Commentary on Batrakhomuomakhia, Part 3: 24-41

This is the third installment of our commentary on the Homeric “Battle of Frogs and Mice”

24 Τὸν δ’ αὖ Ψιχάρπαξ ἀπαμείβετο φώνησέν τε•
25 τίπτε γένος τοὐμὸν ζητεῖς; δῆλον δ’ ἐν ἅπασιν
26 ἀνθρώποις τε θεοῖς τε καὶ οὐρανίοις πετεηνοῖς.
27 Ψιχάρπαξ μὲν ἐγὼ κικλήσκομαι• εἰμὶ δὲ κοῦρος
28 Τρωξάρταο πατρὸς μεγαλήτορος• ἡ δέ νυ μήτηρ
29 Λειχομύλη, θυγάτηρ Πτερνοτρώκτου βασιλῆος.
30 γείνατο δ’ ἐν καλύβῃ με καὶ ἐξεθρέψατο βρωτοῖς
31 σύκοις καὶ καρύοις καὶ ἐδέσμασι παντοδαποῖσιν.
32 πῶς δὲ φίλον ποιῇ με, τὸν ἐς φύσιν οὐδὲν ὁμοῖον;
33 σοὶ μὲν γὰρ βίος ἐστὶν ἐν ὕδασιν• αὐτὰρ ἔμοιγε
34 ὅσσα παρ’ ἀνθρώποις τρώγειν ἔθος• οὐδέ με λήθει
35 ἄρτος τρισκοπάνιστος ἀπ’ εὐκύκλου κανέοιο,
36 οὐδὲ πλακοῦς τανύπεπλος ἔχων πολὺ σησαμότυρον,
37 οὐ τόμος ἐκ πτέρνης, οὐχ ἥπατα λευκοχίτωνα,
38 οὐ τυρὸς νεόπηκτος ἀπὸ γλυκεροῖο γάλακτος,
39 οὐ χρηστὸν μελίτωμα, τὸ καὶ μάκαρες ποθέουσιν,
40 οὐδ’ ὅσα πρὸς θοίνας μερόπων τεύχουσι μάγειροι,
41 κοσμοῦντες χύτρας ἀρτύμασι παντοδαποῖσιν.

24 Τὸν δ’ αὖ Ψιχάρπαξ ἀπαμείβετο φώνησέν τε•
Ψιχάρπαξ: Note the peculiarity of introducing the name of Psiparchax in this abrupt way, before he reveals it in line 27.

ἀπαμείβετο φώνησέν τε•: basically just “answer”; a typical formula in Homer. See Od. 7.298 (ἀπαμείβετο φώνησέν τε); cf. Il. 20.199.

25 τίπτε γένος τοὐμὸν ζητεῖς; δῆλον δ’ ἐν ἅπασιν
τίπτε: τί
τοὐμὸν: τὸ ἐμόν
ζητεῖς: This usage is thoroughly un-Homeric. In Homer, the verb signifies the concrete action of actual pursuit, rather than the metaphorical ‘pursuit’ involved in questioning. See Il. 14.258:…ἐμὲ δ’ ἔξοχα πάντων / ζήτει• More commonly, Homer would employ a word such as ἐρεείνεις. Consider the scene between Glaukos and Diomedes in Book 6 of the Iliad, which this interchange between Physignathos and Psicharpax is meant to parody: (6.145) : Τυδεΐδη μεγάθυμε τί ἢ γενεὴν ἐρεείνεις;

26 ἀνθρώποις τε θεοῖς τε καὶ οὐρανίοις πετεηνοῖς.
οὐρανίοις πετεηνοῖς: “flying things in the sky”; periphrasis for birds. cp. Hesiod, Works and Days 277: ἰχθύσι μὲν καὶ θηρσὶ καὶ οἰωνοῖς πετεηνοῖς. The adjective in the parody is more often associated with divine creatures. E.g. Il. 17.195 (Πηλεΐδεω ᾿Αχιλῆος ἅ οἱ θεοὶ οὐρανίωνες). The application here to birds may seem excessively elevated.

27 κικλήσκομαι: “I am called”; the word is common in Homer. Cf. Od. 10.300
εἰμὶ δὲ κοῦρος: Not the most common word for “son” in Homer. But kourê is frequently used for daughter (cf. Il. 1.98: πρίν γ’ ἀπὸ πατρὶ φίλῳ δόμεναι ἑλικώπιδα κούρην). Homeric ὑίος, the common word for son, is very productive in formulaic expressions and is the common word for son.

28 μεγαλήτορος: “Great-hearted”, a common epithet in Homer. See Il.2.547 (δῆμον ᾿Ερεχθῆος μεγαλήτορος, ὅν ποτ’ ᾿Αθήνη)

νυ: νῦν

29 Λειχομύλη: “Millstone licker” (λείχω + μύλη); μύλη does appear in Homer, see Od. 7.104 (αἱ μὲν ἀλετρεύουσι μύλῃσ’ ἔπι μήλοπα καρπόν)

Πτερνοτρώκτου: “Ham-nibbler” (Πτέρνα + τρώκτος, verbal adjective from τρώγω). Πτέρνα mock-epic form adapted from Lat. perna. See LSJ s.v. The lateness of this noun and its probable adaptation from Latin points to a rather late provenance for the date of this poem, especially considering the number of times it occurs (29, 37, 224).

30 γείνατο δ’ ἐν καλύβῃ με καὶ ἐξεθρέψατο βρωτοῖς
γείνατο: Cf. ln. 19. ποτ’ εγείνατο, an alternative to ἀνεθρέψατο. The preference of ποτ’ εγείνατο in ln. 19 is supported by the reading here, where the difference between the two verbs is clear. Moreover, the construction of geinato+locative abl. is more supportable than the variant.

ἐν καλύβῃ: “hidey-hole”, cf. kaluptô, “hide”

βρωτοῖς: Glei suggests that this word is suspect here because it effectively doubles the sense of ln. 31. However, there is no prima facie reason for suspecting a word solely on the grounds of semantic amplification. However, the word does not occur in Homer; βρῶσις is the preferred word.

31 σύκοις καὶ καρύοις: “figs and nuts”

ἐδέσμασι παντοδαποῖσιν: “all kinds of treats”; ἐδέσμασι is not found as early as Homer. It seems to rise in popularity in the 4th century BCE (appearing in Xenophon and Aristotle). Forms do appear in Aesop’s Fabulae as well.

32 φίλον ποιῇ: Deliberative subjunctive using the second person (relatively rare, see Smyth §1805b. The abstract use of ποίειν is un-Homeric. In Homer, ποίειν refers primarily to the act of making, constructing, or putting together a material object. It is also highly irregular to see φίλον used as a substantive direct object in this way.

φύσιν: “Nature, character”. This is an un-Homeric usage and phúsis seems to draw more on later scientific and philosophical treatments. See Aeschylus, Supplices 496: μορφῆς δ’ οὐχ ὁμόστολος φύσις.

ὁμοῖον: “The same”; Homeric poetry generally uses this word to express a sense of equality more than similarity. Cf. Il.253-4: τῷ δ’ οὔ πώ τις ὁμοῖος ἐπιχθόνιος γένετ’ ἀνὴρ / κοσμῆσαι ἵππους τε καὶ ἀνέρας ἀσπιδιώτας•

33 σοὶ μὲν γὰρ βίος ἐστὶν ἐν ὕδασιν• αὐτὰρ ἔμοιγε
βίος: This abstract use of βίος, meaning something akin to “way/mode of life” is characteristic of later Greek thought.

ἐν ὕδασιν: “Our life is in the water”. Homer does not use plural forms of ὕδωρ. Apollonius Rhodes does, see 3.876: οἵη δέ, λιαροῖσιν ἐν ὕδασι Παρθενίοιο

αὐτὰρ ἔμοιγε: The combination ἔμοιγε ends lines on occasion in Homer and αὐτὰρ often appears in the penultimate position; this particular combination does not occur.

34 ἔθος: Does not occur in Homer. The use of ethos+inf. Seems comparatively late. Cf. Demosthenes, Adversus Leptinem 40.2: ἡμῶν ἐρεῖ; ἐμοὶ γοῦν δοκεῖ. παρὰ πᾶσι γὰρ ἀνθρώποις μᾶλλόν ἐστιν ἔθος διὰ τοὺς εὐεργέτας καὶ ἄλλους τινὰς εὖ ποιεῖν τῶν μὴ χρηστῶν ἢ διὰ τοὺς φαύλους τοὺς ὁμολογου-
μένως ἀξίους χάριτος τὰ δοθέντ’ ἀφαιρεῖσθαι.

λήθει: from λανθάνω. In Homeric usage, this verb does not mean simply to evade or escape in a literal sense. It is often used to signify that a thing or person will not escape someone’s mind or notice. Cf. Il. 23.323-5 αἰεὶ τέρμ’ ὁρόων στρέφει ἐγγύθεν, οὐδέ ἑ λήθει. ὅππως τὸ πρῶτον τανύσῃ βοέοισιν ἱμᾶσιν, This, combined with the comment of Physignathos at line 57, provides an excellent characterization of Psicharpax, begun in line 10, where he is described as having a likhnon geneion, a gluttonous mouth. It is perhaps significant that the king of mice is described as voracious and greedy in an oral sense, in contrast to the king of the frogs, who swells at the jaw for another reason.

35 ἄρτος τρισκοπάνιστος : “thrice-kneaded bread” (τρίς + κοπανίζω)

ἀπ’ εὐκύκλου κανέοιο: “well-woven basket”. The adjective eukuklos modifies shields in the Iliad (5.453) and wagons/chariots in the Odyssey (cf. 6.58). The use of this adjective for basket is certainly mock-heroic. The combination of martial language and bread perhaps recalls lines like those of Archilochus fr. 2: “My kneaded bread is in my spear / Ismarian wine is in my spear / and I drink while leaning on my spear” (ἐν δορὶ μέν μοι μᾶζα μεμαγμένη, ἐν δορὶ δ’ οἶνος / ᾿Ισμαρικός• πίνω δ’ ἐν δορὶ κεκλιμένος). Where Archilochus’ subverts by mixing martial and sympotic language, the parodist applies epic diction to more mundane objects.

κανέοιο: -οιο an Archaic genitive singular common throughout Homer. The uncontracted κανέοιο occurs in the Odyssey in connection too with bread: Od. 17.343-344: ἄρτον τ’ οὖλον ἑλὼν περικαλλέος ἐκ κανέοιο / καὶ κρέας, ὥς οἱ χεῖρες ἐχάνδανον ἀμφιβαλόντι•

36 πλακοῦς: “flat-cake”

τανύπεπλος: “flowing-robed”, often used of females in Homer; here, probably humorously intended in describing the cake.

σησαμότυρον: “sesame-cheese”. The sesame-cake was sometimes part of a wedding feast in Athens. See Aristophanes Peace 869: ὁ πλακοῦς πέπεπται, σησαμῆ ξυμπλάττεται.

37 οὐ τόμος ἐκ πτέρνης: “slice of ham”; τόμος is from τέμνω, “to cut”. In referring to food, this noun may have a special association with comedy. See Alexis fr. 1 (Χορδαρίου τόμος ἧκε καὶ περίκομμά τι); Eubulus, fr. 15.7 (νενωγάλισται σεμνὸς ἀλλᾶντος τόμος); and Cratinus fr. 192 (ὡς λεπτός, ἦ δ’ ὅς, ἔσθ’ ὁ τῆς χορδῆς τόμος) Cf. Pherecrates fr. 45.5 and Mnesimachus fr. 4.14.

πτέρνης: “Ham”; mock-epic form adapted from Lat. perna. See LSJ s.v. See above on line 29/

οὐχ ἥπατα λευκοχίτωνα: “white-girded liver”: another humorous application of clothing for maidens to food. Cf. πλακοῦς τανύπεπλος, ln. 36

38 νεόπηκτος: “Newly-curdled”; πήγνυμι can mean “to make chesse by curdling milk” on the parallel of stiffening limbs or materials. See LSJ s.v. III

ἀπὸ γλυκεροῖο γάλακτος: “from sweet-milk”. This combination occurs in the Odyssey (τυροῦ καὶ κρειῶν οὐδὲ γλυκεροῖο γάλακτος, 4.88)

39 οὐ χρηστὸν μελίτωμα: “holy honey-cake”. A scholist to Aristophanes’ Knights 345 (ὠμοσπάρακτον παραλαβὼν μεταχειρίσαιο χρηστῶς) cites this line χρηστὸν γὰρ ἔδεσμα καλοῦμεν τὸ εὖ ἠρτυμένον. καὶ ῞Ομηρος “οὐ χρηστὸν μελίτωμα, τὸ καὶ μάκαρες ποθέουσιν”

40 οὐδ’ ὅσα πρὸς θοίνας: “However much the cooks prepare for a feast”. Typically πρὸς + accusative denotes motion, but it can indicate general relation to or for.

μερόπων: “mortals”; on this adjective, see on line 5:μερόπεσσιν: “mortals” (see μερόπεσσι βροτοῖσιν, Il. 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.

μάγειροι: “Cooks”, popular in comedy and post-classical Greek but extand as early as Herodotus (6.60.2)

41 κοσμοῦντες χύτρας: “arranging/seasoning the dishes”. The active of kosméô is not extant in Homer in participle form. The passive κοσμηθέντες occurs in both the Iliad and the Odyssey.

ἀρτύμασι παντοδαποῖσιν: “every kind of dressing/spice”. See line 31 (ἐδέσμασι παντοδαποῖσιν) above.


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