A Commentary on the Homeric Batrakhomuomakia, Part 14: Lines 177-197

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

177 ῝Ως ἄρ’ ἔφη Κρονίδης· τὸν δὲ προσέειπεν ᾿Αθήνη·
178 ὦ πάτερ οὐκ ἄν πώ ποτ’ ἐγὼ μυσὶ τειρομένοισιν
179 ἐλθοίμην ἐπαρωγός, ἐπεὶ κακὰ πολλά μ’ ἔοργαν
180 στέμματα βλάπτοντες καὶ λύχνους εἵνεκ’ ἐλαίου.
181 τοῦτο δέ μοι λίην ἔδακε φρένας οἷον ἔρεξαν.
182 πέπλον μου κατέτρωξαν ὃν ἐξύφηνα καμοῦσα
183 ἐκ ῥοδάνης λεπτῆς καὶ στήμονα μακρὸν ἔνησα,
184 τρώγλας τ’ ἐμποίησαν· ὁ δ’ ἠπητής μοι ἐπέστη
185 καὶ πράσσει με τόκον· τὸ δὲ ῥίγιον ἀθανάτοισιν.
186 χρησαμένη γὰρ ἔνησα καὶ οὐκ ἔχω ἀνταποδοῦναι.
187 ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὣς βατράχοισιν ἀρηγέμεναι βουλήσω.
188 εἰσὶ γὰρ οὐδ’ αὐτοὶ φρένας ἔμπεδοι, ἀλλά με πρῴην
189 ἐκ πολέμου ἀνιοῦσαν ἐπεὶ λίην ἐκοπώθην,
190 ὕπνου δευομένην οὐκ εἴασαν θορυβοῦντες
191 οὐδ’ ὀλίγον καταμῦσαι· ἐγὼ δ’ ἄϋπνος κατεκείμην·
192 τὴν κεφαλὴν ἀλγοῦσαν, ἕως ἐβόησεν ἀλέκτωρ.
193 ἀλλ’ ἄγε παυσώμεσθα θεοὶ τούτοισιν ἀρήγειν,
194 μή κέ τις ὑμείων τρωθῇ βέλει ὀξυόεντι·
195 εἰσὶ γὰρ ἀγχέμαχοι, εἰ καὶ θεὸς ἀντίον ἔλθοι·
196 πάντες δ’ οὐρανόθεν τερπώμεθα δῆριν ὁρῶντες.
197 ῝Ως ἄρ’ ἔφη· καὶ τῇ γε θεοὶ ἐπεπείθοντ’ ἄλλοι,

Ως ἄρ’ ἔφη Κρονίδης· τὸν δὲ προσέειπεν ᾿Αθήνη: Rather typical lines of speech conclusion and introduction. It is less common to have an expression of speech conclusion and introduction in the same line. See line 277 below. This combination is probably a literary adaptation.

178 ὦ πάτερ οὐκ ἄν πώ ποτ’ ἐγὼ μυσὶ τειρομένοισιν: A future less vivid (using the optative with ἄν in the apodosis) with the protasis in the participle τειρομένοισιν (i.e. “I would never go as a helper to the mice even if they are being worn down”). According to Plutarch, many nations (including Persians, Arabians and Ethiopians) hate the mice and kill them to keep them out of the temples (whose gods similarly despise them), de Invidia et odio, 537a.

179 ἐπεὶ κακὰ πολλά μ’ ἔοργαν : Some MSS have ἐρέξαν instead of ἔοργαν. In either case, the sense is “they’ve done me many bad things”.

180 στέμματα βλάπτοντες καὶ λύχνους εἵνεκ’ ἐλαίου: The garlands were most likely made of olive-leaves (Athena is accusing the mice of eating her sacred objects). The lanterns (λύχνους) also have ritual use; earlier in the poem the mice use them for their shields (129).

181 ἔδακε φρένας: The use of ἔδακε is rather playful. It is not uncommonly used for psychic phenomena (cf. Iliad 5.493 …δάκε δὲ φρένας ῞Εκτορι μῦθος·) However, it is perhaps intended to strongly evoke the mouse’s characteristic nibbling. (cf. line 45 …ἄκρον δάκτυλον δάκνω)

182 πέπλον μου κατέτρωξαν ὃν ἐξύφηνα καμοῦσα: Part of ritual offerings to Athena involved the annual dressing of the image in the Parthenon with a new robe. Presenting Athena as weaving one for herself makes her like the women depicted in Homer but rather unlike a divine entity. This also toys with the ritual tradition of Athena’s peplos.

ἐξύφηνα καμοῦσα: Sequential use of the participle in Greek is often opposite of English sense, here”I wore myself out weaving” instead of the Greek order “I wove wearing myself out”. ἐξύφηνα is a root aorist of ὑφαίνω The compound ἐξύφηνα does not appear until Herodotus.

183 ἐκ ῥοδάνης λεπτῆς: “from tender wool”; ῥοδάνης is a post-Homeric word as is στήμονα.

καὶ στήμονα μακρὸν ἔνησα: Athena spins her own wool too!

ἔνησα: νέω, “to spin”

184 τρώγλας τ’ ἐμποίησαν: “they made holes in [my robes]”.

ἠπητής: A “mender,” from ὴπήσασθαι, “to mend.”

ἐπέστη: from ἐφίστημι , middle intransitive meaning, “to await, spring upon, pay attention to”.

185 καὶ πράσσει με τόκον: “and he makes me a debtor”. Ludwich (376) notes that the placement of this line is uncertain in the MSS. tradition; it is placed sometimes before 186, sometimes after. The epexegetical γὰρ in 186 may provide some grounds for retaining this line in its current position. Some scholars have found Athena claiming debt for her robe absurd and therefore questionable. The absurdity, conversely, is probably part of the humorous tone of the text and, moreover, not out of line with the Homeric tradition where, as Xenophanes claims, the gods appear worse than men (fr. 11)

“Homer and Hesiod attribute to the gods
Everything that is reproachful and blameworthy among men:
Stealing, committing adultery, and deceiving one another.”

πάντα θεοῖσ’ ἀνέθηκαν ῞Ομηρός θ’ ῾Ησίοδός τε,
ὅσσα παρ’ ἀνθρώποισιν ὀνείδεα καὶ ψόγος ἐστίν,
κλέπτειν μοιχεύειν τε καὶ ἀλλήλους ἀπατεύειν.

The undignified depiction of Athena, however humorous, may militate against an Athenian composition for the poem where the eponymous goddess is treated with regular reverance in comparison to other gods.

τὸ δὲ ῥίγιον ἀθανάτοισιν: ῥίγιον (“more horrible, chilly”, from ῥιγέω, “to shiver”) appears in Theognis, Homer, Hesiod, Mimnermus and Simonides and should be prefered to the variant τό γε ῥίπον / γ᾿ ἔριπον.

186 χρησαμένη: from χράομαι, “to borrow”.

ἔνησα: See above, note 183.

ἀνταποδοῦναι: ἀνταποδίδωμι, “to repay”.

οὐκ ἔχω: sc. οὐ δύναμαι. With infinitives ἔχω can mean “to be able to”.

187 ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὣς βατράχοισιν ἀρηγέμεναι βουλήσω. Cf. Odyssey 1.6: ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς ἑτάρους ἐρρύσατο, ἱέμενός περ·

ἀρηγέμεναι: from ἀρήγω, “to help”; cf. Il. 8.11: ἐλθόντ’ ἢ Τρώεσσιν ἀρηγέμεν ἢ Δαναοῖσι . The lengthened infinitive ἀρηγέμεναι does not occur in Homer, but does seven times in Quintus Smyrnaeus. But it is possible for multiple active infinitive variants to exist in the same poem Consider Homeric ἀμύνειν, ἀμυνέμεν, ἀμυνέμεναι “to defend”.

188 εἰσὶ γὰρ οὐδ’ αὐτοὶ φρένας ἔμπεδοι, ἀλλά με πρῴην: for the expression, see Iliad 6.352: τούτῳ δ’ οὔτ’ ἂρ νῦν φρένες ἔμπεδοι… Note the alteration in the Homeric expression: where the Iliad has “his thoughts are not sound” the parody has “they are not sound in their thoughts” unless we accept the Peppmüller’s conjecture αὐτοῖς φρένες.

189 ἐκ πολέμου ἀνιοῦσαν cf. Iliad 6.480 ἐκ πολέμου ἀνιόντα·

ἐκοπώθην: from κοπόω [κοπιάω] “to weary”. This may be the earliest occurence of this rare denominative verb from κόπος, “beating, striking”. In English, the metaphor “I am beaten down” might be a more appropriate translation. Athena goes on to complain that the Frogs annoy her with their sound and keep her from sleeping. Similarly, in Aristophanes’ Frogs, the eponymous chorus is depicted as “croaking” both during the chorus and the stichomythic exchange. Dionysus complains “I wish this “croak” would go to hell! There’s nothing left but croaking!” (᾿Αλλ’ ἐξόλοισθ’ αὐτῷ κοαξ / οὐδὲν γάρ ἐστ’ ἀλλ’ ἢ κοαξ, 226-227). It is likely that frog-noise was a common complaint in Classical Athens, but it is also possible that the parodist is engaging with Aristophanes (if we imagine the poem as being composed after the end of the fifth century BCE). See also on line 213 below.

190 οὐκ εἴασαν: For the 3rd plural aorist termination in –αν and its bearing on the date of the poem, see the note on line 179.

θορυβοῦντες: “making an uproar”. Forms of this verb and its noun do not apepar in Homer, but they do appear in Pindar on describing the noise of assembled people, in Plato, especially of judicial assemblies. There may be additional humor in this term used for human gatherings being applied to mice.

δευομένην: modifies με in line 188 along with ἀνιοῦσαν (189). It is not uncommon to have separation like this in Homer, but the alternation of indirect discourse and first-person verbs does seem a bit odd for hexameter

191 καταμῦσαι: καταμύειν literally means “to close one’s eyes.” A reader with a generous sense of humor could perhaps see in the form καταμῦσαι a pun on the murine theme of the work, or a sly hint to the rather similar-sounding katamyomachia (“battle of cats and mice”).

192 ἀλγοῦσαν: Several MSS have this form, following the accusative participles in 189 and 190. Others have the nominative ἀλγοῦσα using τὴν κεφαλὴν as an internal accusative. The sense of the accusative in indirect statement might be better construed if we move this line after 189 (or, without moving it, change to the nominative, following Ludwig, Glei et al. accepting the resulting hiatus ἀλγοῦσα, ἕως. Theognis allows something similar at 1327: ῏Ω παῖ, ἕως ἂν ἔχηις λείαν γένυν, οὔποτε σαίνων).

ἀλέκτωρ: “cock, rooster”

193 ἀλλ’ ἄγε παυσώμεσθα θεοὶ τούτοισιν ἀρήγειν: Several scholars have objected to the reading of παυσώμεσθα here on the grounds that one cannot stop what one has not yet begun (cf. Ludwich 379 ad loc.). However, this debate may too severely constrain the meanings of παυσώμεσθα and ἀρήγειν which are here, more consistent with Hellenistic usage than Homeric, used more abstractly to indicate reluctance and general side-taking rather than specific, localized assistance.

194 μή κέ τις ὑμείων τρωθῇ βέλει ὀξυόεντι· Byzantine variants include μή τις καὶ λόγχῃ τυπῇ δέμας ἠὲ μαχαίρῃ and μή κέ τις τρωθῇ λόγχῃ. Both lines use the λόγχῃ (which seems post-Homeric, see above) whereas the first also includes the Homeric short-sword, (cf. 11.844: ἔνθά μιν ἐκτανύσας ἐκ μηροῦ τάμνε μαχαίρῃ).

τρωθῇ: (“wound”) aorist of τιτρώσκω, formed off the root τρώω. Forms do appear in tragedy and Attic prose.

ὑμείων: Lengthened form of ὑμῶν which appears four times in Homer (e.g. Il. 19.153) but five times in Apollonius Rhodes.

βέλει ὀξυόεντι: “sharp shaft” built analogically on the Homeric formula ἔγχεϊ ὀξυόεντι. The form βέλει does occur once in the Iliad when Athena in disguise encourages Pandaros to shoot at the Achaeans (σῷ βέλεϊ δμηθέντα πυρῆς ἐπιβάντ’ ἀλεγεινῆς, 4.99).

The sentiment here plays upon the wounding of gods in the Iliad (e.g. Aphrodite in book 5) and that epic’s separation between the worlds of gods and men expressed most clearly by Apollo in book 21 (462-467) where he argues that since men are born and die quickly it woudl be foolish for immortal gods to fight on their behalf.

195 εἰσὶ γὰρ ἀγχέμαχοι, εἰ καὶ θεὸς ἀντίον ἔλθοι: ἀγχέμαχοι: “near-fighters”, “fierce”. This may be another oddly used Homeric epithet: often this is used not of people you might fight against, but instead those who fight alongside (near) you, as at Il. 16.272 and 17.165. Consider against this the general epithet. For line 195, some MSS have instead the full line εἰσὶ γὰρ ἀγέρωχοι ἄλκιμοι ἀγκιμαχηταί: “They are haughty, stalwart, close-fighters.” Both adjectives (ἀγχέμαχοι and ἀγέρωχοι) are applied to the Mysians in Homer (Μυσῶν τ’ ἀγχεμάχων καὶ ἀγαυῶν ἱππημολγῶν, Il. 13.5; πρὸς Θύμβρης δ’ ἔλαχον Λύκιοι Μυσοί τ’ ἀγέρωχοι, 10.430). It may be a stretch to hear a play on the sound of Greek Mûs in the Homeric Mûsoi, but the alternation of these epithets with both peoples certainly makes the possibility attractive. Close collocation, however, with καταμῦσαι (191) may strengthen the association.

196 πάντες δ’ οὐρανόθεν τερπώμεθα δῆριν ὁρῶντες: Compare Athena’s sentiments in 193-196 to the speech delivered by Apollo to Poseidon at Iliad 21.466-7: ἄλλοτε δὲ φθινύθουσιν ἀκήριοι. ἀλλὰ τάχιστα / παυώμεσθα μάχης· οἳ δ’ αὐτοὶ δηριαάσθων. Note as well that the noun δῆριν refers to the topic announced for the poem at line 4.

197 ῝Ως ἄρ’ ἔφη: A formulaic speech-conclusion line, see above.

καὶ τῇ γε θεοὶ ἐπεπείθοντ’ ἄλλοι: “The rest of the gods agreed with her”. In the Iliad, where the gods do have some conflict and engage in some dissent, the consent of the other gods is often balance against Zeus’ desire to change the course of events (as in book 4 where Hera tells Zeus to do what he wants even though the other gods will not praise it (ἕρδ’· ἀτὰρ οὔ τοι πάντες ἐπαινέομεν θεοὶ ἄλλοι, 4.29). On the importance of praise and consent among the gods, see Martin 1989, 55-6 and Elmer 2013. In the Odyssey, however, Zeus and Athena operate primarily without the participation of the other gods. Here, the parodist allows Zeus to convene over the divine assembly, Athena to propose a course of action, and the other gods to follow her.

ἐπεπείθοντ’: In Homer, the middle of πείθω often means “to assent to” rather than “obey”. On this distinction, see Stensgaard 2003.


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