξω
Future More vivid with an optative protasis with εἰ. See Smyth §2359
γνοίην: First person aorist optative.

16 δῶρα δέ τοι δώσω: Cognate accusatives are common in early Greek poetry (see Od. 4.589: καὶ τότε σ’ εὖ πέμψω, δώσω δέ τοι ἀγλαὰ δῶρα)

ξεινήϊα: For “guest-gifts”, Homer usually has a shortened form (e.g., Od. 9.517ἀλλ’ ἄγε δεῦρ’, ᾿Οδυσεῦ, ἵνα τοι πὰρ ξείνια θείω) but this neuter plural appears five times in the Iliad and the Odyssey (e.g. 24.273) and twice in this metrical position (Il. 4.33; 24.273). The neuter singular appears six times.

πολλὰ καὶ ἐσθλά: Hendiadys: “many fine guest-gifts”. The pairing appears in this position seven times in the Iliad and Odyssey (e.g. Od. 2.312).

17 εἰμὶ δ’ ἐγὼ βασιλεὺς Φυσίγναθος, ὃς κατὰ λίμνην
λίμνην: At Herodotus 4.132 we find βάτραχοι γενόμενοι ἐς τὰς λίμνας. The word λίμνη has a fairly extensive reach: it refers to several different bodies of water, including lakes, ponds, swamps, and marshes.

18 τιμῶμαι βατράχων ἡγούμενος
τιμῶμαι: contract of τιμα-ομαι

ἡγούμενος: “leader”; actually a present participle but seems here to be functioning as a simple substanative, i.e. “I am honored as leader of the frogs”.

ἤματα πάντα: “for all time” common formula for “forever”. Cf. Il. 8.539 (“I would be deathless and ageless for all days”; εἴην ἀθάνατος καὶ ἀγήρως ἤματα πάντα)

19 καί με πατὴρ Πηλεὺς ἀνεθρέψατο, ῾Υδρομεδούσῃ
Πηλεὺς: “Mudman”; but this also sounds like Achilles’ father Peleus.

ἀνεθρέψατο: There is a variant ποτ’ εγείνατο. The word ἀνεθρέψατο does not occur in this form in Homer, but the variant occurs in the same position at Od. 1.233, 4.13, and 21.172. In such cases, however, the mother is the subject of the verb.

Υδρομεδούσῃ: “Watermistress”

20 μιχθεὶς ἐν φιλότητι: lit: “after mingling in love”, but the typical Homeric idiom for “having sex” (cf. Il. 2.232)

παρ’ ὄχθας ᾿Ηριδανοῖο: The textual tradition provides ὠκεανοῖο instead of ᾿Ηριδανοῖο. The specific geographic location provides extra flavor. (Yet, the variant is a bit grander.)The Eridanos is not known to Homer (there is a small creek of the same name in Athens), but Glei notes that in Lucian’s Dialogues of the Gods 25.3 , the water of the Eridanos is warmer after Phaethon fell into it. A scholiast suggest that this makes it optimal for frog-breeding. The identification of this location as a stream in Athens, localizes the poem in an Attic tradition.

21 καὶ σὲ δ’ ὁρῶ καλόν τε καὶ ἄλκιμον ἔξοχον ἄλλων,
καλόν: Both here and at line 162, it seems that the alpha of καλόν must be taken as long in order to resolve the scansion of the line. For this sentiment, consider Achilles’ words to Lykaon: “don’t you see what kind of a man I am, both good-looking and large?” (οὐχ ὁράᾳς οἷος καὶ ἐγὼ καλός τε μέγας τε; 21.108)

ἔξοχον ἄλλων: “beyond the rest”. This is not only a thoroughly Homeric phrase, but it occurs only in line-final position throughout the Iliad, a total of six times (6.194, 9.631, 9.641, 13.499, 17.358, 20.184). It occurs only three times in the Odyssey, (5.118, 6.158, 19.247), but these are again all in line-final position.

22 σκηπτοῦχον βασιλῆα καὶ ἐν πολέμοισι μαχητὴν
σκηπτοῦχον: “scepter-bearing”. Two classes of people hold the σκῆπτρον in the Homeric world: kings and heralds. Thus, in the opening scene of the Iliad, Agamemnon boldly (and irreligiously) threatens Chryses by suggesting that his heraldic scepter will not avail him against regal rage: μή νύ τοι οὐ χραίσμῃ σκῆπτρον καὶ στέμμα θεοῖο• (Il. 1.28) Later, while reproaching Agamemnon, Achilles swears by Agamemnon’s scepter: ναὶ μὰ τόδε σκῆπτρον. (Il. 1.234).

μαχητὴν: “warrior” from μαχητής; in this position, see Il. 16.186 (Εὔδωρον πέρι μὲν θείειν ταχὺν ἠδὲ μαχητήν).

23 ἔμμεναι ἀλλ’ ἄγε θᾶσσον ἑὴν γενεὴν ἀγόρευε.
ἔμμεναι: Homeric lengenthed infinitive for εἶναι
ἑὴν: Homeric reflexive progressive pronoun: “his own”
ἀγόρευε: Homer does not use this verb for genealogical explication (or, for that matter, too frequentally in dialogues); in most instances, it refers to communication of plans or counsels, or alternatively the interpretation of omens.

2 thoughts on “Commentary on the Batrakhomyomakhia, Part 2: lines 9-23

  1. platosparks

    A couple of typos. On line 12 you have Ποντοπόρειa twice – the second time as Sandy. On line 13 you have sewed for sowed. I have an image of someone making a cloth mouse with needle and thread.

    On line 22 you say Achilles swears by his own scepter. But I don’t think that this was his own specter but the one that is given by the herald to the man who has the right to speak.

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