A Commentary on the Batrakhomuomakhia, Part 12: 147-159

We return to our commentary on the Homeric “Battle of Frogs and Mice”:

147 ῏Ω φίλοι οὐκ ἔκτεινον ἐγὼ μῦν, οὐδὲ κατεῖδον
148 ὀλλύμενον· πάντως δ’ ἐπνίγη παίζων παρὰ λίμνην,
149 νήξεις τὰς βατράχων μιμούμενος· οἱ δὲ κάκιστοι
150 νῦν ἐμὲ μέμφονται τὸν ἀναίτιον· ἀλλ’ ἄγε βουλὴν
151 ζητήσωμεν ὅπως δολίους μύας ἐξολέσωμεν.
152 τοιγὰρ ἐγὼν ἐρέω ὥς μοι δοκεῖ εἶναι ἄριστα.
153 σώματα κοσμήσαντες ἐν ὅπλοις στῶμεν ἅπαντες
154 ἄκροις πὰρ χείλεσσιν, ὅπου κατάκρημνος ὁ χῶρος·
155 ἡνίκα δ’ ὁρμηθέντες ἐφ’ ἡμέας ἐξέλθωσι,
156 δραξάμενοι κορύθων, ὅς τις σχεδὸν ἀντίος ἔλθῃ,
157 ἐς λίμνην αὐτοὺς σὺν ἐκείναις εὐθὺ βάλωμεν.
158 οὕτω γὰρ πνίξαντες ἐν ὕδασι τοὺς ἀκολύμβους
159 στήσομεν εὐθύμως τὸ μυοκτόνον ὧδε τρόπαιον.

147 ῏Ω φίλοι οὐκ ἔκτεινον ἐγὼ μῦν, οὐδὲ κατεῖδον: Physignathus’ protest is reminiscent of Hermes’ protest in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes where he insists “I didn’t see the cows, nor learn of them, nor hear a story from anyone else” (οὐκ ἴδον, οὐ πυθόμην, οὐκ ἄλλου μῦθον ἄκουσα, 263). The external audience in both cases know that the speaker is lying.

148 ὀλλύμενον: A temporal participle showing contemporaneous action, “I didn’t look on as he was dying”.

πάντως δ’ ἐπνίγη: πνίγω , “to choke, drown”. The aorist is defective, ἐπνίγην like ἔβην (from βαίνω). Note the alliteration of –p- sounds (πάντως δ’ ἐπνίγη παίζων παρὰ λίμνην) perhaps cruelly echoing the sound of a sputtering or panting mouse.

παίζων: The dismissive tone of παίζων, coupled with the reproach which Ph. leveled against Psicharpax in their initial meeting (λίην αὐχεῖς ἐπὶ γαστέρι) suggests that the frogs entertained a rather slighting attitude towardthe murine character, perhaps reflecting human beliefs about the frivolity of a mouse’s life.

149 νήξεις: “the swimmings”; cf. line 68 νήξει

μιμούμενος: The participle μιμούμενος has a certain pathetic conative force: Ps.died trying to imitate the swimming of the frogs.

150 νῦν ἐμὲ μέμφονται τὸν ἀναίτιον: Assertions that someone is “blaming the blameless” occur with reference to Achilles (11.654) and Hektor (13.775) in the Iliad using the cognate accusative construction ἀναίτιον αἰτιάασθαι; cf. the reference to Odysseus at Od. 20.135). The Homeric preference for cognate accusative constructions may not be at home in Hellenistic poetics; at the same time, the use of μέμφονται here may be condition by the narrative μεμφομένων δ’ αὐτῶν (146). In Homer, this verb only appears in compound, e.g. ἐπιμέμφομαι.Blame-negotiation is an essential part of epic thematics. At the beginning of the Odyssey, Zeus complains about men: 1.35-7:

“Mortals, they are always blaming the gods and saying that their evils come from us. But they suffer grief beyond their allotment thanks to their own recklessness.”

“ὢ πόποι, οἷον δή νυ θεοὺς βροτοὶ αἰτιόωνται.
ἐξ ἡμέων γάρ φασι κάκ’ ἔμμεναι· οἱ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ
σφῇσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὑπὲρ μόρον ἄλγε’ ἔχουσιν

Indeed, Zeus’s speech was made in response to exactly this sort of regal shrinking from blame. See also Agamemnon at Iliad 19.86-87: “and they were criticizing me, but I am not to blame, no Zeus, Fate and the Fury who walks on air [are]” (καί τέ με νεικείεσκον· ἐγὼ δ’ οὐκ αἴτιός εἰμι / ἀλλὰ Ζεὺς καὶ Μοῖρα καὶ ἠεροφοῖτις ᾿Ερινύς…). For the expression of blame in Homer, see Vodoklys 1992; Nagy 1979, 211-75 and Martin 1989, 30-5.

151 ζητήσωμεν: Aorist subjunctive, hortatory. The use of ζήτειν for abstract searching is post-Homeric. For this use, cf. Aesch. Prometheus Bound…ἄθλου δ’ ἔκλυσιν ζήτει τινά. See above, note 25.

ὅπως δολίους μύας ἐξολέσωμεν: Object clause of effort. Some MSS have the adverb δολίως instead of the adjective which is probably better suited to the context. The mice, who are actually victims here, have not exhibited any trickiness whereas Physignathus, who could be considered at least a bit shifty from his recent denial of any engagement with Ps., is actually formulating a deceptive battle strategy. In defense of the adjective, we could imagine the frog attributing to the mice the very quality he is exercising. It is entirely possible as well that mice had a conventional association with cleverness (vis a vis their relationships to humans).

ἐξολέσωμεν: from ὄλλυμι: Aorist subjunctive. This compound appears once in Homer (τοὺς Ζεὺς ἐξολέσειε πρὶν ἥμιν πῆμα γενέσθαι, Od. 17.597).

152 τοιγὰρ ἐγὼν ἐρέω ὥς μοι δοκεῖ εἶναι ἄριστα: This line is common in Homeric council-scene. Cf. Iliad 9.103 αὐτὰρ ἐγὼν ἐρέω ὥς μοι δοκεῖ εἶναι ἄριστα. When advisors speak what “seems best to them” and are ignored, it signals disfunction or danger in Homer as when Polydamas gives his best advice to Hektor (Il.12.315; 13.735). Generally, the contention that something “seems best” is supported by the narrative as when Zeus proposes a plan in teh Odyssey (13.365).

ἐγὼν: This is a typical Homeric form for ἐγώ. Of the eight occurences of the first-person pronoun in the BM this is the only instance.

153 σώματα κοσμήσαντες ἐν ὅπλοις: essentially, “after arming”.

στῶμεν ἅπαντες: The king’s subsequent strategy is for the frogs to stand on the edge of the bank and to capitalize on the forward momentum of the mice’s charge to drown as many of them as possible. While seeming sound, the strategy is ineffective.

154 ἄκροις πὰρ χείλεσσιν: “on the highest part of the bank”. Χείλος often refers to the lip of a cup, but is also often the highest part of a furrow or riverbed (ἐπ’ ἄκρῳ / χείλει) as at Il. 12.51-52 (τόλμων ὠκύποδες, μάλα δὲ χρεμέτιζον ἐπ’ ἄκρῳ / χείλει ἐφεσταότες· ἀπὸ γὰρ δειδίσσετο τάφρος).

ὅπου κατάκρημνος: “very steep, precipitous”.

155 ἡνίκα: “when, at the time when”; this occurs only once in Homer (Od. 22.198).

ὁρμηθέντες: Aorist passive, but active in meaning (deponent)

156 δραξάμενοι κορύθων: “after grabing them by the helmet”. κορύθων occurs in Homer, 13.341 (αὐγὴ χαλκείη κορύθων ἄπο λαμπομενάων.)

ὅς τις σχεδὸν ἀντίος ἔλθῃ: Some MSS have ὅποτε or ὅππως for ὅς τις and others jave ἤλθον ἐφ᾿ ἠμᾶς instead of ἀντίος ἔλθῃ. The latter is a rather Homeric phrase and it is possible that early editors or copyists were uncomfortable with the switch from plural to singular.

157 ἐς λίμνην αὐτοὺς σὺν ἐκείναις: Variations include σὺν ἔντεσιν / σὺν (which has metrical issues) or σὺν ἐκείνῳ which could refer back to Ps.. In sum, the passage could be requesting that they allow the other mice to join their fallen comrade.

158 πνίξαντες: It is not clear wether drowning was commonly considered to be the default mode of murder employed by frogs, or whether this notion is just one of the many inherited from the fable. There is, at any rate, a certain grim irony in Physignathos’ plan to drown and suffocate the rest of the mice, since he claims to have been wholly innocent in the drowning of Psicharpax. In extolling the virtues of the amphibious life in line 60, Physignathos notes that frogs have the power ἐν ὕδασι σῶμα καλύψαι; if we do not take this in a strictly reflective sense, it may be a grim foreshadowing of Psicharpax’s fate.

ἀκολύμβους: “Unable to swim.” This language may be drawn from a variant of the Aesopic fable in the Life of Aesop where the mouse, when invited to swim, declares “I do not know how to swim” (κολυμβῆσαι οὐκ ἐπίσταμαι.)

159 στήσομεν: Aorist short-vowel subjunctive; cf. Il. 18.278 (στησόμεθ’ ἂμ πύργους· τῷ δ’ ἄλγιον, αἴ κ’ ἐθέλῃσιν)

τὸ μυοκτόνον ὧδε τρόπαιον: The μυοκτόνον τρόπαιον may be something of a meta-poetic conceit: the lasting monument to mouse-murder is the poem itself.

τρόπαιον: “trophy”. Greeks typically set up trophies after victories made up of panoplies of captured goods and armor. The term is related to τρέπω because the site was to mark the spot where the enemy turned to retreat. In some historical cases, these temporary monuments were replaced by permant ones. See Steinbock 2013, 84; cf. Pausanias 1.32.5.

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