A Commentary on the Batrakhomuomakhia, Part 13: 160-176

This is the lucky thirteenth installment of our commentary on the Homeric “Battle of Frogs and Mice”.

160 ῝Ως εἰπὼν ἀνέπεισε καθοπλίζεσθαι ἅπαντας.
161 φύλλοις μὲν μαλαχῶν κνήμας ἑὰς ἀμφεκάλυψαν,
162 θώρηκας δ’ εἶχον καλῶν χλοερῶν ἀπὸ σεύτλων,
163 φύλλα δὲ τῶν κραμβῶν εἰς ἀσπίδας εὖ ἤσκησαν,
164 ἔγχος δ’ ὀξύσχοινος ἑκάστῳ μακρὸς ἀρήρει,
165 καί ῥα κέρα κοχλιῶν λεπτῶν ἐκάλυπτε κάρηνα.
166 φραξάμενοι δ’ ἔστησαν ἐπ’ ὄχθαις ὑψηλαῖσι
167 σείοντες λόγχας, θυμοῦ δ’ ἔμπλητο ἕκαστος.
168 Ζεὺς δὲ θεοὺς καλέσας εἰς οὐρανὸν ἀστερόεντα,
169 καὶ πολέμου πληθὺν δείξας κρατερούς τε μαχητάς,
170 πολλοὺς καὶ μεγάλους ἠδ’ ἔγχεα μακρὰ φέροντας,
171 οἷος Κενταύρων στρατὸς ἔρχεται ἠὲ Γιγάντων,
172 ἡδὺ γελῶν ἐρέεινε· τίνες βατράχοισιν ἀρωγοὶ
173 ἢ μυσὶν ἀθανάτων; καὶ ᾿Αθηναίην προσέειπεν·
174 ῏Ω θύγατερ μυσὶν ἦ ῥα βοηθήσουσα πορεύσῃ;
175 καὶ γὰρ σοῦ κατὰ νηὸν ἀεὶ σκιρτῶσιν ἅπαντες
176 κνίσῃ τερπόμενοι καὶ ἐδέσμασι παντοδαποῖσιν.


160-167 The poem offers a scene of frogs arming to match the mouse arming sequence. The strategy of the humor is not entirely different, but the content and contrast adds both to the earlier description and also parodies the type of balance evident in Homeric scenes.

160 ῝Ως εἰπὼν: A typical formula in Homeric speech-framing, e.g. Il. 1.326, sometimes expaned to the caesura as ῎Ητοι ὅ γ’ ὣς εἰπὼν… (e.g. Il. 7.354).

ἀνέπεισε: This compound is common in authors from Herodotus on. Homer uses the compounds παραπείθω and ἐπιπείθω with some frequency.

καθοπλίζεσθαι ἅπαντας: See on 122.

161 φύλλοις μὲν μαλαχῶν: “leaves of of mallow”. Mallow may describe many different types of the family Malvaceae. The genus native to Europe and Asia Minor, Althaea, grows on river banks. The plants reach maturity at between three and six feet with soft flowers whose nature helped give the name to marshmallows. Greeks and Romans prized the plants for alleged healing properties; the leaves were often eaten in salads.

κνήμας ἑὰς: “their own shins”; ἑὰς: reflexive personal pronoun.

ἀμφεκάλυψαν: This compound (unaugmented) ends the line at Od. 5.493, 13.152 and 158 and elsewhere.

162 θώρηκας δ’ εἶχον καλῶν χλοερῶν ἀπὸ σεύτλων: “they had breastplates from yellow beets”.

σεύτλων: This vegetable appears in one of the lives of Aesop (Life W) along with the μαλαχῶν. This does not necessarily imply common authorship or even time period for the composition, but does indicate a shared lexicon and perhaps common thematic atmosphere

163 φύλλα δὲ τῶν κραμβῶν: “leaves of cabbage”. According to Athenaeus, cabbage planted in vineyards made wine darker and eating cabbage before drinking could enhance inebriation (1.62)

εἰς ἀσπίδας εὖ ἤσκησαν: cf. Il. 23.742: πολλόν, ἐπεὶ Σιδόνες πολυδαίδαλοι εὖ ἤσκησαν.

164 ἔγχος δ’ ὀξύσχοινος ἑκάστῳ μακρὸς ἀρήρει: A bit of an awkward sentence but with a Homeric parallel: εἵλετο δ’ ἄλκιμα δοῦρε, τά οἱ παλάμηφιν ἀρήρει, 16.139 (“he took two strong spears which were fitted to his palms”). Following the pattern of the previous passage, it may be best to consider this as predicative: “For each a sharp reed was fitted as a great spear”. ὀξύσχοινος: “sharp reed”, may refer to a specific plant.

165 καί ῥα κέρα κοχλιῶν λεπτῶν ἐκάλυπτε κάρηνα: This line has several variants, most of which include the same image: snails’ shells as helmets (e.g., …κοχλίαι κάρην ἀμφεκάλυπτον. Thus, while the specific articulation may be uncertain, the image seems traditional.

166 φραξάμενοι: φράσσω, in the middle “to arm oneself”. This form appears in Mimnermus (ἤ[ϊξ]α̣ν κοίληι[ς ἀ]σπίσι φραξάμενοι, fr. 13a2).

ἐπ’ ὄχθαις ὑψηλαῖσι : “on the high banks”; the adjective appears in Homer and Hesiod for homes (e.g. Il. 6.503) and chairs (e.g. Od. 8.422).

167 σείοντες λόγχας: “brandishing spears”, λόγχη is a post-Homeric noun but the combination is similar to Il. (σείοντ’ ἐγχείας. 3.345). This is kikely another literary adaptation.

θυμοῦ δ’ ἔμπλητο ἕκαστος: Typically in Homer with πίμπλημι a person’s bodypart (in the accusative) is filled with something in the genitive as at Il. 22.312 when Achilles “filled his heart with eagerness” (μένεος δ’ ἐμπλήσατο θυμὸν) cf. Il. 1.102-103. In the passive, the verb can simply take a genitive as here if we understand thumos metonymically, e.g. “each was filled with enthusiasm”. Such a use of thumos appears as early as Isocrates (ἀλλ’ ὀργῆς καὶ θυμοῦ καὶ φθόνου καὶ φιλοτιμίας μεστοὺς, 12.81.8). One manuscript does have the accusative θυμόν which would also be non-Homeric without a genitive complement.

168-193: Zeus calls a council of the gods to consider the severity of the threat, and yet he prefaces it with a laugh and the threat of the conflict in reality is quite minor. At some level, we may consider the scene a parody of divine concern in the Homeric epics where even the works of men can bring them no real danger—even though the poet depicts the gods as showing actual concern. The parodic poet deploys the same tone to a different effect. In addition, the parody imitates the actual divine assemblies that occur in Greek epic at Iliad 4, 8, 24; and Odyssey 1. Athena responds and complains that she cannot support either side. The depiction of the goddess contrasts with her appearance in Homeric epic or Attic tragedy where she is frightening and serious. Here, Athena appears as rather pathetic, complaining about how the mice have ruined her clothing and that the frogs keep her awake. It is not impossible that Athena would receive such an irreverant treatment in a satyrical context (e.g. satyr plays or comedy), but the patron goddess is not a common target of the classical period.

168 Ζεὺς δὲ θεοὺς καλέσας: the verb of speech (ἐρέεινε, 172) is rather separated from the subject for Homeric standards.

εἰς οὐρανὸν ἀστερόεντα: A Homeric formula, e.g. Od. 12.380

169 καὶ πολέμου πληθὺν: The substantive πληθὺν typically appears unqualified in Homer, but here has a descriptive genitive

κρατερούς τε μαχητάς: “strong warriors”, more hyperbole. The combination is likely modeled on Il. 3.179 (…κρατερός τ’ αἰχμητής)

170 πολλοὺς καὶ μεγάλους: Hendiadys, “many, great and strong warriors”

ἠδ’ ἔγχεα μακρὰ φέροντας: cf. Il. 3.135 (ἀσπίσι κεκλιμένοι, παρὰ δ’ ἔγχεα μακρὰ πέπηγεν).

171 οἷος Κενταύρων στρατὸς ἔρχεται ἠὲ Γιγάντων: “The army of frogs roars like the giants and the mice are just like the boasting Centaurs”. The combination of the two echoes line 171; the mice are compared to Giants at line 7 and the battle is compared to the hubris of the Giants at 283. These variant lines, then, engage with a poetic strategy of humorous hyperbole in comparing the mice and frogs to threats to the cosmic order (Giants) and fantastic, nearly divine beings (Centaurs). These lines seem to push the comparison to another level of absurdity. 170a-b: The Byzantine edition has alternate lines: ὡς βατράχων στρατὸς ἔβρεμεν εὖτε γιγάντων and καὶ μῦες κενταύρων μεγαλαύχων ἦσαν ὁμοῖοι.

172 ἡδὺ γελῶν: This form of the participle is not found in Homer, who instead employs the phrase ἡδὺ γελάσσας· (cf. Iliad 21.508). This phrase at first appears to introduce a speech in the middle of a line, but it is more likely that this is an indirect description of speech.

ἀρωγοὶ: “helpers, assistants”, used in the Iliad of gods who aid one side or the other, see Il. 8.205 (εἴ περ γάρ κ’ ἐθέλοιμεν, ὅσοι Δαναοῖσιν ἀρωγοί) which occurs in another divine assembly

173 ἢ μυσὶν ἀθανάτων: Some manuscripts anticipate 178 with τειρομένοισιν in this line (“who will help the frogs and mice who are being worn down”). Instead, the text has a separation between the partitive genitive and the interrogative, i.e. “Who of the gods will be helpers for the mice or frogs”.

174 μυσὶν ἦ ῥα βοηθήσουσα: Zeus expects his daughter to help the mice since they are often in her temple. His image of the playful and happy mice stands in contrast to their recently described bellicosity.

βοηθήσουσα: Future participle of purpose. Some manuscripts have ἐπαλεξήσουσα; in the Iliad, Zeus sends Athena down to defend Herakles (ἐπαλεξήσουσαν, 8.365).

πορεύσῃ: Deliberative subjunctive.

175 ἀεὶ σκιρτῶσιν ἅπαντες: “They are all always dancing”. The verb σκιρτάω which can be appropriate to the skittish movement of mice (as in Aratus, 1134-1135: ᾿Αλλὰ γὰρ οὐδὲ μύες, τετριγότες εἴ ποτε μᾶλλον / εὔδιοι ἐσκίρτησαν ἐοικότες ὀρχηθμοῖσιν) is used in Classical Athens to describe the movement of Bacchae (Eur. Bacchae 446) and members of a chorus (Aristophanes, Wealth, 761), so it is possible that the image of dancing in the temple fo Athena may have some humorous echoes of ritual practice. A war-dance was performed in honor of Athena’s birth in full-armor at the Panathenain festival (pyrrhiche). See Burkert 1985, 102.

176 κνίσῃ τερπόμενοι: The gods are the ones who enjoy the smoke from sacrifices; it may be natural for a god to imagine that the mice would enjoy the things he himself does. As in the Homeric epics where there are parallels drawn between men and the gods, this might be a parodic example of a similiar strategy. For “smoke” in a mouse name, see Κνισσοδιώκτην, line 232. Cf. the “Daughter of Smokey” (Κν]ισ̣έωνος θ[υ]γάτη̣[ρ], line 8) who appears in the fragmentary GM.

ἐδέσμασι παντοδαποῖσιν: Zeus echoes what Psikharpax says about himself at line 31.


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